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Unveiling Censorship in Education Through Manto's Lens

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

(Even If I close my eyes, what do I do with my conscience?)

"میں آنکھیں بند کر بھی لو پر اس ضمیر کا کیا کرو"


Sadaat Hassan Manto uttered these famous words while defending his short stories on the charges of mentioning obscene words and scenes in his afsanay (short stories). His short stories and literary work consist of stories from pre-partition, during the Partition, and post-partition of the sub-continent. The sub-continent division marks one of the most brutal chapters in history, consisting of communal riots, massacres, abductions, and assaults. Both sides committed these horrendous crimes, and women suffered throughout. The mass abduction of between 100 and 1,000 women who suffered sexual abuse or were coerced into suicide to preserve their family's honor is a tragic part of history. Following the Partition, many of these women did not return to their families due to their abductions. Instead, they were compelled to live with their captors, eventually bearing children.



It is crucial to remember that both Muslim and Hindu women faced this human tragedy. However, the narrative has shifted in our history books, and the other side has been portrayed as the villain. Most course books do not mention these sacrifices; if they do, there's minimal mention. Storytellers and writers did write about this tragedy. Manto's wide variety of literary works has a significant chunk of this tragedy.

Although, since the beginning, his work has been banned in Pakistan. For instance, when he composed his famous afsana, 'Thandha Gosht,' he was charged with obscenity.




In this short story, Manto delves into the violence of Partition, the intricacies of emotions, and the ensuing trauma. He particularly highlights women's suffering during this era. In another afsana, "Khol Do," he graphically recounts the rape of a young woman by those meant to rescue her, ultimately exploring the psychological impact on her. These narratives, along with others like "Toba Tek Singh," "Kali Shalwar," "The Dog of Tetwal," and "Khuda Ki Kasam," often go untaught and are dismissed as vulgar. "Toba Tek Singh" is another poignant tale on Partition by Saadat Hassan Manto that remains obscure in most Pakistani educational institutions due to the controversy surrounding Manto's works. The man yearned for Toba Tek Singh while Sakeena lay on a stretcher, unconscious, suffering from abuse. Her father rejoiced simply because she was breathing. Nearby, a girl lay dead as Ishwar Singh choked, with Kalwant staring at him. Manto's legacy endures through his stories that continue to voice societal concerns. From the tragedy of Partition to the daily cries of women suffering in silence—society turns a blind eye—Manto's stories witness it all.


Even if Manto's works are deemed inappropriate for school curricula, there is a noticeable lack of discourse on him in universities. This neglect of our literary figures has contributed to a decline in Urdu literature.

Manto has been translated into other languages, such as Hindi and English, and is read worldwide. He has made a legendary contribution to Indian partition literature.


What are your thoughts about Manto?

Have you studied his works in your courses?

Do you also view him as a controversial figure?


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14 Comments


Manto's exploration of the human tragedy during the Partition is both poignant and necessary. His stories, although banned and deemed controversial, shed light on the harsh realities and suffering endured by women on both sides. It's unfortunate that his works are often neglected in educational curricula, as they provide valuable insights into our history and societal issues. Encouraging open discourse on Manto's writings in universities could contribute to a deeper understanding of the complexities he portrayed. Have you personally encountered Manto's works in your studies, and how do you perceive his significance in literature and history?

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I loved this blog post, it is both enlightening and thought-provoking. I learnt more about Manto and his work after starting university, and from what I have read and the discussions I have had so far - I feel that the controversy surrounding his works is so much more of a reflection of our societal discomfort with confronting uncomfortable truths than a comment on his literary genius. His stories hold up a mirror to society, forcing us to confront the brutalities and complexities of human nature and historical events.

I highly recommend reading 'The Seer of Pakistan' by Ali Sethi for anyone interested in deeper insight into Manto's enduring legacy (https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-seer-of-pakistan) - it is an insightful piece on how Manto's…

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Thank you for this, your blog makes me think of the reading we did in class on power and empowerment, the fact that this is a working of both hidden and invisible power is insane, we have been indoctrinated to not speak out about taboo topics or we have been ingrained to believe that certain topics are always taboo and cannot be talked about, the media, culture and common ideologies are some invisible powers that have ingrained in us the otherization of Hindus and have quietened us too. Moreover, the hidden power, motivated by political agenda has always made us view hindus/indians as an opposition as well. Moreover, power structures have also worked to "stop" these narratives that you have…

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Oh, yes! I didn't even consider that perspective when I wrote this before class. It actually makes so much sense regarding what we discussed about visible and invisible power. Before reading that article, I wasn't familiar with the concept of invisible power, but now I can definitely relate it to my topic. Also, yes I totally agree with the point you made about religion, as someone writes, religion is often used as a cloak to hide our flaws rather than a path to address and overcome them.

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. :)

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Really well written article! It's such a tragedy that we only come to learn of Manto at a university level, and that his stories of the very real trauma and pain people suffered are treated with such disdain. I feel like the ban on Manto being taught in schools is yet another reason why our ultra-nationalist view of being the 'victims' of Partition needs to end. Where we were the victims, we were also the perpetrators, and by acknowledging this we could possibly embrace our past in a way that lets us move forward into the future.

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I totally agree! State should start presenting the truth in history books instead of altering the entire narrative to portray themselves as the 'victim'. It's crucial that we learn the genuine face of our past and reflect upon it. This enables us to address present issues and anticipate future challenges.

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Mariam
Mariam
Nov 29, 2023

I've always revered Manto for his unflinching portrayal of the human tragedy of Partition, particularly the suffering of women. The tragedies women went through during the partition in my opinion aren't talked about enough, especially in literature and art. It's quite admirable for a man to delve into the depths of women's tragedies and bringing them into the limelight with his platform, even with the use of raw and unsettling language considering the conservative environment back then.

While Manto's works have faced criticism and censorship, their ability to provoke thought and challenge the distorted versions of history are still very relevant today.

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Manto dedicated a portion of his writings to women. As a writer, he adopted the female character within himself and portrayed it in its entirety. I agree with you! Have you read 'Khol Do'? Please do. The protagonist in that 'afsana' is a woman, and no one could have written it as well as Manto did.

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