Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Pakistani Textbooks Acknowledge National Contribution of Minorities

Pakistani history books for middle and high school students now describe the role played by Christians, Hindus and Sikhs in building the country after independence, according to Pakistan Christian Post.

Professor Anjum James Paul, Chairman  of Pakistan Minorities Teachers’ Association (PMTA) and member of the Textbook Review Committee, says that “Role of minorities in the creation of Pakistan” for History 8 and “ Role of minorities in Pakistan” for Pakistan Studies 10 are now part of the National Curriculum.

The new textbooks acknowledge that minority leaders attended the Annual meeting of the All India Muslim League on 23rd March 1940 when the Pakistan Resolution was passed. Among the attendees were Diwan Bahadar Sittia Parkash Singha, a renowned lawyer Chaudhry Chandu Lal, CE Gibbon, F.E. Chaudary, Raj Kumari Amrit, Fazal Ilahi, Alfried Purshad and S.S. Albert.

As the Pakistan Movement neared its goal of partition,  Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah sought and received the support of the Christian leader Ch. Chandu Lal and the Sikh leader Giani Kartar Singh in Lahore.

The Punjab Boundary Commission representing Pakistan's interests at the time of partition included Justice Din Muhammad, Sir Zafarullah Khan and Sardar Baddar Singh. Several Christian leaders appearing before it asked that the Christian population of Punjab be counted as a part of Pakistan.

In Sindh, the Parsi community played an important role. A Parsee leader named Jamshed Nusser Wangee Mehta became the first mayor of Karachi after the creation of Pakistan. He was instrumental in welcoming the Muhajirs from India and helped them settle in Karachi.

Pakistan has had several top judges, bureaucrats and military officers who have served the nation with distinction. Among the most prominent of them were Supreme Court Chief Justice A.R. Cornelius, Justice Bhawan Das, Justice Dorab Patel, Major General Julian Peter, Maj Gen Israel Khokhar, Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry and Air Commodore Władysław Turowicz.

Better late than never. It's good to see Pakistan finally acknowledge the role of minorities in its creation and development. I hope it's just the beginning of the march toward Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah's vision of a more inclusive Pakistan.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Rising Tide of Intolerance Threatens Pakistan

Akhand Bharat Part of Indian Textbooks

Hindutva Distortions in Indian Textbooks

Fighting Agents of Intolerance in Pakistan

Muslim Scholars Must Fight Hate in Pakistan

South Asian Christians Celebrate Christmas in Fear

Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah's Vision

Pakistan Must Defeat Agents of Intolerance 

Celebrating Quaid-e-Azam M.A. Jinnah's Birthday


Riaz Haq said...

A senior educationist and member of the government-appointed advisory committee for curriculum and textbooks reforms has left the country ‘fearing for life’ after receiving threatening calls and facing a ‘hate propaganda campaign’, it emerged on Monday.

Dr Bernadette L. Dean, director of VM Institute for Education and former principal of St Joseph’s College for Women and Kinnaird College, in an email sent to her friends and colleagues first said ‘sorry’ that she had not been able to contact them in recent days and then described reasons for that. She said she had to leave Pakistan fearing for her life on the advice of family, friends, colleagues and police.

She said a political party was instrumental in unleashing the ‘hate campaign’ against her for writing textbooks as a member of the advisory committee. “This campaign started a few months ago with threatening phone calls to members of the advisory committee on curriculum and textbook reform and Sindh Textbook Board, visits of religious leaders from the Punjab and Sindh to the STBB to complain about me and the work I am doing with respect to textbook writing, a vicious letter accusing me of being a foreigner woman who has single-handedly made changes to the curriculum and textbooks that made them secular and called me an enemy of Islam.”

With her email, she also attached multiple files. One of them included a letter to the Karachi police chief from a civil society organisation appealing for the removal of banners against her put up by the political party.

