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Strongest bond: religion or language?

Published Jul 02, 2011 07:57am


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The situation was somewhat annoying but in retrospect it seems a bit hilarious. There were four of us from as many countries, all judges at the Kish International Film Festival giving our individual judgments on the awards to feature films from different Asian countries, encountering linguistic difficulties in communicating our views and defending them.

While the Mumbai-based Bijaya Jena, a state prize winning filmmaker-cum-actor, and yours truly could communicate with each other in English and a language which is Urdu to me and Hindi to her (Mahatma Gandhi would have called it Hindustani), the other two judges, one an accomplished film director from Kish and the other a film critic from Azerbaijan, had to seek the help of interpreters. Bijaya and I conveyed our views to the fellow judges in English but not without the help of two interpreters. One of them, who spoke in Persian, was reasonably fluent, but his colleague was particularly week. He fumbled for words, particularly when translating from Azerbaijani (also called Azeri) to English and I had the nagging fear that he may not be communicating the ideas correctly, not deliberately, of course. The session which shouldn’t have lasted for more than half an hour, since our views were not divergent, prolonged for two hours. We parted with warm handshakes and exchanges of broad smiles, but that was the most we could convey without the help of interpreters.

Every time I have to wait for a flight at the departure lounges outside Pakistan, I look for someone who can speak English. Thus an American or a Brit or someone from the subcontinent would be my first choice. Once travelling on the Rajdhani Express from Delhi to Mumbai, I was in a compartment with an elderly Muslim from Kerala and a Hindu couple from North India with two daughters.

The Keralite was a pleasant gentleman and generous with his smiles but we could not communicate with each other. On the other hand, the Punjabi gentleman and his wife from the UP were ones with whom I had long conversations. When the husband used a Punjabi word in his conversation, the wife said “Dekhye hamari shadi ko dus saal hogaye hain lekin ye Hindi mein Punjabi mila dete hain.” (Look, we have been married for ten years but he still adds Punjabi words to Hindi). A bell rang in my mind and I recalled a similar ‘complain’ voiced by an Urdu-speaking Pakistani about his wife, whose mother tongue happened to be Punjabi. Both cases could best be described as sheer banter. There wasn’t anything serious about the ‘accusations’.

Back to my fellow passengers on board the Rajdhani, we had interesting baat cheet on a wide variety of subjects from music to mothers-in-law. They had never visited Pakistan so I had many queries to answer. They enjoyed PTV plays and remembered more titles than I did.

Another point to remember is that languages also reflect the culture of the people who speak those tongues. Example: a common prayer for one’s daughter in the northern part of the subcontinent is “Sada suhagan raho” (May you always have a husband to take care of you), whether the person expressing the wish be a Hindu, Muslim or a Sikh.

Many years ago at the film festival in Penang (Malaysia), two of us from Pakistan, me and Satish Anand, who is into films and television production, were constantly in the company of North Indian delegates, The leader of the Indian delegation was Sunil Dutt, a thorough gentleman. A member of the French delegation who saw us together for four days commented that while our armed forces were exchanging fire on the LoC every day, there we were a picture of camaraderie. “I can’t understand this,” he commented, to which Dutt said, “Nor can we for that matter.” Interestingly enough, while the North Indians bonded with us, their countrymen from the South were seen together in a separate group.

People who think of linguistic affinities being stronger than religious similarities argue that one doesn’t practice one’s religion all the time but one speaks a language all through one’s waking hours.

What do my readers have to say on this issue? As for me, all I have to say is that a person is born into a religion and also into a family which speaks a certain language. That’s where he or she has no choice.

Very rarely does one change one’s religion but very often one learns to speak, and often write, another language. Interestingly enough, a person may be bilingual or a trilingual but when it comes to religion he or she can belong to only one creed.

The writer, who jointly authored the bestselling ‘Tales of Two Cities’ with Kuldip Nayar and more recently compiled and created ‘Mehdi Hasan: The Man and his Music’ writes and lectures on art, literature and culture. He also pens travelogues and humorous pieces.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Author Image

Asif Noorani, a peacenik, has been writing articles and delivering lectures in India, Pakistan and the US on the need for closer relations between the people of the two subcontinental countries for several years. He is the author of four books, including Tales of Two Cities, which he co-authored with distinguished Indian columnist Kuldip Nayar.

He can be reached at

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (83) Closed

M Ali Khan Jul 02, 2011 01:36pm
Language is what unites individuals and groups together to bond with each other.
Saad M. Waraich Jul 02, 2011 02:00pm
Language is a far stronger bond than religion although we, as Pakistanis, have a problem in both accepting it as well as admitting it. For some reason using language as a bond makes Pakistanis either sound ethnic -- read regional and anti-Pakistan -- or bad Muslims. It is for this lack of clarity -- and insecurity -- that Pakistanis are still struggling to decide what defines them. Despite claims of having a binding "national language (Urdu)" and of being the nucleus of the "Muslim Ummah", the country is falling apart. SMW
Zhou Jul 02, 2011 02:03pm
Urdu, Hindi, Persian and Arab are the past; learn Chinese for the future and we will help you more
Mansoor Iqbal Jul 02, 2011 02:12pm
It is the language which unites, and creates a stronger bond. No doubt about it. I have friends here in the USA from North India, Nepal , Bangladesh and Afghanistan and there is this instant connection with them. And the strong bond between us is only because of the Urdu-Hindi language.
Divya Jul 02, 2011 02:28pm
Hi, i am south indian and a malayalee..from kerala, and i dont have any idea of hindi .urdu,although i watch hindi movies and understand the genral story line. I agree to a certain extent that one bonds when one understands the language spoken but in my experience one can bond when one has the same interests.I have known 2 people who happen to like tennis speak for hours on the topic only to discover later they both dint know any common language!Also..its common knowledge that Action speaks louder than words!!!
Ramachandran Jul 02, 2011 02:35pm
When Language/Religion used as a political tool and poor people exist in the society. It is a dangerous cocktail. After all life for few years why to fight over Language/Religion?
Saad Jul 02, 2011 02:50pm
Language unites.
Mansoor Iqbal Jul 02, 2011 02:59pm
And oh btw, its the language (in this case English) which the common bond even in this thread :D
Qaisrani Jul 02, 2011 03:14pm
This is a complex phenomenon.Naturally linguistic bonds are more strong than religious until a special case arises.People living outside sub-continent are at more ease to each other than their religious affiliates like Arabs for muslims and Tamils for hindus because of linguistics and cultural affinity.Similarly English speakers are preferred to speaker of any other language despite his religion.
BABU Jul 02, 2011 03:19pm
deep south in india ,malayalam is the language which unites the hindus,christains and can see this similiarly in other parts of india .only the urdu speaking muslims of central and north india may unite in religion alone. I have seen in the gulf many uneducated south indian workers speak to his north indian counterpart in arabic !!!
Ravi Jul 02, 2011 03:25pm
Interesting article. From our everyday experience, it does appear language is a stronger bonding force than religion. For most people who one can speak more than language, there is usually a dominant language, which is the language one learns while growing up. This language is as hard to change as the religion one is born with. However, we also notice the influence of one religion on another due to close interaction, just as Punjabi words in Hindi in the example given by the writer. This allows us to be a bit like the other without entirely giving up our original identity.
Satish Rao Jul 02, 2011 03:36pm
Dear Asif, The bond you are talking is just a temporary one. Once you go to your place and we go to our place, the difference creep in. Only the love, affection and respect to others' values without religious and ideological can only unite the entire humanity and create the real bond.
nb Jul 02, 2011 03:46pm
If you put in a remote place in Siberia only two/three persons from South Asia, then they will live peacefully. The moment you increase the number of persons, they will start forming groups by religion/language/race. Language is lesser problem because one can learn another language. Race gives problem only when another factor say religion/language is different. But separate religious groups will quarrel, if the smaller group itself is of substantial size. On the other hand, if all have same religion/language/race, but there are too many persons, then also groups will form according to their native-place/school/college/caste/surname/income-level etc. Do not speak in English in public places of Continent. If you do so you will get no answer. Better speak in Hindi or Urdu or Odia or any other language that the person cannot guess what it is. He will reply in broken English. Same is case if you speak Hindi in Tamil Nadu.
Bashir Jul 02, 2011 04:35pm
LANGUAGE - I used to consciously avoid any conversation about Kashmir with my co-lingual co-travellers from across the border. Till I came across one who insisted. We shared what we thought was the history of the conflict. But with a difference: armed with his mobile-online laptop's internet access we were able to share the sources of our knowledge, particularly what the commentators from outside the sub-continent had to say. We are friends even today; and I've made many more friends from across the border. RELIGION - Re: "Very rarely does one change one’s religion": It is not so rare if religion is our beliefs about how the world came to being, how it runs and how to act ethically. The vast example of Secular Humanists, Agnostics ans Atheists are examples of that. Except the Chinese, most of them were not born in these religions.... I am not sure if it will be out context or too much to expect it to be published that in no other religion the sentence of leaving a religion is death and in no other major religion a spouse has to change his/her religion to get married.
