Pakistani high school student Noman Afzal knows “traitorous” Hindus are to blame for the bloodshed that erupted when British India split into two nations 70 years ago. His history textbook tells him so.
Students across the border in India are taught a starkly different version of events, the result of a decades-long effort by the nuclear-armed rivals to shape and control history to their own nationalistic narrative.
The official unwillingness to confront the bitter legacy of Partition — and the skewed portrayals being peddled in classrooms from New Delhi to Karachi — is hindering any hope of reconciliation between the arch-rivals, experts say.
August marks 70 years since the subcontinent was divided into two independent states — Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan — and millions were uprooted in one of the largest mass migrations in history.
An untold number of people — some estimates say up two million — died in the savage violence that followed, as Hindus and Muslims fleeing for their new homelands turned on one another, raping and butchering in genocidal retribution.
The carnage sowed the seeds for the acrimony that prevails today between India and Pakistan, and generations later this defining moment in the subcontinent’s history is still polarised by nationalism and rancour.
In a government-approved grade five history textbook used in schools in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, Hindus are described as “thugs” who “massacred Muslims, confiscated their property, and forced them to leave India”.
“They looked down upon us, that is why we created Pakistan,” said 17-year-old Afzal from Pakistan’s Punjab province, reeling off a stock answer from his history textbook.
On the other side of the border, Mumbai schoolboy Triaksh Mitra learned how Mahatma Gandhi fought for a unified India free from British subjugation while the Muslim League — the political party led by Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah — sided with the colonial rulers to carve out their own nation.
“But what they hadn’t really told us was the Muslim side of it,” the 15-year-old said of his Partition studies.
– History kept hidden –
The chapters on Gandhi are a striking example of the gap between how Partition is portrayed on either side of the border. In Pakistan, his contribution to the struggle for independence is hardly mentioned, whereas in India he is hailed as an “one-man army”.
History teacher Aashish Dhakaan who works in a high school in India’s Gujarat state,…