Published On:05 May 2013
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Indo-Pak project grapples with versions of history

By Nergish Sunavala

Mumbai: Most schoolchildren in India associate the 1905 partition of Bengal with Hindus and Muslims uniting to oppose the division of the state along religious lines. They learn that Bengalis from both religions composed songs, marched barefoot to the Ganga and tied rakhis on each other in protest. In Pakistan, however, the partition of Bengal sparks off a different set of associations—those of furious Hindus agitating only because they couldn't bear to see Muslims become a majority in East Bengal.

These divergent accounts of history have been put together in a book, 'The History Project', conceived in 2005 and compiled by youths aged 16 to 27 from both India and Pakistan. A core team of three Pakistanis, who were instrumental in creating the book, launched it last week at four Mumbai schools, two of them being J B Petit High School, Fort, and Gokuldham High School, Goregaon.

A note at the beginning explains that most of the book's 30-odd contributors are graduates of Seeds of Peace, an international organization that brings together teenagers from conflict zones to a campsite in Maine, USA, for a few weeks every year. It was while debating history at this summer camp that most of the youngsters discovered the differences in their school textbooks. "We decided to make 'The History Project'... so that the reality that there are differences becomes literally inescapable," said Qasim Aslam (27), a Pakistani entrepreneur and part of the book's core team.

The project deals with the years from 1857 to 1947 and includes 16 historical events—such as the formation of the Indian National Congress and the All India Muslim League, the Khilafat Movement, Direct Action Day and the Mountbatten Plan.

"The War of Independence (in 1857) seemed like a good starting point because that is where the first divide happens," said Pakistani Ayyaz Ahmad, another core team member who is also a consultant with the World Bank in Pakistan. Since the Civil Disobedience Movement is omitted from Pakistani textbooks, that page in the Pakistani section of the book is left blank. The editors have also focused on questions that recur in Std X and XII exams, because "if you trace a line across those events all of a sudden you can identify a narrative", said Aslam.

To steer clear of controversy, the book's editors chose to reproduce information from textbooks but not introduce an alternative narrative. "We stayed well away from coming up with anything that says we are experts and know what history is," said Aslam.

This non-committal approach extends to the artwork, which uses a faceless character to avoid cliched depictions of Indians and Pakistanis. "I wanted to illustrate the illustration of history (on both sides) without imposing my view on it," said artist Zoya Siddiqui.

'The History Project' has only seven Indians among the 30-odd contributors. All five editors are Pakistani and more Pakistani than Indian texts were used. When asked about this, a core-team member said there was a shortage of volunteers from India and those who visited Pakistan took only three books. Besides Seeds of Peace, the book has also been funded by the British Council and Global Changemakers, an international youth network.

(Courtesy: The Times of India)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on May 05, 2013. Filed under , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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