During the last couple of months, a few articles have appeared in Pakistani Urdu daily's as part of a campaign led by Fateh Muhammad Malik, Chairman of Pakistan Academy of Letters, a government funded body, creating a new Urdu/Punjabi controversy. Malik sahib, in his infinite wisdom, has come up with an idea that the best way to legitimize the suppression of Punjabi language in Pakistan is to prove that Urdu, not Punjabi, is the mother tongue of Punjab.
On May 7, Mushir Anwar a regular columnist of Daily Dawn, published an article in Dawn supporting Malik Fateh Muhammad's brain child and forwarding some of his own arguments, with reference to the March-April issue of Muqtadera's Akhbar-e-Urdu which was dedicated to high lightening the role played by Punjabi writers in the development of Urdu language.
With no authoritative response coming from any quarter concerned and hardly anyone who is anybody taking notice of it, and the mischief having been set afoot taking its course to the pleasure of some who leave no opportunity to degrade the national language by raising bogeys such as the one now very much in the going that English is the language of power, it was heartening to hear Fateh Mohammad Malik snap back at the Indian Punjab chief minister's naive, untimely and uninvited suggestion to his Pakistani counterpart to do away with Urdu as the medium of instruction in his province and replace it with Punjabi as they had done in theirs.
To give Captain Armender Singh his due, we may assume he was simply gushing forth with characteristic Vesakhi gusto and had permitted no deep thought or design to go into his good neighbourly advice, but as to his ignorance one can be sure he had no idea that Lahore, where he made this faux pas, has been, is and will remain Urdu's qibla-e-awwal, and Punjab its first hatchery where Turks, Pathans and Persians first camped on their way to Delhi.
Mr Singh also perhaps did not know that exactly one hundred years back on February the first, 1904 this very proposal put forward by Sir Chatterjee, the vice-chancellor of Punjab University, had been rebuffed by the people of the Punjab most vociferously. The proposal had virtually caused a storm of protest among the educated circles particularly and the lay Muslims generally. Newspaper editorials and a spate of articles articulated the absurdity of this proposal and described it a dangerous conspiracy against the cultural and political identity of the Punjab. Chatterji's motives were questioned.
It was asked why the university platform was used to float that mischief. The protest became so loud the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab Sir Louis Dean had to come to the rescue of his vice-chancellor. The critics did not spare him even. He was asked if he would replace English with the Yorkshire dialect, as the education medium.
The March-April issue of Muqtadera's Akhbar-e-Urdu is devoted to establishing the Punjab's formative role in the birth and development of Urdu. It presents a weighty collection of research and opinion by eminent scholars of Urdu from the earliest period when Urdu's origin first became a subject of discussion and debate to this present time. A whole galaxy of names from Maulana Mohammad Hussain Azad, Sir Abdul Qadir, Munshi Mahboob Alam, Hafiz Mahmood Shirani to Drs Syed Abdullah, Jamil Jalbi, Aftab Ahmed and Anwar Sadeed, Atash Durrani, Nabi Bakhsh Baloch, Shohrat Bukhari, Sufi Tabassum, Anwaar Ahmed and other scholars appears in support.
The issue is discussed from a variety of angles to make it a very comprehensive study. It is a work of great dedication and love for the national language. It is remarkable to note that these scholars had no inferiority complex with regard to Urdu although most of them lived and worked under British rule. In fact they regarded English as the language of mental subjugation and servility. To return to Fateh Mohammad Malik's reply to the Indian Punjab's Mukh Mantri which he bases on just one month's articles and editorials published in the 'Paisa Akhbar', Lahore, from February 26 to March 25 1909, and the upshot of which was that Punjabi and Urdu were basically one and the same language.
Punjabi was Urdu's older form and Urdu its refined and developed body. Advocating the adoption of an older version in place of a developed and refined form of the language could only be a folly or a conspiracy against the Muslims. The real intention was that once Punjabi had been introduced as a medium of instruction, it would be heavily sanskritized to give it a scholarly look and then its Quranic script will be changed to Gurmukhi.
That would ultimately deplete Punjabi of all of its Arabic and Persian vocabulary and divest it of its Islamic identity, which the great Sufi poetry had embellished it with.
Once that happened the Muslims of the Punjab would slowly but certainly lose all contact with the wellsprings of their culture. The lengthy editorial of 26th February cites the unpopularity of Gurmukhi in schools in Lahore, Amritsar and even Nankana Sahib where the Punjabi branches had to be closed down due to insufficient number of students.
The reason was the introduction of Sanskrit words in the textbooks, which the Sikh children could not understand. In the 6th March editorial Paisa Akhbar argued that Gurmukhi and Punjabi were being promoted after the failure of the Nagric script to counter the popularity of Urdu. And projecting the same line of thought the editorial of 17th March made the unabashed declaration that Urdu was the mother tongue of Punjabis and as such all advantages that one could derive from education in one's mother tongue were being provided by Urdu. Having been born in the Punjab, Urdu could not be a stranger in the Punjab and that was why the government had made it the official language of administrative and judicial proceedings.
This debate went on in most print media of the time including Makhzan. Allama Iqbal took position on this issue. His Tarrana-e- Milli had by then been published.
Ultimately this debate culminated in Hafiz Mohammad Shirani's epochal book "Punjab mein Urdu" which provided the scientific basis to the strong and revolutionary claim that Urdu was the mother tongue of the Punjab, because the Punjab had mothered it. Can Chaudhry Pervez Elahi fathom the true implications and objectives of his Indian counterpart's suggestion? Its rejection might have been one of the factors that led the Punjab to split in two. So Urdu may not be that powerless after all. Given its due place it can yet be harnessed to achieve cohesion down to the micro level where the Sahib and the Chaprasi live in two different worlds..
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