Our education system needs to deal with sectarianism better

Design: Fatima Jahan Ena

I was completely unfazed by the Facebook post which my mother showed me. While her face was layered with expressions ranging from shock to agony, I was completely unaltered.

To put things into context: the Facebook post was about this particular question on the HSC Bangla first paper questionnaire which talked about a land dispute between two Hindu brothers. According to the question, the younger brother sold a portion of the land to a Muslim man named Abdul who slaughtered a cow on the land which saddened the older brother and caused him to migrate to India. The students were then asked to find similarities between the actions of the younger brother and Mir Zafar.

Keeping aside all other failures of our national educational curriculum, one might think that our education board would do better when it comes to designing question papers which do not indoctrinate people with communal ideas.

As a matter of fact, one can plausibly argue that this is a case of "reverse communalism" as it can also be said that what the Muslim character did in his private property should not be the business of the previous landowner. Irrespective of which community the question paints in a problematic light, the fact that the question was offensive and had the potential to spread communal hatred – something which disproportionately affects minorities – is what matters.

Despite the seemingly offensive nature of the question, I remain quite nonchalant at this point. This is because such communal and nationalistic expressions in our education system are not uncommon. From chapters which misrepresent ethnic minorities and their diets, causing thousands of students to stereotype indigenous groups, to teachers in prominent schools in the city harassing students of religious minorities in their classrooms (as well as students doing the same to teachers of a different faith), the marginalisation of minorities in our educational institutions and the system in general is rampant.

Therefore, the incident about the question paper is simply the result of years of build-up of communal thought processes combined with utter negligence towards the emotions of vulnerable stakeholders in the status quo. It's a series of grievous errors overlooked by what must be dozens of teachers and officials who are in charge of question making for HSC exams.

However, while I am not surprised by the incident, it is easy to understand why people who are from my mother's generation and belong to religious minorities are likely to be much more shocked by it.

Unlike my generation, their generation was brought up in a country which, being born out of a sectarian partition and the subsequent war, promised them safety and security especially under the very lucrative banner of secularism. The religiosity of the general populace did not manifest in such a vile manner during their times and they were largely protected from politics tinged with religion.

Seeing that pillar of secularism erode over the years and that spot being taken over by sectarianism which threatens their very existence is definitely not a very comforting idea for them to absorb.

Our own thoughts, however, should not be restricted to lamenting the incident. We need to think of the ways in which we can steer our country away from this course and protect the education system. This is because the education system is the primary method with which we shape the impressionable minds of the future generations.

Thus, when the future generation is fed with such problematic stereotypes about minority groups, it creates a vicious cycle of disparagement towards minority groups which will have long-lasting and irreversible effects in the socio-political fabric we are stitched into.

Consequently, simply providing lip-service about how secular our country is will not do anything in terms of repairing the damage done when it comes to instilling problematic ideas into the mind of our youth. People in positions of power need to be making active efforts to make sure that the education system fosters healthy ideas about minorities and their rights.

While these efforts can look like even the simplest of things, such as the inclusion of chapters written by a more diverse band of writers which accurately represent the multi-faceted culture of our country, the fact of the matter remains: we need to do better.

Hrishik Roy is an intern at The Daily Star. Reach out to him at [email protected]