National language tangle

By Manzoor Chandio
Written on Sept 14, 2007

THE theory of Pakistani nationhood being promoted by the establishment has had far-reaching consequences for the country’s political, social and cultural milieus.
It is argued that we are the followers of one religion (Islam), live in one country (Pakistan) and belong to one nation (Pakistani); therefore, we should have one national language (Urdu).
The rhetoric of artificial oneness has been going for 60 years despite the fact that Pakistan lost its eastern wing in 1971 over this controversy.
It was a difficult concept to grasp and ultra nationalists latched on to the argument that when there was no migration of Urdu-speaking people on the agenda of Partition then why had Urdu been made the national language of the country.
When Pakistan was created, the myth foisted on us was that one language would bind the people together.
The policy of promoting one language and suppressing others created an ill feeling among the people.
The Bengalis created a furore in East Pakistan because of their sensitivity about the language issue.
Dr Tariq Rahman of the Quaid-i-Azam University has this to say about the situation: “No minority wants to be dominated by a powerful majority. But no majority wants to be dominated by a powerful minority either.”
The distinguished linguist observes that the issue that was a minority versus majority one during the days of the Pakistan movement became a majority versus minority one after Partition.
He correctly points out that it had been forgotten that Urdu was a symbol of unity for the Muslims of South Asia and not a tool to win power and resources in the new country. For that reason, the Bengali majority demanded that its language be made one of the national languages of the country.
When the majority was denied its right to develop its language, the country fell apart. The making of Pakistan did not mean the destruction of languages, culture and society of the people living in different parts.
Paradoxically, in Sindh the language of Shah Latif and the language of Mirza Ghalib emerged as rivals fearing destruction at the hands of the other and not realising that Shah of Sindh and Ghalib of Delhi had made both languages immortal.The world has come far since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Two opposite ideologies — communism and capitalism — coexist in China under the precept of “one country and two systems”.
What is the harm if Pakistan were to have many official languages as India where 70 per cent of the people do not speak Hindi? If we look through the cultural kaleidoscope of this country, we find a multiplicity of linguistic groups from Karachi to the Karakorams.
The Indus valley has always remained the melting pot of different peoples and it is for this reason that the renowned historian Toynbee described the region as “the roundabout of history.”
Through the ages, multifarious societies emerged in this part of South Asia and followed divergent and contrasting cultures and beliefs. It is a region where cultures have converged and civilisations have flourished side by side.
It is a pity to see how from 1947 onwards our society has promoted exclusiveness rather than inclusiveness so that different cultural groups have not learnt to respect each other’s way of life and language.
It is time we recognise the beauty of all languages spoken in the country and acknowledge their status as national languages because they are spoken by people who make up the country.
There is nothing wrong with the country having more than one national language as in progressive Switzerland and Singapore.
Successive governments have ignored the fact that this country has been home to different nationalities who have spoken their own languages for centuries and these languages have been passed on to their progeny.

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