Book Review “Prejudice and Pride” by Krishna Kumar

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 17 October 2016

Book Review “Prejudice and Pride” by Krishna Kumar

The piece of work which is being reviewed is authored by an eminent educationist Krishna Kumar. The title of the book is Prejudice and Pride which has been published by Penguin Books India Limited,Viking in the year 2001. The subtitle of the book ‘School Histories of the Freedom Struggle in India and Pakistan’ reflects major concern as well as the prime area of investigation in this book by the author. It is a comparative study between the school history textbooks of the neighboring countries India and Pakistan. The impetus to take up this path of exploration by Krishna Kumar can also be seen somewhere as his response to the several decades of hostility between India and Pakistan. The writer takes this despair further and observes the general gloom prevailing in the education system of both the countries. However, according to him this becomes clearer by looking on the situation of children’s education in both India and Pakistan, which can be seen as a recipient of a certain degree of despondency giving it a low priority.

Moving on to history teaching more specifically we can see that this problem aggravates as the focus of teaching history only arises political concern without translating it as a concern for the children who are at the receiving end. Therefore with the study of school history textbooks of both the countries Krishna Kumar seems to be tracing different trajectories of ideological presentation of a shared past. This can be seen as also adding up to the hostile attitude of both the countries towards each other. This study is thus based on a comparative study of the school history textbooks of India and Pakistan. Out of this comparison the author brings forth a number of concepts and ideas where both countries who share a common historical background have different takes on its account and staging. However the basic question which the author enquires into is the perception of the past that Indian and Pakistani children encounter at school.

Following this research question the major objectives of the author while writing this book can be stated as follows. The one is to examine the rival ideologies of nationalism into which schools attempt to socialize the young. While another is to probe the politics of history writing as a means to understand the contribution that schooling makes to the Indo-Pak conflict. However the author is focusing only the master narratives available in the textbooks for the period of freedom struggle. The relevance of taking textbooks as the centre of observation to achieve these objectives can be seen in the very nature of textbooks. This can be further explained as interrelation between economy, state and culture can be better understood through the textbooks. They are the clearest embodiments of these relations. Textbooks are simultaneously economic goods (they are often sold to students, parents, and schools), political objects (they are subject to state control and regulation and hence are the result of political and ideological tensions and compromises), and cultural representations (what is included and not included, and how such knowledge is organized, is a form of cultural politics).

Thus the textbooks can be seen as a real epitome of a nation’s ideological, cultural and social background. The central theme of this book thus revolves around the idea that history textbooks are also a recipient of certain kind of representation which is in accordance with the national ideology. This is further elaborated by the author during the course of study where he finds that how the knowledge about the past is selected, reconstructed and represented in the textbooks. This he assumes that holds a great significance for this type of study which intends to probe how a common past acquires distinct versions under two systems of education. He further adds to this argument that why history has taken such a symbolic form. He says that this is because education in India and Pakistan is conceived in both learning and committing to memory, sets of facts that encapsulate, rather than explicate and interpret meaning.

This is evident in the examination system where a student is required to learn certain things and just reflect the same in the paper. This he makes clear by using a concept of memory posters which makes a child to remember the reconstructed past without giving much space for reasoned analysis. Thus the history textbook are also conceived as a storehouse of knowledge about the past, about the ‘great men’ of those times and their vision, which children have to learn, imbibe, as it were-never mind that this vision was seldom unified or synchronic in the manner that textbooks would have us believe. Therefore through this the author portrays how the formulation of history textbooks on these premises serves the abovementioned idea that they are primarily composed of nationalistic ideology.

The central idea which is propagated through this book is explained very explicitly through various explanations and concepts. The book is divided into three parts excluding the introduction. The part one primarily consists of three chapters where he focuses on the basic ideas of how the children are made familiar to past, the popular perception about the shared past in both the countries and how a certain ideology is propagated through textbooks. The chapter one possess the title Children and the Past. This chapter examines the psycho-social characteristics of children’s response to the past. Here he talks about the tacit knowledge which is imparted in a child during the course of early socialization in his home. This type of knowledge does not provide any room for rational enquiry. This further leads a child to build up a notion of self as a member of a society and also at the same time to build up a notion of ‘other’ for whom they have a fixed image whose memory stocks are different to theirs.

