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Situationer: The future of Gujarati language in Pakistan

Updated Jan 20, 2017 12:55pm


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The Gujarati language is facing an uncertain future in this country, to put it mildly. At least its written form is in danger of a slow death. Although a living and vibrant language in India, Gujarati is suffering from an apparent indifference from the very people who speak it as their native language in Pakistan.

A recent decision by the National Database and Registration Authority sums up the plight this language now finds itself in. Nadra has omitted Gujarati from the column asking the applicant about his mother tongue.

Interestingly enough, both Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi spoke Gujarati. Mr Jinnah, by the way, knew Persian as well because his mother spoke the language.

Spoken by over 50 million people, Gujarati is the 26th most widely spoken language in the world. The majority of native speakers of Gujarati lives in the Indian state of Gujarat. Apart from Gujarat, the regions where the language is spoken as first language include some area of Maharashtra (like Mumbai), Pakistan (especially Karachi), Bangladesh, a few African countries — where Gujarati-speaking Indians had settled centuries ago — and, of course, countries where Gujarati-speaking immigrants live in large numbers, such as the United Kingdom and the United States.

A branch of the Indo-Aryan family of languages, Gujarati evolved from Sanskrit and Prakrit, according to linguists. But modern Gujarati took shape in the early 19th century. It has its own script that has evolved from Sanskrit and Hindi scripts and many letters in the Gujarati alphabet are almost like the ones in Hindi’s Devanagari script. However, the Gujarati script does not have a horizontal line that is put above every word in Hindi.

The Gujarati literature’s oldest written record dates back to the 17th century. But it was Alexander Kinloch Forbes, a British officer and scholar in the government of British India, who gave a fillip to the language and literature of Gujarati by encouraging local writers.

Forbes was instrumental in getting the first Gujarati play written, the first Gujarati newspaper and literary magazine published. He also established a library in Surat in 1850 and Gujarati Sabha in Mumbai in 1865.

The number of Gujarati speakers in Pakistan is declining fast and one of the reasons is that the new generation of Gujarati-speaking does not use it. The few who do so speak it strictly within the family or community. Since most of the youth, the descendants of Gujarati-speaking communities, cannot read the script, Gujarati-language publications in Pakistan face an imminent death.

Gujarati is spoken in Pakistan by those who migrated from present-day India after the creation of this country. Some of the communities that had settled here before 1947 and did not migrate to India after Partition, still speak Gujarati. The communities that still speak Gujarati are the Bohras, Parsis, Hindus, Ismailis, Kutchi Memon and Kathiawari Memon. They are mainly settled in Karachi, adding colour to the city’s multi-lingual, multi-ethnic scene.

Although a minority language in Pakistan, Gujarati is the official language of India’s Gujarat state, where Hindi is the “additional official language”.

Many senior citizens would recall that Gujarati was taught at many schools in Karachi. There used to be Gujarati-medium schools and students were allowed to use it as the medium of answer in secondary and higher secondary examinations. Special arrangements were made to assess such answer scripts. This was in vogue from independence till the early 1970s, when schools were nationalised.

In those days Gujarati journalism in Karachi was doing well. At least two daily news papers, Millat and Dawn Gujarati, were brought out from this city. In addition, there used to be an evening newspaper, Vatan.

Daily Millat and Vatan are still alive, but face a bleak future as the number of readers is falling steadily .

‘Millat’, launched by Fakhr Matri in 1948, added a few pages in Urdu about 20 years ago to win over younger readers, but the experiment does not seem to have paid off.

A few Gujarati magazines, too, appeared from this city till the 1990s. Newspapers, magazines and books were imported from India and some of them enjoyed immense popularity.

For instance, many people (this writer among them) would recall that their elders used to read Chakram and Chitralekha, magazines imported form Indian Gujarat. These were very popular among Gujaratis in India and Pakistan. N.J. Golibar, the editor of Chakram, was a well-known figure among Gujaratis of Karachi back in the 1960s. Some columnists of Chitralekha were household names.


Gujarati ‘mushaeras’ were a regular feature in Karachi. And attendance at such events used to be good. But with the passage of time, all this seems a distant memory.

The second generation of Gujarati-speaking migrants from India, who settled in Karachi, knew Gujarati and were able to read and write it.

The later generations, however, lost interest in this language as they did not see any prospect while the Urdu and English languages offered lucrative jobs and were useful in education as well as for everyday communication in society.

Nowadays only the elderly read and write Gujarati while most of the younger ones (young only in a relative sense) cannot even speak it fluently.

