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«SUMMARY | APRIL 2 WORKING PAPER No. 030 | May 2015 Religion, Land and Politics: Shrines and Literacy in Punjab, Pakistan Adeel Malik and Rinchan Ali ...»

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In this milieu, the attitude of the political class towards education was of considerable import. From the three types of members mentioned above, elected members from towns were likely to be more responsive to the local demand for schooling. In contrast, nominated members were typically drawn from the local gentry who were considered as the ‘yes men’ of the colonial bureaucracy (embodied in the person of the District Commissioner), and were either indifferent or hostile to mass schooling. Mass education has been traditionally viewed by these elites as a threat to the local power structure. While in other provinces of British India elected members usually held greater sway on matters of local development, in Western Punjab, the nominated and appointed members in local governments outnumbered elected ones. Here, the local gentry usually formed a nexus with appointed members to steer the course of local development, which included public provision of education.

This partnership between political and bureaucratic intermediaries was further consolidated through the direct appointment of District Commissioners as chairmen of the District Boards and Municipal Committees. As

Tinker and Hailey (1954: 256) noted, this centralized bureaucratic management of education was peculiar to Punjab:

“in Punjab the district boards continued to be presided over by the district officers, while all boards continued to lean heavily upon the advice of the education department inspectorate, so that educational development was much more a partnership between officials and non-officials than in most provinces”.

This alliance between political and bureaucratic classes persisted after independence even if the institutional arrangements for public goods provision underwent some change. Substantively, educational administration remained “hierarchical and centralized” (Gazdar 1999). Even though military rulers—who ruled over half of the country’s independent history—promoted local governance, this was primarily used to centralize power and bypass mainstream political parties. Usually held on a non-party basis, local government elections have often recycled local elites with little stake in the promotion of literacy. The Basic Democracy system introduced by Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s first military ruler, preserved the colonial practice of retaining a mix of elected and appointed members. Appointed members belonged to the civil bureaucracy and had the power to override decisions of elected members. Essentially, this maintained the centralized decision making that existed before partition.

Abolishing direct bureaucratic representation in local governments, subsequent military rulers gave more voice to elected members. Under Pervez Musharraf, greater fiscal responsibility was devolved to local representatives. However, elections have been centrally managed to extend the military regime’s control over the masses.

Public policy on education remained vulnerable to elite capture, since historically entrenched elites were inherently advantaged in elections held on a non-party basis (Cheema et al. 2006). Ironically, the resumption of democratic politics was usually accompanied with a scale back of local governments. Dominated by influential political brokers who are loathed to seeing the emergence of new leadership from the grassroots, political parties have remained hesitant to share power with local representatives. Even as a provincial subject, educational administration remained centralized. As Gazdar (1999: 26) notes: “Decision-making is largely concentrated at the provincial 89Local governments were responsible for financing the construction of new schools and the maintenance and supervision of existing schools.

level, and the job of the directorates and the district offices is to implement these directives and policies, and to report back to the top”.

SUMMARY | APR Preserving the historical alliance between bureaucrats and elected politicians, this centralized structure gives politicians considerable sway in identifying and sanctioning development schemes. Since the 1980s they have also exercised growing control over the disbursement of development expenditures in their respective constituencies. In this milieu, as political overlords, shrine guardians are well-placed to shape both the quantity and quality of school provision. As argued before, pirs have strong incentives to oppose mass schooling. Next, we describe the mechanisms for elite capture.

Mechanisms of Elite Capture Punjab’s landed gentry has historically shown little interest or commitment for schooling. Typically caricatured as opposing the construction of new schools, the attitude of Punjab’s rural elites has changed overtime from an outright obstruction to one where they actively compete for government resources on education. In both cases, the result is the same: a defective and broken system of education. Faced with a historic deficit in social sector spending, the 1980s saw a new resolution among policymakers to channel greater resources towards education.

With the help of international donors, various political governments in the 1990s launched a multi-million initiative, the Social Action Programme (SAP). The programme was subjected to such widespread political abuse that the World Bank ended up describing it as a ‘failure’. An independent evaluation for the Bank concluded that “politicians used staff recruitment, construction contracts, and site selection for schools and clinics to enrich their kith and kin” (Birdsall et al. 2004: 26).





The failure of SAP was emblematic of the deeper malaise affecting the education sector; it represented a large scale political capture of public resources. For politicians the construction of new schools offered lucrative contracts for distribution to cronies. As one of the largest provincial departments, the education sector offers plentiful opportunities for distributing employment to favoured constituents. Teacher appointments are managed

centrally at the provincial level. As Gazdar (1999: 26) noted:

“The appointment of primary teachers was, formerly, the responsibility of the DEO. Over the years, however, these appointments have become 'politicised' in the sense that local members of National and Provincial Assemblies (MNAa and MPAs) exert a great deal of influence on teacher appointments. The DEOs discretionary power has been replaced in recent years by an appointment committee consisting of officials and 'notables' in a district, but in practice, the DEO and, above him or her, the political representatives remain in control”.

Such non-merit appointments create negative externalities for the wider system. Politically appointed teachers are difficult to monitor or hold accountable. They also affect the morale of other teachers. Schools are plagued by teacher absenteeism. In single-teacher schools in far-flung regions, such absenteeism results in school closure. Political patrons also use transfers of teaching staff to punish or reward their constituents. Over the last two decades, plentiful evidence has emerged on the existence of ‘ghost schools’ that exist on government papers but are inaccessible to students. Yet, administrative overheads, including teacher salaries, are regularly paid for, resulting in a significant pilferage of scarce resources. An estimated 1200 ghost schools exist all across Pakistan. 90 Politicians can also influence the siting of schools. A remote location can make schools practically inaccessible to students, especially females, and allows local notables to divert them for private use as private residences, cattle-sheds or stables.

