Protecting Minorities

According to the Human Rights Observer’s 2023 fact sheet, content against religious minorities has increased in the national curriculum and textbooks. Unsurprisingly, the narrative paints them as outsiders, indoctrinating the public against them as a result. The education system is supposed to pave the way for tolerance and acceptance, and foster open-mindedness but here, we find ourselves immersed in discriminatory practices. The government must reconsider the approach it wants to take, especially in light of the global condemnation we already face in regard to human rights violations.

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) used the report and highlighted five key issues that minorities in Pakistan experience; forced conversions, blasphemy accusations, the slow establishment of the National Commission for Minorities, jail remissions and most importantly, discrimination in the education system. The reason why a repressive and intolerant education system is a problem is that it is responsible for dispensing knowledge to impressionable children. It is at this point in their life that they absorb qualities like acceptance, tolerance, peaceful cohabitation, respect, and value for human life and learn concepts like equality. To have a national curriculum that paints minorities as evil, outsiders or as a segment of the population that is not truly a part of the citizenry is problematic.

The previous government endorsed the Single National Curriculum (SNC) which made Islamic education compulsory for all children in primary and secondary school. Quranic teachings have been made mandatory, as well as a comprehensive study of the Shariah Law. All students are required to study this content matter, despite being minorities belonging to different religions. Education reform is definitely needed but it should be multi-dimensional. Focusing on one particular type of religious education that aims to differentiate between the citizenry and paint the minority as second-class citizens that may not truly belong to Pakistan is not the right way to go about it.

These structural and regressive problems in the curriculum have to be resolved to make way for progressive, more tolerant teachings. We have earned a reputation of being highly repressive towards minorities particularly; we must distance ourselves from such practices through consultations with education experts and entertaining diverse perspectives.

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