Punjabi should be taught in schools
The knowledge of Urdu became the cutoff point between the rustic, illiterate
Punjabi and his literate counterpart conversant in Urdu. The latter tended to feel
superior to the former. That complex has never let go of Punjabi Pakistanis
Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed
I am not sure if any other major cultural group in the world maintains a more convoluted relationship with its mother tongue as do Pakistani Punjabis. Pakistan is generally understood regionally and globally as a state in which the Punjabis are the most privileged ethno-cultural group. Such an observation is largely true in many ways. The Pakistan military and civil bureaucracy, the big bourgeoisie and middle class have a preponderate Punjabi ethnic component. Also, Punjab’s overall prosperity is indicative of relative advantage over the other nationalities of Pakistan.However, one would expect such a group also to be the most advanced in terms of its cultural achievements, with the mother tongue being a core element of its cultural identity. Here, the story of Punjabi Muslims becomes highly confusing and unintelligible unless one seeks deeper answers. It began in the early 20th century when in British records Punjabi Muslims began to return to Urdu as their mother tongue, Punjabi Hindus declared Hindi as theirs and only the Sikhs stuck to Punjabi as their mother tongue. Communal nationalisms of such sort were compounded further by the fact that Punjabi was written in three scripts, Persian-Urdu, Devanagri and Gurmukhi. These were associated with Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs respectively.However, employment in the services of the British colonial state required the reading and writing of Urdu. Therefore the knowledge of Urdu became the cutoff point between the rustic, illiterate Punjabi and his literate counterpart conversant in Urdu. The latter tended to feel superior to the former. That complex has never let go of Punjabi Pakistanis. One can say that the roots of such an inferiority complex go even further back in history. During the 1,000 years or so when Punjab was either ruled from Delhi, Agra or Kabul, the ruling class and upper echelon administrative machinery consisted of Turks, Afghans and Persians — none of them spoke Punjabi. They spoke either Turkish or Persian.However, things may now begin to change as informed Punjabis become increasingly aware of the cultural poverty such an attitude generates. I had the privilege of attending a number of conferences during February and March, which were devoted to highlighting the importance of Punjabi. The first was a meeting called by the Punjab Institute of Art and Culture. Its director, Dr Sughra Sadaf, and the well-known Punjabi poet and writer Mushtaq Soofi had invited me to speak. I informed the audience that when Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral met at the SAARC Summit in Male in 1997, after the initial formalities, both started speaking to each other in Punjabi and that immediately opened the doors for the India-Pakistan peace initiative in real earnest. Therefore, I asserted, Punjabi was the language of peace.A demonstration was taken out the next day from the Lahore Press Club to the Punjab Legislative Assembly. A number of leading Punjabi scholars, intellectuals and progressive trade unionists and parties took part in it. The leader of the opposition, Mian Mahmoodul Rashid was among those who assured his support for the demand to introduce Punjabi in schools. All scientific studies confirm that children learn quicker when taught in their mother tongue. It has also been confirmed by scientific research that children can easily learn several languages but in order to do that well, their educational foundation must be in their mother tongue.Another occasion was the International Punjabi Sufi Conference called at the Government Post Graduate College for Women, Lahore. Dr Fakhra Ijaz had kindly invited me to speak. My submission was that, conceptually, one needed to draw sharp lines between progressive Sufism, which historically was critical or dismissive of the powers-that-be and piri fakiri (saints and their followers), which had become a part of the exploitative social system. The chief guest was Dr Nizamuddin, vice chancellor of Gujrat University. Although Dr Nizamuddin is Urdu-speaking with his roots in Hyderabad Deccan, he is a committed supporter of Punjabi being introduced in schools.The approach adopted by India on the question of language is a sound one. In all Indian provinces, known as states, three languages are taught in school: the regional language (it can be Punjabi, Marathi, Gujrati, Bengali and so on), Hindi, which is the national language and English, which is the language of the modern world. I see no reason why such a policy cannot be adopted in Pakistani Punjab. I believe in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindhi and Pushto respectively are taught in school. I am not sure about the policy in Balochistan. If one gets out of the posh areas of Lahore and possibly Islamabad and the other main towns, Punjabi continues to be the normal language of verbal communication. It means that 95 percent of the population of Punjab routinely uses Punjabi in their day-to-day communications. However, written correspondence continues to be in Urdu and, as the level goes higher, it becomes English.The fact is that Punjabi is not entirely missing from the lives of the educated, upwardly mobile Punjabis. Often times, it serves as the medium to assert power and authority over subordinates, and abuses and curses intersperse such interaction. It is also used to speak with grandparents and other elders who may not have been inducted into the Urdu-English type of affected manners and tantrums. The second main use they put Punjabi to is in telling coarse and obscene jokes. Another distortion is television serials in which one gets the impression that Punjabis are just buffoons and jesters. It is high time that we take up cudgels on behalf of Punjabi — not inspired by any chauvinistic hatred for Urdu or any other language or nationality but as a dignified and perfectly legitimate right to have our mother tongue be accorded its due status and proper role in our lives. In fact, I would very strongly urge Sufi poetry from the time of Baba Fariduddin Ganjshakar onwards being included in the educational curricula instead of militarist ideas and imagery.
Curtsey:Daily Times: April 15, 2014