Mother languages still denied due status

Updated 21 Feb 2017


ISLAMABAD: Today is International Mother Language Day. The commemoration of this day is linked to Pakistan. Unfortunately not to a pleasant chapter of our history.

On Feb 21, 1952, university students protested in Dhaka to seek official status for their mother language, Bengali. They were dealt with force by police and upon resistance, several students were killed in police firing. This incident caused a turmoil nationwide, which eventually led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.

The aim of celebrating International Mother Language Day is to create awareness and promote cultural diversity and multilingualism.

Many factors were involved in the creation of Bangladesh, including the economic and political disparity and interference from across the border. But the basic element which sowed the seeds of mistrust among the large Bengali population was outright denial to the Bengali language of its deserved national status.

Today in 2017, when we are going to celebrate 70th Independence anniversary of the country in August, the question of representation of mother languages at the national level is still very much valid.

“We are not providing due status to our mother languages even today,” says leading linguistic Dr Tariq Rehman.

“We are not providing our children the opportunity of getting basic education in their mother tongues, which is the basic right of every child. There are no teachers available to teach students in their mother languages. There are no syllabus and textbooks,” he says and urges the government to enact laws to promote all regional and provincial languages.

“It’s the demand of today’s Pakistan. National languages should be more than one. Teachers and textbooks should be available in mother languages and teachers should be trained.”

Rasul Bakhsh Rais, professor of political science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), says the promotion of the Urdu and English languages is pushing people away from their mother languages. “According to a survey conducted by myself, 90 per cent students of the LUMS don’t speak their mother languages at home. They speak Urdu or English. It’s also people’s responsibility to preserve their languages.”

People have tragically stopped taking pride in their native languages,” he said. “This is happening because the education system developed by the elite of the society serves the interests of those who can communicate in Urdu and English only.”

“They think that if a student from lower strata of society is brilliant enough to reach the higher level, he will have to work harder to learn English and get mixed with them,” he said.

“Now, the Supreme Court has given a landmark judgement that Urdu should also be an official language and the competitive examination should be conducted in Urdu. I would say that the competitive examination should also be conducted in regional and mother languages,” Prof Rais said. He also demanded establishment of more institutions and academies at the provincial level to promote mother languages. Both Dr Rehman and Prof Rais agreed that the electronic media had changed the situation to some extent and regional languages were now getting some space on private TV channels. But they said that more airtime should be dedicated to local languages. “Imposing oneness in the federation increases distances. Diversity is going to bring us closer,” said Fozia Saeed, the head of Lok Virsa, which has recently organised a national festival of literature in mother languages.

“All languages should be declared national languages but I have proposed this status for at least 10 languages,” Ms Saeed said while referring to an under consideration bill on national languages. “Today, a Senate committee conducted a hearing on this bill and I strongly recommended national status for Gilgit-Baltistan’s Shina language also. If we don’t give such regional languages national status, it will hurt people,” she said.

Mobarik A. Virk, a veteran journalist, warned that ignorance of some major regional languages could spark a national controversy. “The languages such as Seraiki, Balochi and Sindhi must get their due status. If we continue to ignore them, it will promote hatred among regions and provinces,” he said.

“Unfortunately, even the Punjabi language is not being given its due status. It’s not being taught in schools despite being the language of the country’s largest community.”

“Most of children are compelled to start their primary education in alien languages i.e. English, Urdu and sometimes Arabic also,” Mr Virk said.

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2017