Peshawar: Remember when your Christian class-fellows would leave to go for catechism studies when it was time for Islamiat – or Islamic studies – in your school?
For Dilraj, a student of grade 6 in a government school in Dabgari Garden, a bustling old neighborhood at the heart of Peshawar city, the choice to leave Islamiat class to go study his religion does not exist.
“We have no choice but study Islamiat because there are no alternatives such as studying ethics and Hinduism for non-Muslim students,” says Dilraj who belongs to the Hindu community that has lived in the Dabgari Garden since before Partition.
In some schools run by the missionaries – an increasingly rate phenomenon in today’s Pakistan – separate classes in religious studies are still available to mainly Christian student, especially in private schools that hire teachers of Christian faith. But for students from religious minorities studying in the government schools, no such facility exists.
According to Dilraj around 80 non-Muslim male and female students are enrolled in different government schools of Dabgari Garden. He said there was no option available to minority students but to study Islamiat in government schools.
Dilraj said that from class one to class seven, they are taught Islamiat while from class eight to ten, students from religious minorities are made to study ethics.
“Since we are taught Islamiat from the very beginning it becomes difficult to switch to ethics at a latter stage because it is all very new for us and we cannot properly follow,” says Dilraj. “As a result, a number of students fail or cannot score high in ethics which is only taught at the high school level.”
According to articles 20-A, 22-1 and 25-1 of the Constitution of Pakistan, citizens have the equal right to study their religion. However, the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) education department has yet to appoint a single teacher in religious studies for minority students across the province and prepare and publish separate curriculum for them to study in government schools.
According to all Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement, the total population of non-Muslims in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is nearly 0.2 million.
Talking to News Lens, Pakistan Minorities Teachers Association Professor Anjum James Paul said that minorities were citizens of Pakistan. He said that the Constitution of Pakistan gave every citizen of Pakistan the equal right to seek knowledge according to his or her religion.
“But the government has failed to arrange separate education institutes or make separate curricula for non-Muslims,’ said Paul, adding that their children were forced to study Islamiat. “There is no choice available for our children in the government school except Islamiat and they are compelled to take examination in it.”
Paul said that the Constitution of Pakistan reserved 2 per cent quota for minorities in government jobs, however non-Muslims were deprived of it. He said that not a single teacher from religious minorities was appointed in government school across KP.
“If the government followed the Constitution and allowed the religious minorities the 2 per cent quota in government jobs, the problem of religious studies would not crop up in government schools because teachers from religious minorities can teach minority students,” he said.
Paul said for the last ten years his association had been asking the KP government to appoint teachers from the non-Muslim community and provide separate classes for religious studies, but there had been no favourable response.
“If the Constitution of Pakistan provides equal rights to every citizen, why does the the government deprives us of them by failing to provide separate books and classes to our children?” he said.
Paul explained that the ethics book taught just that and had nothing to do with religion. He said the KP government should publish separate books for all religious minorities according to their religions and appoint teachers from minorities in the government schools to teach them.
At the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Text Book Board whose main mission is to make available textbooks to schools across the province, an official – wishing not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to media – confirmed that the KP Text Book Board did not publish the ethics book for students in the government schools.
He said that it was not an easy task to make available separate books for separate religions. “All ethics or civic studies books are brought from the Punjab province, prepared according to the curriculum decided by the Punjab Text Book Board,” said the official.
He said that the KP Text Book Board only published them according to directives of the government and the Board had no authority to decide and prepare separate curricula for non-Muslims.
“The ethics text book is produced in consultation with elders, representatives and religious leaders of non-Muslims communities for minority students across the country,” said Director Bashir Hussain Shah of Directorate of Curricula and Teacher Education (DCTE) that trains teachers for quality education in the province.
Shah said that it was only after consultation with the non-Muslim elders in KP that they had brought the ethics books from the Punjab province.
The KP Text Book Board official said that on recommendations from the provincial coalition government – comprising the religious party Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the ruling Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan – changes had been made to different text books.
He said the chapter on Helen Keller – the deaf-blind American activist and academic – had been removed from the English text book of grade 9, while chapters on Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and Khulfa-e-Rashideen chapters have been included in the book.
The official added that verses from Quran have been included in Biology and Physics books of grade 10 and 11.
Malak Khalid Khan, president of All Primary Teachers Association in KP that works for the rights of primary school teachers across the province, confirmed that no teachers from the non-Muslim community were appointed in government schools. He also confirmed that there are several schools in Peshawar, Mardan and Nowshera where non-Muslim students were enrolled.
He said that at the primary level, there were no separate books for them to study their own religion and they were all taught Islamiat.