The Dawn: March 27, 2007

Languages many, answer one

Shafqat Tanvir Mirza 

THERE are about 30 languages and dialects spoken in the North-West-Frontier Province and the adjoining Northern Areas and academics specialising in these participated in a two-day conference recently held in Peshawar under the auspices of the Gandhara Hindko Board.This was the second major conference organised by the board. The first was Hindko International Conference held in 2005 in which the government was urged to introduce Hindko at the primary level of education.

Pashto has not been made the medium of instruction in the Frontier, but it is getting popular. The language is being taught in a majority of schools in the Pashtospeaking areas of the province.

The recent conference was presided over by Ejaz Ahmad Qureshi, the Chief Secretary of the Frontier government who told the participants that literary and cultural activities create unity among people and refine their outlook towards society and life. He was responding to the demand that the government should set up institutes in the NWFP universities for the promotion of 30 languages and dialects spoken in the province.

The conference was attended by writers who express themselves in the following languages; Hindko, Pashto, Khwar, Gojri, Yadgha, Kalasha, Pehlola, Damili, Gwarbati, Mashriqi Katwari, Kalami,Torwali, Ashoja, Indus Kohistani, Batiri, Wakhi, Domaki, Urmori, Vanisi, Peshai, Seraiki, Madklashti, Kashmiri, Kalkoti, Balti, Shena, Burshuski, Gaward, Chaliso and Pahari.

The Frontier could do with a language authority to look after the linguistic and cultural needs of the province. In that way Sindh is lucky that it has a Sindhi Language Authority, established in the mid-1990s, apart from having the Sindhi Adabi Board. It has a Sindhology Department and Bhit Shah Cultural Centre. Sindh is the only province which has a university in the name of a sufi and a poet, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai. There is a university in the name of the founding father of Punjabi poetry, Baba Farid, located outside Pakistan — in Farid Kot in the Indian Punjab.

We have in these columns discussed at length the role language played in creating and widening a gulf between the Bengalis of East Pakistan and the West Pakistanis. The politics of Kashmir offers another example that can help us put things in perspective.

The language issue did play its part in complicating the Kashmir case. The Muslim Conference was dominated by the Punjabispeaking leadership that had a popular following in the Jammu province while the National Conference, led by Sheikh Abdullah, represented the Kashmiri-speaking valley. The valley people were dead against the Dogra rulers who used to speak the Dogria dialect of Punjabi. Apart from following two different religions, they had different linguistic and cultural identities. The Muslim Conference committed a blunder under the leadership of Hameed Ullah Khan, originally from Gujrat, by supporting the Dogra ruler’s stand of neither joining Pakistan nor India. It was his decision which created the Kashmir problem that still lingers.

Pashto was not taught in the Frontier at the time of partition but a Pakhtoon identity on lan guage basis had been established. Most of the Pakhtoon nationalists stood against the Muslim League which was popular in Hindko and Punjabi/Seraiki areas of the province. The Pakhtoon chief minister was replaced by Hindko-speaking Abdul Qayyum Khan. The Kabul regime, which patronised the Pashto language, turned hostile to the newlyestablished Pakistan and extended support to Shahzada Karim of Balochistan.

The fact was the Pashto-speaking areas of the Frontier were much ahead of Afghanistan in the economic, social and political fields. If the Pashto language had been given due importance at that time the population across the border would have come closer to the Pashto speakers in Pakistan. But, because of the myopic approach of the establishment dominated by the Punjabis and Urdu-speaking people, this could not happen.

In Punjab, the Sikhs of the east Punjab had given Punjabi a religious status. Punjabi was kind of their national language and also the medium of learning for them. Almost half of the Sikh population lived in areas which formed Pakistan in 1947 and they had to migrate to east Punjab and other parts of India. They were uprooted from the areas where dialects such as Potohari, Multani, Lahnda and Majhis were spoken. After the Sikh dream of a national state in India was dashed and the religious frenzy accompanying the partition subsided, the Sikhs fought over the language issue. This was the time when a better treatment of Punjabi language in west Punjab would have brought both the Sikhs and the Muslims close. This cultural advance from Pakistan would have played a more effective role in winning over the Sikhs than did the socalled Khalistan uprising, which, according to many, was inspired and supported by Pakistan.

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