Part of the controversial story published by Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board. (Photo supplied)
Pakistan Minorities Teachers' Association has taken a stand against a portrayal of Christians as black people in a textbook.
The association shared its reservations with Prime Minister Imran Khan in a letter sent Jan. 20.
It refers to page 55 of a grade 2 Urdu textbook published by Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board. The pictorial story narrates children referring to a “black boy” as a Christian who brings halwa (pudding) for others. When a girl says that she doesn’t eat anything from black people, her friend advocates inner goodness, referring to the teachings of Prophet Muhammad.
“Sir, racism is a crime against humanity. Pakistan’s foreign policy has always condemned racial discrimination but unfortunately it still exists in our country. The religious identity of minorities matters as it matters in the case of the majority. Sir, it is requested to end racism found in any shape and anywhere from Pakistan,” stated Anjum James Paul, chairperson of the association.
Pakistani Christians are often referred as chura (low caste), an abusive term reserved for sanitation workers. Historically, they have been assigned jobs seen as degrading and defiling. Road sweepers are mostly Christian and are called untouchable or low-born.
Racism and threats from extremists are major challenges in highlighting the problems of religious minorities in Pakistan, say Muslim journalists.
According to a study by the Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development released in 2019, media coverage of Pakistan’s non-Muslim population is stereotypically linked to sensitive themes like blasphemy.
Christian researcher Asif Aqeel approved of the controversial story in the textbook.
“There is nothing wrong with this book. They have tried to show that children avoid any discrimination with Christians based on religion, caste and creed. At first the objection was about the absence of minorities [in textbooks] but now we complain of racial prejudice,” he said.
“Racism is a social issue. Punjabi dramas are filled with hatred and ridiculing every dark character as a Christian and a sweeper. There is no issue if school textbooks are questioning stereotyping as a problem and then challenging it on religious grounds. The methodology should be improved.”