Pakistan today is at a cross roads with many destabilising flashpoints jeopardizing the peace within. Mercifully the peace process with its neighbours is on a firm footing and the healing may have begun with concrete confidence building measures and people to people exchanges. However, within the country the initiatives for such healing are few but the problems that create misunderstandings, lack of trust, low acceptance of heterogeneity, violence, terrorism, negative conflict, unbridled greed for materialism/ wealth, corruption, violations of human dignity and human rights are multiplying. The essence of all religions as charters of human rights is to promote peace and tolerance is being undermined and the future of generations is at stake in Pakistan, with erosion of possibilities for a potentially humanistic society that values peace, democracy and citizenship. Can we address this complex problem by engaging with schools as a vibrant platform to work with young students and teachers? This is the starting point of our current initiative called . Reclaiming Cultural and Social Diversity: Mobilizing youth for national harmony and peace
Pakistan is a country best described as one with multiple sub- cultures, languages, identities and histories. With a population of 165 million people, Pakistan, accounts for 50% of its population, below 18 years of age. These young people will inherit a heritage which is over 10,000 years (Mehargarh 8000 BC ). To what extent are the students aware of what it means to inherit 10,000 years of civilization? To what extent are our young aware about the diverse people who settled and created civilizations such as Mehargarh, Mohenjadaro, Harrapa, Taxilla. These survived and are preserved precisely due to a high level of respect for knowledge, understanding of, and promotion of human tolerance, progressive values and were penness to experimentation and new ways of production and exchange.
The Constitution of Pakistan (1973) in its Preamble and Principles of Policy lays down the fundamentals for a society that is to be protected by the State, which are high on non-discrimination, protection, tolerance and human development for a diverse society. However, many of these principles are being violated due to various reasons that need to be reclaimed. A movement of young people is required to remind our leaders, politicians, teachers and family members about the value of diversity in geography, habitats, faith, gender and local cultures as a way of enriching nations rather than depleting them. The best place for engaging with the young is at schools targeting grades VIII to X or even up to XII in higher secondary schools.
Schools are meant to be a place for knowledge creation, analysis, reflection and a quest for positive alternatives towards individual and collective sharing, healing, well being and citizenship development. Schools are certainly not a place for tyranny of competition in achievement scores, violence against children for discipline/regimentation, a focus on differences, exclusion and discrimination. In times of social crisis, schools have the potential to become islands of sustainable human development through conversations and actions on valuing diversity, non-discrimination, tolerance, peace and striving for new standards for citizenship. In such acts of courage the teachers become saviors of a generation/s who in turn would lead societies to holistic and humanistic survival and development in the 21st Century.
The quest in this project is precisely to begin a process of dialogues and development of texts across provinces with students of Grades VIII-X to uncover notions of what we/they mean by diversity, tolerance conflicts and citizenship, It will enable them to appreciate provincial variations and histories in a multifaceted manner seeking areas of common understanding, for national integration and depth. The ability to live and develop through multiple identities without feeling guilty and or disloyal in ‘our land of the pure’. This will also lead to work with teachers closely so that new pedagogies may be explored that will create shifts in teachers classroom interactions, giving them the courage to question and transform attitudes towards positive inclusions in classrooms and schools irrespective of biradaris, religion, gender, disabilities and class. This is the only way to peace as the fundamental pillar to citizenship for democracy and social change.
Finally an strategic aim is to explore the possibility of generating powerful messages and texts that can be considered for the upcoming curriculum textbooks according to the new National Curriculum 2007 guidelines as well as supplementary readers. The most exciting aspect of this work would be working and enabling students to become authors of new textbooks on critical healing across provinces and schools, through revisiting concepts of diversity, tolerance and citizenship.