The loss of a language is indeed a matter of concern — not for linguists or anthropologists alone but also for anyone interested in culture.

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2017


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Comments (48) Closed

Aftab Jan 20, 2017 09:46am

Sir, Many Indian languages are now part of global languages used for commerce and technology. In India, US-UK-Canada consulates have special gujrathi speaking officer in windows for Gurjrathi speaking Indians who seek visa. When we will learn that langauge is a tool which is like a mother.

D.K. PAMNANI Jan 20, 2017 09:43am

Take some steps for Gujrati Language.

Sachin Jan 20, 2017 10:25am

Parikh belongs to subcast in Bhavsar. Parikh is a widely used last name amongst Indian Hindu people meaning "assayer" in Gujarati or "examiner" or more generally a diamond examiner in Sanskrit and commonly belongs to the merchant class of Bania (Hindi) or Vanika (Sanskrit).[citation needed]. However, it can also be seen in the Jain and Swaminarayan religions, which were also founded in India.[1] The Oswal and Porwal Banias have clans called Parekh.

Ajmal Jan 20, 2017 10:29am

As a Gujarati, my heart bleeds. Loss of language will lead to loss of true connection to Quad-I-Azam and to an important part of Pakistani culture. I hope efforts are made to save Gujarati in Pakistan

Prakash Jan 20, 2017 10:30am

Thanks Raufbhai.

Mrityunjay Tripathi Jan 20, 2017 10:50am

Being Gujarati, Sindhi or Punjabi and speaking these languages is a matter of pride In India, simply because these communities are rich and hold considerable clout in echelons of power. Whereas, Urdu, though widely used in movies and other art forms, doesn't enjoy this distinction. In Pakistan (it seems ) the situation is reversed. Urdu is a foreign language for Pakistan. The reason seems to be simple; we Indians and Pakistanis are big leg pullers and would not like to see our own brother's language chosen as national language, even if it is spoken or understood by maximum number of people. Otherwise Pakistan would have Punjabi as it's national language. One of the big reasons why English gained so much importance in both the countries, is this jealousy..

Nino Jan 20, 2017 11:04am

My ancestors were Gujratis from Surat & 90% of my family do not speak the language & are undisturbed by the fact that Gujrati is a dieing in Pakistan because we consider Urdu asvour language. Furthermore, everyone should also know that Mirza Ghalibs number one sponsor was the Nawab of Surat, which says alot! We were never taught or forced to learn Gujrati because our parents were not forced to learn it.

krunal shah Jan 20, 2017 11:17am

Excellent analysis Dawn..

Viren Jan 20, 2017 11:21am

Superb....mindblowing knowledge and feeling proud that gujarati is also speaking in pakistan. Thanks from gujarat........

sheikh khalid Jan 20, 2017 11:43am

Culture is lived, not abstracted. Anthropologists do not really exist, only you exist as a carrier of culture. And when a part of you finds itself losing facility with your familiar, it is time for the whole of you to take a look at that part and the whole of yourself again:) By accepted social constructs my first and only significant language is Bangla. But by personal choice and immersion i have three mother languages, Bangla, Urdu, English

bk Jan 20, 2017 11:44am

Urdu is our official language. We dont need to be worried about gujarati punjabi hindi or any other languages. Those who dont know urdu should learn it

kavita Jan 20, 2017 12:06pm

Sad to read of the decline of yet another language in Pakistan.

Umesh Jan 20, 2017 12:11pm

@Viren Dint be amused Viren.....I always speak with our Karachi customers in Gujarati (although my mother tongue is Marathi). Good number of traders who migrated from Kathiawad region and Kutch do still speak in Gujarati in Pakistan. I am subject to correction, but was told once that Javed Miandad's family speaks Gujarati at home.

Patel, L.A. uSA Jan 20, 2017 12:14pm

We are second generation and our children children are forth generation in USA . At home we speak Gujarati but our grand children understand but cannot speak fluently they speak in English we try hard but does not work. So nothing new in years to come it will be English everywhere.

SGH Jan 20, 2017 12:17pm

Gujarati-speaking people in Karachi contribute to the cultural richness in Karachi. This language belongs to the past and present of the city of Karachi. Thank you for this article.

MJ Khan Jan 20, 2017 12:30pm

Its an Indian language anyways.

Ranjit Haripur Jan 20, 2017 12:38pm

Not just Gujerati, even Sindhi and Punjabi have lost ground in Pakistan. Ironically thanks to Urdu, a language that originated from old Lucknow.

