Of biased history: Wait, wasn’t Nehru the bad guy?

Published: March 15, 2014
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It is always the winning party that writes history. In Pakistan, we were the winners and so we were the good guys. Indians were the winners in India and I assumed that they followed the same criteria as well.

“Oh Jinnah sahib? Suna hai ke woh Nehru ki takkar ke thay.”

(Oh, Mr Jinnah? I have heard that he was quite the equivalent of Nehru.)

Stunned by the honest answer to my question by my Indian friend, I tried to process what he had said. It was the third day of the Boy Scouts Messengers of Peace Camp and we were in Delhi riding together on a bus to visit a monument – the Qutub Minar, I believe.

Over the last few days that I had been in India, I had noticed that only a select few of my Indian counterparts knew who Jinnah was and even fewer recognised the man on the Pakistani currency that I showed them. After asking some of my scout brethren if they knew who Quaid-e-Azam was and receiving blank looks in return, I realised my mistake and rephrased the question.

I started asking them if they knew who Muhammad Ali Jinnah was. But as it turned out, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah – the founder of Pakistan, the man who shook the subcontinent, the man who could make the Brits and others quake in their boots, the man who ruled every book and class (barring the books on science of course) I had come across since before I could remember, was someone they knew nothing about.

What was even more shocking was the fact that my Indian friend, who had at least heard of Jinnah and Nehru being at par, thought that he was speaking very highly of Jinnah by comparing him to Nehru. I, on the other hand, had only come across Nehru when the chapter about the Indian National Congress had come around in history class. There was such little mention of Nehru that only his name had remained in my memory; and of course, the point that Nehru was supposedly the bad guy who had opposed the Muslim’s struggle for independence.

And now here stood a man telling me that they were both possessors of the same level of mental prowess and that they were both good guys.

So, I reasoned that either just as I had less information on Nehru, my friend was also ignorant about Jinnah since our elders and those who ran educational institutions felt that keeping us less informed was necessary; or that both of us had been given overrated images of these ‘heroes’ since birth and that in actuality, they were very little like the leaders we had in mind.

This experience made me think of just how biased history could be. It is always the winning party that writes history. In Pakistan, we were the winners and so we were the good guys. All the others were either villains or simply, not important enough to be mentioned or discussed.

On the other hand, Indians were the winners in India and I assumed that they followed the same criteria as well.

It was only recently that I learnt that Rashid Minhas, the youngest person to have ever been awarded the Nishan-e-Haider, had died while trying to keep the aircraft he was flying from being high-jacked by Matiur Rahman, a Bengali pilot. A Bengali pilot!

And Matiur Rahman was awarded the ‘Bir Sreshtho’ in Bangladesh.

Bir Sreshtho and the Nishan-e-Haider are the highest honours given in Bangladesh and Pakistan respectively. They are both awarded to those who died in service for their country and nation. Obviously, each side calls its own soldier shaheed (martyr) while the other country’s soldier is made out to be the villain.

After all, how can there be a hero without a villain? And thus, biased history is born.

This biased history goes a long way in affecting how we think about others. Take me for instance; until a few months ago, I would have told you that Indians were the enemy.

In the session of the sixth International Urdu Conference, held at the Karachi Arts Council on December 1, 2013 Professor Harbans Mukhia, who is from Jawaharlal Nehru University, said that he had visited Lahore once some 16 years ago. During a conversation, a friend of a friend asked him what pained him the most about partition, to which the professor replied,

‘”Dukh kis ka hai? Dukh iss baat ka hai ke jis world view ko le kar hum saath se aath saw saal sath rahay, woh zawiya hum se chin gaya.”

(What pains me the most? What pains me the most is that the world view that we had and spent 700-800 years together with, was stolen from us.)

Sometimes I wonder if the history we are taught was not incomplete, if it did not have missing pieces or if it was not completely biased, what would the world be like?

What if history was not written separately by both parties?

What if access to both sides of the story was permitted and what if there were no repercussions?

I wonder if we’d have a better understanding of each other. I wonder if we’d have a more compassionate and united world. I wonder if we will ever see such a day.

Taha Shaheen

Taha Shaheen

A student who has done his A-Levels and is interested in sports, writing, reading and learning about new cultures, he tweets as @Taha_Shaheen_ (twitter.com/Taha_Shaheen_)

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