By Irfan Aslam

Description: — Dawn

LAHORE: Political scientist and historian Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed has termed the Punjabi bureaucracy and politicians responsible for oppressing Punjabi language and imposing Urdu as the national language.

“In Pakistan, at least after 1971, the Punjabis are in majority and the state organs, including the army, are also dominated by the Punjabis. There are pertinent questions that need to be answered to know where lies the problem,” he said on Monday in his keynote speech on the opening of the two-day Punjabi conference, being held by Punjab Lok Sangat at Alhamra.

“Punjabi language has never been the language of the state. When Jaipal (Hindu Shahi dynasty) was ruling here, Sanskrit and Prakrits were the two languages which were managing the state as well as dealing with the religion. After the attacks by the Muslims from the Central Asia, two centres of powers were formed in the subcontinent–Delhi/Agra and Kabul. Whichever powers in the centre, the governors appointed by them in Punjab were never Punjabi, they were either Afghans or Mughals and their language was never Punjabi,” he said and added that even Maharaja Ranjit Singh did not make Punjabi as the state language.

The author of Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed said the rulers in the subcontinent started keeping the official and revenue records in Persian and it could bypass the people who spoke Punjabi. Guru Angad invented Gurmukhi alphabets and the Punjabi language became the religious identity of the people, leading to a new problem of scripts–Devanagri, Gurmukhi and Persian– three scripts for the same language.

“There are many conspiracies regarding the British Raj, including the one that the Punjabi language was suppressed through a conspiracy but there is no evidence in the records. In fact, there had been debates among the British rulers here. Some of them were in favour of the Punjabi language and some opposed it calling it a rustic dialect of Hindustani, the language of north India. However, Urdu prevailed as the British had started recruiting the Punjabis in the army after the 1857 (War of Independence). Before it, the majority consisted of Bengalis, Biharis and Madrasis.”

Dr Ishtiaq urges Punjabis to look inwards to resolve their ‘language problem’

Dr Ishtiaq said that Punjab became a darling province of the British rulers after 1857 as a part of their imperial policy as it was the frontline province to block Russia. He added that the Punjabi soldiers fought for the British in the world wars and even in Mecca and Madina. Without Punjabis, the control of the British in India was difficult. There was an overrepresentation of the Punjabis in police. In Calcutta, Madras and Bombay, Punjabi Sikhs, Muslims and Pakhtuns were overrepresented. They argued that the administration, clerks and others, were already trained in Urdu and it was easier for them to use it as official language.

Dr Ishtiaq further said that in 1908, Prof Mukherjee said Punjabi should be introduced as official language in Punjab but Sir Mian Shafi, who was a part of the Muslim elite, raised the questions that why a Bengali was talking about Punjabi, saying the language of the Muslims was Urdu. The Urdu-Hindi conflict was also an issue of the script and the controversy of scripts got more complicated in Punjab.

“After the British, the Indian National Congress was in favour of regional languages. According to Motilal Nehru’s report of 1928, every province would have its own language as the official language and language of instruction besides the national language (Hindustani). Jinnah, in communication with Jawaharlal Nehru, refused to accept Congress proposals, saying Urdu was the mother tongue of the Muslims. Later Jinnah’s claim was endorsed by Liaqat Ali Khan who opposed the 1937 programme of Mahatma Gandhi which proposed a programme for free education of children in their mother tongue.”

Dr Ishtiaq said the language and culture of the people had no place in the Two-Nation Theory. “Punjab is the main beneficiary of the Partition. Now you are in majority and no Sindhi and Baloch can stop you from implementing Punjabi in the province.”

Dr Ishtiaq said “Punjabi Qaida” was a myth as there was no evidence of it. No totalitarian state can have such a complete control over the people that it can destroy even the last of the Qaida. “I think the Qaida was in Gurmukhi and it had some religious material of Sikhism but the Sikhs were in majority in the British army, followed by Muslims and then Hindus of the Haryana area. How do you explain that?” He raised the questions about the mystery surrounding burning this Punjabi Qaida when the British did not burn books of Baba Farid and Bulleh Shah.

Earlier, lawyer Abid Saqi said one could be termed an Indian agent for advocating Punjabi language and culture. He said the issue of the language was related to other issues, including terrorism, of the country which had been ruled by the dictators for 35 years. He said the Punjabi language had been saved by the Sikhs and music.

LAKHT PASHA: Khalid Mahmood of Awami Workers Party said Lakht Pasha was born in 1947 and he was always into literature since his formative years and literature led him to the politics of the left. The National Awami Party those days had two sections, one was led by Wali Khan and other was called Bhashani Group and Lakht Pasha started working with the latter. After the independence of Bangladesh, the Bhashani group dissolved as it was based in Dhaka and the people related to it in the West Pakistan formed their own small groups while many others got influenced by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. When Lakht Pasha got connected with trade unions and workers, he realized that one can communicate with workers only in their language. Then he got involved in launching a group, Naey Ufaq, whose meetings used to be bilingual. Later, he formed the Punjabi Parchar Committee.

He said Pasha was multi-dimensional and he was involved in music and theatre. He formed Lok Rahs theatre group that staged many Punjabi plays during the Gen Zia era as communication with the people regarding politics was impossible then due to dictatorship. “Lakht Pasha wrote at least 200 plays. We are trying to publish his works, subject to finances. His three books on psychology have been published recently,” he said.

A session was held on feminism which had Huma Safdar and Ali Usman Bajwa as panelists. A Punjabi mushaira was held in the evening.