She also referred to the ‘All-Parties Conference’ held at the Karachi Press Club in April where she had been blamed for carrying out such amendments to the curricula. She raised the concern with the authorities but in vain, said the email.

The fresh statement from Dr Dean came just weeks after the gun attack on an American national, Debra Lobo, on Shaheed-i-Millat Road. Mrs Lobo, the Jinnah Medical and Dental College vice principal for student affairs, was seriously wounded in the attack carried out by four unidentified gunmen on Shaheed-i-Millat Road. In her email, Dr Dean also clarified her role as a member of the committee citing that she just co-authored the reformed books with Muslim authors and all the books were reviewed multiple times before being approved.

“The New National Curriculum 2006 approved by the federal government included Islamiat as part of general knowledge in class 1-2 and from grade 3 Islamiat was made a separate subject,” she said.

“The decision was taken at that time that Islamiat-related content would be removed from the other subjects, as Islamiat is a compulsory subject for grade 3 onwards,” she explained.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan’s biggest city #Karachi has unlikely addition to skyline: 14-story Christian cross
Pakistani businessman Parvez Henry Gill says he was sleeping when God crashed into one of his dreams and gave him a job: Find a way to protect Christians in Pakistan from violence and abuse. “I want you to do something different,” God told him.

That was four years ago, and Gill, a lifelong devout Christian, struggled for months with how to respond. Eventually, after more restless nights and even more prayers, he awoke one morning with his answer: He would build one of the world’s largest crosses in one of the world’s most unlikely places.

“I said, ‘I am going to build a big cross, higher than any in the world, in a Muslim country,’ ” said Gill, 58. “It will be a symbol of God, and everybody who sees this will be worry free.”

Now, in this overwhelmingly Muslim country, in the heart of a city where Islamist extremists control entire neighborhoods, the 14-story cross is nearly complete.

It’s being built at the entrance to Karachi’s largest Christian cemetery, towering over thousands of tombstones that are often vandalized. By overshadowing such acts of disrespect, Gill said he hopes his cross can convince the members of Pakistan’s persecuted Christian minority that someday their lives will get better.

“I want Christian people to see it and decide to stay here,” said Gill, who started the project about a year ago.

The cross, located in southern Karachi, is 140 feet tall — higher than most office buildings in downtown Washington — and includes a 42-foot crossbar. It isn’t the world’s tallest; that distinction is claimed by “The Great Cross” in St. Augustine, Fla., which is about 208 feet tall, although the Millennium Cross in Macedonia is said to tower 217 feet above ground. Crosses approaching 200 feet also have been constructed in Illinois, Louisiana and Texas.

But Gill says his cross at the Gora Qabaristan Cemetery, which dates to the British Colonial era, will be the largest in Asia.

Riaz Haq said...

How One #Pakistan Town in #Sindh Mastered Religious Tolerance via HuffPost Religion​

"IN February this year, I happened to travel to Tharparkar with friends to view the drought-affected areas and launch some projects to overcome the disaster that hits every year. After a 20-hour arduous road and rail journey, I finally reached the quaint little town of Mithi, and here I experienced what I had never expected to see in a Pakistani town.

Mithi is as sweet as the name it has been given. Approximately 80 percent of the population here is Hindu. It is a town where Muslims, out of respect for Hindus, do not slaughter cows; and where Hindus, out of respect for Muslim rites, have never organised any marriage ceremonies or celebrations during the month of Muharram.

Not only that, the Hindus of Mithi also happily participate in providing food and drinks for Muslims during Ramazan, and both groups exchange sweets on Eid and Diwali. The crime rate in Mithi is at two percent and never has anyone witnessed any incident of religious intolerance.

Speaking with the locals of Mithi, I discovered that here, one could find Hindu speakers organising majaalis in Muharram -- something I haven't seen anywhere else in Pakistan -- and as my friend in the United States had stated, I heard Hindus sharing their account of Muharram, where they led Ashura processions and provided assistance to procession members in a city where Muslims hardly made up 20 percent of the population.
Pakistan has become synonymous with terrorism. On most local and international news channels, we hear about minorities getting slaughtered at the hands of extremists; attacks on temples, churches, imambargahs; or the forced conversions of Hindus and Christians in the country.

