Punjabi is a tongue of revered souls like Sultan Bahu, Waris Shah, Bulleh Shah, Shah Hussain, Khwaja Farid, Mian Mohammad Bakhsh, Baba Farid and not to forget the poet of love and peace the great Baba Guru Nanak. A few months ago, a group of concerned Punjabis staged a protest rally in Lahore and marched to the Punjab Assembly to present a memorandum to the mighty rulers of the province. Chief minister, governor, speaker of the Punjab Assembly and the provincial minister for education were requested to act. Act for Punjabi.
They were assured of urgent steps but nothing happened. One of the banners carried by the avid lovers of Punjabi language had the slogan ‘Maa’n boli parhao/ An’parhta mukao’ (teach in mother tongue and eradicate illiteracy). The simple slogan in Punjabi was offering nothing but reality, a stark reality which the ruling elite of the country’s largest province (by population) feel reluctant to accept. Unesco, since 1953, has been trying to make the world realise that 100 per cent literacy rate can only could be attained when a child is imparted education in his/her mother tongue but it has failed to move the rulers in Pakistan on this.
Since Punjab succumbed to the British, its language also had to bear the brunt of colonisation. The same fate was faced by the languages of the other provinces but Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have managed to recompose themselves somewhat though very late. Two large provinces Punjab and Balochistan, the former is largest by population and latter largest by area are still dithering over granting the status of official language to their respective mother tongues.
Seventy five pc population of Punjab speaks Punjabi. Punjabi is also the largest spoken language in Pakistan, and yet it is deprived of its official status in the country even in Punjab. “The plight of Punjabi is in disorder for a long period. It was miserable in the 20th century and it is still pathetic in the 21st century,” says Mushtaq Soofi, an eminent scholar, poet and columnist, the current chairman of Punjabi Adbi Board.
“The people of Punjab feel disillusioned thanks to the rulers and bureaucrats as they are told that Urdu is important for the existence of the country.” He recalls the decision taken at the time of Partition and nullifies it as, “How can Pakistan’s own languages be a danger to its sovereignty?”
He adds that even Urdu could not get justice after attaining the status of the national language. “As people have rights, so do the languages and 100pc literacy could only be achieved when the medium of instruction is in the mother tongue,” he elucidates.
The Constitution of Pakistan gives a right to the provinces to adopt their respective languages as official ones. “Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have taken some practical steps in this direction but Punjab and Balochistan remain unmoved still,” continues Mushtaq Soofi.
“The rulers and bureaucrats in Punjab are not aware of the importance of the mother tongue because they are mentally incompetent,” he bemoans. “It is saddening and unfortunate to see what we in Pakistan have reduced the Punjabi language to. What more can be said if the people consider it an insult to speak the language their mothers or grandmothers spoke,” says Sohail Abid, who has the credit of put ting the entire Punjabi work in the fields of music, literature, film and even Punjabi proverbs and riddles on the web (www.folkpunjab.com).
Referring to Punjab’s self chosen role of the sole saviour of the state, he elaborates, “Punjab took the lead and abandoned its own language in the pursuit of leading the nation.”
“The Punjab government should immediately act to make Punjabi a compulsory subject in primary classes,” stresses Jamil Ahmad Pal. “The two newspapers and some magazines being published in Punjabi here are due to the love and dedication which their editors have for their mother tongue. Otherwise publishing anything in Punjabi is not seen as a profitable job,” he says and appeals to keep Punjabi publications in the libraries of educational institutions. “The Punjab government is even not backing the Punjabi press as we do not get a single advertisement from the government,” he complains.
Mudassar Iqbal Butt, the editor of leading Punjabi daily Bhulekha strongly advocates that Punjabi must be made compulsory from primary classes as a subject at least. Jamil Ahmad Pal the editor of another famous Punjabi daily Lokaai also finds this as the sole solution to achieve 100pc literacy and to restore the due status of Punjabi language by only teaching students of the province in Punjabi.
Advocating the idea further, Mushtaq Soofi explains, “Punjabi as a subject if not the medium should be started from the primary level but here it is found at Master’s level.”
“There are about 20,000 students who have done their Master’s in Punjabi but they are jobless despite having a Master’s degree,” regrets Amjad Saleem Minhas, a staunch advocate of the Punjabi language and the owner of Saanjh Publications, Lahore, which publishes Punjabi books.
However, despite the fact that the Punjabi language is in a state of distress all is not lost yet as there are some encouraging signs hovering on the horizon. According to Amjad Saleem, poetry created in the Punjabi language is witnessing a boom. “We have published 13 new books in 2012 and most of them are of poetry with a few fiction books, too. However, Punjabi fiction is yet to thrive,” he says.
“Punjabi as an oral tradition will continue to exist. The wealth of literature, especially in poetry, is not going away anywhere. One can see that from all the music that is produced in Pakistan. It is often the Punjabi tracks — folk or Sufi — which touches people’s souls. You cannot remove that aspect,” predicts an optimist Sohail Abid.
“The language will live,” guarantees Mushtaq Soofi.
The need of the hour is that the people of Punjab realise that one owes a huge debt to one’s own mother tongue and poet Dr Azam Samore has the following to say in this regard:
“Gungi maa’n day puttar bolan Wann pawanni boli, Main oh bolaa’n jo main sikhia, Apnri maa’n dee jholi” (The sons of a dumb mother speak different languages, I would speak that which I have learnt in the lap of my mother).