Tag Archives: Shahid Siddiqui

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.

Email: shahidksiddiqui@gmail.com


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.

Review of my book, Education Policies in Pakistan: Politics, Projections, and Practices

Iqra was the first word that was revealed to the prophet of Islam. However, an add-on it received during the Zia years transformed it into an eerie term: Iqra Surcharge. It meant a five per cent tax levied on all imports, the proceeds from which were to be spent on Literacy and Mass Education Commission’s various initiatives. Innovative it may sound, yet it was one of the many botched efforts to spread literacy in the country during the Ziaregime.

Another project that drew its inspiration from Islamic tradition was Sipah-e-Idrees project. This project was to comprise ex-soldiers and members of Janbaz Force to promote literacy through 16000 centres to be controlled by General Headquarters and District Soldier Boards. The money that came from Iqra Surcharge vanished, while the ambitious objectives of Sipah-e-Idrees project were also not accomplished.

It is while going through Shahid Siddiqui’s latest book Education Policies in Pakistan: Politics, Projections and Practices that a reader comes across telltale signs of Pakistan’s unenviable status in the field of education. A reader of his 320-page book is guaranteed more than a dozen, cyclical walkthroughs of the nine educational policies and guidelines that have so far been presented in Pakistan.

This is the first, book-length study on the subject and is already being hailed as a one-stop read for academics who wish to know about educational thinking in the upper echelons of power. The book has fourteen chapters in total and has a recurrent structure.

Chapters 1 to 13 take us from the first report of the Pakistan Educational Conference 1947 to the last Education Policy of 2009, each time by focusing on one aspect of the policies. One advantage of it is that by the time the reader reaches the end of the book, he/she will have the number of education policies at her fingertips.

In the final chapter, Dr Siddiqui writes: “A trend that emerged in the recent past is the patchwork of reforms funded by donor agencies in the areas of UPE, literacy, and female education. Such patchwork strategy may prove good for neatly written end-of-the-project reports bragging their success but they are of little use for sustainable outcomes.”

The book has six appendices. These add-ons include: Jinnah’s speech delivered just a month after seven students were killed protesting against Bangla’s exclusion as a national language; Pakistan’s first interior minister Fazlur Rehman’s speech who also held the education portfolio; excerpt from the first opposition leader, Sris Chattopadhyay’s speech, hitherto a blocked narrative. The last chapter of the book is exclusively dedicated to the issue of implementation, its challenges and recommendations.

The lenses that the author has employed in discussing educational policies are most relevant to a critical discourse on education in the Pakistani context. From looking at the ever-changing backdrops of the educational policy making to the perennial concerns of literacy and universal primary education, there is hardly any significant issue pertaining to education that Dr Siddiqui has left unaddressed. Higher education, female education, language issues, technical and vocational education, special education, religious education, madrassas, curriculum, textbooks, teacher and teacher education are also dealt with separately by dedicating chapters to each of these vital issues.

The book is a serious attempt on the part of the author to highlight the inadequacy of the policies that have so far been presented. The author also seems to be wary of the foreign agencies that push reforms.

Book review

In the final chapter, Dr Siddiqui writes: “A trend that emerged in the recent past is the patchwork of reforms funded by donor agencies in the areas of UPE, literacy, and female education. Such patchwork strategy may prove good for neatly written end-of-the-project reports bragging their success but they are of little use for sustainable outcomes.” Then there is another information that is worth looking at and can be reverse-engineered to understand the core of the problem. Consider, for instance, Dr Siddiqui’s citation of unreliable data regarding literacy rate in the country in 1992-93: It varies in different reports between 41.3, 34.0, 31.0, 35.0.

Despite commenting upon and analysing the remarkable disconnect between the policy making process and the situation on ground, Dr Siddiqui maintains his poise throughout the book. Being an academic himself and an academic administrator, the author is presently the vice-chancellor of Allama Iqbal Open University, and the author of two more books on the subject. Siddiqui has himself been privy to the process of policy-making.

Thus, the suggestions that come from him in the last chapter carry a lot of weightage. The recommendations given by Dr Siddiqui are sieved through the analysis that he has made in the first thirteen chapters of the book.

An interesting table presents the number of pages in the nine policy documents discussed in the book. The incongruity of the numbers, imply a whimsical approach towards the vital issue of education in the country. The shortest education policy has 26 pages, while the longest has 370 pages. How can one explain this inconsistency? It probably implies that the policy makers had nothing tangible in front of them and the throbbing multitudes of masses was nothing but something amorphous for them and all they did was to inscribe their impulses in these policies.

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.

Email: shahidksiddiqui@gmail.com

Kakori martyrs and the British Raj


Shahid Siddiqui

The resistance to the British Raj in India came from different ethnic groups which converged on the objective of liberating India from British control. The resistance took many forms, employing methods ranging from discourse to coercion.