I reckon you might be pleasantly surprised to know that there is a small town in Tharparkar, a district of the Sindh province where none of this is happening.

Mithi is one of the few towns in Pakistan where Muslims do not form the majority. In this quiet portion of a sprawling desert, both Hindus and Muslims have lived together like brothers since the creation of Pakistan.

In November 2014, when I was selected for a three-week fellowship program in the United States, I met a gentleman from Sindh who was also among my batch. He introduced himself like this:

"I am a Hindu from Sindh, but throughout my life I have lived with Muslims and this is why during Ramazan, we fast along with them; and when it is Muharram, us Hindu boys lead the procession because this is the culture which Sufism has given us."

I was dumbstruck at the idea of a Hindu fasting in Ramazan or leading a Muharram procession. Was this actually true?"

Riaz Haq said...

Comic book 'Guardians' to steer young Pakistanis away from extremism

ISLAMABAD: When Taliban militants stormed a school in Peshawar last December, killing 150 people, mainly children, in the country's deadliest terror attack, comic book creators Mustafa Hasnain, Gauhar Aftab and Yahya Ehsan decided it was time to act.

The trio had already been working on a series to raise awareness about the corruption that plagues Pakistan — an economically-underperforming Muslim giant of 200 million people.

But they quickly decided to shift their focus to violent extremism — and felt holding candle-light vigils was not the best way to effect change.

Read: Militant siege of Peshawar school ends, 141 killed

Hasnain, a British-educated computer graphics specialist, founded his own company Creative Frontiers in 2013, today employing 20 people, including young male and female artists, programmers and writers, in a hip Silicon Valley-style office in Lahore.

He explained: “It was a huge watershed moment for us. I got together with Gauhar and I said 'We really have to do something about this'.

“We used to stand over there (at vigils) with a candle... but we wanted to do something more.“

The result was “Paasban” — or “Guardian” — a three-part series featuring a group of close friends at college who begin to worry when one of them drops out to join a religious student group that is ostensibly working for charitable causes. Some in the group however, suspect it may have darker aims.

Fifteen thousand of the books are set to be distributed for free from June 1 at schools in Lahore, Multan and Lodhran while some copies will be made available in book stores.

The comic will also be distributed on a tailor-made app the group have developed for Apple and Android smartphones.

Personal journey
For English-language script writer Aftab, the pathway from disillusionment to signing up to carry a gun and fight the so-called enemies of Islam was not just something he had read about in the news, — it was a choice he had almost made as a child.

Riaz Haq said...

#Christian Massacre Prevented in #Lahore #Pakistan After #Muslim Leaders Stand Up to Imams Inciting Attack. via @po_st

A massacre of Christians in Lahore, Pakistan, was prevented back in May partly due to three Muslim leaders standing up against other Islamic imams inciting a mass attack on Christians for alleged blasphemy. A total of 22 Muslims have so far been arrested in the incident.

Fides News Agency reported on Tuesday that Christian lawyers in the region are speaking out about the incident, which occurred on May 24. Local Christian man Humayun Faisal was accused of burning pages of the Quran, which is considered blasphemous, and has led to mob attacks on Christians in a number of cases.


Riaz Haq said...

Countering hate speech. Masjid imam prosecuted, jailed for hate speech in #Pakistan …

Reports that a court in Kasur district has jailed an imam for five years for making hate speeches are much to be welcomed. Firstly, for the display of independence and upholding the rule of law by the judiciary; and secondly, this in turn was responding to the police who brought the case in the first place. Hitherto neither the judiciary nor the police were noted for their willingness or tenacity when it came to prosecuting hate speech. There will be few of us that have not at some time heard speeches made over mosque loudspeakers and at some public rallies that incite sectarian hatred as well as hatred against minority communities, going as far as calling for them to be killed, sometimes with catastrophic fatal consequences. The sentencing of this man will also give a glimmer of hope to those civil liberties bodies who for years have been calling for such prosecutions largely to little avail.

