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Social change through education


Shahid Siddiqui

Education, during different periods of history, assumed different meanings and focused on different objectives. It has usually been equated with change, development and emancipation. It is important, however, to understand that education per se is not change, development or emancipation. It could, however, enhance the life chances of individuals to attain these objectives.

Education, being imparted in most of the mainstream schools, however, emanates from a transmission-based pedagogical approach where teachers try to transmit or transfer knowledge, skills and values from one generation to the next. In this paradigm, students are viewed as empty vessels or slates who are supposed to receive knowledge passively. The transmission approach in education revolves around the ‘banking concept of education’, as Paulo Freire would call it.

According to Freire’s banking concept of education, the minds of students are considered to be containers in which information is fed. The students are not supposed to think but just store the information given by their teachers. The students, without understanding the information relayed to them by their teachers, reproduce the stored information in the examinations. In this approach to education, knowledge is viewed as ‘static’ which is handed down to students by the ‘all-knowing’ teachers. The role of students in this approach is passive as they are at the receiving end. They have no compulsive motivation to think or reflect.

This kind of education cannot lead to the realisation of major objectives, change, development or emancipation. This form of education leads to stasis and conformity. Education in this format is destined to produce ‘mono-culture robots’ that may get good grades and later good jobs but are unable to think independently. Such graduates are least concerned with what is happening in society and do not feel motivated enough to bring any significant change in the world they live.

Ivan Illich, in his classic book, ‘Deschooling society’, laments the fact that mainstream schools are producing students who cannot think independently as they are trained to receive information given to them by their teachers as the ultimate truth. According to Illich, the major objectives of education, change, development, and emancipation cannot be realised through the conservation approach of transmission as it stifles the faculties of creativity and reflection and leads to students embracing conformity.

What kind of education can then bring change at individual and societal levels? For this we need to debunk the conservation approach of transmission that is based on five major assumptions. The objective of education is to transfer knowledge, skills and values from one generation to the next. Knowledge is static and out there. Students are empty vessels who act as sponges and absorb ‘knowledge’ transmitted by the teachers. Teachers are omniscient and know everything under the sky. Education is not required to reflect on what is going on in society and is not supposed to challenge societal taboos.

The alternative paradigm of education is the transformation approach that aims at transforming the individual and society. The transformation approach of education hinges on five important beliefs. First, the objective of education is to transform. It focuses on change at individual and societal levels. Second, knowledge is not a static object but is a vibrant, fluid and co-constructed phenomenon. Third, students are not empty vessels that need to be filled with knowledge from teachers. They, even at a very early age, do have certain beliefs and knowledge about different things. Fourth, teachers are not omniscient and are only one of the sources of knowledge. According to this approach, there are many other powerful sources of knowledge available to the students. Fifth, the role of education is not just to bring change in the lives of individuals but also in society.

When we talk about education, we also tend to link it with development. The issue, however, is that the notion of development is narrow and usually confined to the economic aspect only. Amartya Sen in his book, ‘Development as Freedom’, links economic development with multiple freedoms – freedom of thought, expression, and choice. In this way, Sen extends the boundaries of development beyond roads, railway tracks and high-rise buildings. Education should then focus on the more holistic notion of development – socio-economic development.  The ‘socio’ part of development is unfortunately either ignored or under-emphasised in educational institutions. If we want to use education as a potential tool of change, this part of development needs to be underlined.

To bring change at individual and societal levels, it is crucial to adopt the critical paradigm of education that requires inculcating critical thinking skills in students so they become independent thinkers. The critical paradigm of education is an emancipatory approach that focuses on the ultimate aim of education, development and emancipation – that is freedom from personal biases in terms of language, ethnicity, cast, colour and creed. This kind of education will equip  students with the skills needed to live their individual lives in a better way. It will also prepare them to live with others in a peaceful manner.

