Kuch Karo

For our eighth session, we had asked Ms. Aisha, a history teacher at Lead High School, to come in and have a story-telling session with the group. We had asked her to recount the history of the subcontinent, briefly, without unnecessary dates and names. Ms. Aisha began at the start of the Mughal Empire and went through the British invasion, our subsequent colonization, the War of Independence 1857, the efforts of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Allama Iqbal and finally ended at the creation of the sovereign states of Pakistan and India. 
Although Ms. Aisha talked for a good three-quarters of an hour, it did not feel as if she were delivering a lecture or teaching a class; it was entertaining. However, like most talks on the history of this region, it stuck very close to what our history textbooks say. 
So it was up to Maliha to complicate matters. For example, the kids have been taught for most of their lives that the Mughal Empire had crumbled because the rulers had "strayed from Islam." Elaboration on this, I believe, is extremely necessary. Maliha explained that the Empire did not fall because its rulers had stopped praying five times a day, but because they had become corrupt and lazy and arrogant (all three of which are, undoubtedly, against the teachings of Islam).

Maliha began talking about Zia-ul-Haq but, surprisingly, the kids knew very little about who he was and what he had done. Therefore, she gave them a research assignment to find out what his dictatorship - one of the darkest periods in Pakistani history - had been like. 

Maliha then discussed some of the irrational things we had done in the past, from the rejection of 'Western' education during the British Raj, to frequently mixing culture and religion into a confusing mess and to our habit of blaming others for our problems. They were irrational, Maliha explained, because they have been clearly against our favour. 

"Who here is a Mohajir?" Maliha asked suddenly. 

Nobody raised their hand. Either none of them really identified as Mohajirs or they were already one step ahead of the game. Maliha explained that the term was still used today and caused unnecessary ethnic divide. Most people could not truly identify as such, she said, because very few people alive today had actually, physically left India and migrated to Pakistan. Most Mohajirs today were born and raised in Pakistan and should not, therefore, consider themselves migrants. 

Nobody raised their hand when Maliha named various other ethnic groups and asked who amongst the group identified with those groups. Clearly, the group was onto us. Sure enough, when Maliha asked, "Who here is just Pakistani?" hands rose in unison. 
During lunch break, Zohra mentioned her criticisms of the day's session so far. She felt that we were not pushing and challenging the kids as much as we could be. With a glint in her eye, she told us that she wanted to introduce them to a popular opinion that the very creation of Pakistan was a mistake. Personally, I felt that they were not yet ready for something like that just yet. 

"Why was Pakistan made?" asked Maliha after lunch had been eaten and the participants had regrouped. 

The group recited the rote-learned story that the Hindus of India, angered by being under Muslim-rule for centuries, sought revenge by acting against Muslim interests as soon as the British packed up and left. Maliha explained that although there was some animosity between people of the two religions, this was not entirely the case. What Pakistan was created for, in fact, was to protect minority rights. 

The group then read Jinnah's 11th August 1947 speech, where he said: "You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed, that has nothing to do with the business of the State.” Maliha talked about how this seemed ironic today as religious freedom and the protection of the rights of the minorities, the very foundations of the idea of Pakistan, were not observed today. 

Another one of Jinnah's addresses were read, this one from 15th June 1948. This speech talked about how, through cooperation, "Muslims would cease to be Muslim, and Hindus would cease to be Hindu" in the political sense. 

"But does that mean that you discard the Muslim, Hindu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pathan, Balochi and other such parts of your identity and consider yourself just Pakistani?"

"No," said Ruqueia. "But we shouldn't let those identities get in the way of things." 

Maliha then showed old pictures of Karachi to the kids. Shiza was quick to point out how some areas of the city still looked like the city they saw in the pictures that were well over a century old. 

The slide show was ended abruptly with a modern-day picture of Pakistani men kicking a motorbike and setting it aflame. 

"Does this solve anything?" Maliha asked. 

It was decided it did not. 

Discussion then turned towards revolutions. Maliha talked about how everyone fondly, excitedly and usually cluelessly mentions revolutions, hoping that they will bring a quick, clean change to everything that needs change. 

Maliha introduced the group to the Arab Spring and what has been happening in the Middle East. "So does that mean we should do the same?" she asked. "Should we start a revolution?" The question was not meant to be answered; it was just something for the kids to ponder on. 

"And what holds us back from starting a revolution?"

The concept of perceived powerlessness was discussed. Maliha explained that we aren't actually powerless, we are just encouraged to believe that, or allow ourselves to believe that, so that all we can do is conveniently complain. 

"If you don't bring change," said Maliha, "who on earth will? Your neighbour? Remember, you are only doing yourself a favour." 

"But do we even understand the implications of a revolution?" Maliha asked. The group then read Farhan Ahmed's article Viva La Revolucion! which was published in the e-magazine, Ideas Evolved. The article put revolutions into several categories and argued that while violent revolutions dominated the notion of what a revolution really was, it was the slow-and-steady revolutions that won the race. 

At this, Taha put forward the idea that revolutions could also be personal and silent, happening within a person. 

Maliha had to leave the Idea Room for a while and left the session in Zohra's hands. Zohra, rubbing her hands gleefully, asked the participants who they thought wrote the history books. She explained that people with power wrote them and that, therefore, history books could be influenced by them. The idea of censorship was discussed, with Google in China used as an example. Maliha returned to the group and took it from there. She explained that if, say, Faiq was the President and Rehan wrote something that marred his reputation, Faiq had the power to stop the offending piece from being published. Similarly, she said, the history books used in schools in Pakistan, were approved by the government, and therefore, only contained material the government approved. The participants were told to read history books with a grain of salt. 

Maliha then discussed what to take away from history and what to leave out. She explained how nostalgia keeps pulling us back and how our longing for our past glories had us making the same mistakes and endlessly repeating history. She said that values were worth holding onto but the glories of the past were to be left behind if they became excused for current idiocy. 

The group was then introduced to the Oral History Project, a compilation of recorded interviews by the Citizens' Archive of Pakistan. The interviews consist of senior citizens remembering various stages of Pakistani history as they experienced them. They contain personal stories and recollections, things that are usually left out of history books in favour of cold, hard dates and figures. 
Another CAP undertaking,Exchange For Change, was discussed too. The project involves the exchange of letters, postcards, pictures, and videos between Pakistani and Indian schools. The participants were shown a video of Indian students introducing themselves and talking about their favourite things. The participants were genuinely surprised at how "normal" and similar the Indian kids were, although there was a little bit of antagonism - the group laughed a bit too hard at their broken English. However, when Maliha asked how many people would be interested in communicating with an Indian student, most people raised their hands. 

- Asad
Mehr Zaidi
7/1/2012 08:27:16 pm

If the children have started to CATCH onto your GAMES already....your project has achieved what it set out to do...well done Kutch Karo team!!

11/22/2013 06:06:36 pm

it's a great effort


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