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Punjab through the ages

February 27, 2016

LAHORE: Punjabi scholars at a panel discussion on Friday revisited the history of Punjab and its language, mass migration and the impacts that the invaders and foreign rulers had on the region and its culture.

The discussion, titled Punjab: Colonialism, Language and Identity, was organised by THAAP, in collaboration with the Society for Cultural Education.

Historian and journalist Majid Sheikh said the Punjabi language preceded Sanskrit as the image language of the Indus civilisation, including Harappa, was the early Punjabi language.

The image language was the fusion of Dravidian and Aryan languages, he said, adding that Indus civilisation’s script was still undeciphered. Mr Sheikh said that during the rule of Ranjit Singh, his French advisers asked him to introduce Punjabi as the medium of instruction.

“Ranjit Singh issued orders for compiling Punjabi Qaida (booklet for beginners) and made it compulsory for every girl to read it before her marriage. As a result, Punjab had 64pc literacy rate, the highest in India at that time.”

He said the British rulers made sure that nobody in Punjab read their language as a means to curb resistance. Anybody handing over a gun or sword to the Raj rulers was paid two annas while the one returning Punjabi Qaida was paid six annas. “The colonial rulers collected Punjabi Qaidas from village to village and burnt them.” Punjabi poet and scholar Mushtaq Soofi said Punjab’s history started neither in the 8th century nor in 2001 but it was 5,000 years old. “There had been three main incidents which help one understand the history of Punjab,” he said, adding that the first one was the arrival of Aryans and their clashes with the local Dravidians.

The second big event was the attack of the Greeks but it did not have many linguistic implications and the third turn in history was the attacks by the Turks and Iranian speaking tribes who enforced Persian in this region, he said.

“Another big turn in history of Punjab was the occupation of the British in 1849 who enforced two foreign languages in Punjab, i.e. English and Urdu. The former was for the elite while the latter became the language of middle and lower classes.” Poet Raja Sadiqullah said there was a misconception that the Punjabis did not resist the attackers and plunderers from the north, saying as Punjab was the gateway to India, whoever conquered it didn’t face much resistance in the rest of India.

Before the start of the discussion, theatre artist and teacher Qaisar Abbas revealed that a University of Art and Culture would be launched at the end of the year which would focus on education in liberal arts, culture and languages.

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2016