The Dawn: June 27, 2006

No pragmatic approach to language issue

Shafqat Tanvir Mirza 

THE National Language Authority last week arranged a national seminar on the possibilities and problems of adopting Urdu as the official or state language which was scheduled to have that status in 1988 as per the Constitution. Meanwhile, there came and went heads of state and prime ministers from almost all parts of the country: Z A Bhutto and his daughter Benazir (Sindhi speaking), Ghulam Ishaq Khan from the Pushto belt, Nawaz Sharif and Farooq Leghari from Punjabi/Seraiki areas.

Now we have Gen Musharraf from the Urdu-speaking Mohajir community. None of them dared fulfill the constitutional obligation in respect of Urdu.

Why was it that this national commitment was not fulfilled? This was the major question to which writers and intellectuals of the regional languages were also invited to give their views on the status of Urdu and other local languages. Of these Sindhi had earlier fully enjoyed the status of an official language in the province but this status has been dangerously encroached upon. Prominent linguists like Dr Nabi Bukhsh Baloch, Dr Tariq Rahman, Raj Wali Khatak, Prof Alamgir Hashmi, Prof Zahoor Ahmad Awan, Dr Haider Sindhi and Tahir Muhammad Khan participated in the seminar.

Dr. Ayub Sabir from Abbotabad, Prof Ms Sahar Imdad and Imdad Husaini from Hyderabad, Dr Inayatullah Faizi from Chitral and Dr. Anwar from Multan presented their papers while Dr Asif Aslam Farrukhi and Mazhar Jamil from Karachi expressed their views on the government’s attitudes towards Urdu. Farrukhi minced no words and said that the rulers intention was mala fide otherwise if the president or the prime minister had the political will Urdu could be introduced with immediate effect. But his fear was that this would never happen.

The views of many of the scholars were that local languages have very close relationship with Urdu while the latter’s behaviour was never friendly towards the former. They referred to the first deadly clash of Urdu with Bengali. Then the proponents of Urdu tried to humble Sindhi. The concept of providing primary education in mother tongue was also ignored in the name of national solidari ty, and what have you. But the strangest fact is that after partition every local language or area started claiming that Urdu was born in that area.

Before independence in 1929 Hafiz Mahmood Sheerani of Tonk (Rajputana) concluded that Urdu was born in Punjab and that it was the developed form of Punjabi (he took the dialects like Multani, Potohari, Hindko, Lehnda and Doabi, all as part and parcel of Punjabi). Hyderabadi (Decan) scholars came with the research that Urdu was the product of Deccan, to be followed by Syed Suleman Nadvi who claimed that Sindh was the first cradle of Urdu.

When in Pakistan Urdu was given a prestigious place by the leaders, every province and language claimed that Urdu took its present shape in their respective areas. These included the people speaking Hindko, Seraiki, Multani, Sindhi, Pushto, Balochi and Gujarati. The attempt could be interpreted otherwise. The effort was to earn the favour of the would-be ruling language without taking into view the social, cultural and linguistic problems which Urdu had to face to fully take up its new proposed role. Urdu till that time was a literary, and urban language, having no strong roots among those working the rural economic or productive processes.

Close to the end of the 19th century, it was used more as a political lingua franca by Muslims of the subcontinent, hence the Urdu-Hindi controversy. Even in that position Bengali Muslims in 1937 refused to accept Urdu as the lingua franca of the All-India Muslim League. According to Dr Tariq Rahman (Language and Politics in Pakistan) in 1937, at the Lucknow session of the All-India Muslim League (presided over by Muhammad Ali Jinnah) a res olution recommending Urdu as the lingua franca of Muslims all over India was opposed by the delegates of Bengal (Daily Pioneer, Lucknow, Oct 17, 1937). Another instance he quoted was that the delegates of the Bengal Provincial Muslim League, created in 1912, wrote the league’s resolution in Bengali and not in Urdu. Even Maulana Akram Khan, a religious figure and a leader of the Muslim League, declared in 1918 that the question of whether Urdu or Bengali was the mother tongue of Bengali Muslims was the `most preposterous question of them all’.

This was the situation is East Bengal immediately after independence when the bureaucratic control of the province was totally given to the Urdu and Punjabi-speaking lot (who always sided with the Urduspeaking) ICS officers, who behaved like brown Sahibs with the Bengali politicians, the elite and the professionals alike. The practice earned more hatred and alienation for West Pakistan and the Urdu language. This was the official attitude which persisted in all the other provinces of West Pakistan too. Sindhis were the worst affected and feared that they might be the next target. It was a sort of linguistic dictatorship at two tiers: English and Urdu, which the people of all four provinces have continued to suffer to date.

With this background, even Punjabis now do not feel happy when Mahmood Sherani is quoted as saying that Urdu was a developed form of Punjabi. This tribute has created obstacles in getting Punjabi introduced at the primary level, not only as medium of instruction but also as a separate subject. In Punjab there is also a feeling that to stop the introduction of Punjabi, certain lobbies are active to divide the language on a dialect basis, and trying to subvert the case of Punjabi.

This mischief first started when in the early 1950s intellectuals and writers from Punjab, like Hameed Nizami, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Masud Khadarposh, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, Dr Baqir and Dr Faqir Muhammad Faqir demanded the introduction of Punjabi as a medium of instruction at the primary level. The case of other languages viz Urdu is not much different. — STM

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