ABL Jan 20, 2017 01:43pm

I am a 55 year old son of a gujrati family now settled outside Pakistan. I can speak and read gujrati. Thanx to 2 popular gujrati newspapers in those days, which allowed me to learn the language with help from my dad. I do not blame anyone in Pakistan for this. This is because, we live and grow up in a different environment, such as Urdu, Sindhi, Punjabi, and English. If anyone to be blamed then it would be our parents, for not speaking to us in Gujrati when we are very young. The place I live, we have neighbours from India and they speak gujrati even with their kids. they say, that they will learn English and other languages as they grow up. There are many gujrati speaking Indian TV channels. there is considerable gujrati material on the internet. so, the language may be dying in Pakistan, but it is not around the globe. I would suggest my gujrati speaking families to speak to their young kids in Gujrati. this is the only way to keep our language and culture alive.

Kashif Jan 20, 2017 01:55pm

In fact, Gujarati was taught in schools, till late 80s, as for as I was schooled, as in our boundary there was a Gujarati Primary School adjacent to ours in same boundary. Two dilemmas were not addressed even in those times. One there were no Gujarati Teachers, hence I still remember, there was only teacher, who use to taught whole classes and then there were no secondary schools, so continuing education was not a choice. In addition, they are not only living in Karachi, but considerable population is settled in Hyderabad, Sukkar and Shikarpur too, but there they are called "Godhra walas" rather Gujaratis.

Saif zUlfiqar Jan 20, 2017 01:58pm

After the expulsion of Asians from Uganda in early 70s, most of them were Gujrati soeaking Ismailis, Bhoras and Hindus who are now settled in Canada and England ,still speak Gujrati.

Hashim Rathore Jan 20, 2017 02:13pm

Gujarati language popular and widely speaking in Karachi also before partition and after.

James grant dUff Jan 20, 2017 02:21pm

In India, creation of provinces on linguistic lines has ensured that each province zealously and jealously guards and promotes its language and carries out all official business in it at least at lower levels of administration. All the states have multiple dialects , especially in regions where the state borders meet. These too are guarded and promoted by the state as the speakers of these languages form vote banks for the Local politicians. There are many literary awards instituted at national and state level. Translation of award winning books in other languages is also done by these bodies, so that readers can enjoy good literature of any language. I must congratulate the policy makers on their foresight for making the provinces language based. Time has proved opponents of this idea wrong, who had predicted that it would lead to linguistic chauvinism.

MUHAMMAD, Canada Jan 20, 2017 03:27pm

I think this writing about Gujarati and its decline in Pakstan is first of its kind. I want to thank the author and at the same want to ask why no one else ever bothered to pinpoint it earlier. Let us admit it is challenging to reverse the trend of apathy and indifference that prevails amongst younger decedents of Gujarati speaking immigrants that came to Pakistan (mostly concentrated) in Karachi. There is a need to be united and think of ways and means to popularize Gujarati. It could include some financial incentives for younger folks who show a certain level of proficiency in Gujarati language. Gujarati can be used as optional subject at school level and so on. Right now the plight of the language in Pakistan is highly lamentable.

ketan Jan 20, 2017 03:36pm

As a gujarati from india this article was very interesting and feel sad about Gujarati .... I believe due to globalization everywhere Regional Language is diminishing.

Atleast in india we have separate state hence we are able to hold Gujarati language influence.

Every state and country should fight to preserve their regional language !!

Look at German ,French , Chinese etc ... they are trying hard to keep their identity alive.

Saddening part is older generation feel isolated due to language barrier.

My mom started using Whats'up ,Facebook where there is post in English and they can't relate.

Lets fight in small ways to preserve our roots.

Many thanks RAUF PAREKH !! Avajo !!

Ijaz Jan 20, 2017 03:49pm

How many of the 90 million Punjabi speakers in Pakistan can read and write Punjabi?

Answer virtually no one can read Gurmukhi - so over time even Punjabi will suffer the same fate.

ishan Jan 20, 2017 03:55pm

Love to Gujarati people in Pakistan from India:)

Vijay B. Jan 20, 2017 04:55pm

I was born in D. I. Khan, now in Pakistan, grew up in Ahmedabad Gujarat, and now in The USA for the last 50 years. I am still 100% fluent in 5 languages: Derawali (or saraiki which I speak with my siblings), Punjabi, Gujarati, Hindi, English, and a spattering of French, from St. Xavier's High School. My Father and grandfather knew all the above languages plus could read and write Urdu which I cannot, but still understand very well. In addition my grandfather knew Pashtu and my father got his BA in Persian. In our home library we had books in all of the above languages and read by all except the ones in the Urdu script. Coming to Gujarati, we had hundreds of books in Gujarati by K.M Munshi, R.V. Desai, Gunvantrai Acharya, Ishwar Patlikar, Pannalal Patel, to name just a few, and we read them and enjoyed them together with the daily newspapers Sandesh and Gujarat samachar and the monthly Akhand Anand. Gujarati Literature is so rich, it would be a shame to lose the privilege of reading it.

