The Dawn: May 30, 2006

Teaching of modern languages?

Shafqat Tanvir Mirza 

MUSLIM countries that were part of the former Soviet Union are becoming important for the resource-hungry west which has come closer to the Central Asian republics. They are rich in natural resources and accessible to the west through Afghanistan where it now has a significance presence. In Iraq, too, a bloody drama is being staged in the name of democracy.Yet another bloody drama is feared to be staged in Iran by trying to stop it from developing nuclear technology. Tehran is being harassed not to export natural gas to neighbouring Pakistan and India, which are being pressured not to strike a bargain with Iran.

For Pakistan the importance of Muslim countries of Central Asia needs no explanation. Pakistan and Iran are two countries which can provide a warm-water opening to the land-locked Turkic countries which are genuinely interested in having good relations with the neighbours having seaports. But this interest at present cannot be served without the blessings of the United States and its allies which control Afghanistan through which most of the required opening routes are possible.

Thus, all the countries in the ECO become important, and perhaps that importance reflects in the teaching of languages at the National University of Modern Languages in which four languages, Kazakh, uzbek, Karghezi and Tajik have been included with Afghan Persian. Many of our educational programmes are being subsidised by western countries and other institutions being controlled by the US-led group of countries and NUML is perhaps no exception. A two-year course in Iqbaliat has also been introduced which is limited to Iqbal’s Persian work. But one wonders how Iqbaliat could be completed without teaching his writings in Urdu and English? One can understand that Persian has many commonalities with the languages spoken in Central Asia, therefore, stipends from the university have been exclusively offered to students seeking admission in M A Persian.

Among the national languages, besides Urdu, which has been taught throughout the country, only Pushto is lucky to be on the schedule of the NUML.The only reason may be that it is spoken in Afghanistan too. If that can be a justification why not Punjabi in its Gurmukhi form which is the official language of the Punjabi suba in neighbouring India and with which trade relations are being strengthened. Half of the occupied Kashmir is Punjabi/Dogari or Pahari speaking, with the exception of the valley which is exclusively Kashmiri speaking. From the political and cultural standpoints, the teaching of Punjabi should be our dire need. Right from the beginning we have totally ignored this aspect of Kashmir issue, knowing well that one of the differences between the pro-Pakistan Muslim Conference and the proIndia National Conference is related to the language issue.

In the context of SAARC, as in the joint struggle for Pakistan, earlier on one misses the teaching of Bengali language. Apart from the languages mentioned, other languages being taught are English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Hindi, Indonesian and Turkish. So for other national languages are concerned, Balochi and Sindhi are also being used on both sides of the borders in question. Gujrati also qualifies to be on the rostrum of the National University of Modern Languages. It may also be mentioned that all national or local languages not being taught at the university are modern languages by any standards.

Mr Altaf Husain of the MQM is always very keen to show its solidarity with the Sindhi-speaking people of the province. Once he stood for a separate province, namely, Jinnahpur or Jinnahabad. This proposed bifurcation of Sindh had invited violent reaction from Sindhis which forced the MQM to disown the idea. After many years, now the name Jinnahpur is again in the news according to which all four provinces are to be bifurcated into two or three administrative units. Though the division of the provinces needs an amendment in the Constitution but one is not sure whether the feudal mentality of the political parties will allow them to accept the idea.

Leaving aside this cherished goal of the MQM, Altaf Husain, on the last anniversary of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai tried to be more loyal to the Sindhi cause than the Sindhis, and demanded that the anniversary should be declared as the national holiday. It is already a provincial holiday and Sindhis have never demanded a national holiday because they know that a flood gate will open for national holidays on the anniversaries of Ghalib, Mir, Khwaja Farid, Rahman Baba, Khushal Khan Khatak, Waris Shah, Baba Farid, Bulleh Shah and Shah Husain and others.

Sindhis have done a great service to Shah Latif Bhittai and they have recently chalked out a programme to teach Bhittai’s poetry and philosophy from class 1 to the intermediate level. This has been decided by the coordination council for the promotion of Bhittai Studies at a meeting held in Hyderabad last Friday under the presidentship of Sindh University’s vice-chancellor Mazharul Haq Siddiqi. According to the decision of the council an experts’ committee will develop the reading material of different aspects of the life of Bhittai for the first 12 classes and the Sindh Textbook Board, Jamshoro will publish it. The Sindh Textbook Board has offered its services to publish these books. The meeting was also attended by the Sindh government’s culture and tourism secretary Ms Mehtab Akbar Rashidi.

One wonders whether the Punjab Government, its Secretary culture, the vice-chancellor of the Punjab University, the Chairman of the Punjab Textbook Board and senior officers concerned would ever take a cue from their Sindhi counterparts. — STM

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