ISLAMABAD: A day before doffing his robes, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Jawwad S. Khawaja rendered a judgment decreeing that the federal and provincial governments use Urdu, the national language of Pakistan, for all official and other purposes.

“Bearing in mind the constitutional commands in Articles 5 (loyalty to state) and 251 (use of national language) of the Constitution and noting the inaction and failure of successive governments, we have no option but to order that the provisions of Article 251 shall be implemented with full force and without unnecessary delay by the federal and provincial governments,” says a judgment authored by the CJP.

The judgment also disposes of a petition moved by Advocate Kowkab Iqbal, who had claimed that the state and the government were deliberately not implementing Article 251 of the Constitution, which asks to make arrangements to implement Urdu for official and other purposes, within 15 years of the commencement of the Constitution. On account of non-implementation, a societal and linguistic divide has been created in society, the petitioner argued.

The verdict also asked the governments to consider and implement the three-month timeline, given by the government itself in a July 6, 2015 letter to all government departments, and asked the federal and the provincial governments to coordinate with each other for uniformity in the ‘rasmulkhat’, or font style of the national language.

Sets 3-month timeline for implementation of measures enshrined in Articles 5, 251

In addition, federal and provincial laws will also be translated into the national language within three months, as suggested by the government in its July 6 letter; whereas statutory, regulatory and oversight bodies will take steps to implement Article 251 without delay and ensure compliance.

The verdict also asked governments to introduce the language in competitive examinations at the federal level. Judgments in cases relating to public interest litigation or those judgments enunciating a principle of law in terms of Article 189 must also be translated into Urdu and published in line with Article 251 of the Constitution.

Similarly, in court cases, government departments should make all reasonable efforts to submit their replies in Urdu to enable citizens to effectively claim their legal rights.

If, subsequent to this judgment, any public bodies or public officials continue to violate the constitutional command, citizens who suffer a tangible loss from such a violation shall be entitled to enforce any civil rights which may accrue to them on this account.

The court also ordered that copies of this judgment be sent to all federal and provincial secretaries, who must take immediate steps to enforce Article 251 in line with Article 5 of the Constitution. The federal and provincial secretaries concerned have been asked to submit compliance reports, the first of which will be due in three months.

It was not as if the government lacked imagination or expertise to conceive ways in which Article 251 may be implemented, the judgment deplored. For instance, even in 1981, certain recommendations were made by the National Language Authority – now renamed the National Language Promotion Department through a notification issued on Aug 17, 2012 – for the implementation of Article 251.

What is lost on the government is that Article 251 is not a stand-alone provision, the verdict said, adding that this provision was directly linked to the realisation of different fundamental rights protected by the Constitution, especially the right to dignity (Article 14), the right to equal treatment under the law (Article 25) and the right to education (Article 25A).

It is a corollary of a person’s right to dignity enshrined in the Constitution that his or her language (national or provincial) should be respected and recognised by the state, which exercises authority over him or her. Likewise, it is a corollary of a person’s right to equality that he or she must not be denied access to economic and political opportunities because he or she is only conversant in the languages recognised and referred to in Article 251 and not conversant with the English language. When the state refuses to recognise this, it denies to its citizens equality of status and opportunity and also their dignity in a very real sense, the verdict said. Article 251 of the Constitution only refers specifically to Urdu.

There is also no doubt that the right to education has a direct link with language. Article 25A of the Constitution states that the “State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years in such manner as may be determined by law. Empirical studies throughout the world (including those by Unesco) advocate the use of a child’s native language in instruction since this is the language the child grows up with and which is in use in his home and around him,” the judgment said, adding that the government seemed to be ignoring this important issue.

Nearly all of the current CJP’s decisions have been issued simultaneously in English and Urdu, and on Tuesday, he announced the short order in Urdu as well.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2015

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