If we really want to realise the potential of education, we need to revisit our notion of education and alter it from its passive role to an active one. Instead of serving as a tool of transmission of static knowledge, education should serve as a transformative tool that focuses on co-construction of knowledge. It is in this paradigm of education where focus is laid on developing thinking human beings who have a strong liaison with society. They are not mere robots filling job slots but are constantly engaged in bringing qualitative improvement in society.


The writer is an educationist.



Decolonisation and the Nadvatul Ulema


Shahid Siddiqui

The post-1857 period was a depressing era for the Indians. A large number of freedom fighters were either killed in the War of Independence of 1857 or imprisoned and hanged to death. The voices of freedom were stifled through brutal state power. These times were conducive for Christian missionaries.

A number of Indians who belonged to lower socio-economic backgrounds were lured into converting to Christianity. There were deliberate attacks on Islam and the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) by Western writers. The doors of government jobs were closed for Muslims. This situation forced the proponents of freedom to revisit their strategy of direct confrontation.

People like Muhammad Qasim Nanotvi and Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, who actually took part in the 1857 war, repositioned themselves and found an alternative means of resistance by setting up the Darul Uloom Deoband in 1867. They, however, pledged not to accept any funds from the British government. Their major emphasis was on religious education and inculcating the passion for freedom among their pupils. On the contrary, Sir Syed’s Aligarh Movement, initiated in 1875, believed that Muslims need to be empowered through modern education – including science, technology and English.

Unlike the Darul Uloom Deoband, Aligarh – which was viewed as secular in the government’s outlook – accepted funds from the government and employed a foreign principal and faculty members. Aligarh and Deoband were thus seen as two extremes which, despite their sincerity of purpose, were diametrically opposite in their approach. It is important to note that both Qasim Nanotvi and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan – pioneers of the Darul Uloom Deoband and the Aligarh Movement, respectively – were students of the Delhi College and were taught by the same teacher, Maulvi Mamluk Ali. A section of Muslims felt the need for a more balanced and moderate approach that would blend the strong points of the Darul Uloom Deoband and the Aligarh Movement, ie blending conservatism with modernity.

In 1893, during the convocation of Madressah Faiz-e-Aam at Kanpur, a number of religious leaders – including Maulana Mohammad Ali Mungeri, Maulana Lutfullah and Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi – got together and proposed to form a group of religious scholars. This group was called the Nadvatul Ulema. The first convention of the Nadvatul Ulema was held between April 22 and April 24, 1894. Maulana Shibli Nomani played an important role in preparing the guidelines of Nadva. Shibli Nomani had taught at Sir Syed’s Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College for 16 years and was well-versed in the modern system of education. In addition to his exposure to modern education, Shibli Nomani was a religious scholar.

Some important recommendations were made during the Nadvatul Ulema meeting. The formation of a confederation of madressahs belonging to different sects was emphasised. It was also recommended that major reforms were required in the prevailing educational system. A major recommendation of the Nadvatul Ulema gathering was to set up a ‘darul uloom’ to realise the required changes in the educational system. The major objective of the Nadvatul Uloom included producing more balanced graduates who would have a deep knowledge of Islam with a modern outlook. To realise these objectives, a madressah was established in 1898 which was upgraded to the Darul Uloom Nadvatul Ulema.

The Nadvatul Uloom was not just a traditional madressah but was envisioned by its pioneers as a movement of social reformation. To influence a broader circle of people, it was necessary to publish a journal to influence the minds with scholarly articles. In 1904, the first issue of Al-Nadva, a scholarly journal of the Nadvatul Uloom was published. The pioneer editors were of Al-Nadva were Maulana Habibur Rahman Khan Shirwani and Maulana Shibli Nomani. The journal, like Darul Uloom, aimed to challenge some of the conservative beliefs with logical analysis.