A turning point may have been reached with the formulation of the National Action Plan in the wake of the Army Public School massacre in December 2014, and there has reportedly been an upswing in the numbers of people prosecuted for making hate speech or the inappropriate use of loudspeakers. The people of Pakistan have a distressing tendency towards volatility, rarely more so than in matters pertaining to faith. Crowds are quickly and easily assembled and equally quickly sparked into fire. The embedding of sectarian hatreds lies at the heart of much of the bloodshed seen in our towns and cities today, and the constant reinforcement of negative stereotypes via hate-filled sermons stokes the fires. We would be more than happy to see more prosecutions such as this because they begin to roll back the tide that puts bloodied water around the ankles of all of us. The police and the judiciary deserve the support of the wider populace, and moves such as this will go some way to countering the negative perceptions currently attached to both. Hatred may never be eliminated, but it can be robustly fought.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan mosque imam gets 10-year jail for hate speech

BAHAWALPUR: Anti-terrorism court judge Khalid Arshad on Friday awarded 10-year and four months jail term to the prayer leader of a mosque at Qaimpur Town near Hasilpur, about 90km from here, for delivering hate speech. He was also awarded Rs0.7m fine.

The convict, Maulana Abdul Ghani, was arrested by the Qaimpur police after he delivered the speech against a sect about two months back.

Meanwhile, the ATC announced judgements in four other cases pertaining to the distribution of hate literature.

Muhammad Waqas was awarded sentence of 3.5 months with a fine of Rs5,000, Rafiq Ahmed three months jail along Rs5,000 fine, Muhammad Zahid, three months and fifteen days while Talib Husain was given sentence of 3.5 months with Rs5,000 fine.

RAINWATER: Several dried-up open ponds, locally called tobas, in Cholistan were filled up with rainwater after the recent heavy rain.

According to Cholistan Development Authority’s director livestock Asghar Ramay, the rainwater in the ponds would meet the needs of both humans and cattle in the vast desert area.

He said the areas of Bijnot, Maujgarh, Dingarh, Salmsar and others received heavy rains while there was a drizzle in the parts of Derawar and Nawankot.

Mr Ramay expressed hope there would be grass and increase in natural pastures for animals after rain in the desert.

Riaz Haq said...

#Vatican reviews, approves the Catholic Church #Catechism in #Urdu. Now available in #Pakistan Radio

Catholic Church in Pakistan has completed the translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in Urdu after 13 years of intense work. The book has been approved by the Holy See and has been published in Pakistan. This was reported by Fr. Robert MacCulloch a missionary in Pakistan for 34 years who expressed joy having completed the work during this year of Mercy.
The first edition has been made available to all catholic dioceses and will be useful for catechesis at all levels for children, young people and adults says Fr. Robert who was also involved in the work with Emmanuel Neno, Secretary of the Bishops’ Commission for Catechesis.
Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore and head of the Pakistani Bishops’ Commission for Catechesis who followed its completion and publication thanks the Italian Catholic Bishops’ conference and the International Department of Aid to the Church in Need Foundation for their financial support. The Catechism, he concludes, “is useful for growing in holiness and in this Jubilee Year it is truly a Work of Mercy for the Catholic Church in Pakistan”. (Fides)

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan to declare #Holi, #Dewali, #Easter national holidays #Hindu #Christian

The National Assembly on Tuesday adopted a resolution to take steps to declare Holi, Diwali and Easter as holidays for minorities.

The resolution was moved by Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani (PML-N) that, "This house is of the opinion that government should take steps to declare Holi, Diwali and Easter as closed holidays for minorities."

State Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Aminul Hasnat Shah speaking in the house said that the Interior Ministry has already given permission to heads of federal organisations, departments, and institutions to grant leave to minorities on their religious festivals.