SB Jan 20, 2017 05:11pm

@bk Very Easy to Say But difficult to ignore Mother language , This is Only one Reason Behind Indians Unity After Independence no restriction on local languages , But in Pakistan After Independence URDU are forced on PUNJABI & BENGALI , Base of URDU Language is not from Indian Sub-continent

Vijay B. Jan 20, 2017 05:25pm

Jai jai Garvi can Google the poem by that title too

Abdul kader Jan 20, 2017 05:27pm

A language originated any where isn't a matter of concern. It must be kept up for generations. Gujarati is an official language in India so it must be kept alivein Pakistan. Since both natios were one before 1947 Gujarati lang must be there as Urdu is in India

SGH Jan 20, 2017 05:38pm

@Mrityunjay Tripathi . Urdu is understood, spoken, and written all over Pakistan. The newspapers with highest circulation are in Urdu. All popular tv channels are in Urdu. Therefore, Urdu is rightly national language of Pakistan now. Yes, Urdu has its origin in India (Delhi, Lucknow, UP, Hyderabad Deccan).

Vijay B. Jan 20, 2017 06:18pm

Every language including the National language of India Hindi (Munshi Premchand) and various regional languages of India viz Bengali (Nobel Laureate Rabindernath Tagore, Sharat Chandra) Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malyalam, Punjabi etc. can boast to have a rich literary heritage and rightfully so. But on the present subject of the demise of the Gujarati language in Karachi, I shall limit myself in elaborating on Gujarati literature only. Having been out of India for the last 50 years, I am not familiar with any of the current writers in Gujarati but I can talk about the Gujarati writers I grew up reading: Kanaiyalal Maneklaal Munshi: the classic triology of Patan Ni Prabhuta, Gujarat No Nath, and Rajadhiraj; Gunvantrai Acharya: the series Sakkarbar, Harari, Sarfarosh, Sargose; Ramanlal Vasantlal Desai : Bharelo Agni and many others; Ishwar Patlikar and Pannalal Patel: many social novels; Zaverchand Meghani: many novels on Saurashtra and poems too; Narmad: Inspirational poems

MUHAMMAD Jan 20, 2017 06:55pm

The biggest issue gujarati has in pakistan is that no gujarati speaking area became a part of pakistan nor any of the current areas of pakistan has gujaratis in majority due to which the language got cut off from its roots. Similar issues are being faced by south asian alnguages in countries like US/Canada and by sindhi and urdu in india where although they are one of the official languages but because they are a minority language (Except for ulhasnagar or hyderabd / merut) many new generation ppl arent that well wersed in the language plus most new generation cant read or write the sindhi script. I personally think that india and pak can help each other in this by laurets and teachers visiting eachother and giving courses etc.

AHA Jan 20, 2017 07:07pm

@MJ Khan Wrong my friend. These Gujaratis are citizens of where they are born and hence it is Pakistani language too

MUHAMMAD Jan 20, 2017 07:26pm

I would like to add to some ppl esp some indians here who are blaming urdu to be the villain here (maybe many of them consider it as a sign of foreign muslim invaders). 1. Urdu is as much a language of south asia as hindi, tamil, bangla, punjabi, sindhi, gujarati etc so please stop treating as some foreign virus. it was not something created by muslim movement but existed long time back since the mughal period and overwhelming majority of muslims of the hindi speaking belt as well as andhra/telangana, maharashtra, goa, orissa & karnataka claim it to be their mother tongue (check ur census reports for this) 2. urdu was not the lang of locals here but is in no way alien too. it was the official lang of atleast punjab and kpk (and maybe balochistan) while optional in sindh long before partition. and thus only lang which could work as lingua franca (sindhi, punjabi etc are no doubt rich but were regional as they were limited to their province hence couldnt be the sole national lang) 3. gujarati is a minority language of pak. had any part of gujarat state been a part of pak then it would have become the majority lang of that area. same is the case with sindhi in india which despite its official status is struggling as no part sindh went to india and is now a minority lang (majority of young indian sindhis cant read and write the sindhi script). even urdu in india despite being the lang of locals there and having official status is under shadow of hindi with many yongsters not being able to read and write it. 4. regional lang is a provincial matter in pak and if a province wants then it can make whatever it wants as its provincial language (as in case of sindhi in sindh is the ooficial lang with urdu being a co-official due to significant number of urdu speakers in the province).

