The Dawn: Feb 20, 2015

Punjab Notes: Cheerful Mother Language Day celebrations in cheerless Punjab

Mushtaq Soofi 

Description: Photo: UNESCO.

Photo: UNESCO.

February 21 is the International Mother Language Day celebrated every year all over the world with the express purpose of preserving, protecting and promoting the incredible linguistic diversity we humans have.

Linguistic diversity is receptacle of human evolution and thus immensely fecund source of irreplaceable intellectual, literary and cultural richness. But sadly we, especially in Punjab, wrongly perceive the multiplicity of languages as a divisive force.

That is why the linguistic rights of the people in Punjab have been denied in the name of ill-conceived notion of national cohesion.

We suffer from historical amnesia, a malady that has damaged our intellectual psyche causing disconnect with our rich and diverse past spanning over thousands of years. The Punjab has been home to some of the most ancient languages such as Dravidian whose vestiges can be found in contemporary Punjabi.

The Brahvi language spoken in large swathes of Balochistan has Dravidian roots. Our cussed perception of linear time, internalized and flaunted, is the root cause of present linguistic bankruptcy that weighs heavily on our intellect and imagination. Intellect and imagination are prerequisites of having a construct of future. Who cannot look back cannot look beyond.

The language policy devised by the state and our culturally alien elite is aimed at promoting a politico-intellectual fallacy that a single language is a potent tool to create national unity which is historically untrue and politically divisive.

History provides us ample evidence if evidence is needed at all that a linguistically diverse society can have a stable nation state. If a single language alone could hold people together, the Punjab and the Bengal would have been intact, not partitioned. But the Punjabis this side of the border have not learnt anything from the bloody partition of Punjab.

They, forgetting their historical experience, along with Urdu speakers have been accomplices in creating a linguistic conundrum that has obfuscated our cultural vision.

Other nationalities of Pakistan quickly saw through this skewed language policy as they have been and are not averse to their literary and cultural heritage.

On the contrary they proudly own it. That’s why we see that the Sindhis way back in 1970s introduced their mother language in schools and colleges while raising it to the status of Sindh’s official language along with the national language.

The KP government some years back decided to start the teaching of languages of its area such as Pashto, Hindko etc at school level. Balochistan has followed the suit.

Such steps apart from being people friendly will help reduce dropout rate in the schools and immensely boost literacy rate in these regions.

Unfortunately the Punjab government that rules the biggest province of the country is deliberately indifferent to the plight of people in terms of linguistic rights to the extent that it refuses even to acknowledge the problem.

The party in power has its political base in Punjab but the moment the question of rights of Punjab’s language/languages is raised, it gets jittery in a fit of irrationality.

The party has jitters because of its poor perception of national politico cultural landscape. Flimsy argument the stalwarts of the party present is that if they introduce the mother language in the schools and declare it official language of Punjab, they will be dubbed parochial and chauvinists by their political opponents in other provinces. One can only pity this argument which barely hides insidious intent.

The political leaders of other nationalities do not suffer from the self-hate as you do gentlemen in Punjab. They love their languages and will respect you if you love yours. What they hate is your political and economic hegemony, not your language and culture.

But thing are gradually changing. Middle and lower middle class intelligentsia in its uphill struggle has been able to raise consciousness on the issues of language and culture in Punjab.

A number of cultural bodies, poorly funded but passionately committed, are fighting against all odds for the cultural empowerment and emancipation of the people.

One of such bodies, Pakistan Punjabi Adbi Board, the oldest independent cultural entity, has been at the forefront of a cultural movement to get the linguistic rights of the Punjabi language restored.

The Board in collaboration with a host of other organizations from all across Punjab, has planned to celebrate International Mother Language Day by organizing a day long cultural programme and a big rally on Feb, 21, 2015 from Nasser Bagh, Lahore, to the Punjab Assembly with the demand that the mother language be introduced immediately from primary to graduate level so that students get their early education in their mother language as emphasized by educationists and UNO.

Since the Punjab government is only interested in erecting concrete structures of all sorts, it has no fund for People’s language and culture.

So Pakistan Punjabi Adbi Board and other bodies launched a fund raising campaign to meet the expenses of Mother Day Language celebrations.

Interestingly all chipped in except the rich Punjabis. Nothing can expose the poverty of riches better.

Jesus Christ ages ago exposed the rich when he said: ‘it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into heaven’.

The rich Punjabis stand banished from the heaven of our language that belongs to the poor and the dispossessed.—

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