A few weeks ago, when an online mobile game was being banned, some of the reasons given behind the prohibition was that the youth waste time on these games, time they could have spent reading. This now seems ironic, since just some weeks later, books join the litany of products facing a threat of banning, as the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board (PCTB) on Thursday banned 100 textbooks it found to be “against” the two-nation theory, or deemed “unethical and illegal”.

The issue is not as black and white as one would think. There can be legitimate reasons for banning a book: PCTB Managing Director Rai Manzoor Nasir mentioned that incorrect dates and inaccuracies were some of the reasons why books were banned. Yet he reveals other, more flimsy grounds for banning; such as including the sayings of Mahatma Gandhi or presenting different views of historians. These grounds come dangerously close to erasing history and dictating content; Gandhi and related figures are part of a shared history that we as Pakistanis should learn from, not erase. If the PCTB MD personally disagrees with such content, then that content should be discredited with debate and more publications, not less.

What is even more problematic is that the PCTB officials have implied that they can register a police complaint against a person who does not comply with the publishing board, which under Section 14 of the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board Act, 2015, they can do so. Banning and imprisoning persons for publishing a book the Board has a difference of opinion with is a dangerous idea and can lead to a slippery slope. The PCTB should reconsider its recent decisions, and the Act should be amended; currently, it does not provide an avenue for those whose publications are prohibited to appeal or even to defend their case to the Board. The banning of books is a very serious matter, one which can impact our international image; the Board empowered to do so must have strict checks and a review body to be accountable to.