In 1905, Maulana Muhammad Ali Mungeri resigned and Maulana Khalilur Rahman became the Muatamid-e-Aaliya and Maulana Shibli Nomani was appointed as the Muatamid-e-Ta’alimat. Shibli Nomani – with his long association with Aligarh and his exposure of foreign systems of education during his visit to various countries – took up his job with enthusiasm and brought some major changes in the educational practices of the Nadva. He tried to improve the existing curriculum of the Nadva and laid special emphasis on the teaching of languages, including modern Arabic, English, Hindi and Sanskrit. The induction of the English language in a madressah was a bold step as there was initial resistance from conservative quarters.

The educational practices in Nadvatul Uloom were not just confined to the lectures that were held within its four walls but were also reflected through special talks that were arranged where eminent scholars would share their ideas with students. There was a special emphasis on the art of rhetoric and regular debating activities were organised for students. Similarly, there was a strong focus on writing skills and students were trained on how to write a fatwa. At the Nadvatul Uloom, student went through scientific grooming to enhance their life skills.

The Nadvatul Uloom was close to Aligarh in terms of their approach to the British government. Instead of an upfront confrontation, the Nadvatul Uloom had a cordial relationship with the government and received grant from the government. Their whole focus was the empowerment of Muslims by providing them religious knowledge and a modern outlook. The Nadvatul Uloom also resembled the Darul Uloom Deoband in terms of their emphasis on religious education and the development of religious scholars. The Nadvatul Uloom manifested the mild version of nationalism and special effort was made to inculcate the passion of patriotism. This component of education was significant for its role in the process of decolonisation.

The Nadvatul Uloom thus proved to be an effective component of the movement initiated by the Nadvatul Ulema that impacted a large number of Muslims through its enlightened approach in teaching and non-conservative approach in writing through Al-Nadva. The Nadvatul Uloom modernised the concept of madressahs by incorporating the scientific approach of training into writing and speaking skills, exposing students to English and other languages and empowering students with a classical and modern view of religion. The Nadvatul Ulema played an important role in the process of decolonisation by producing enlightened religious scholars who were patriotic to the core and would take pride in their religion, culture, and languages.

Resistance through education

Shahid Siddiqui

The history of imperialism is ridden with treachery, guile and coercion. To control the colonised, all possible methods are used, ranging from persuasion to coercion. India, under the British rule, was no exception. The colonisers suppressed the voices of dissent by using oppressive methods and imposing biased education and language policies.

Education, in a conservative paradigm, was considered passive, neutral, fixed and apolitical. This myth was debunked by Antonio Gramsci who in his seminal book, ‘Prison Notebooks’, elaborates on the powerful role of the civil society, including educational institutions, suggesting that education is a vibrant, highly political and ever-changing phenomenon.

The politics of education and language can be seen at its best in the Minute by Lord Macaulay. It is important to analyse the vision of education proposed by a British representative for the colonised. Macaulay proposes: “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and intellect.”

With this vision, a new education system came into being, which is still in vogue in mainstream schools of Pakistan. The essential purpose of this system was to produce a class of obedient servants who would conform to authority and never think of challenging it.

In ‘Culture and Imperialism’, Edward Said says that imperialism always found resistance in different parts of the world. The nature of resistance could be varied from place to place. Nationalism in British India flourished in the mid 19th century when the people of India came together as a nation. The British Raj and its despotic policies made Indians conscious of the worth of their country.

The economic policies of the East India Company (EIA) levied huge taxes on peasants. Similarly, local artisans were made jobless as finished products were made in the factories and India was used as a rich source of raw material. A number of peasants were forced to give up their professions and look for other ways of earning of their sustenance. Besides the repressive economic policies of the EIC, the Indians were also cornered because of the cruel political structure of the British rulers.

The British also introduced a new system of education which was quite different from the indigenous education system. Persian, the language of the courts, was targeted by the British rulers and the English language was introduced with lots of perks in terms of government jobs and social status. The British used the familiar imperialist technique of glorifying their own culture, language, literature, education system and way of life, and stigmatising the culture, language, literature, and way of life of the colonised. The ultimate objective of this approach is that the colonised internalise the ‘fact’ that the colonisers are superiors and the colonised are inferior.

