by: Tariq Rehman
Dawn Lahore Edition, Karachi Edition, Islamabad Edition
This book is about Pakistan's tumultuous history and its interminable pursuit of its own identity as it emerged as a pivotal player in a volatile region. Nine scholars focus on politics, ethnic issues, foreign policy, economy, social structure and a plural culture.
Christophe Jeffrelot is Director of Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches Internationales along with being a researcher at Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France. Dr Tariq Rahman is an academician and scholar who is Professor and Director, Chair on Quaid-i-Azam at the National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad and is the author of several books.
Excerpted with permission from A History of Pakistan and its Origins
Edited by Christophe Jaffrelot
Translated by Gillian Beaumont
Available at Sethi Books, 14-B, Temple Road, Lahore
Tel: 042-636 1478.
English-language schools - that is, schools where the teachers really teach in English, and the pupils are from privileged Anglophone backgrounds - are too expensive for middle and working class families. Most Pakistani families, however, can afford public schools where the teaching is in Urdu and Sindhi, and the few which teach Pushto to younger pupils. But the madressahs are even more attractive, because board and education are free.
Moreover, these Quranic schools have established national bodies to assess their pupils' knowledge of Urdu and Arabic. Nevertheless, in Pushto speaking regions they teach in Pushto; while in Sindhi-speaking regions they teach in Sindhi. In the Punjab and Balochistan, teachers often use the local languages in the classroom even though Urdu is the traditional language of education.
We do not know exactly how many madressahs there are. Some very precise figures are given in the press: the Nawa-i-Waqt suggests that there are 6,761 Quranic schools (October 1999); while in 1995 the government was talking about 3,906. The madressahs teach Islamic Arabic as a symbol of continuity with the past, and of Islamic identity, but most of their graduates cannot speak it properly.
Language and power: the ethnic dimension
Urdu, heavily influenced by Persian, introduced into the education system by the British, became a symbol of the Muslim elite in nineteenth-century India. Thanks to the support of the British, it has become the language of government, law, education and business in regions once dominated by Muslims (particularly in Uttar Pradesh). As the struggle for work and power between Muslim and Hindu white-collar workers intensified, each community identified with its language, and 'cleansed' it of outside influences.
The battle between Urdu and Hindi in British India therefore followed, for the most part, the pattern of the power struggles between Hindus and Muslims. Urdu was an essential feature of Muslim separatist ideology in India, and immediately after Partition the government sought to make this language a force for national integration. Since the federal government was in West Pakistan, and the administration and the army were dominated by Punjabis and Mohajirs, it came to be associated with central government hegemony.
Nationalists in East Bengal, Sindh, Balochistan and the NWFP reacted by setting up ethnic affirmation movements based mainly on the defence of their languages. The most powerful linguistic movement, Bhasha Andolan - literally 'linguistic agitation' (that is, for the defence of Bengali) - was active between 1948 and 1951, but it remained very influential until the second Partition in 1971. It rose up against the official ideology, and sought to make Bengali the symbol of a counterideology.
As for the pro-Pushto movement, it declined as the Pakhtoons climbed the social ladder. Their business network has spread through the whole country, and they have joined the salaried classes in their thousands, especially the army. Nevertheless, the Awami National Party continues to criticize Punjabi hegemony in the name of a specific Pakhtoon identity, and wants Pushto taught at every level of the education system.
Punjab, too, is riven with linguistic tensions, which have socio-economic origins. The Seraiki movement is a response to the economic under-development of the southern Punjab. It may be limited to the region's intelligentsia, but the Seraiki label tends to bring together linguistic groups which have hitherto identified with different local idioms: Multani, Dereweli or Riasati. This movement shows very clearly how a local (Multani or Riasati) identity can become a wider ethnic identity (Seraiki). In Balochistan, Balochi and Brahui are the languages of a literature of resistance against the domination of Urdu, the Punjabi elite, and the Mughlai culture (in the Indo-Gangetic plain).
Language and social status
The wish to learn a language is linked with the desire to climb the social ladder. People who speak minority languages are especially eager to learn another language if it is a prerequisite for a government job.
Some classes - landowners, for example, or so-called 'tribal leaders' in Balochistan or the NWFP - enjoy a social influence that has nothing to do with their linguistic abilities. This also applies to political or religious leaders who need speak only a local language, since their power is based on the loyalty of their supporters and their own charisma.
However, the greater part of the population - particularly in the towns - derive at least part of their power from their ability to write English and Urdu. No one who cannot read English or Urdu can get a white-collar job - except in Sindh, where native-born Sindhis have had their idiom recognized as the official language. In every province of Pakistan, anyone who can write Urdu, but not English, can get only menial jobs.
This situation is a legacy of colonial history. When the Great Mughals ruled India, Persian was the language of power; this forced the Hindus to learn it and to 'Islamize' their culture. Later, when the British launched an attack on the supremacy of Persian and installed English in the corridors of power, both Hindus and Muslims learned English, and the influence of Persian declined. Still later, the leading strata of the intelligentsia, who were also the most Westernized, were unwilling to substitute either Urdu or any other Pakistani language for English. Thus the supremacy of English is a reflection of very specific social interests.
