A Historic Perspective

By: Dr. Manzur Ejaz


The situation of Punjabi remained quite oblique during the British era. Punjab University only offered Punjabi Fazal which was understood to be a subject of via Bathanda: A short cut to get a college degree because after having passed Punjabi Fazal one has to take examination in English only. A few writers, like Amreta Pretam. Mohan Singh, Benarsi das Jain and some other non Muslim kept the movement of Punjabi alive. However, after the partition, the situation of Punjabi became very murky.

After the partition of Punjab, Punjabi Hindus aligned themselves with the Hindi speaking UP and divided Punjab on religious lines: Haryana and Hamachal Pardesh for Hindi oriented Hindus and Punjab for Sikh majority. Punjabi was declared as the state language of Punjab and one can see a mamoth growth of language in that province. Several daily newspapers, magazines and scholarly journals are published in Punjabi. Furthermore, Punjabi is the medium of education at all levels. This shows that the opponents of Punjabi are wrong in saying that this language is a mere dialect and does not have the potential of becoming a full grown language. Implementation of Punjabi in the East Punjab, proves that ultimately, the languages are standardized when they are accepted on state level.

Situation of Punjabi was very precarious in Pakistani Punjab in the early periods. All the known writers of Punjabi had left for India and the state of Pakistan was intent to impose Urdu on every province. Two developed languages, Bengali and Sindi resisted this irrational decision of the state. First riots broke out in Dacca when Mohammad Ali Jinnah declared that Urdu will be the national language in all the provinces. Two students died in these linguistic riots and Shaheed Chowk of Dacca was named in honor of these students. Jinnah had to take his decision back in case of East Bengal, but the coercion of Sindhi and other languages continued.

In addition to religion, imposition of Urdu and suppression of other languages became the corner stone of Pakistan ideology popular among Punjabi ruling classes and Urdu speaking immigrants. Suppression of Sindhi was more visible because it was the medium of education and the language of the state in 1947. Daily newspaper and other types of magazine and journals were very common in Sindhi at that time. Punjabi was in its infancy, however, the ruling elite was so paranoid by every language that smelled non Urdu, that a small Punjabi literary society in Lahore was declared a political party and was banned by Ayub Khan.

Despite the state suppression and the attacks of the Urdu crusaders of all sizes and shapes, Punjabi started attracting a small segment of urban intelligentsia. Dr. Faqir Mohammasd Faqir, Sharif Kunjahi were probably the early prose writers, however, several enlightened progressive intellectuals started writing in late fifties and early sixties. Mohammad Anwar (creator of cartoon Nanna in Pakistan Times) published a beautiful book of short stories and Najam Hussain Syed, besides writing poetry, introduced literary criticism in Punjabi during this period. Latter he wrote some short and long plays. Well known Urdu poets like Munir Niazi, Zafar Iqbal and many others started writing in Punjabi also. A basic infrastructure of Punjabi had come into being that could inspire the coming generations. However, the major qualitative change occurred after the Anti Ayub upsurge of late sixties. Several progressive activists were attracted towards Punjabi as a result of this mass politicizing. The largest progressive party in Punjab, Mazdoor Kissan Party, adopted Punjabi as its party language. Furthermore, its president, Maj. Mohammad Ishaque wrote two plays that were staged. The litrary atmosphere changed in such a way even star poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi were felt an obligation to write in Punjabi. Bhutto government was quite receptive towards the right of national languages and it introduced Punjabi at M.A level in Punjab University. Latter Punjabi was introduced as an optional subject in several colleges in Punjab. It was offered as a subject for the competition examination through which the civil servants are recruited. However, Punjabi was not introduced at the elementary level which was more crucial. Central government also created Punjabi Adabi Board that has published several hundred books which were out of print for decades and some of them for centuries. Zia ul Haq's government did not role back these programs started by the earlier government, although it created an environment that was not conducive for the development of Punjabi.