If the government adheres to the resolution ─ which it is expected to ─ the Interior Ministry will issue a notification declaring the holiday.

Meanwhile, Federal Minister for Laws and Justice Pervaiz Rashid said that although he is not opposing the resolution, the number of holidays in Pakistan are more than any other country and the resolution should be reconsidered.

He added that all Pakistanis equally share each others joy and sorrow and that there is no discrimination on basis of religion and faith, adding every citizen is enjoying religious freedom.

Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Sardar Muhammad Yousif and Parliamentary Secretary of Interior Minister Maryum Aurangzeb also did not oppose the resolution.

Riaz Haq said...

Nobody wants to erase #India from textbooks. Yet another #California textbook controversy by #Hindutuva groups

Is India being "erased" from California's history books? No, it's not.

But some 22,000 people have signed a petition to prevent the state from changing "India" to "South Asia" in its social studies curricula. A group of academics from schools including the University of San Francisco and Columbia University, and Hindu groups like the Hindu American Foundation, have signed on.

The State Board of Education is currently updating California's history and social science curriculum, and the petition is reacting to submissions in the public comment process that would replace some instances of "India" with "South Asia" and address Hinduism differently.

That request spurred a backlash from Hindu academics, leading to the petition that reads: "School students in California will be forced to learn that there was never an 'India' unless you act!"

This is not what is happening. The group that originally suggested the changes calls itself the South Asia Faculty Textbook Committee and includes South Asian scholars from Stanford, UC Berkeley, San Francisco State University and UCLA, among others.

They do suggest that in some places "India" be replaced with "South Asia" because some of the area discussed currently belongs to Pakistan.

April 2, 8:52 a.m.: An earlier version of this article indicated the letter was also a response to the petition. It was not; the petition began after the letter was written.


"We wish to clarify that while 'Ancient India' is the accepted usage among Indologists, in other fields, pre-modern South Asia is the common term of reference. Since there is no standardized usage across fields, it is difficult for us to recommend a single standard term for use in the curriculum framework. After careful review, we have settled on a context dependent approach for the use of the terms, 'Ancient India,’ ‘India,’ ‘Indian subcontinent’ and ‘South Asia,’ as we explain in the edits. The use of terms like 'Ancient India' and 'India' in the current version of the draft framework, particularly for grades 6 and 7 is at times misleading. Although 'Ancient India' is common in the source material, when discussing the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC), we believe it will cause less confusion to students to refer to the “Early Civilization of South Asia or “Ancient South Asia” because much of the Indus Valley is now in modern Pakistan. Conflating “Ancient India” with the modern nation-state of India deprives students from learning about the shared civilizational heritage of India and Pakistan."

The California History-Social Science Project takes public comment into account as it amends the framework and presents it to the state Board of Education. The group did adopt many of the faculty textbook committee's recommendations, and the Board of Education is scheduled to review the changes in May.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan removes offensive references from #textbooks: Ambassador Jilani #Hindu #Muslim via @ePakistanToday

In 2010–2011, the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD) conducted a
review of Pakistan’s primary and secondary education systems to assess the level of prejudice
and intolerance against religious minorities, particularly Hindus and Christians, in both the
curriculum and attitudes of teachers and classmates. These research findings, along with ICRD’s
analysis and recommendations, were published by the U.S. Commission on International Religious
Freedom (USCIRF) in 2011 under the title: “Connecting the Dots: Education and Religious
Discrimination in Pakistan.”


Using a baseline of 25 examples of religious intolerance found in the 2011 textbooks, it was found
that most had been removed from the current textbooks. A majority (16) have been removed,
while three have remained more or less unchanged, and six had been changed or expanded in
a way that retained the original objectionable material. According to the baseline assessment,
the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) Textbook Boards have been somewhat effective in
removing objectionable content, while the Sindh and Baluchistan Textbook Boards have made
little to no progress in removing the biases found in Connecting the Dots.

