THE language issue in Pakistan has always been a thorny one. When Bangladesh was the eastern wing of Pakistan, the status of the Bengali language, which was then spoken by the majority of the population, kept surfacing every now and then. In the 1960s, as has been mentioned before, there used to be an East Pakistan Students Association in Karachi. It strove hard to get the students whose mother tongue was Bengali to get their due rights. (It’s for history to pass a judgement on how far they succeeded in their endeavour.)

For example, on Jan 30, 1968 a delegation of the association met West Pakistan Minister for Education and Auqaf Khan Mohammad Ali Khan to discuss the issues of allowing (or not) East Pakistani students to write answers to questions in exams in the Bengali language and the construction of an intermediate Bengali college in Karachi. The minister responded by telling them that Rs100,000 had been earmarked for the first phase of the construction of the college. It would be shifted to a suitable locality when a piece of land was made available to the government. He said apart from that, the government was considering building a hostel for East Pakistani students. The students’ delegation requested the minister to make arrangements for reservation of at least 30 seats in the Government College for Women, Karachi, and 25 in the medical and engineering colleges in the city for the Bengali-speaking youngsters.

On the subject of answering questions in Bengali, the minister said the Bengali-speaking students in West Pakistan would be allowed from the next academic year to answer question papers up to the degree level in their mother tongue with a view, among other reasons, to popularising Bengali in the province of Sindh. The proposal was soon to be discussed with the Central Education Minister. Did all of that happen? Not sure.

Remaining on the subject of education and therefore books, on Feb 1, about 1,000 titles were displayed at the Karachi Press Club in an exhibition of books donated by the German Democratic Republic to the club. The exhibition consisted of nicely printed technical, arts and children books. Most of them were in the German language, save for a small collection in English. Colourful children books attracted the viewers’ attention the most. Interesting. You wonder if the club still has them.

Here’s a different piece of information about the ‘60s Karachi which would also give an indication as to how institutions that wield authority worked in those days. On Feb 2, two young beggars chose to beg at the Karachi Police Headquarters and were rewarded with a decent amount before the headquarters closed for the day. Eight-year old Abdul led his 12-year-old blind brother from room to room in the four-storey Karachi Police office building, collecting alms. They began their ‘work’ early in the morning and by the time most of the officers got up to offer Friday prayers, the two had collected Rs38.50 — more than four times their usual Friday earnings. Asked why they chose the Police Headquarters for the collection, the visually impaired one cleverly explained that on Friday the police made surprise raids that often left them without any money and sometimes landed them behind bars.

Now, compare this to the reports about police officers that are published these days.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2018

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