Man is an animal, dreaded and dreadful. Why? Despite all the cultural wrappings he is imperceptibly driven by his destructive instinct whose manifestations appear in different violent and apparently non-violent forms. His lust for destruction is insatiable because in his case destructive instinct coupled with consciousness is a source of infinite energy. Compared with him even a most ferocious predator is a meek creature as it would not destroy more than what is dictated by its instinctual needs. It would maul or kill others only when hungry or attacked. But man is made of different stuff; he can cause a carnage not only when faced with a real threat but also on a mere perception of a threat that poses even a remote challenge to his existence conceived in estrangement from the totality of life.

Ironically, it is human consciousness–some would call it false consciousness–that’s responsible for man’s ghoulish fascination with destruction, which is bred and propped up by urges of hegemony. Desire of hegemonic control is a result of conceiving others and the phenomenon related with them as not only separate –from oneself and one’s group–but also implacably hostile that need to be eliminated. Otherwise, you don’t need to colonise more than half of the world to be prosperous or kill almost half a million civilians with atomic weapons to end a war or stockpile nuclear arsenal that can destroy the planet many times over.

Hinting at human tendency to vandalise nature and its tangible resources, Nietzsche had declared during the era of rise of Western colonialism that embarked on the path of ‘conquering’ nature and foreign lands: “earth has a disease called man”. But the destruction is not confined to tangibles. The destruction of world’s intangibles is in fact outlandishly more damaging.

Languages in this context have suffered more than anything else. A language is almost impossible to revive once it dies. Death of a language is an intellectual loss, total and irreparable. Death of a language is disappearance of a culture, a creation of people’s way of life spanning centuries, even millennia. With the extinction of a language, we lose not just history but also a unique way of looking at the world. Language is not a mere communication tool, it’s a worldview. The best and the most comprehensive expression of a worldview can only be found in a language. All other means of expression, however subtle and creative they may be, ultimately strive to find their elucidation and longevity at an abstract level in language.

The most important human invention or product is language. Tools came later. Articulate speech is what actually sets humans apart from animals in the animal kingdom we are part of. Each language being unique is a firm identity marker of its speakers and receptacle of its culture and history. What the dominant groups, cultures and states with the objective of expanding the hegemonic control do is to degrade the language of the dominated which shows not only what they are but also what they had been and what they could be potentially in future. The dominant denigrate the human identity of the dominated by degrading their language which is considered far below par. Denial of rights and status of a language turns out to be denial of its speakers’ human worth. It’s a denial of the right to be distinct and different and yet to be equally human.

Suppression of so-called native languages has been widespread in the colonial era especially in a linguistically diverse South Asia from whose after-effects we are still reeling. Post-colonial state, a slightly changed version of the colonial state, has equally been reluctant to recognize and address the issue of language in a society that inherits historical linguistic diversity. The colonialists denied people their language rights in the name of education and the West’s “civilized mission’ while real motive was to perpetuate their occupation by attempting to prove the worthlessness of the native languages and cultures.

In the post-colonial state, the elite, the beneficiary of colonial largesse, continues the same policy; it denies the rights of the peoples’ languages in the name of what it calls national unity and integration. It conveniently ignores the reality of a linguistic diversity that can be a creative human asset if viewed in its proper perspective. The continued imposition of one or two languages handed down by colonial set-up at the cost of peoples’ natural languages will not solve the conundrum that has strong political, social and academic implications. How can you have harmony and intellectual development in a polity where people are not taught and educated in their own languages? The situation in the Punjab is horrific but it’s not satisfactory in other provinces either. Brahui and Balochi languages are not taught at school and college levels in Balochistan. Same is the case with Pashto and Hindko in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Situation in Sindh is comparatively better as Sindhi is one of the official languages of Sindh and is taught in schools and colleges. But it faces resistance from other linguistic groups especially from the Urdu speakers in the urban centres.

The elite in the Punjab is nowhere near owning its mother language. Being a poor shadow of colonial masters, it is proud of what it inherited from them; contempt for the people and their language. The elite of the country driven by ill-defined ideological imperatives foolishly messed up the language issue by declaring a thinly concealed war against Pakistani languages in the immediate aftermath of the Partition; first against Bengali and then against Sindhi and other languages. The result was political unrest that alienated majority of the populace. In order to avoid further debacle the elite must recognise the rights of people’s languages which are our enviable cultural and historical assets.

Increased number of people has participated in the Mother Language Day celebrations this year throughout the country. In Punjab, young people in cities and towns such as Lahore, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Sialkot, Lalamusa, Islamabad, Sargodha, Jhang, Pindi Bhattian, Bhawana, Safdarabad, Sahiwal, Pakpattan, Arifwala and Rahim Yar Khan held public meetings and took out rallies, demanding that mother language be introduced throughout the province at school level. Let it be said for the benefit of the ruling elite: politics of linguistic hegemony hasn’t paid you dividend in the past nor it will do so in future. It’s time you recognise the historical importance of peoples’ languages. This simple act will lead to the eradication of mass illiteracy and, cultural and intellectual flourishing. —

Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2020