Another daily in Punjabi

28 May 2011


After the closure of daily Imroze during Nawaz Sharif's first tenure, Punjabi journalism came to a standstill. Also, the golden period of progressive dissemination of knowledge in Punjab came to an end after the closure of the Progressive Papers Limited (including The Pakistan Times). In the elections of 1970, the major contribution to the success of lower and middle class unknown political workers was of these papers. Therefore the inheritors of the feudal and emerging traders and investors did not like the existence of these papers and the institution. Even the so-called progressive politicians associated with the Pakistan People's Party were not happy with the institution, which provided them the ground to emerge as a leading force in the centre. Even Sindh enjoyed power in the centre for the first time. Daily Imroze was closed by Nawaz Sharif and The Pakistan Times was vandalised by Benazir Bhutto. Both papers were representative of the real thinking and wishes of the people of Punjab who were deadly against the feudal and capital politics. With the end of Imroze, its 40 years old weekly Punjabi literary page also came to an end. The terminated workers of Imroze were not compensated properly by Nawaz Sharif and the pensioners started knocking doors of courts from 1991 and many years after winning their pension rights ultimately got pension dues last year … 19 years after their termination. Incidentally, it was Rahat Zafar, a former staff reporter of Imroze and now serving as chairman of the National Press Trust, who committed to a Multan court for the payment of the dues and internally it was decided that all those deprived of their rights may be from Multan or Lahore be compensated. But it took another year and Lahore pensioner got a favourable decision from a Lahore labour court that is being honoured by the chairman. NPT authorities have issued letters to workers that they will be paid their pension according to PPL pension rules. This is one aspect of daily Imroze. The other is that before the closure of Imroze, Punjabi writers and journalists under their senior colleague Husain Naqi brought out daily Sajjan in Punjabi, the first ever after the partition. It was widely welcomed and patronised by progressive and nationalist people. It was said that it was a sort of experiment. Perhaps it was started much earlier without probing the possibility of producing a real newspaper…equal in status and standard to other contemporary Urdu dailies. Another ground reality was that it was outright against the Punjab government headed by Nawaz Sharif and favoured Benazir's central government. Nawaz Sharif refused to release official advertisements to the paper and Benazir's government doled out very limited funds. Ultimately it had to come to halt, leaving the impression that there was no space for a Punjabi daily in Punjab or Pakistan.

The Punjabi literary supplement of daily Imroze continued till its forced closure in 1991. For a very long time there was no regular Punjabi weekly or daily. In the middle of nineties, Mudasser Iqbal Butt brought out a weekly, Bhulekha, in Punjabi. It was just a routine paper and had nothing special about Punjabi cause and movement. Professionally, it was much weaker than Sajjan or Imroze. Later, this six-page weekly was converted into a daily and is being brought out regularly. After some 17 years, four-page daily Lokaai appeared that was mainly looked after by educationist, writer and journalist Jameel Ahmad Paul.

Some four years back, the then government of the Punjab was a little bit sympathetic to Punjabi language and culture therefore it decided to extend at least five per cent of government publicity to Punjabi papers, including Jhok from Multan and monthlies of Punjabi. But that was a short-lived privilege and the successive government culturally more puritan turned its back to Punjabi. Publicity was stopped to a large extent and dailies starved. The situation has not yet changed. In Bhulekha, one can see an advertisement from the central government after a month or two. Lokaai has not been entertained yet. A major newspapers group of Lahore, Liberty by name, also took an initiative and came out with a four-page morning daily Khabran. It was comparatively better produced but the first and the last condition was not fulfilled and it was not a full-fledged daily having at least eight pages. Newspaper in any language is read by subscriber for the sake of news and not for Punjabi, Urdu or English. Language is a secondary thing but Punjabi dailies tried to depend on slogan “love Punjabi”. The chief editor of Khabrain, Khabran etc was suggested that four-page papers would not properly take off. Only a full-fledged daily with much more exclusive news items can make a good space for a Punjabi daily. This basic guideline has not been followed by any of the managers of the Punjabi papers. The issue of Punjabi journalism is also associated with the language in which Punjabi children are being taught. Had there been Punjabi the medium of instruction as Sindhi is, the situation of Punjabi journalism had been totally different. But unfortunately neither the aspirations of Punjabi people are being honoured nor their mother tongue is being given due status in education and government affairs. Where even the statement of a dying person cannot be recorded in his words what else one should expect?

The Bhulekha group has suddenly taken another bold step and brought out the first ever eveninger in Punjabi with the name of Punjabi Zuban. The size is half of the dailies. This is six-page better printed and presented than Bulekha or Lokaai. It was launched on 24th May that included an interview of Zia Shahid, who published four-page Khabran and later withdrew it. The new venture is welcomed but Punjabi managers need hard work to improve their products, which are not being properly marketed. Such is the state of affairs of the Punjabi journalism.