However, these results are tempered by the inclusion of new examples of religiously intolerant
passages. This study’s review of 78 current textbooks2
exposed 70 new examples of religious
intolerance and biases in 24 books, similar to the kind of materials found in the baseline assessment.
Of the 70 new examples, 58 (84%) came from books published by the Baluchistan and
Sindh authorities, while the remainder came from Punjab (7) and KPK (5).
The success of Punjab and KPK provinces can be credited, in part, to the advocacy efforts of
PEF at the provincial level from the time when the Connecting the Dots report was published in
2011. PEF’s President met with Punjab Governor Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar, provided him
with a copy of Connecting the Dots, and pointed out biased quotes against religious minorities in
Punjab textbooks. PEF also worked extensively with its influential partners in Punjab and KPK to
raise awareness of biases against minorities in the education system and the potential danger of
violence against religious minorities if the biases are not removed. Similarly, PEF made several
visits to KPK and met with Elementary & Secondary Education Ministry officials providing them
a copy of Connecting the Dots, and requested that they remove biased quotes from the textbooks.
In addition, the PEF President met with the most senior advisor to Imran Khan, Chairman of Tehrek-e-Insaf,
and briefed him on the possible violence against minorities if the provincial textbooks
continue to include biased and intolerant passages about religious minorities. (It should also be
noted that other organizations have raised similar concerns, such as the National Commission for
Justice and Peace (NCJP)).

As a follow-up to USCIRF’s Connecting the Dots study, the overall objective of this research
is to determine the degree to which negative stereotypes and/or biased portrayals of religious
minorities (Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis, Sikhs, and Jews) remain in current textbooks. The
research compares the current instances of intolerance and bias in the public school curriculum
with Connecting the Dots’ findings to determine the extent of Pakistan’s progress in eliminating
religious bias from its public school textbooks.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan's #Punjab province acts to improve #science content and correct #history in new revised school #textbooks. #education
by Pervez Hoodbhoy.

The new books are cleanly printed on paper of decent quality, typographical errors are infrequent, and coloured cartoons show smiling girl children in class. Earlier textbooks typically showed docile boys facing grim-faced elderly teachers. My heart gladdened at suggested science experiments that are both interesting and doable. And, instead of beating the tired old drum of Muslim scientists from a thousand years ago, one now sees a genuine attempt to teach actual science — how plants grow and breathe, objects move, water makes droplets or freezes, etc.

On the history front one feels instant relief. Pakistan’s date of birth has thankfully been set at 1947 and away from 712 — the year Arab imperial conqueror Mohammed bin Qasim set foot in Sindh. Schoolbooks during Gen Ziaul Haq’s years contained this claim and no subsequent government dared to reset the clock. Astonishingly, one book frankly admits that Muslims had fought against other Muslims and ascribes the Mughal Empire’s downfall after Emperor Aurangzeb to his quarrelling sons rather than eternally scheming Hindu Rajputs.

But here’s the wonder of wonders: an Urdu translation of Quaid-i-Azam’s famous speech of Aug 11, 1947, has finally found its way into at least one social studies book! This declares that religion is a matter for the individual citizen and not of the state. The speech had hitherto been kept hidden for fear of polluting students’ minds and weakening the two-nation theory. Whether it will actually be covered in Matric examinations is difficult to say; if not then students and their teachers won’t take it seriously.

The older curriculum helped create a militant, intolerant mindset. A generation later, Pakistan saw jihad-obsessed youngsters emerging even from mainstream schools. Willing to kill and be killed, they are now everywhere and have to be crushed with Islamic-sounding operations like Zarb-i-Azb and Raddul Fasaad (for which great credit is claimed). Terrorist networks of students and teachers that target policemen, soldiers, and ordinary citizens have been discovered within many colleges and universities.