In the preceding discussion. we have tried to show that socio politico economic circumstances were more in the way of development of Punjabi rather than a cooked conspiracy by one part or the other. However, these conditions have changed dramatically and Punjab is at the verge of accepting the language of the land. This statement might be seen as day dreaming for the eternal pessimists and skeptics but a scientific examination shows otherwise. In the following section, I will try to give some key indicators that have been associated with the development of languages and have been lacking in Punjabi society.
(1) In our earlier discussion we noted that the socio plitico economic conditions affect the development of languages. The expansion of commerce and industry creates independent sectors and bulk of enlightened middle classes. Such conditions may not be necessary for the development of a language, however these conditions help the growth of the language. Punjab was traditionally a farm land with almost no industry at time of independence. Most of the population lived in self contained isolated village settlements. Urban centers were few and inhabited by the administrative bureaucracy and a small merchant class that was again dependent on agricultural communities. Punjab of today has sizable industrial infrastructure and commercial classes have been expanding. As a result, it has a large independent mined middle class a section of which has nationalistic inclinations. We will haste to add that, calvinism and hegemonic nationalism is still prevalent in Punjab, although it stands firmly behind Urdu at the expense of Punjabi.
Furthermore, the globalization of Pakistani economy, due to mass immigration into Middle East and the western countries and proliferation of information technology has increased the use of English. Nowadays, increasing number of lower middle class kids go to English medium schools that has diminished the value of Urdu as a medium of communication and as a process of gentrification. Now the shirwani and pajama are being replaced with jeans and western style jackets. It appears that English will become the language of business and state while Punjabi will fill the vacuum created by Urdu.
In essence the changing conditions have resulted in reconfiguration of social groups and economic classes. Unlike the past, Punjabi has become the `party language' in the gentry gatherings, that has added to its respectability. Furthermore, it has created a new political leadership that is culturally different from the traditional elite. Mr Abdul Rashid Bhatti and Mr Fazal Hussain Rahi are the early reflections of a political elite that is yet in the making. This elite is more indigenous and more supportive of national culture and language of Punjab. The emergence of such a political elite in Punjab has a dynamic affect on the traditional ideological alliances between different ethnic groups and nationalities.
It may not be empirically evident, nonetheless, emergence of MQM is also a related to new configurations of social groups in Pakistan and particularly in Punjab. Urdu speaking immigrants have realized that they have to protect their cultural and linguistic identity, that was taken for granted in the past. Inadvertently, it has made Punjabis to realize that they should find their own identity which cannot be found without owning one's culture and language.
(2) Media has also contributed towards the changes in perceptions. The most popular serials of Lahore TV are mostly those where the main characters represent Punjabi culture. To the irritation of Punjabi intelligentsia, the language of these character is Punjabiazed Urdu. However, such a Punjabiazed Urdu is Punjabi in the viewer's perception. More importantly, the main characters in the TV serials have replaced the tractional symbols like Nawab of UP etc. Punjabiazed Urdu is a transitory stage, partly dictated by market mechanism, however we know that mixing of Punjabi and Urdu has not succeeded in the past on literary level. Zafar Iqbal (in Gulaftab) and Afzal Jaafary did these experiment several years back, but they did not succeed in triggering any major trend. Furthermore, the structures of these languages are different from each other and cannot be reconciled. Ultimately, Punjabi will replace Punjabiazed Urdu.
Punjabi has been the choice language when the demand of an entertainment product is market dependent. This is the reason that Punjabi Film has outnumbered Urdu films by a staggering margin. Revolution in audio video technology has also changed the market conditions in other forms of arts. Punjabi folk singers and semi classical singers have started dominating the market. Since the popularity of artists does not depend on the state sponsored media, the market oriented forces have taken over. Shalimar Company or EMI produces and commercializes those recordings which have a larger market. Now, the ghazal singers on a retreat while the folk and kafi singers in Punjabi and Sindhis are the best sellers. The situation has changed so dramatically, that even the best classical singers like Ustad Salamat Ali Khan are obliged to use Punjabi kafi or other verses in rendering different raags. It is not the commoners who listen Atta Ullah Aisa Khalvi in the buses and vans but the educated elites also listens more of Pathana Khan and less of Mehdi Hasan. Incidently, Mr Bhatti, the MPA from Rai Wind also reported in the interview with Maan Booli that he kept listening Pathana Khan's kafis for two years that changed his perspective about the importance of Punjabi.
