German poet Heinrich Heine once warned, “Where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people.”
In Pakistan’s case, we may not be burning books, but we are banning them. From banning online apps to games, from media censorship to censoring books, Pakistan is on a downward spiral. According to Geo, the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board (PCTB) banned a hundred school books in a single day for containing content deemed “anti-national” and “blasphemous”.
“We are currently examining over 10,000 books being taught in private schools,” said PCTB Managing Director Rai Manzoor Hussain Nasir. “So the banned textbooks could be in thousands once we are done.”
Rai is taking these steps under the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board Act, 2015, which was passed by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government. It seems that both the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the PML-N do not value critical thinking and fundamental freedom.
This policy is a complete disaster. We saw what happened under the Zia regime back in the 1980s when our curriculum was infused with extremist ideology. It changed our society and led to intolerance. Now we are seeing a repetition of something along the same lines. Rai Manzoor has a problem with a book of mathematics where counting concepts were explained to the young students showing pictures of pigs. He also has a problem with Gandhi’s quotes being taught in another book. Gandhi was India’s founding father but he fought for the rights of Muslims in India and was consequently killed by an RSS extremist for propagating peaceful co-existence with the Muslim minority. Are we demonising someone just because we want to see him from the prism of animosity towards India?
If we want to keep our children isolated in a globalised world by teaching them only about ourselves, and not any non-Pakistanis, the solution was not to ban books with Gandhi’s quotes but probably to add more quotes from Pakistani historical figures. Do we not want to teach our children about the struggles of Nelson Mandela, who is quite often quoted by Prime Minister Imran Khan? Banning books or taking out quotes of non-Pakistanis is ridiculous at best and dangerous in the long term. The path we are taking today will impact our coming generations.
The power of deciding curriculum and books is a grave power. For it to be in the hands of someone who is no Chomsky or any other learned figure, we must raise our voice at this grave injustice that is being inflicted upon our future generations. Our national interests are not so weak that they will be endangered by some quotes from non-Pakistanis. But it seems that we want to ban critical thinking. We want to ban the foundation of learning, i.e. asking questions and being inquisitive. We want to produce robots instead of intelligent human beings. We must resist this type of indoctrination. Closed minds cannot lead this country to progress. Stifling freedom of expression and censoring books will push Pakistan back by decades. Let us not go down this dark path.