By Dr. Jaspal Singh

South Asia Post: Issue 28 Vol II, November 30, 2006

KENFRI Punjabi Lekhak Sabha, the largest conglomeration of Punjabi writers is one again up in arms against the Punjab government for its language policy. The writers are angry because the bureaucracy at the higher levels does not pass orders on office files in Punjabi. They think Punjabi is stagnated and it is not keeping pace with the present day developments in various fields at the national or international levels. The main reason for his pitiable condition of this language according to the writers is the attitude of the government and its bureaucracy. This argument logically leads to the conclusion that if the government and its bureaucracy start passing orders in Punjabi, the language will develop by leaps and bounds.

Perhaps Punjabi writers do not know that most of the file work in Punjabi government offices is done in Punjabi. Every case in a government office is dealt by an official called ‘assistant’. The ‘assistant’ reads the ‘paper under consideration’ (PUC) and brings in on noting on the government file. Sometimes this noting is as long as half a dozen of pages. The entire history of the case and the relevant material useful for taking a decision is appended here. Almost all the ‘assistants’ in Punjab government offices from the subdivision level to the headquarters in the secretariat know mainly one language and that is Punjabi. They do have a smattering knowledge of the English language but they can not make any sustained noting in it. This file is then put up to the superintendent of the relevant branch who after reading the noting puts his signature on it and forwards it to his superior officer for passing appropriate orders. Depending upon the nature of the office, this officer is usually a PCS officer or some other class one officer. If the case is within his competence, he would pass the order which usually is in one line. Otherwise he would put his signature and mark it to the next higher authority. Every officer has his own level of competence. Depending on the nature of the case the appropriate orders would be passed at the appropriate level. The orders passed by the competent officer usually are in one word i.e. ‘sanctioned’ or ‘approved’ or ‘not sanctioned’ or ‘not approved’. Some times the officer refers back the case for a second look. If this happens the entire exercise is repeated all over again.

Apart from the file notings and ‘drafts for approval’ which is based on the content of the noting no where else the use of the written language in the official practice is made. Of course service rules and certain circulars or sometimes minutes of some meetings are written in English. Most of the correspondence with Government of India is also done in English. But Punjabi versions are also available. Most of the higher officers do not write anything on the files except their signatures with “parwan hai” in Punjabi.

No doubt the working of the courts and legal procedure is mostly carried out in English throughout the country which perhaps is not possible in the regional languages at least at the High Court and Supreme Court levels.

Now the question arises will the Punjabi language develop and flourish if the officers start passing orders in Punjabi which as stated earlier are not more than one or two words? Can bureaucracy as a body be made responsible for the development of the Punjabi language? In which country bureaucracy developed the language? Was the Russian language developed by the bureaucracy, which did all official work in French during the Czarist days?

Punjabi writers forget that a language is developed by its writers, thinkers, and academia besides social and physical scientists and so on. Should we depend on the babus for the development of their mother tongue? Most of the Punjabi writers send their children to English medium schools since this language has acquired a dominant global status and every body wants his children to be relevant to the global job market. If English is dominating today it is because of both the political and intellectual reasons. The British Empire did disperse the language in scores of countries, but the English writers and thinkers enriched it with their toil and wit. So far Punjabi writers/intellectuals have not been able to produce a standard Punjabi dictionary. What kind of Punjabi literature is appearing on the stalls? Dharnas, protest marches and the strikes are not going to develop the language. Punjabi writers, intellectuals and academia, if they are really serious about the development of their language, should devise a long term strategy for producing standard reference material in this language. At the same time the writers should write what is globally relevant and is in demand in the market. It requires a gigantic intellectual effort which perhaps the Punjabi writer is not capable of making. The writers must write off the politicians and bureaucrats and themselves take the responsibility of developing their language in consonance with the present day global environment. Agitation that has been on and off almost ritualistically is fine for literary politics but it certainly cannot help the language in any way.