Tag Archives: Shahid Siddiqui

Social change through education

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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.

Decolonisation and the Nadvatul Ulema

by

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.

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

by

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

by

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