To Secular Bangladeshis, Textbook Changes Are a Harbinger

Source: The New York Times

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh’s Education Ministry was preparing to print the 2017 editions of its standard Bengali textbooks when a group of conservative Islamic religious scholars demanded the removal of 17 poems and stories they deemed “atheistic.”

By the time the books were distributed to schools on Jan. 1, the 17 poems and stories were gone, with no explanation from the government. Other changes had crept in, too: First graders studying the alphabet were taught that “o” stands for “orna,” a scarf worn by devout Muslim girls starting at puberty, not for “ol,” a type of yam; and a sixth-grade travelogue describing a visit to the Hindu-dominated north of India was replaced by one about the Nile in Egypt.

The changes were barely noticeable to the general public, but they alarmed some Bangladesh intellectuals, who saw them as the government’s accommodating a larger shift toward radical Islam.

Bangladesh has struggled to contain extremist violence in recent years, as Islamist militants have targeted secular writers and intellectuals. But equally significant, over the long term, are changes taking place in the general population: The number of women wearing the hijab has gradually risen, as has the number of students enrolled in madrasas, or Islamic schools.

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