(3) Urdu language has been patronized by Pakistani state on all levels. However, despite these efforts, it has not been able to make it suitable for the expression and articulation of modern branches of knowledge. It has inherent limitations and lacks dynamism that make a language to create new word and phraseology as the needs change. The main problem is that (a) its structure are taken from Persian and Arabic and therefore, it has go back to Persian Arabic dictionaries to find proper terminology for the new needs (b) It lacks mass participation that enriches the language. Most of the words added to a language come from the production process. Since it is not the language of working masses in Pakistan, it is deprived of this life source for a language. Therefore, it will not be unreasonable to argue that Urdu has not and will not be able to fulfill the needs of a changing society. Furthermore, some knowledge of Persian is required for the appreciation of Urdu literature. Iqbal, Faiz and Fraz can be enjoyed only if one has a reasonable grooming in Persian. With the passage of time, Persian is going out of circulation in Punjab. As a result, the number of people who can appreciate niceties of Urdu language are dwindling with every new generation. It is possible that, Faiz or Fraz will be remembered in Punjab as much as the great Persian poets of seventeenth century of North India. After all, we should remember that for almost ten centuries, Persian was the only language that was used by the elite of this area. Did they ever thought of Lahore of 1990s where the ruling elite knows all other languages but Persian? In my opinion, Punjabi, will replace Urdu, the way Urdu replaced Persian. (4) The quality and quantity of Punjabi writing has increased manifolds in last two decades. Now, there are several emerging novelist and short story writers. Enough material now exist for a Punjabi reader which was absent two decades ago. Most importantly, a daily Punjabi newspaper was started from Lahore and remained in circulation for almost two years. It was very well received among the readers, however, it cold not be continued due to financial difficulties. Furthermore, the management consisted of activists who lacked organizational skills. Their efforts proved it beyond doubt, that if proper resources are made available, Punjabi media will be more viable than its competitive languages. It should be noted that except two Urdu daily newspapers, most of the others, with huge staffs, are running on state subsidies. Furthermore, the most successful newspapers are dependent upon the advertisement which are mostly given and controlled by the government. Therefore, if state stops subsidizing all newspapers or starts supporting Punjabi media, we will have a level field in which Punjabi newspapers will be more successful than others. It is a matter of time, that venture capital in Punjab is going to discover this huge potential market which is already known to film makers. It has been observed that major transformation in the history of a languages are associated with writers who are enlightened, reformist/revolutionary in their thinking, who have strong command of language and are persistent to continue their work in all circumstances. Such intellectual usually, create a sustainable network of writers and activists who can take the movement of the language forward. Rabindar Nath Tagoor, in Bengali, played this role. He would not have exaggerate if he had claimed that his language was not developed but he developed it. Punjabi has several committed scholars and creative writers. However, fortunately, Najam Hussain Syed, is one of those writers who have not only inspired a whole generation of writers, he has created a conceptual framework and a network of intelligentsia that can carry the burden for a long time. (5) There are some negative indicators that point out that Punjabi is going to be a major language of this area. The division between Sariaki and Punjabi indicates the growing up process for both the languages. Thirty years back, when Punjabi was considered a closed case, there were no apprehension on the part of the intelligentsia of the western Punjab. However, as the possibility of Punjabi being a realistic alternative in this region has improved, western Punjab has started differentiating itself as a separate entity distinguished from Punjabi. I agree with Balraj Puri, an intellectual and journalist of Jammun that" the friction between Punjabi and Sariaki shows that both are reaching an age of maturity. When the children get older, they go their own way .. Such a separation is a process of growing up and one should not be scared of it". CONCLUSIONS Our search shows that the progress of Punjabi was hindered mostly by internal factors. The conspiracy theory that blames the Britishers and the Urdu speaking does not explain the phenomenon. Punjab was a favored region in the British empire, however, its language was ignored for reasons to be discovered yet. The domination of Urdu was not a religious phenomenon because there were more non Muslim Urdu writers than Muslim Urdu writers before 1947. Lahore's approximation to Dehli, dissipations of Punjabi nationalism due to historical circumstances and lack of independent enlightened social groups can be identified as a partial explanation of the neglect of Punjabi. The situation after 1947 has changed where Punjabi is used for all practical purposes in East Punjab. A new configuration of social and political groups are more helpful for the progress of Punjabi. Punjabi has out shined other languages in Punjab where the market forces are in control, however, the state patronage in form of open and hidden subsidies to other languages has a negative impact on Punjabi. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that Punjabi is ready to become the language of Punjab, if the state intervention in form of patronage and subsidizing, directly and indirectly, of other languages is terminated. Furthermore, the socio political condition are ripe for the upsurge of Punjabi, even if the state does not change its course voluntarily. This argument is further strengthened by the fact that Punjabi language has developed an intellectual infrastructure required for the historical role it is destined to play.