Thus we can see how the seed of otherness for the one having different historical picture is sowed in the primary socialization of a child. Later the child enters the realm of education in school. Here he explains the need to understand history as a subject with a capacity to enter into a time frame and perspective without being submerged in it. But to attain this he says becomes a hard task as the teaching of history faces challenges against the knowledge of past by children in the form of beliefs and attitude. His next chapter then comes toward the general conceptions of different popular perceptions of past in both India and Pakistan. The idea of freedom and partition is explained very differently in both the countries. The use of the images of Jinnah and Gandhi in Pakistan and India respectively can be seen as a means to portray the image of a reminder of the unfinished business of the freedom movement in both the countries.

The chapter after this tends to focus on the relationship between ideology and textbooks. He uses the concept of ‘prescribed’ texts to define the nature of books used in the post colonial countries where teaching of history is highly related to larger socio-political milieu. He uses the concept given by Ayesha Jalal to reflect upon the argument that in both India and Pakistan textbooks represent the grammar of ‘national ideology’. Moving towards the second part of the book which is coined as Rival Histories has six chapters in it. The part initiates with a chapter on how freedom struggle is presented as a narrative in both the countries. The effort to consolidate the nation state is very much explicit in the history teaching. He uses the idea from Anderson that how ‘deep shaping of imagination’ among children is required to have faith in national community. This is the chapter where he introduces the very important concepts which were used to compare the master narratives of both the countries. The first refers to how history textbooks in both countries choose or do not choose to represent events. Facts are chosen to illustrate the distinctive turn of the narrative that each nation favours at crucial moments in the freedom plot. The second concept is that of pacing.

Pacing or the rhythm to which the historical tale is set in the textbooks of both countries is problematic. The tale in both instances is a fast paced one and children are expected to read on and on continuously. They actually slip upon several decades of historical account and focus mainly upon the great personalities and their constructed role. The third concept which he mentions is about the way they end the history writing. The history ends on a different note for both the countries master narratives. It is precisely due to the way they perceive the time of partition. For India the moment of freedom was a time of partial happiness and a sense of loss are reflected in the narration of partition. However for Pakistan it appears as a great triumph to be finally freed from the clutches of highly dominating Hindu country. It does not end only on this note but it also expresses how entering into the new era of self rule of will be exciting and what should be the goals to be attained.

This is evident in the Pakistani books as an extension of historical account is visible there in comparison to India where the post partition problems and the activities related to it are also discussed. On the basis of these measures we can see how Krishna Kumar in further chapters investigates into the history from 1857 to 1947. In these chapters he proceeds with a very keen analysis of comparisons of the accounts on all events and their different interpretation. Moreover he also points that how some episodes are omitted and how some are given over emphasis. He takes up the accounts of 1857 and brings up the differences between the presentations. The major differences can be explained in context of portraying the causes of uprising. In India though the writers desist from using the term national but they do say that revolt made the Indian people more politically conscious than before. But what politics might mean in a mid-nineteenth century context is not explained.

While in Pakistan a completely different picture is projected where emphasis is mostly on the role of Muslims. Moreover it goes beyond and this is seen as the dilemmas in history writing in Pakistan. This is because the narrative should not only describe how colonial rule ended but also explain how Pakistan came into being. Thus to justify the happening of Pakistan it must also have a long national movement seeds of which can be seen in the revolt of 1857.Thus Krishna Kumar says that with the help of highly compressed story which does not allow the listener to ask for details therefore the aim of Pakistani textbooks can be seen in the indoctrination rather than explanation. In later chapters writer presents the difference in periodization. Pakistani textbooks put an emphasis on the period from 1907 to 1927 by contrast Indian textbooks generally select the year 1919 as marker of historical times which shaped the course of freedom struggle until the mid 1930s.