MSR Jan 20, 2017 07:44pm

@ kavita, can you please tell me which 'other language' has declined in pakistan. because I can name atleast 2 in india which are going through decline despite their so called official status (Urdu and sindhi). Majority of the yongsters from these two community in ur country cant read and write these languages and in case of urdu many now consider it as hindi. In pakistan overwhelming majority of ppl ie sindhis, punjabis, balochis, pashtuns, seraikis, hazarewals, etc can speak and read and write their mother tongues. Gujarati is in decline because it is a minority language which wa snot the local language of the areas of present day pakistan (just like sindhi in india). As the language is cut off from its roots thats why its struggling. for sure govt should take steps to save it and both india and pak can help each other in preserving sindhi and gujarati ont he other side but declaring pakistan as the graveyard for language is wrong and if that is right then so is the case with india where hindi too has a special staus as being the only local lang which is designated to the status of official language (no other local lang of india has that special status). and u should be more concerned ins aving urdu and sindhi in idnia then worrying about is.

D Weed Jan 20, 2017 08:34pm

Who cares? Am a Gujarati and think Urdu should be promoted!

Jim Beam Jan 20, 2017 08:37pm

@MSR Just a few days ago there was an article in Dawn about the impending demise of Hindko among other languages. Please read the article. I am not sure how you get the idea of urdu dying in India.

NAmit Jan 20, 2017 11:44pm

Few years back I read an article of Gujarati social group from Karachi in one Indian (Gujarati) magazine. This group visited Mumbai and there was a joint literature program. Such social groups can uplift the language and make the generations aware. Sad. However as most Gujaratis in Pakistan state neither their parents were interested nor are they, so the scene is different. However Parsis, Hindus and Bohris in Karachi or anywhere in Pakistan will be mostly fluent in Gujarati.

Khan USA Jan 21, 2017 05:28am

@Ajmal Quaid e Azam himself a Gujrati speaking was the biggest proponent of Urdu language and had strongly voiced and advocated for only one and a single language which is Urdu ! One Sindh Minister has asked government to include Gujrati in the language column of census form . His statement is not in love for Gujrati language but for his enemity towards Urdu language !

Vimal Jan 21, 2017 06:06am

With the death of a language, dies the pain, laughter and wisdom of the ancestors of the people who speak it. Language is not just words but the whole cultural and identity of that people. No wonder a joke translated loses its punch in any other language.

Ayub Jan 21, 2017 07:01am

Not only Gujrati, other regional languages in Pakistan are losing their practice very fastly.

Famous gujaratis Jan 21, 2017 02:15pm

India's prime minister Narendra Modi is Gujarati. Gandhi, Jinnah and Modi are famous Gujaratis. Gujarati is the official language of the Indian state of Gujarat.

jameel ahmad paul Jan 21, 2017 08:22pm

when i was in teen age, i used to read articles of this writer. now after a long time, i read this one. after learning hindi and gurmukhi punjabi, i learned a few of gujrati language which was very interesting for me. i am sad after reading this article. in fact my own mother tongue, punjabi is also facing the same situation. we have to do a lot to save both the languages from death. i am much sad.

jameel ahmad paul Jan 21, 2017 08:28pm

@bk urdu is not a language of pakistan. it may be kicked out and our native lovely languages may be implemented here.

H dave Jan 23, 2017 11:53am

@Umesh Yes I think his Family migrated from Palanpur Gujrat

MSR Jan 23, 2017 07:36pm

@Jim Beam. My family is originally from UP and we have relatives there, none of the younger generation knows how to read or write Urdu despite the fact that they all are living in delhi/UP and studying in the best schools there. T

MSR Jan 23, 2017 07:40pm

@Jim Beam. My family is originally from UP and we have relatives there, none of the younger generation knows how to read or write Urdu despite the fact that they all are living in delhi/UP and studying in the best schools there. They themselves told me that despite the second official language status of Urdu in Delhi/UP, urdu is struggling there. its only in J&K and some places like hyderabad where urdu is still going good. As for hindko, atleast hindko and serailki are recognised as separate languages in pakistan while in idnia the same are clumped under punjabi so if hindko is dying in pakistan, it might be long dead in india.