The eventual revamping of Punjab’s school textbooks owes to a belated realisation that thousands of Pakistani lives were needlessly lost to militancy fuelled by hate materials in textbooks. Many years will be needed for the new books to produce a more enlightened, less xenophobic generation. This welcome step needed to be taken sooner rather than later. I have no knowledge of the blacked-out province of Balochistan but Punjab’s bold move has not been matched by other provinces.

Sindh remains frozen. Its education ministry and the Sindh Textbook Board have long set the highest standards of laziness, depravity and stupidity. An earlier analysis of STB’s science books was published in this newspaper two years ago. It has had zero effect; matters are just as grim there today as then.

Those who rule Sindh continue to stifle education. Sindh could have outraced Punjab by taking advantage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment which frees the provinces from the federal diktat. Instead, secretaries of education in Sindh who worked to improve things were defeated and shunted out. Sindh’s misfortune has been the ideology-free money-grabbing PPP which oversees a system based upon patronage and unlimited corruption.

With KP’s cleaner administration one expected better. The earlier ANP government had considerably softened textbooks in KP. But after Imran Khan’s PTI entered into an alliance with the Jamaat-i-Islami (and now possibly with arch-conservative Maulana Samiul Haq), there was drastic backpedaling....

Riaz Haq said...

#Islamophobia, #casteism characterize #Hindu comics Amar Chitra Katha. #BJP #Modi #Hinduism

since its debut in 1967, ACK has also helped supply impressionable generations of middle-class children a vision of “immortal” Indian identity wedded to prejudiced norms. ACK’s writing and illustrative team (led by Pai as the primary “storyteller”) constructed a legendary past for India by tying masculinity, Hinduism, fair skin, and high caste to authority, excellence, and virtue. On top of that, his comics often erased non-Hindu subjects from India’s historic and religious fabric. Consequently, ACK reinforced many of the most problematic tenets of Hindu nationalism—tenets that partially drive the platform of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, currently under fire domestically and internationally for policies and rhetoric targeting religious minorities and lower castes.

Yet millions of children—myself included—revered “Uncle Pai” for creating a popular avenue to an Indian heritage, however limited. Like many other Indian diaspora kids, my mother brought her own collection when she immigrated to the United States as a 9-year-old in 1973. My family had built a library of some 90 issues by the time I began to read them, tattered from decades of swapping between cousins. When I was a boy growing up in upstate New York, my parents had no Indian friends or nearby relatives. We only spoke in English and ate burritos more often than dal bhat.

The heroes of ACK became my superheroes long before I discovered Spider-Man or the Flash. They also became my first window into a culture I barely knew. I didn’t care that the protagonists I was reading about were drawn with white skin. I was unaware of the broader, ongoing effort by Hindu nationalists to define a doctrine devaluing lower castes, women, tribal populations, and religious minorities. I didn’t understand how ideals of obedience to authority—something the comics taught—can feed systemic inequality. I was just reading about heroes who made me feel stronger than I was, and who would teach me, I believed, how to be Indian.

* * *

ACK defines Indian identity via stories—which naturally appealed to a bookish child like me who constantly escaped into the worlds of Philip Pullman, Garth Nix, and C.S. Lewis. Most histories in the comics feature virtuous Hindus who fight against evil rulers, an encroaching Muslim horde, or arrogant British imperialists. The religious stories are drawn from (usually Hindu) epics, sacred texts, and folktales, and they frequently weave the same gods and heroes among minor vignettes and massive story arcs. Though many ACK issues could stand alone, roughly 30 pages at a time the series constructed a limited and tonally consistent India sanitized through a distinctively Hindu lens.

While many scholars reject the notion of a single Hindu doctrine, they have some opponents. In 2008, Hindu nationalist students at Delhi University protested the inclusion of A.K. Ramanujan’s landmark essay “Three Hundred Ramayanas” in the history syllabus. The protestors alleged that it demeaned Hinduism to imply nonclassical versions of the epic were equally legitimate. Under a renewed wave of dissent in 2011, the university dropped the essay from the syllabus.