He further brings above the motive behind focusing on different years as it makes way for the portrayal of Gandhi and Jinnah as heroes and their actions as the ultimate deeds. One more thing he points out is the vise-versa attempt on the portraying Gandhi as a Hindu leader and Jinnah as a Muslim leader in Pakistan and India respectively. Similarly in the book we can see several events which have been a shared experience for both India and Pakistan has been selected and depicted in very different manner. Both the nations form a different take on all the instances and personality. By using the three concepts which has been mentioned earlier i.e. politics of mention, pacing and concept of ending he thus brings forth different angles of the history textbooks in India and Pakistan. He points to how each of these time segments is recorded in the textbooks and reads both omissions and inclusions as symptomatic of larger national anxieties. Importantly, the choice or omission of an event cheats the child of an opportunity to know a situation in all its complexity.

In fact, this is a recurring theme in the book the manner in which history textbooks conceives of and interpellates the intended child reader. Thus children are not made aware of the complex arguments in regard to certain historical events. Krishna Kumar ends this book on a very interesting note where he asks children from both the countries to write on the topic ‘The division of India and Pakistan’. He thus brings above a varying picture of opinions. In India he sees a dominant picture of Pakistan coming over where the children perceive it as a synonym for Muslims. This is evident in the idea of a Hindu India with a stereotype of Muslims which is based on hatred and distrust as writer points out. Moving to ideas of the Pakistani students we can see whole range of historical periods mentioned where the aim is to show how Muslims suffered at the hands of Hindus and thus partition actually gave them the space of first class citizens.

In both sides we can find a common bone of contention between India and Pakistan is Kashmir. Thus in this exercise also there is a reflection of the ideas which are propagated through textbooks. In the last chapter he brings forth the relationship between history and peace. The major argument which he traces in the whole book is that both India and Pakistan differ on the grounds of depicting freedom movement. In India which is defined in terms of tensions between communal and secular forces it actually reflects India’s national identity which also makes Pakistan come under suspicion. On the other hand the freedom movement in Pakistan attains the picture of an age long movement for the freedom of Muslims from a Hindu country. This is evident in the idea that an Indian historian focuses on as to why the partition took place whereas in Pakistan the new birth is celebrated by focusing on how the partition took place.

This can be precisely the answer to the question he posed to enquire in the starting of the book. However in the different parts of book he tends to achieve the objectives of his study. The comparative study of history textbooks from both the countries thus helped him to probe into the reflection of the conflict between India and Pakistan in the history textbooks through which the ideologies of young minds are framed . This thus preserves the hostility between the two countries. However he ends on a very positive note where he sees role of education as vital one which can lead to overcome the unsettling effects of their interlocked frames of perceptions. This books thus in comparison to his earlier works can be on one hand as an extension of his focus on school and curriculum and their flaws.

While in his book ‘What is worth teaching’ he focuses on fractured, contradictory and divisive nature of curriculum and school knowledge in our country and its insidious disempowerment of the teacher. His very important work the Political Agenda of Education also revolves around the concept of political ideologies involved in the education system. However this book in comparison to his other works comes up with a very different objective and method of investigation. While looking on for other books from other writers which have ventured into similar type of analysis cannot be found yet. Moving from the achievements of the writer we also come across certain gaps visible in the work. It is known that he is building up a picture of investigation around the period of freedom struggle but he confines himself to a very limited events and personalities of that period.

His projection that part of history comes up as if it is only in relevance to Pakistan. He also tends to omit the other popular beliefs of the time which was visible in the form of questions raised by Dalit leaders and also the division of India on the basis of language leading to a discontent in South India Thus the book can be seen as a very different creation with experiment of a new type. The central idea that national ideologies shape the history writing of school textbooks is very cogently presented in the books. The role of history teaching and its impact on the socialisation of the young minds and leading to their formulation of the notion of ‘other’ is also very much clear in this book. But this book also suffers loops and holes in course of omitting other aspects of freedom struggle like low caste and tribal resistances.

Book Review
Prejudice and Pride:
School Histories of the Freedom Struggle in India and Pakitan


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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 17 October 2016

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