As I discussed in my previous articles on these pages, different modes of resistance were adopted by the Indians to combat British imperialism. These modes were guided by two major paradigms of resistance – coercive paradigm and discursive paradigm. The coercive paradigm would allow use of force to resist whereas the discursive paradigm would use discourse as resistance.

One important mode of resistance paradigm is education. In India, education was used as a powerful tool of resistance against the British Raj. How education can be used to resist hegemonic forces can be better understood through the Gramscian concept of hegemony which talks about two major approaches to hegemony –through the political society and through civil society. The political society uses coercion by using army, police and bureaucracy, whereas the civil society relies on discourse, and uses social institution.

It is through the civil society that the process of hegemony takes place in a subtle way and minds are controlled in such a way that the colonised group give ‘spontaneous consent’ to be colonised. Education, thus, becomes a potent tool to control minds and is frequently used by the colonisers.  Interestingly education has also been used by marginalised groups to put up resistance.

In British India a number of nationalist leaders used education to resist British imperialism. A number of educational initiatives converged on the idea of national education. Sir Syed’s Aligarh initiative was essentially driven by the passion of nationalism. This was a mild version of nationalism as a number of faculty members were British. Then we see a chain of educational institutions run by tnational leaders who believed in liberating India from foreign rule through education.

Darul aloom Deoband was established in 1867 by Qasim Nanotvi and his comrades. In Delhi, Jamia Millia Islamia was established by the Johar brothers. Gandhi established a number of schools and popularised the concept of Nai Taleem. In Bengal, Tagore established the Shantiniketan School. In Lahore, Lala Lajpat Rai set up the National College. In the (then) Frontier province, Haji Tonag Zai and Khan Abul Ghaffar Khan established a number of schools.

There were certain traits which were common among these institutions. The distinguishing features were their curricula, faculty, pedagogy and aim of education. All of these schools at aimed at inculcating love for the country, indigenous civilisation, local languages and the desire and confidence to liberate India from foreign rule. In the forthcoming articles I shall be writing in detail about each of these initiatives, which produced students who were proud of their own culture and country and who contributed to the freedom of India.


The writer is an educationist.


The desertion of Punjabi


Shahid Siddiqui

Recently a school campus in Sahiwal, Punjab issued a directive to the students to refrain from using foul language inside and outside the school. The note further clarified that “Foul language includes taunts, abuses, Punjabi and the hate speech.” Ironically, it was in Sahiwal where the strongest Punjabi voice of resistance was raised against British imperialism by Ahmed Khan Kharal who laid down his life but did not bow down before the British Raj.

It is important to have an academic analysis of derogatory attitudes towards Punjabi. This article tries to unpack the concept and functions of a language, the association between a language and speakers, the myth of the innate superiority of a certain language, the relationship between the vitality of a language and the academic support from educational institutions, and the conscious desertion of Punjabi by the Punjabi urban elite.

A conservative view about language is that it is merely a tool of communication and is essentially a passive, neutral, and apolitical phenomenon. This conservative paradigm also assumes that certain languages are superior. This view, however, is challenged by Sapir and Whorf who concept of language altogether by suggesting that language is not a neutral and passive phenomenon but a highly political reality that is involved in the construction and perpetuation of social reality.

It is important to realise that there is a positive correlation between the socioeconomic status of speakers and the language they speak. If the socioeconomic status of a certain group of speakers is high, their language is also considered strong. This explains that no language is superior or inferior and it is the socioeconomic status of speakers that determines the status of a language. All languages are equally important and must be respected.

The Punjabi language had always been a victim of social, political and economic circumstances even before the partition of United India. In India, because of royal support, Persian became the language of power and was used in courts. Urdu was very close to Persian in terms of vocabulary and structure. It also had an affinity with the Punjabi language at a semantic level. Urdu was also mutually intelligible with Hindi. These multiple associations of Urdu made it popular in certain parts of India in general and in Muslim communities in particular.

