Ideology most fears books that allow freedom of expression. A religious state under Islam is literalist and thus sensitive to the innuendo of blasphemy. And the punishment is extreme if you let the state complete its fixation with “purity”. In Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board (PCTB) has banned a hundred books, including course books printed by the Oxford University Press and the Cambridge University Press.
A large group of “experts” in an intellectually-crippled state are examining 10,000 books being used in private schools looked at by a government that bends the knee easily to religious seminaries called madrasas doing jihad in their spare time. Rai Manzoor Hussain Nasir, the managing director of PTCB says a book was rubbished for mentioning Gandhi with respect, and pretended to be greatly offended by a picture of piglets in a counting book for primary classes. He was on firm ground. The Punjab Tahaffuz-e-Bunyad-e-Islam Act (protection of the basis of Islam), allows the Director-General of Public Relations in Lahore to visit and inspect any “printing press, publication house, book store and confiscate books before or after printing”.
Bureaucrats immediately feign sainthood after being charged with “defending Islam” and Nasir was no exception, feigning pious anger and pledging more punishment for the blasphemers. As for the lewd Twitter messages that emanated from his account — he was promptly dismissive and swore revenge on the “hackers” who had planted the indecencies there. What followed was self-anointment as Muslim saints by all the supporters of the ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf vowing to purify the country of the “foreign” mischief of textbooks. No one questioned the anathematisation of Mahatma Gandhi as a source of blasphemy against the state; and no one thought of the Christian community – some Christians have won the highest awards for fighting in the Pakistan army – for whom the piglets in a kindergarten math book is quite normal.
Ignorance is bliss for the likes Rai Manzoor Hussain as he demonises India through the figure of Mahatma Gandhi. Strong on ideology, he is not expected to know facts, least of all Gandhi’s leadership and the direction of the biggest-in-history movement of Indian Muslims, the Khilafat Movement (1919-1924), in favour of the caliph of Islam in Turkey, deposed by a “secularising” Kamal Ataturk.
Since the Muslim League leader M A Jinnah was unwilling to oppose Ataturk — because he liked his secular revolution — the conservative Indian Muslims led by Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar and his brother Maulana Shaukat Ali accepted Gandhi’s support of the Khilafat Movement. Arun Shourie, in his book, The World of Fatwas, says Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar and Maulana Shaukat Ali used to kiss the feet of Mahatma Gandhi for leading the Khilafat Movement. Hamza Alavi, in his book, Ironies of History: Contradictions of The Khilafat Movement, writes that Jinnah was physically beaten by Shaukat Ali for opposing the movement. After 1947, Khilafat was not in Pakistani textbooks, although most of the anti-Pakistan Khilafat leaders were accepted into the pantheon of Pakistan.
Islamabad’s Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) examined the mechanism of school textbook-writing in Pakistan and presented its findings in 2003 in the hope that the government would look into some of the shocking revelations in them and take remedial measures.
The books were prepared on the basis of the curriculum set by the Federal Education Ministry in its Curriculum Wing. The Wing was manned by officers who had served governments of all stripes without any minister challenging their modus operandi. Education as a subject has not appealed to any intellectual politician, probably because it was feared that he would clash with the country’s ideology.
The philosophy of education followed was summed up in a one Curriculum Wing directive given in 1995 in respect of class five: “In the teaching material no concept of separation between the worldly and the religious be given; rather all the material be presented from the Islamic point of view.” The general directive for the textbooks implies that Pakistan is for the Muslims alone; that Islamiat is to be forcibly taught to all students, whatever their faith, including the compulsory reading of the Quran; that ideology of Pakistan is to be internalised as faith, and hate be created against the Hindus of India; and that students be urged to take the path of jihad and martyrdom.
Prime Minister Imran Khan wants the three streams of education in Pakistan – Urdu-medium, English-medium, and Madrasa – merged into one stream. This has compelled nuclear physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy to write what the state has done to its children: “Starkly inferior to their counterparts in Iran, India and Bangladesh, Pakistani students perform poorly in all international science and mathematics competitions. Better achievers are invariably from the elite ‘O’ and ‘A’ level stream. More worrying is that most students are unable to express themselves coherently and grammatically in any language, whether Urdu or English. They have stopped reading books.”
The writer is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines