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War on language

Updated Apr 08, 2015 11:03am

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The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

WHILE visiting Balochistan, one becomes aware of just how removed that province is from mainstream Pakistan. And it’s not only the obvious things — such as the dire lack of development, the air of oppression or the stories of enforced disappearances and dumped bodies. There’s also the more subtle issue of language.

According to Article 28 in the chapter on fundamental rights, the Constitution says: “… any section of citizens having a distinct language, script or culture shall have the right to preserve and promote the same and subject to law, establish institutions for that purpose”. Most of the national conversation on this is centred on the fact that many private schools, at least in urban areas, do not teach the relevant provincial language in contravention of provincial laws to the effect.

In Turbat some weeks ago, I learnt that the situation is quite the opposite in Balochistan. This is the only province where government schools do not teach either Balochi or Brahui, the two most widely spoken native languages outside the Pakhtun-majority areas in the north of the province. Balochi is only taught in a few private schools here.


Public schools in Balochistan teach neither Balochi nor Brahui.


One of the most devastating weapons of repression employed by a state is the suppression of a native language.

History is replete with examples of forcible assimilation of a people in this manner. To exclude the teaching of a native language while imposing on its speakers the language of the dominant polity is exactly what it sounds like — an act of cultural warfare. Language is an inherent part of a people’s identity, the repository of their history and culture, a record of epic battles fought and of heroic exploits for its generations to emulate.

It could be argued that education is a provincial subject and that, if it so chose, the National Party-led government could take measures to address the issue, but in Balochistan’s case it is the establishment that has the final say in keeping with its ‘security imperatives’.

Is it any surprise then that at Turbat University, the most popular department by far is that of Balochi, an elective subject at this stage? Even though the faculty and students maintained that political discussions take place in the classroom, there can be no greater political statement than that. By the time they reach college-going age, many young Baloch are keenly aware of the establishment’s ‘special’ handling of their province.

Balochi itself is said to be remarkably rich especially in its poetic tradition. A senior faculty member at the university told me he had compiled a book of 1,000 Balochi proverbs originating in the western part of the province alone.

At the Balochistan Academy, also in Turbat, with its ill-stocked, rickety looking bookshelves, I was invited to take a look at a room full of dusty cartons filled with Balochi books, both poetry and prose. These had been returned by the eight bookshops in town spooked by raids carried out by the Frontier Corps over the last year to confiscate ‘subversive’ and ‘extremist literature’. (Similar raids were also carried out on bookshops in Gwadar city.) Most of the ‘objectionable’ material, however, was literary works of fiction in the native tongue.

Bookstores in the province’s Makran belt — where both Gwadar and Turbat are situated — don’t carry Balochi books since mid-2014. Works by Gandhi cannot be found here either. Ostensibly Gandhi elsewhere in Pakistan is kosher. And so apparently is printing Balochi books; the publishers in Karachi have not been harassed, picked up or beaten.

For the Academy, which places orders with Karachi-based publishers for Balochi books that it then sells to these bookshops, it means the suspension of an important source of income. The institute receives an annual grant of only Rs500,000 from the provincial government, far short of even basic requirements.

Most of the books for the Balochi curriculum taught in the private schools and language centres in Balochistan come from Karachi, printed under the aegis of the Zahoor Shah Hashmi reference library in the city. However, several language centres have closed down, particularly in areas where the army presence is high, such as Mashkay, and demand has been steadily declining. No orders have been placed for new books since two years.

The words of one of the library’s administrative staff are telling. Speaking about the teaching of Balochi in Balochistan he said: “We don’t have funds to ensure that classes are always held in a purpose built place. Sometimes someone volunteers their home, or we even sit under a tree. We nominate people who are responsible and whom we can trust to hold such classes and we send them the books.”

When the teaching of their native language is considered a subversive act, how can we expect an ordinary Baloch to feel anything other than alienation at the hands of the state?

The writer is a member of staff.

naziha.ali@dawn.com

Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2015

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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


Comments (17) Closed



AYZA Apr 08, 2015 05:21am

What would the Quaid have said to these dire lack of educational facilities in Balochistan? Where are the Balochi Parliament members whose constituency doesn't deserve this type of apathy and sad neglect?

Rahul Apr 08, 2015 06:05am

Pakistanis set themselves up for eternal subjugation by imposing on themselves Urdu, the Lingua Franca of Indian Muslims!

Mohammad Saleem Apr 08, 2015 07:26am

The status of Pashto language is no different from that of the Balochi language. However, in one respect, Baloch people are different from the Pakhtun residents of Baluchistan, in the sense that the former are engaged in a life and death struggle for their inalienable rights to determine their future.