The British got rid of Persian in Sindh by replacing it with Sindhi but surprisingly, in Punjab, Persian was not replaced by Punjabi. Instead, it was Urdu that took the place of Persian. One reason that was given by the British was that Urdu was a refined form of Punjabi. Thus Punjabi was viewed as a dialect or patois with a relatively lower social standard. It is important to understand that languages, in contemporary times, are not evaluated on their linguistic merits or demerits. Rather they are assessed primarily on social, political and economic grounds.

During the Pakistan movement languages were used as political identities. Hindi, Urdu, and Punjabi were tagged with the three major population groups of India – Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs respectively. In this simplistic divide (which was largely political in nature), Punjabi was the biggest casualty. A large number of Muslims whose mother tongue was Punjabi deserted it on political, social, and economic grounds.

Another important aspect is that language is an important identity marker at the individual and national levels. After independence in 1947, the question of the national language was raised and Urdu, because of Muslims’ emotional association with it during the movement for Pakistan, was given the status of national language. The two overwhelmingly majority languages – Bengali, and Punjabi – could not get this status.

There was a strong demand from Bengalis to make Bengali a national language as well. There was, however, no voice heard in favour of Punjabi by the Punjabi population. One important reason for this could be that Punjab had a large share in the army and was close to the power centres. The Punjabi elite wanted to be a part of the mainstream powerful groups and in the process deserted their own language.

It is surprising that Sindhi is taught in schools as a subject. Similarly Pashto is taught as a subject in some schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. But Punjabi has never been a part of school education in Pakistan. Why is that so? Is there something inherently wrong with Punjabi? It is largely because of the social attitude of people who have associated Punjabi with informal and insignificant linguistic functions in life. The language desertion phenomenon is visible in Punjabi urban families where parents speak with their children in Urdu which is considered to be a prestigious language.

It is feared that a large number of families from Punjab would lose Punjabi language in a couple of generations. There is a lot of research available about the significant role of one’s mother tongue in early education. If we want to reclaim Punjabi, the first step is to provide it educational backing by teaching it as a subject in schools in Punjab. It is important that in educational institutions students should be taught that no language is innately inferior or superior.

All languages are equal and must be respected. Also, official patronage is needed at least at the provincial level for the promotion of language. It is important to note that Article 251 of the constitution of Pakistan clearly ssays, about the potential measures of teaching and promotion of a provincial language, “Without prejudice to the status of the national language, a provincial assembly may by law prescribe measures for the teaching, promotion and use of language in addition to the national language.”

It is now the responsibility of the provincial assemblies to pass laws for the teaching and promotion of provincial languages in the provinces.

The writer is an educationist.


Ahmed Khan Kharal and the Raj


Shahid Siddiqui

The great War of Independence in 1857 brought different ethnic groups of India together to challenge the British Raj. A large number of local soldiers left the British army under protest and stood up against the despotic rule of the East India Company (EIC). The Company, in this situation, was in dire need of human resources to combat with the freedom fighters.

In the pursuit of fresh recruits a British envoy was sent to Sahiwal in Punjab to seek support from the local chiefs. The British envoy met Rai Ahmed Khan Kharal, the leader of the Kharals who were concentrated in Gogera near Okara. Rai Ahmed Kharal, a popular and bold chief of the Kharal tribe, turned down the request of providing recruits to the British and openly declared that he was loyal to the king in Delhi and not to the British. The British did not expect such a response as they had successfully bribed a number of local landlords with ‘jagirs’ and titles.

Rai Ahmed Khan Kharal was born in 1803 in Jhamra a village of Sahiwal, close to Gogera Bangla in district Okara. He had great political acumen and enjoyed cordial relationships with leaders of different tribes. Rai’s upfront dismissal of their request infuriated the British.

