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Second International Punjabi Conference
Held at American University, Washington DC on June 28-29, 1996
A Report

The second International Punjabi Conference, jointly sponsored by Academy of the Punjab in North America (APNA), International Sikh Heritage Association and Punjab Heritage Association, was held at American University, Washington DC, on June 28-29, 1996. More than one hundred delegates, representing all sections of Punjabi communities, from India, Pakistan, Canada, Europe and USA attended the Conference. A large display of Punjabi books in the conference hall, both in Shahmukhi and Gurmukhi scripts, and a Kavi Darbar and cultural program held at the Gymkhana Club in Maryland were also part of the Conference. The Conference was hailed by the delegates as a major success in providing the only available forum for dialogue among the Punjabi intellectuals from both sides of the Indian border on the issues of Punjabi language, art and culture. The main theme of the Conference was the literary, political and social state of affairs in the Punjab at the turn of the century. The Conference agenda was divided among three sessions on:

1) History and Culture of Contemporary Punjab
2) Women and Minorities in Punjabi Culture
3) Language, Literature and the Performing Arts

Each session was addressed by a Panel of distinguished Punjabi writers, followed by a question-answer session between the audience and the panel members.

Dr. Hassan Ali Gardezi, opened the Conference with his keynote remarks on Sultan Bhoo's anti-mullah philosophy. He paid high tributes to the organizers of this Conference and noted that this get together of Punjabi thinkers from diverse political, religious and literary backgrounds was an occasion of historical proportions.

The first Panel addressed the issues of history and culture of contemporary Punjab. Dr. Rishpal Singh Aujla provided a detailed history of the evolution of different Punjabi scripts in the context of linguistic developments in India. Irfan Malik presented a critical evaluation of the current Shahmukhi script and claimed that minor modifications in the Urdu script are not sufficient to covert it into a suitable Punjabi script. He pointed out, with examples from the different usage's of Urdu letters and vowels, that Urdu script includes many redundant and unnecessary letters and is missing some key vowels that are needed to correctly represent Punjabi phonetics. He concluded that major modifications in the current Urdu based Shahmukhi script are required to convert it into a phonetically correct Punjabi script. He also submitted his proposals for the modified Shahmukhi script. Nazir Chauhdry discussed the political and linguistic history of the Saraiki issue in Pakistan. He claimed that Saraiki is not merely a dialect of Punjabi, it is a distinct and independent language.

After the remarks by the speakers on the Panel, the session was opened for question from the audience, resulting in a lively debate on the issue of Siriaki language. The audience reached a general consensus that Sariaki is part of the mainstream Punjabi language. The audience also agreed with the need for modifications in the present Shahmukhi script.

Treatment of women and minorities in Punjab was the main focus of the second session of the Conference. Ms. Hardeep Maan and Alfreda Gill threw light on the miserable conditions of woman in Punjab. Khalid Mahmood deplored the treatment of minorities in West Punjab. He presented a critical view of Pakistan's legal framework and condemned the legalization of many forms of persecution of religious minorities, including Christians and Ahmadies. Harbhjan Singh Rattan, a well recognized writer in Punjabi circles (India) eloborated on the different dimensions of the use of feminine character in Punjabi literature. He had traveled from India to attend this conference.

Guests and local Punjabi lovers were invited to a reception that evening. A Kavi darbar (mushaira) was held at this occaison. Harbhajan Singh Rattan, Dr. Mohinder Kaur Gill (India), Hardev Artist (Toronto), Hameed Dess (Delaware), T.S.Gill, Amarjeet Chandan (London), Giani Karnail Singh and Tassawar Ibraz Anwar recited their poems. Mushaira was followed by a cultural program. Sarjeet Hundal, Gurshran, Radheka Sarin, and Dr. Ahuja were the main participants.

The third session was moderated by Dr. Rishpal Singh Aujla. Dr. Mustapha Pasha took the audience on a fascinating journey of the history of Punjabi film making, starting from the very first Punjabi film "Heer Ranjha" back in 1938. He identified the six main themes of Punjabi films and analyzed the cultural and social background of these recurring themes in most of the Punjabi films. Mr Gurdeep Singh shed light on necessity of committment in literature. Safir Rammah presented his critical appreciation of Munir Niazi's Punjabi poetry. He applauded Munir Niazi as one of the few major Urdu poets of Punjabi origin who have produced equally exquisite poetry in Punjabi. By comparing some of his Punjabi poems with his Urdu ghazals, he highlighted the difference of poetic expression in the two languages.

In the plenary session, it was decided that next year's conference will be held in April in Washington. A resolution was adopted in which it was demanded that Punjabi should be adopted as medium of elementary education in states (provinces) where Punjabis are in majority. Furthermore, Punjabi should be given the second position where Punjabis are the second largest group. Furthemore, Punjabi should be offered as an elective subject where Punjabis are in significant numbers.