Constitution 101 – 27 Jan 2023

The constitution of Pakistan — a mistreated document that has been used and abused by many a dictator and democrat alike — is the basic law that holds together a fragile system of governance, rights and politics. Despite the attacks the constitution has suffered over the years, we thankfully also have plenty of cases where the constitution won against all odds (last year’s Supreme Court verdict a case in point). Despite the significance of this rule book, most people have no idea about the content of the 1973 constitution of Pakistan. This is why it is heartening to know that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government has decided to include the country’s constitution in school curricula. The fact that for many in the country the constitution is a somewhat mysterious document leaves room for authoritarian leaders to trample over people’s rights without any accountability.

Not only does the constitution provide a list of the rights the country’s citizens are owed by the state — fundamental human rights — it also lays down the process by which the country is to be run: who contests elections, how parliament is formed, what happens if elections are needed. Setting up a curriculum which would allow schoolchildren to become familiar with the constitution is essentially a good idea. We need our children to understand the importance of the law, especially the highest law of the land. This is important especially in a country where the constitution has been called a piece of paper to be thrown away.

Much significance however lies in how education on the constitution is imparted and how able teachers are to help children and young people understand precisely what it means. The document needs to be taught at a more basic level to younger children and in depth to those who are at ages where they are capable of understanding the intricacies of the law of the land. Indeed, during the teaching process there should be a discussion on rights, due process, and democracy. The right to critical thinking is something that needs to be encouraged at schools and colleges. Constitutional experts of the standing of top lawyers and political figures with experience can add to this by delivering lectures to schoolchildren.

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