The Kakori incident is an important milestone in the history of the freedom struggle when a group of young revolutionaries successfully challenged the might of the British Raj. In the post-world war scenario some important developments, including the unsure future of the caliphate in the Ottoman Empire, the massacre in Jalianwala Bagh and the promulgation of the oppressive Rowlatt Act had already taken place and the people of India were in the grip of grief and rage. The situation was ripe to launch a movement at the national level to mobilise the people against the British rule.

Two important movements were launched in response to the political situation, the Khilafat movement and the non-cooperation movement. The Khilafat movement was started by Muslims to save the symbolic caliphate of the Ottoman Empire. This movement was led by Muhammad Ali Johar, Shaukat Ali Johar, Hakeem Ajmal, and Majaddad Sarhindd. The second important movement, non-cooperation, was launched by Gandhi. Muslims and Hindus decided to work together and support both the movements. Gandhi showed his support for the Khilafat movement and Khilafat leaders committed their allegiance for non-cooperation movement announced by Gandhi.

The non-cooperation movement gave a call to all Indians to quit government jobs, pay no taxes, leave government educational institutions, boycott foreign products and use locally made products. This call was the voice of the people that led to the mobilisation of the masses. A large number of people, irrespective of their ethnic affiliations, joined this movement.

The movement starting threatening the British Raj until the Chauri Chaura incident took place on February 4, 1922 involving violent clashes between the local police and the protesters, killing more than twenty policemen. Gandhi, who believed in a pacifist approach to the struggle against the British, was stunned and called to end the movement, which had become a serious threat to the British Raj.

The sudden halt of the movement disappointed the masses in general and the youth in particular who could not reconcile with the idea of putting an end to the movement. A number of young men got together and decided to carry on the struggle more aggressively by use of force. This led to the formation of the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) in 1924. Some pioneer members of the HRA included Ramprasad Bismil, Jogesh Chatterjea, Ashfaqullah Khan, Chandrashakher Azad and Sachindranath Sanyal.

Ramprasad Bismil belonged to the Arya Samaj and Ashfaqullah Khan was a devout Mulsim but they became close friends. Both of them came from Shahjahanpur and shared two passions: love for poetry and love for the country. They were young and passionate about liberating India from foreign rule. They were also among those who felt let down by the sudden end of the non-cooperation movement. They were eager to see a speedy exit of the British from their homeland.

To expedite the process of liberation the newly established HRA needed human and physical resources and that involved a huge budget. To arrange the required money they decided to take the desperate step of robbing the train that carried the government treasurer. This daring challenge to the authority of the British Raj could lead to dire consequences – and they were ready for it.

It was on August 9, 1925, that Bismil, Ashfaqullah and their comrades boarded the train that was carrying the money. At Kakori, a small village near Lucknow, they pulled the chain and stopped train. They grabbed the guard and got hold of the treasury box of the British government. Bismil, Ashfaq and Lehri broke open the box and emptied it. This money would help them organise the revolutionary activities to liberate their country from foreign rule. After the successful execution of the plan all of them managed to escape the scene.

This incident rocked the country, and was significant in three important ways. First, it provided the HRA the financial sources required for its organisational structures and acquisition of weapons. Second, it challenged the despotic rule of the British Raj amidst an atmosphere of tremendous fear. And third, it brought the HRA to the lime ight and people started talking about the new organisation formed by young people.

The police were under remarkable pressure to catch the revolutionaries but they could not arrest anybody involved in the Kakori train robbery for about one month. Ramparsad Bismil was arrested on September 26, 1925. Ashfaqullah Khan, who was still at large, moved to Banaras and then to Bihar where he managed to get a clerical job in an engineering firm. He worked there for a few months before leaving for Delhi where he planned to leave the country. It was there that he came across a friend of his, who secretly informed the police about his whereabouts. On this lead Ashfaqullah Khan was arrested by the police about ten months after Bismil’s arrest.

The trial of the Kakori incident lasted for about two years. A defence committee was formed to defend Bismil, Ashfaq and their comrades. Appeals were sent to the Privy Council as well but the British government was determined to give a death sentence to the revolutionaries. Ashfaqullah Khan, Ramprasad Bismil, Roshan Singh, Rajendra Lahiri were hanged in December, 1927. Four others were sent to the Andamans for life and seventeen others were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.

The journey of the freedom struggle, however, did not stop with the hanging of the Kakori martyrs. Rather they inspired many more young people of India. The torch of freedom was now taken by another set of young men – Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru – who marched ahead with the same courage and commitment and shook the British Raj with their revolutionary activities. They ,like Bismil and Ashfaq, went to the gallows with a smile on their face and a deep sense of satisfaction that they did the best they could for the freedom of India.

Bhagat Singh and his comrades were also hanged to death in 1931 but they had done their job by weakening the British Raj and awakening the masses, furthering the unfinished agenda of Bismil and Ashfaq and their colleagues.

The writer is an educationist.

Email: shahidksiddiqui@gmail.com