Another development that invited the colonial wrath was that tribes in and around Sahiwal refused to give revenue to the British government. This was an open rebellion which posed a serious challenge to the authority of the British administration. The British were not expecting such a revolt from the local tribes.

Sensing the impending storm of resistance, the British ordered Berkely, the assistant commissioner of Sahiwal, to suppress the resistance at any cost. His task was to penalise those who challenged the British authority by refusing to pay the revenue to the British Raj. A large number of ‘rebels’ were arrested and put in Gogera jail. Gogera in those times was the headquarters of Sahiwal. The arrest of innocent people at such a large scale was unacceptable to Rai Ahmed Kharal. After consultation with his comrades, Rai decided to free those who had been arrested by the British.

This was a daring step but Rai was ready to embrace all the consequences. On the night of July 26, 1857 Rai Ahmed Kharl attacked the Gogera jail and set all the prisoners free. During the process a number of casualties took place but the objective of freeing the prisoners was successfully achieved. Rai Ahmed escaped the scene with a large number of his comrades and went to the jungle of Gishkori situated a few miles in the neighbourhood of Gogera. This act was an open defiance to the British Raj and the British administration resorted to extreme actions – including burning down villages.

It was important for the British to get rid of Ahmed Khan Kharal, the leader who inspired the people to stand up against the British Raj. The British arrested his family members and threatened to kill them. Rai, in order not to risk the life of his mother and other family members, presented himself for arrest. His arrest led to enhanced unrest created by the strong protest of various tribes.

The administration succumbed under the pressure and freed Rai Ahmed Kharal on the condition that he would not leave Gogera. Rai came out of jail but his objective was to unite the tribes and put up a resistance to the foreign rule. In a covert meeting of his close friends and allies held in a jungle it was decided that all tribes from both sides of River Ravi would get together and attack the check posts, which were symbols of the British establishment in the area.

It was not easy to catch or kill Rai in straight battle as he knew the terrain quite well. There was, however, one technique to trap him. It was the same technique that was used against Tipu Sultan and Sirajuddaula – by buying the loyalties of an insider who would give inside information. Two persons offered their services to further the cause of the colonisers by betraying their friend and leader. One was Sarfraz Kharal and the other was Nehan Singh Bedi.

Rai Ahmed Kharal could not imagine that his professed friends and colleagues would sell their friendship and the freedom struggle for petty worldly gains. Both Sarfraz and Bedi were part of this secret meeting. Soon after the meeting Sarfraz Kharal leaked the proceedings of the secret meeting to the British administration. According to the plan, Rai Ahmed had to cross River Ravi to meet with his allies. Berkely, who had been told about Rai Ahmed Kharal’s movement by Sarfraz Kharal, hastened to River Ravi to pin Rai down before his crossing of river Ravi. Rai Ahmed Kharal, however, was faster and crossed Ravi before Berkley could reach there.

Rai Ahmed Kharal and his comrades fought bravely against the Berkley troops and forced them to retreat. It was a great victory for them. Rai Ahmed decided to offer his prayers. Berkley and his forces were not very far away. As Rai Ahmed was offering his prayers Berkley attacked. Rai’s friend, Bedi identified him and according to some sources, it was he who fired the first bullet. The day was September 21, 1857 – the 10th of Muharram – and the great freedom fighter breathed his last.

To celebrate their victory, the British set the villages of the rebels on fire. Rai’s death was a big blow to his friends and to the local tribes. One of his friends, Murad Fatiana, promised to avenge Rai’s death and killed Berkley just two days after Rai’s death.

Rai Ahmed Kharal’s valiant struggle against the British has become immortal. He has become a legendary character in Punjabi folk poetry dholas, written by different poets and sung by the masses – eulogising the revolutionary role of Rai Ahmed Kharal, who laid his life but never bowed to the might of British Raj.

The writer is an educationist.