For Punjab

Tridivesh singh Maini


Punjabi language, culture and heritage has been neglected for long in (Pakistani) Punjab. The reasons for this are many. The one most often cited is that Punjab is the most influential state in Pakistan, and promotion of the Punjabi language would be viewed with suspicion by other provinces which have often accused Punjab of running rough shod over other provinces. 

The second reason given is the fact that the Punjabi elite in Pakistan view Urdu as a superior language – and Punjabi is not considered refined or sophisticated. Both these points have been made by Alyssa Ayres in an article titled, ‘Language, the Nation and Symbol Capital: The Case of Punjab’ published by the Journal of Asian Studies in 2008. It has also been stated that Punjabi was never a medium of instruction in Punjab – the official language during Sikh ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule was Persian.

The neglect of the Punjabi language is clearly evident in the fact that Punjab happens to be the only province in Pakistan where the mother tongue is not taught in schools, and even in colleges there is very little emphasis on the teaching of the language.

A number of publications and works have put forward the historical reasons for the neglect of the Punjabi language in Pakistan, and the annihilation of Punjabi literature and culture in the country. The most prominent amongst these was ‘Punjab ka muqaddamah’ (case of Punjab) written by the late Mohammad Hanif Ramay, a senior politician, in 1985. Activists like Fakhar Zaman, a former minister, who set up an organisation by the name of World Punjabi Congress have also been valiantly fighting for giving greater importance to the Punjabi language.

Over the past decade, however, things have begun to change with an increase in the number of interactions at both the official and non-official levels between the two Punjabs (India and Pakistan). 

Engagement between the two Punjabs, at the official level, began in January 2004, when former chief minister of Punjab (India) Amarinder Singh visited Lahore in connection with a function organised by the World Punjabi Conference. During his visit, Captain Singh established contact with his counterpart Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, then chief minister of Punjab (Pakistan). During Elahi’s tenure the Punjab Institute of Language Art and Culture was set up in September 2004, with the aim of promoting Punjabi language, heritage and culture. Pressure and continuous lobbying by Fakhar Zaman also played a pivotal role in the setting up of this centre. 

During a recent visit to Lahore, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Punjab Centre for Language and Culture is actually quite active in promoting Punjabi. Not only does the centre showcase Punjabi culture, it also runs a radio channel that is extremely popular, and which has listeners on the other side of the border as well. Indian folk singer Hans Raj Hans has also visited the centre.

Significantly all functions held at the centre are carried out in Punjabi. The centre displays paintings of prominent figures of Punjab, as well as artefacts and items from rural areas including the ‘charkha’.

I was fortunate enough to meet Rana Muhammad Arshad who is the parliamentary secretary of culture and language and also a member of the provincial assembly from Nankana Sahib. While in the past, political parties including the PML-N have been accused of being opposed towards the promotion of the Punjabi language, the current government of Shahbaz Sharif has been supportive of the Punjabi centre and its activities.

While initiatives such as the setting up of a Punjabi centre and cultural and sports exchanges between the two Punjabs may not have any immediate bearing on the relationship between both countries, it is important since it will help bring to the fore commonalities between the Punjabs, and play a role in strengthening the Punjabi identity, which has been overshadowed by religious frictions and jingoism on both sides. 

The writer is a New Delhi 

based policyanalyst. 




From :  The News , July 21, 2014