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South Asians urge for historical representation in UK’s curriculum

British-South Asians are calling for the inclusion of the subcontinent history from the British colonial rule till the partition in their national curriculum to erase historical bias.

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Second-generation South Asians living in the UK are now demanding that the colonization of the subcontinent, as well as the Indo-Pak partition, be included in their national curriculum.

Founded in 2020, the Partition Education Group (PEG) is the official campaign to include the partition of the subcontinent in the national curriculum.

PEG also aims to raise South Asian history and heritage profile in the UK through education, arts, culture, and commemorations.

The hurried transfer of power and the partition is said to have caused the largest mass migration in history that left more than two million people dead and nearly 15 million displaced.

To this day, the partition’s consequences are being dealt with by both the countries as they fail to reach a consensus on economic, geographic, and social problems.

Why now? 

Most of the information and stories the younger generation knows are learned at home, not through their educational institutes. And since it has been 74 years since the partition in 1947, the generation that saw and went through the partition will soon be gone which is why it is important now more than ever to record their stories and experiences.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, a London-based human resources professional said “What they didn’t focus on is Britain leaving India. And we know why they skim over that – because it is a tragic and inhumane account that had consequences on the lives of millions of people.”

“The wealth of [the UK] is rooted in colonialism.”

In July last year, more than 260,000 people signed a petition to make the national curriculum more inclusive of BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) history, calling for topics on Britain’s role in colonialism, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, institutional racism, and mistreatment of BAME societies to be made compulsory for all United Kingdom students.

Read More: 15 British-Pakistanis elected to the British Parliament

Problems

However, the petition was rejected by the Department of Education because the national curriculum already had the flexibility to be inclusive of BAME history, and therefore, it was not necessary to change the curriculum.

While autonomy in the curriculum is favorable, some argue that such a move also runs the risk of BAME history not being taught at all.

Most of the South Asian kids studying and working in the UK already struggle with their identity as they are sailing in two boats where they try to adapt to their regional cultures and at the same time try to fit in with the western society.

Not having any representation in media, education, and arts makes them more inclined towards the western culture forgetting their own heritage and traditions.

As per the 2001 census in the UK, South Asians are the largest minority group, accounting for 50 percent of all ethnic minorities in England and Wales.

Raj Unsworth, PEG chair and former trustee in the UK education sector believes that teaching a shared history is important for social integration and a cohesive society.

“Racial discrimination stems from ignorance and lack of understanding,” she told Al Jazeera. “I came to the UK when I was seven. I was embarrassed by my dual identity (British Indian) and didn’t know enough about colonial history. I learned about the East India Company through the lens of a white Brit.”

The problem does not just end with the UK. Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh themselves are facing similar issues with the way history is recalled and taught.

In a recent interview with Moeed Pirzada, Aitzaz Ahsan also touched upon the issue of bias in history and the way it is taught in both India and Pakistan. “I am against the history that is being taught to my children. I am against the cutting off of historical events. During Zia’s rule, a book was published on the history of Pakistan where the first 13 chapters focused on Islamic history and then came to Pakistan with Muhammad bin Qasim. The Guptas, the Ashokas, Chandragupta Maurya… everybody is wiped out as if we didn’t have ancestral roots with them.”

While talking on the similar situation in India, Ahsan commented “with the rise of the BJP, there have been attempts to Hinduize curriculums. Under Modi, they have crossed all limits, it’s Hindutva now.”

Read More: PM Boris Johnson honours four Pakistanis for humanitarian service

Pakistan has recently started working on the Single National Curriculum (SNC) under the supervision of Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood. The initiative was taken to bring private schools, public schools, and madrassas under the same umbrella to erase the class distinction created based on the material taught and the quality of the content it contains. The extent to which this initiative helps rewrite history to give the right representation to the people of the subcontinent is yet to be seen.

 

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