Contrary to popular belief, Persian and English were never imposed by the government - quite the opposite: ordinary people were not allowed to learn them. Government mechanisms for learning the languages of power are highly discriminatory. Although most teaching is in Urdu, Sindhi is used in primary schools in Sindhi-speaking regions, and Pushto in the NWFP. These vernacular schools are mainly for the poor.
For the military and civil service elite, the state has created a parallel system where all subjects (or sometimes only scientific subjects) are taught in English. The military schools, which are directly or indirectly controlled by the army, are even more prestigious. There are also schools run by charitable military institutions like the Fauji Foundation (the army), the Bahria Foundation (the navy) and the Shaheen Foundation (the air force).
Other public services - the railways, customs, telecommunications, the police, etc - run their own schools. The federal government also runs 'experimental' English-speaking schools. These establishments, their teachers and their facilities are of a much higher calibre than ordinary public schools, but they are cheaper for the sons and daughters of civil servants than for children from outside. Thus Pakistan's elite betray their declared commitment to provide state-financed teaching in vernacular languages.
As well as these public institutions, there is a network of private schools called 'English medium' schools which provide an education in English. They are often extremely expensive: a place at a Froebel, Beaconhouse or City School can cost from 1,500 to 3,500 rupees a month. Families with modest means who know how important English is often make huge sacrifices to send their children to an English medium school.
Hence the proliferation throughout Pakistan of schools which claim to teach in English. They cost between 50 and 100 rupees a month, and the quality of their teaching varies enormously. A number of these schools are run by religious organizations, which claim to want to combine Islamic culture, modern technical subjects and English. The wealthiest families send their children to study abroad or to the International School, where a year's school fees are 10,000 dollars.
So Pakistan's elite maintain an education system where the majority of the population are either left in ignorance, or educated in the vernacular and thus at a disadvantage compared with those who control the government or the business world. Moreover, not only do these elite make no investment in their own education system, they subvert it by spending its money on a parallel model of education which is entirely for their own benefit.
Language textbooks and ideology
It is a well-known fact that there is an ideological dimension to language, and the state's promotion of Urdu is a first indication of this. A second is the way languages have developed in Pakistan. The modernization process has entailed the invention of new terms to express new concepts - scientific facts, for example. These new terms are being created in accordance with very specific ideological criteria. The state uses Arabic and Persian roots, for instance, to make up new Urdu words, because it wants ordinary people to feel a sense of Pakistani (rather than ethnic) and Muslim (rather than secular) identity. At the same time, ethnic nationalists are creating new words on the basis of the ancient roots of their vernacular languages.
Language textbooks make their own contribution towards indoctrinating students. Although this indoctrination is mainly the province of books on history and sociology, it is furthered by books on linguistics. This propaganda - which can be subtle or blatant - is predominantly on behalf of Islam, nationalism and militarism. It finds expression in poems, essays, exercises, and so on, and appears equally in Urdu, English and Arabic books, and in textbooks in regional languages.
Religious education revolves around the fundamental principles of Islam, and around the illustrious personalities or events in its history. Lessons on nationalism, where the leaders of the movement for the creation of Pakistan are praised and revered, are aimed at strengthening a sense of nationhood and Pakistani identity.
Language textbooks glorify war, and celebrate the heroes of conflicts between India and Pakistan. These three ideological themes complement one another: Islam encourages nationalism, and the most profound expression of nationalism happens to be militarism. The principal aim of this indoctrination process is to create a favourable climate for the state's anti-Indian policy.
The state saw Urdu as a mark of Pakistani identity and a force for national integration in a country with five major ethnic groups, each with its own language and literary tradition. These groups, in turn, have endeavoured to resist this 'colonialism from the inside'. In this struggle, the elite of the ethnic groups have used their languages as symbols of an identity under threat.
As well as ethnic identity, social class plays an important part. English is associated with the upper middle classes and the elite; Urdu with the lower middle classes; while the vernacular languages are spoken mainly by farmers, unskilled workers, and the working class in general. This is borne out by relations with officialdom, especially in the towns. Nevertheless, there are places in Sindh where Sindhi is the accepted formal language in contexts where Urdu would be used in other regions of Pakistan. Moreover, in Sindh and in certain parts of the Pushto-speaking area, ethnic pride is strong enough to curb the advance of Urdu, which is used purely for pragmatic purposes.
English is still thought of as the mouthpiece of Western liberal values, and Urdu as the Islamic and nationalist language par excellence; whereas the vernacular languages are associated with ethnic identity and nationalism. Nonetheless, Islamists and members of less powerful social classes are increasingly eager to learn English, because they see it as a way of climbing the social ladder in the modern world. Thus language is a key to understanding such complex political matters as the distribution of power within ethnic groups, between social classes, and even between individuals.