The Dawn: Mar 13, 2015

PUNJAB NOTES: Woman and Pakistani languages

Mushtaq Soofi 

Pakistan is a treasure trove for linguists. Can you count how many languages this country has? More than two dozen, one can safely assume. Reliable official figure is not available. It was a delightful moment to see writers, poets, critics and intellectuals representing various languages gathered together last week in Islamabad. The occasion was International Women’s Day.

Pakistan Academy of Letters organised one-day conference on women rights and issues and how these were reflected in the literary expression of different Pakistani languages. It was a sort of mini literary gala where one could come across a sizable segment of literati from across the country. The credit goes to Dr Qasim Bughio, the newly-appointed chairman of the Academy, who happens to be a linguist and a scholar of repute for arranging the conference shortly after taking the charge.

The languages represented at the conference included Urdu, Sindhi, Balochi, Brahvi, Seraiki, Punjabi, Potohari, Hindko, Pashto and English, to name a few. The conference was inaugurated by well-known scholar and educationist Dr Nizam, Chairman, Punjab Higher Education Commission. He is the gentleman who earned accolades for making the University of Gujrat a high-profile educational institution in a short period of time when he was its vice chancellor. In his inaugural address he said something wise and rational that might have surprised some of the participants because it did not flatter their literary ego. It was fine to create literary and creative products, he said. But if the writers

were serious in addressing the issue of women rights they needed to work a bit like social scientists.

Imaginative construction of women’s sufferings might be essential but not sufficient enough to persuade the public policy makers to change the course as far as women’s problems were concerned.

Painstaking research and concrete analysis of the material conditions responsible for the plight of women would help find the solution. Writers and poets were well-advised to get out of their cocoon as concrete problems needed concrete solutions. It might have shocked some habituated to hibernate in a self-induced dream world.

Dr Bughio reassured the literary crowd that society which had no respect for and appreciation of word could only produce robots, not human beings. In order to understand the human predicament we could not dispense with people who had the power to feel the feelings and dream the dreams.

Writers lacking in empathy would never be able to understand the sufferings of women who had long been deprived of their basic human rights.

Scholars and writers from different regions and diverse linguistic backgrounds presented their papers, some of which were of high quality and insightful. The analyses of a host of female characters evolved by different literary traditions created a cultural mosaic with rich ambiance. Though the characters and the socio-cultural contexts in which they came to fore were apparently different, the essential features exhibited undeniable commonality. Women, irrespective of region, language, culture and ethnic background, suffered the same fate. Gender inequality and consequently denial of equal rights seemed to be a phenomenon that defined our family and social life. Women’s economic deprivation, the presenters pointed out, never ruffled the feathers of our socio-political leaders. Fieldwork, domestic labour and household chores done by women never figured in the statistics churned out by our high-brow economists and finance managers. Honour killing of women had been defended by our parliamentarians in the name of customs and traditions. A Pashtun scholar narrated a quasi historical anecdote which, though Pashtun-specific, revealed the psyche of our elders. When Muslim preachers came to the Pashtun area and told Pashtuns that there was only one God and man was ordained to submit to none except to Him. The elders said that as proud people they would submit to no one except one God. The preachers told them about other Islamic practices and the elders agreed to follow those. When the preachers talked about the rights accorded to women in Islam, the elders said: “Thank you. This is our domestic problem and we will solve it ourselves”. Since then the issue of women rights has been our domestic problem and our elders have been busy solving it.—

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