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Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876 - 1948) (GETTY/CENTRAL PRESS), Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru (1889 - 1964) (GETTY/BARON), Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869 - 1948) (GETTY/ELLIOT & FRY)
This week, India and Pakistan mark 68 years of independence from the British. August, 1947 also saw the geographic and political division of these two South Asian giants. As many celebrate independence day across the subcontinent, we look at the historical divergence in their school books and the narratives shaping new generations of Pakistanis and Indians.
Indian and Pakistani textbooks taught in government and private institutions differ widely in their treatment of key historical figures involved in the partition of 1947. Gandhi, hailed as an iconic figure in the non-violent movement for Indian independence, and the Indian National Congress party were criticised in Pakistani textbooks. On the other hand, Indian textbooks blame Muhammad Ali Jinnah, known as the founder of Pakistan, and the Muslim League party for exacerbating the divide.
Perceptions of Jinnah
Jinnah was known for being the driving force behind the creation of Pakistan. He was praised in Pakistani textbooks under the name of “Quaid-i-Azam” or “Great Leader”.
This Indian textbook, however, suggested Jinnah helped instigate a religious divide:
Perceptions of Gandhi
Another important player in partition was Mahatma Gandhi; celebrated as the head of the non-violent independence movement. In Indian books, he was also praised for fighting for Hindu-Muslim unity.
Pakistani textbooks suggest he provoked divisions between the two religious groups by inserting a Hindu nationalist narrative into the Congress.
Why did Partition take place?
This textbook from Pakistan said Muslims would be at the mercy of their Hindu counterparts after the British gave up control of the subcontinent.
But, the Indian narrative points the finger at the Muslim League for pushing for a separation.
Division of resources
Many Pakistani textbooks blame India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Lord Mountbatten, the British viceroy responsible for the transfer of power, for an unequal distribution of assets. The quote below highlights this sentiment:
Talk of provisions was less prominent in Indian textbooks, however:
These are just some of the subjects where historical divergences exist between the South Asian rivals concerning the lead up to 1947. Many aspects of the partition, including ownership over Kashmir, continue to be contentious topics and narratives tend to be clearly divided in textbooks in Pakistan and India.
Young activists in India and Pakistan are pushing back against such narratives. The History Project aims to integrate both sides into their own textbooks in order to present a balanced perspective. Initiated by two Pakistanis who gathered volunteer authors from both sides of the border, these textbooks aim to encourage students to question bias and reevaluate their assumptions about their neighbouring country.
How do narratives in school textbooks help shape national identity? Share your thoughts with us.