Saturday, 4 June 2011

Mind your language! Part 1

“This bill is anti-Pakistan and we will not allow anyone to go for the passage of this bill, which is contrary to the vision of the founding father, Quaid-e-Azam, who declared Urdu as the national language,” MNA Saeed Ahmed Zafar declared in an angry tone.

The bill in question? PML-Q MNA Marvi Memon had submitted the bill in the National Assembly Secretariat seeking regional languages including Sindhi, Pushto, Saraiki, Baluchi, Punjabi, Balti and Shena be given the status of national language.

Pakistan has had a tortured relationship with language and multicultural expression. To put things in context the unitary concept of Urdu and Urdu alone, as the lingua franca of Pakistan launched the Bengal language movement. On 21 February 1952 ,this movement culiminated  with the tragic killing of students, with police opening fire on demonstrators demanding Bengali being declared joint national language with Urdu. This date is now recognised as international Mother language day. So why does this issue trigger of  strong emotions, some will cite Jinnahs  "Urdu, and Urdu alone shall be the State Language of Pakistan" speeches in Dhaka (March 21, 1948), but this was based on an attempt to forge some sense of common identity in a nation that was so disparate.

If anything the events of 1971, should have shown to Pakistani nationalists, that the co-existence of different ethno-cultural groups is on the basis of each group getting the most out of a federation and not out of a created sense of identity.

A version of this post was published today in the DAWN


Anonymous said...

Why can't they just MOVE past these petty issues of what language to speak to another pakistani that completely goes over his head. Marvi memon and my Masi think alike. She says, "humara mullak to sindh hai!"

A.A said...

Can a country have 7-8 national languages? Is that plausible, even sane? There is a difference between a national language and a regional language. Pakistan has a number of regional languages, many of them going extinct. Why don't all of them get a claim at being the national language as well then, why just these 7?

regional languages need to preserved and propagated by their speakers; they should have the freedom to write them; read them; speak them; publish in them and do all that they need to do to help these languages survive. Given that, the way to preserve a language is not to ask for it to be made a national language. The National language has a special purpose: to bring the nation together; forge unity and a common identity that helps the people of the nation relate to each other; and, last but not the least, to signify the nations historical development and its roots.

Urdu was developed under the Mughals by Muslims from various areas, ethnicities and regions (who all, keep in mind, did have their own distinct 'boliyan' as weel). Plus, it has words of Arabic, the language in which the Holy scripture of all Muslims was revealed. Moreover, it has words of Hindi, that point to our cultural roots, present way before the advent of Islam. In essence, Urdu has shades of all the past influences on the subcontinent; it assembles history and the rich culture of all the people of the subcontinent together, specifically the Muslims.

We need a rich and all encompassing language as Urdu to be the national language; it deserves to be the NATIONAL language, as it has the potential to do the job that a national language is supposed to do. It is ours, all of ours, not any particular groups, and this is what we should all realize and internalize.

And such issues are important, as they point to the cracks and hostilities amongst the separate groups that are supposed to be one nation; such issues point towards the identity crisis that we as Pakistanis are going through. This is not the time to look for differences and distinct identities, this is rather the time to stress on similarities, to bring the common grounds to the surface where as can all stand together as one nation, facing these hard times as one united group.

Lets give all Pakistanis what we own together, what symbolizes our history and our culture collectively and something we should all be able to relate to.