“The following day in school, the headmistress sent them back home. I know both the sisters are very intelligent but I am compelled to make that ‘unfair decision’. They are Ahmadis and cannot continue in this school as the villagers are threatening them”. This was the reason given to one man whose nieces were evicted from their school in Pallandri. In the words of a third grader from Multan, “fellow Muslim girls make a mockery of our gods. One day, a girl said, ‘you Hindus worship funny creatures like Kalimata. How obnoxious she is! I just feel like chopping her red tongue off’”. Another seventh grader from Gujranwala recalled that her classmates and even teachers asked her how she could be so beautiful, if she was a Christian. A Christian doctor recalled the story of his son who studied at a college in Gujranwala, where students sitting behind him in class would write ‘Eisai’ on the back of his shirt, as if “being Christian is something to be ashamed of”. Quoted above are the experiences shared by non-Muslim students during a study on discriminatory education that I was involved in. While there has been a reasonable amount of work on the exclusionary and biased curriculum in our schools, the inimical academic environment minorities live through has largely been overlooked.In theory, education is meant to address the fault-lines in our social fabric. Besides conferring reason and objectivity, it must impart students with the spirit of empathy and human equality. Unfortunately, our academic culture serves the contrary. Predominantly, it promotes ultra-nationalism glued to Islamism. At best, it afflicts non-Muslim students with gruesome psycho-social inferiority. The situation is so appalling that sharing a few more examples will illustrate the scope of the problem.“‘They are kafir and commit shirk,’ said one of my teachers to the class. One day, the very teacher asked me to embrace Islam. ‘I shall perform the ritual; no one shall know including your parents’, she mumbled. Noticing her evangelisms turned-down, she turned rather hostile,’ said a female Hindu student from Multan. In another incident, when she tried to intervene when two Muslim girls were fighting, they told her to stay away, as she was a Hindu and had no right to settle disputes between Muslims. “‘They are kafir and commit shirk,’ said one of my teachers to the class. One day, the very teacher asked me to embrace Islam. ‘I shall perform the ritual; no one shall know including your parents’, she mumbled. Noticing her evangelisms turned-down, she turned rather hostile,’ said a female Hindu student from MultanAnother grade 9 Hindu girl from Multan recalled the time when she arranged a party with her Muslim friends on Valentine’s Day last year. Upon discovering her plans, one of her teachers started shouting at all the Muslim girls, asking them how they dare celebrate this day and that too with a Hindu girl. She then went on to accuse her of influencing the other girls to use makeup and wear inappropriate clothes. A former teacher from Gujranwala talked about how mullahs took to the local mosque’s loudspeaker to stop people from sending their children to his school because he was an Ahmadi, and when children continued to come, the mullahs then forced them to leave. He also talked about the time when he was shot in his shoulder while on his way to work, and decided that he had no other choice but to resign from his job and move away from the city, for his own safety.A father in Khanewal talked about the time his daughter, who was only in second grade, came home crying one day. Upon further questioning, she revealed to her horrified father that the teachers at her school had been beating her up and pulling her hair, while calling her a ‘black Christian’ who was ‘devoid of faith’ and would end up in hell. It was only after approaching the higher authorities that her father could get some justice for his daughter. Another Christian male student from the city talked about how his teacher would tell him he was just wasting his time trying to get degree, as all Christian boys end up as sweepers on the street. Another Christian student from Nankana recalled an incident with her college principal who admonished her for using her personal glass to have a drink of water, while one Sikh father from the same city talked about how other students at school would pull at or unravel his son’s turban as a joke, forcing the father to transfer him to a Gurdwara school. This is the environment in which the ruling party’s Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training and the Prime Minister vowed to ‘provide excellent, uniform and non-discriminatory education along with creating a level-playing field and equal opportunity atmosphere, in line with the Constitutional provision (Article-25) ie every child’s right to education’. As we can see, the ground realities are very different and considering education is now a provincial responsibility, reforms can only be brought about after taking them on board as well.The education reform process can prove successful, only if the principles of equality and non-discrimination are respected; a social science curriculum becomes entirely unbiased and most importantly the school environment and teachers’ minds are purged from prejudices. As per Article-2 of the Child Rights Convention, “State parties shall respect and ensure education to each child without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion”If that doesn’t help their decision, then they may prefer the advice of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the one person whose ideals Imran Khan desperately wants to emulate. He said, “minorities, to whichever community they may belong, will be safeguarded (in Pakistan). Their religion, or their faith or their belief will be protected in every way possible. They will be in all respects, citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste or colour, religion or creed (July 13, 1947)”.“Ironically”, says Mukesh Laal who is an admin officer from Islamia University, Bahawalpur, “we have been turned in to aliens in our own homeland; Pakistan is our dhartimata, where our forefathers lived and we love it”.The writer is based in Islamabad. He is Executive Director at the Institute of Development Research and Corresponding Capabilities (IDRAC)Published in Daily Times, September 14th 2018.