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HAF reacts to report on hatred against Hindus in Pak madrasas

Last updated on: November 12, 2011 14:00 IST

HAF reacts to report on hatred against Hindus in Pak madrasas

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC

The study is a validation for scores of Pakistani Hindus who face discrimination and violence because of the hatred towards Hindus that continues to be stoked in children through the education system, says the Hindu American Foundation. Aziz Haniffa reports.

Reacting to a report funded by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom that textbooks in Pakistan foster hatred and intolerance of minorities, especially Hindus and their faith, the head of the influential Hindu
American Foundation Suhag Shukla, said, "It's about time!"

The study conducted by the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy found that Pakistan's public schools and madrasas negatively portray the country's religious minorities and reinforce biases that fuel acts of discrimination, and possibly violence, against these communities.

Leonard Leo, USCIRD chair, said, "This study – the first-ever of its kind - documents how Pakistan's public schools and privately-run madrasas are not teaching tolerance but are exacerbating religious differences."

"Education reform incorporating religious tolerance is critical to the development of a society that values human rights, including religious freedom, for all its citizens. Teaching discrimination increases the likelihood that violent religious extremism in Pakistan will continue to grow, weakening religious freedom, national and regional stability, and global security," he warned.

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Image: A Pakistan police officer registers student at a religious school in Punjab provincial city of Multan
Photographs: Asim Tanveer/Reuters
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226 students, teachers from 19 madrasas interviewed for study

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Titled 'Connecting the Dots: Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan,' the study involved the examination of social studies, Islamic studies, and Urdu textbooks and pedagogical methods in Pakistan's public school system and its madrasas system, and the interviewing of teachers and students about their views on religious minorities.

According to USCIRF, the goal of the year-long study was to explore linkages between the portrayal of religious minorities in public schools and madrasas, biases that exist against these minorities, and subsequent acts of discrimination or extremist violence.

The USCIRF said that ICRD and its partner, the independent Pakistani think tank Sustainable Development Policy Institute, reviewed more than 100 textbooks from grades one through 10 from Pakistan's four provinces. Students and teachers from public schools and madrasas were also interviewed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly known as the
North-West Frontier Province), Balochistan, Sindh, and Punjab.

Thirty-seven middle and high schools were visited, with 277 students and teachers interviewed individually or in group settings.

Researchers interviewed 226 madrasas students and teachers from 19 madrasas.

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Image: Young Pakistani Muslim students recite verses from the holy Koran at a Madrassa outside the Pakistan capital Islamabad
Photographs: Claro Cortes/Reuters
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'Study a validation for our team at Hindu American Foundation'

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Dr Arvind Chandrakantan, an executive council member of Hindu American Foundation told rediff.com, "If there is one word that sums up the USCIRF's report on the religious bigotry and hatred towards India that is propagated
through school textbooks, it is validation."

"It is validation for our team at HAF, including Professor Ramesh Rao and Samir Kalra, both of whom have served as authors of HAF's annual reports on discrimination against Hindus," he said. "But more importantly, it is validation for the scores of Pakistani Hindus who face discrimination, violence, forced conversions, and other forms of terror because of the hatred towards Hindus that continues to be
stoked in children through the education system."

Rao, HAF's human rights coordinator, recalled, "HAF has publicly criticised USCIRF through various channels, including the Washington Post and Huffington Post, regarding issues of bias, uneven efforts, and in some of their assumptions and conclusions with regard to religious freedom in India."

He said, "In the context of this special report, however, we can finally say we're encouraged. HAF has made specific mention of the hatred and intolerance preached to Pakistani schoolchildren through the education system for nearly a decade in our annual reports -- "Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights" --
not only to USCIRF but the US Congress, pinpointing the amount of US aid that was meant to revamp Pakistan school textbooks."