Political interference also distorts the composition and quality of spending. Given the potential for rent capture, brick and mortar investments are privileged over recurring expenditures on maintenance, resulting in the poor quality of the schooling infrastructure. As recent evidence shows that around 60 percent of primary schools do not have electricity, 36 percent lack any drinking facility, 42 percent have no washrooms, and 30 percent have only a single teacher (GOP 2014). Analysts have described this as a ‘crisis of primary education’ 91 calling for an educational emergency. The empirical and contextual evidence in this paper has demonstrated that the crisis is partly political. While donors have frequently lamented the “lack of political will”, our analysis underscores the need to understand the stable and historically-embedded conditions from which this absence of political will emanates.

CONCLUSION This paper has shed light on how structural inequality—defined by the powerful configuration of religion, land and politics—shapes contemporary development outcomes in Pakistani Punjab. We have argued that considering 90 http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-2-198912-Over-1200-ghost-schools-found-all-over-the-country 91 Hafiz Pasha writing in the Express Tribune, March 19, 2015. http://tribune.com.pk/story/855302/the-crisis-of-primary-education/ ways in which religious shrines in riverine regions influence literacy can provide a critical window into the subject.

Drawing on a unique compilation of data on shrines capturing their contemporary, historical and political dimensions, we demonstrate that a greater concentration of shrines in riverine tehsils is associated with lower literacy SUMMARY | APR rates on average. The result is robust to controlling for a variety of controls, including land inequality, which is itself one of the most significant correlates of literacy. Another contribution of this paper is its focus on possible channels of transmission. We show that the impact of riverine shrines on literacy is principally mediated through their influence on politics. The impact of shrines is largely driven by tehsils where prominent shrine families have directly entered into electoral politics.

Given that the connection between pīrs and politics is often consummated through large landholdings, these findings testify to the importance of the interplay between religious, landed and political power. Going a step further, we also probe the determinants of political selection, and discover that shrines considered as historically important, as reflected in their recognition and patronage from British colonial authorities, were more likely to select into politics in post-colonial Punjab. While colonial patronage for shrines was part of a long-standing tradition of rewarding shrine guardians, it was accompanied, under British rule, with “structural transformations” in the property rights regime through introduction of the 1900 Land Alienation Act. Cementing the nexus between religious and landed elites of Punjab, colonial rule led to a significant entrenchment and consolidation of the underlying power structure. Although we are careful not to ascribe a causal interpretation to these results, the underlying statistical pattern is both robust and consistent. Both qualitative and quantitative evidence suggests a strong persistence of the political economy of shrines.

While past literature has investigated the influence of shrines mainly through a non-economics lens, this paper offers the first systematic application for development. Our findings support the intuition of both historical and contemporary observers (ranging from Darling to Aziz and Lieven) that perceived pīr-zamindārs as an obstructive force against educational progress. Apart from enriching the discourse on Punjab’s political economy of development, our analysis also casts fresh light on the broader literature on religion and development. Rather than painting a uniformly bleak picture of shrines, we argue that the relationship between religion and development is mediated by the underlying power structure.

A comparison with sufi shrines in Northern India can be instructive in this regard. Although similarly patronized by past rulers through revenue-free land grants, sufi establishments in India witnessed a substantial decline in their material fortunes, firstly, under British rule, due to succession battles in civil courts, and, secondly, after the introduction of land reforms in 1950s. Jafri (2006) shows how the financial fortunes of a prominent shrine in southern Awadh suffered after the enactment of UP Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act 1952. While the connection between religion, land and politics was decoupled after independence in India, it was structurally consolidated in Pakistan. Future research can consider such comparisons in more detail. While, within Pakistan, our analysis is centred on Punjab, extending it further south to Sind province is only likely to reinforce our argument, since the fusion between religion, land and politics is even stronger in Sind (see Ansari 1992).92 Our research has concrete implications for policy. Pakistan has witnessed a persistent education crisis, marked by low education spending and poor education indicators. A recent UNESCO Report ranks Pakistan as second, after Nigeria, among the list of top ten countries with the “highest out-of-school populations” (UNESCO 2014). The country is also described as “severely lagging” in its goal of achieving universal education. 93 In this milieu, educational expansion is not just about scaling up resource endowments, but also requires addressing structural inequalities. Malcolm Darling (1928: 258) correctly observed in 1928 that “in agriculture the social factor is as important as the economic”. Few would disagree today that the same is true for education.

92 Shrines in Sind also received significant colonial patronage. As Aziz (2001: 17-18) notes, “according to official reports, at the time of the British arrival in Sindh the revenue appropriated to ecclesiastical establishments amounted to one third of the total revenue of the government”.

93 UNESCO website on Pakistan: Achieving Universal Primary Education - Where are We?

–  –  –

Albinia, Alice. (2008). Empires of the Indus – The Story of a River. London: John Murray Publishers.

Ali, Imran (1988). The Punjab under Imperialism 1885 - 1947. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Anjum, Wakeel. (1990). Siasat Key Firaun. Lahore: Feroz Sons Publishers.

Anjum, Wakeel. (1995). Siasat Danaun Kee Kalabaziyan. Lahore: Feroz Sons Publishers (three vols).

Ansari, Sarah. (1992). Sufi Saints and State Power: The Pīrs of Sind 1843-1947. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



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