In a first for academic diplomacy, the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) has managed to conduct a course titled, “Beyond India and Pakistan: Changing the foundation of South Asian history”. The aim of the course is to explore how people from both sides of the border comprehend their histories. But it isn’t just about their perceived histories, rather it is the joint history post-1947.
The course was taught by two instructors from both countries.
Ali Usman Qasmi in Lahore and Pallavi Raghavan in Sonipat co-taught the fascinating course. Indian and Pakistani students enrolled in the course alike have discussed difficult and controversial topics since months now. The course ended with a two-day trip of the Pakistani students to Delhi. The students interacted in a practical capacity and Scroll.in reports that by the end of the trip, they were comfortable enough to share jokes about how their interactions might be the subject of great concern for intelligence agencies of both countries respectively.
In light of these positive developments, why was the course so necessary in creating this dialogue of shared history?
It is no hidden fact that the curriculum taught to us all our lives is based on the instinctive need to preserve nationalistic sentiments. The curriculum in our Pakistan Studies textbooks seeks to propagate a narrative of sacrifice and zealousness in building the national fabric. Pretty sure textbooks in India are formulated the same way. If Pakistan’s ‘greatness’ comes from anything that highlights a sense of anti-Indian-ness, then it logically follows that all history disseminated will inculcate that sentiment at the heart of anything we do as a nation. It is as if our greatness cannot stand alone but it must come from how we feel about India. So this course has tried to connect that divide. If we have misconceptions about Indians and they about us, a positive dialogue is the only way to do away with them. Because frankly, who needs two nuclear states going head to head with each other when the geopolitical atmosphere is already close to an explosion.
Secondly, a discussion of the joint history is important to understand alternative histories of both nations.
Out patriotic history with tales of heroic figures is only a figment of nationalism. A plethora of alternate facts exist. Facts which are common to both territories. Only the interpretation of those facts differs in the history taught in both countries. And it is in the reconciliation of these facts that possible attempts towards peace may be made.
Furthermore, the histories of individual figures from both sides are usually not a holistic representation of who they are. Figures like Allama Iqbal, Rabindranath Tagore, Bal Gandaghar Tilak, and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan are crucial to histories on both sides. Yet, we don’t hear about the Indian nationalists and vice-versa.
A rupture of our nationalistic tendencies is important through such courses. And by rupture, it is not meant that patriotism be thrown out of the window. Rather a rupture means to understand the many layers of history that effect where we stand today. The point is to learn from the past. It is to unlearn stringent narratives of what we know of a particular war with India. Above all, the point is to inculcate a human element in Indo-Pak interactions. Because both countries are a lot more than armed men and culturally dressed, tip-top politicians and their diplomatic handshakes. It is time the reigns of history are handed back to the common citizens. So they may document our joint history in its most unbiased way yet.