Pakhtunkhwa Apr 08, 2015 11:36am

The same has happened to Pashto as well. The state has indeed been fighting a cultural war against Baloch and Pashtun communities since its inception.

Vishal Apr 08, 2015 11:41am

This is an often forgotten topic. Actually, Balochi is relatively new to the region (a little over 400 years), while Brahui has been spoken for at least a 1000 years old...there are some who see it as the last remnant of Indus Valley civilization 3500 years, no less!!! Am not sure, whose purpose is being served by not teaching children their provincial and mother tongues.

Syed Apr 08, 2015 06:26pm

Writer's lament in respect of lack of education in native language, unavailability of books in Balochi and Brohi etc. accepted. The article raises more question than it answers. What is the action desired or proposed and who is the writer appealing to is not clear. What is the responsibility of the provincial government in the area of developing and implementing appropriate educational policies.

adnan Apr 08, 2015 06:36pm

@Rahul & why should they not? what issues do you have with it?

S. Haider Apr 08, 2015 07:16pm

I agree with the author, that Baluchi should be taught in all Schools in Baluchistan. However, the article can be misunderstood in the sense, that the decision of the Govt. to teach Urdu is a decision against the Baluchi language. This is not the case. With Urdu knowledge, a citizen from Baluchistan can find work everywhere in Pakistan. It is in the interest of all Pakistanis to learn a language, which is understood in whole Pakistan, and Urdu is such a language.

@Rahul. The history of development and extinction of languages tell us: No language can be imposed in the long run. Either the people of a region speak, write and use a language voluntarily, or they do not. It is always the conscious decision of the people to learn a language.

GREEN JAGUAR Apr 08, 2015 07:52pm

@Rahul

Sadly, you are not aware of the reality on the ground about Muslims in India, who unlike in Pakistan cannot read or write in Urdu, and the spoken Urdu of India is very different from the Urdu of Pakistan which is the more genuine Urdu. This is a fact since most Indian Muslims who left India during and after Partition brought over the correct alliterations and elocutions of classical spoken and written Urdu. It's a dying language in India now - not taught in schools anymore in India. Indian students have no clue about the poetry of Ghalib or Mir in original Urdu script .. sadly now even spoken Urdu in India being tinged with Hindi.

S. Haider Apr 08, 2015 09:25pm

@GREEN JAGUAR . A good clarification. I agree with you completely.

sami khan Apr 08, 2015 11:19pm

Majority of the people in Pakistan don't even know that balochistan comprises of Pashtuns,Bravis and Balochs. either they are unable to comprehend this idea of multi ethnicity of balochistan or they are unwilling to accept this reality

Nauroz Khan Brahui Apr 08, 2015 11:38pm

Although provincial government of Balochistan has decided to teach mother languages as compulsory subjects at primary level in the schools of Balochistan, conspiracies are being hatched by the nationalists and their bureaucracy to show Brahui cities, areas and regions as Baloch cities, areas and regions and to compel Brahui children to read Balochi language as mother language. For that purpose more and more areas of Balochistan have been marked as Balochi mother language areas and more and more Balochi curriculum books are being published while confining Brahui language to only few districts of Balochistan. This is a great conspiracy against Brahui language and Brahui speaking children. There is great concern among Brahui speaking people especially Brahui writers, activists and intellectuals against such move.

Mohammad Ali Khan Apr 09, 2015 07:16am

The Govt. should establish a center where scientific and classical literature from other languages could be translated and made available to the people of Baluchistan in their language.

Abbas Syed Apr 09, 2015 07:56am

@GREEN JAGUAR Sadly you are so misinformed about Urdu. It is not the lingua franca of Muslims of India before or after division of the sub-continent of India. It was the lingua franca of Muslims of UP, CP, Bihar and the urban Telangana. It was never the lingua franca of the Muslims from the state/provinces where they in majority or in a sizeable number, like;Punjab, Bengal, KP(NWFP) Sindh, Kerala, Gujrat, Orisa, Gilgit, Baltistan, Hunza, Swat, Chitral and Baluchistan.

Harsh Apr 09, 2015 02:35pm

Brahui is just a version of Tamil.

Farooq Apr 10, 2015 02:01am

Fail to understand what is purpose of this discussion specially the dear Bhartees pushing and juggling perhaps adding fuel to fire, not missing any opportunity to malign.

The thumb rule is simple any language or education which cannot fulfill the primary motive of filling the stomachs is definitly useless.

Kala Ingrez Apr 10, 2015 06:32am

I am sure you do speak the local languages with command in Hindi and Persian. You went all the way there to find if there are indeed Indian agents active there promoting works by Gandhi but you didn't found them there. Is this the first and the last article in this series? Iranian being close by, are you planning to go back and investigate if the Persian agents and the work of Ayatollahs is being promoted there also?