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Image: Students attend a rooftop evening class in a private school at a slum area in Karachi
Photographs: Akhtar Soomro/Reuters
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'Negative portrayal has contributed to creating a culture of hatred'

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Rao acknowledged that "while we have not yet analysed the 139-page report in detail, we believe it is a serious, well-documented report that includes personal narratives, interviews, and translations of actual excerpts from textbooks."

Kalra, an attorney and also a HAF director and senior fellow for human rights, echoing Rao's sentiments, said, "Although we have not yet had the opportunity to analyse the USCIRF report in depth, it appears to indicate that any references to Hindus or Hindu religious practices in the public school textbooks are overwhelmingly negative
and inflammatory, which is consistent with what HAF has been reporting for several years.  

In fact, the report seems to show that Hindus and Hinduism as a whole are never portrayed in a positive manner, especially in comparison to Islam."

Shukla recounted how in 2009, HAF's former director of public policy, Ishani Choudhary, had provided scanned copies of portions of the textbooks to USCIRF, along with translations, to demonstrate the indoctrination of children caused by the textbooks.

"Effectively, the negative portrayal in the textbooks has contributed to creating a culture of hatred and intolerance that has dehumanised Hindus to the point where acts of violence against Hindus are justified and deemed acceptable in wider Pakistani society," she said. "One need not look any further than the recent murder of three Hindus in Sindh province, who were ruthlessly gunned down by members of the Muslim community," she added.

Shukla said, "It is unfortunate that despite the knowledge that such blatant discrimination and intolerance exists in Pakistan, our political leadership has failed to bring adequate pressure on Pakistan to address these issues."

However, Shukla noted, "Given the plethora of citations in the USCIRF reports to Hindus and Hinduism, HAF will be doing a closer reporting to make sure that USCIRF itself did not inadvertently mis-portray Hindu beliefs or practices."

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'Islamization of text books began under army rule of Zia ul-Haq'

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The report said, "Although an unbiased review of history would show that Hindus and Muslims enjoyed centuries of harmonious co-existence, Hindus are repeatedly described as extremists and eternal enemies of Islam whose culture and society is based on injustice and cruelty, while Islam delivers a message of peace and brotherhood, concepts
portrayed as alien to the Hindu."

Thus, it spoke of how "negative depictions of Hindus are manifested through both historical distortions and the framing of concepts through religious language that promotes the superiority of Islam over Hinduism."

For example, the study referred to how "in the Hindu religion the men are divided into different classes by their system of caste and creed, whereas in Islam all the Muslims are equal and are brotherly with one another."

That "whereas, Islam teaches to give due respect to women," in Hinduism, "women are given a low status."

The preface to the report, contained quotes from Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, who said, "Minorities, to whichever communities they may belong, will be safeguarded. Their religion or faith or belief will be secure. There will be no interference of any kind with their freedom of worship. They will have their protection
with regard to their religion, faith, their life, their culture. They will be, in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan, without any distinction of caste or creed."

The study said that "the Islamization of text books began under the army rule of the late dictator Zia ul-Haq who courted Islamists to support his rule."

It said although the government of Pakistan in 2006 had announced plans to reform the curriculum, this has not been done under apparent pressure of hardliners" and that the continuing appeasement of hardline clerics by successive weak governments had led to a steady radicalisation of the society."

USCIRF said that "promoting respect for freedom of religion or belief must be an integral part of advancing regional security in South Asia," and argued that "the conflict with violent religious extremists in Pakistan requires the United States to understand the roots of this extremism and actively bolster those who respect democratic values, the rule of law, and international standards of human rights, including freedom of religion or belief."

"Education reform is a key part of this effort," it said.

Leo reiterated that "the findings of the study and the recommendations reinforce USCIRF's conclusion that education reform incorporating themes of religious tolerance in critical for the development of a tolerant Pakistani society that values religious freedom and religious diversity for all its citizens."

"This is in the interest of both the United States and all Pakistanis," he added.


Image: Pakistan's military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq

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