Vijay K Jul 02, 2011 06:00pm
There may be a deeper reason, something to think about : Is there a language of thinking? Data shows that there is, except for emotions like love, rage etc. The language of thinking is the language of our birth/childhood, and gets "hardwired" in our brain very early in our lives. It is well known that a baby can recognize its mothers voice within 2 hours of birth. Religion enters our lives at a later date. Hence the bond of language is stronger; exchange of ideas and creativity is easier in our language of thinking (ie our mother tongue). It also explains why countries that have used a foreign language for science, math etc have ceased to progress (whereas in pre-colonialism their civilizations were so advanced): all the advanced countries have their science in their own language - but that would be another interesting discussion ( We are obviously more at ease in exchanging ideas and thoughts in our language of our childhood, even if we have acquired other languages at a later age, since that remains our language of thinking.
ajay Jul 02, 2011 06:15pm
asif saheb, while religions rub into us an unwarranted arrogance, languages teach us to be humble. Take for instance this phrase PAHLE AAP. Is there a similar sentiment in any religion for the rivals.
A.Bajwa Jul 02, 2011 06:26pm
Religion or language cannot be bonds. Religion connects you to God but not to each other. Language can work both ways. Both Ibrahim Lodhi and Babur spoke Persian but fought each other for supremacy of India. Sikhs , Muslims, and Hindus fought each other though they were Punjabi speaking.Eventually it is commonality of interests which bind people. In Pakistan the attempt to enforce Urdu as lingua franca has sown discord. May be we should have Urdu as a commonly spoken language, like other regional languages.
isheeta Jul 02, 2011 06:41pm
i feel, if you have a common language...your mothertongue..or foreign...also helps to break the ice with strangers...and if the feelings of curiosity and wanting to know the other person better is mutual then...the common language makes it a lot easier and warmer !...religion is a whole different ball game..i would rather call it a (similar) way of life ...or similar cultural philoshophies definately helps...after all deep down we are all human...if that connection is nutured ...with respect and acceptance...the world will be a wonderful place :)
Agha Ata (USA) Jul 02, 2011 06:45pm
We are namers, and we ask questions, sometimes impossible questions, unanswerable questions, and then we spend our entire life defining those names, and answering those questions. Look, Pakistan was born because of the religion, not language, and then, one of the major factors of the creation of Bangladesh was language. Whats more, all Arab nations have the same language, same religion, yet not very happy with each other all the times. Europe is a gumbo of languages and religion doesn’t matter much. They are united and friendly (at least NOW) . . . So, what can you say?
Sunil Gautam Jul 02, 2011 07:02pm
Language rules, no doubt. Earlier when I was in Dubai, a Pakistani from Lahore, a devout muslim and a potential India hater, would still prefer my company to other muslims from India only because we spoke Punjabi to each other. It was a great learning for me about what really unites people. Being a muslim doesn't get any one any preferential treatment in the Middle East while a Hindu like me can land up in Lahore and make friends with everyone
abdussamad Jul 02, 2011 07:03pm
The British realised that language was very important. That is why they favoured Urdu over Persian. Persian was the link language that connected us to our Muslim brethren in the middle east. By favouring Urdu over Persian they broke that connection and weakened us in the process.
Imran Jul 02, 2011 07:06pm
A great example of whether language unites or faith unites can be seen where multiple ethnic groups live, example England or USA. Everyone speaks english but peoples have different ways of life (so called religion). The people that you feel closest to are the people who practice your way of life even though you live with diversity of faiths which all speak english languages. Another example of this is to take the muslim community which has diversity of ethnic backgrounds (africa, asia, europe, south america, etc), but all speak english, however what binds the community is their common faith or way of life. Language is a vessel of communication only but to equate it to a way of life which is guided through ones faith is not possible. Why isn't there more thought enriching articles/blogs on Dawn - there too many of these very shallow, simplistic pieces posted on this sight over and over again.
farideh zivary Jul 02, 2011 07:10pm
Three billion people speak english.We in north america speak and work with english speaking people all the time.How many close white friends do we have?after being here longer than in the countries of our origin.Culture,language,social status and religion all play some part in bringing people together.
Rakesh Jul 02, 2011 07:17pm
There are other cultural affinities between north Indians and Punjabis from Pakistan. We basically laugh at the same jokes. This affinity has come from living together for centuries. North Indians have more in common with Pakistanis than with Indians from other parts of India.
Anon Jul 02, 2011 07:21pm
Dear author, the notion of belonging to a single religion is true only for Abrahamic faiths. For rest of Asia, that is not true. A Japanese can be both Shinto and Buddhist. A Chinese can be Taoist and a Buddhist. A Hindu can be a Vaishnava and a Shaiva. In fact, in non-Abrahamic faiths, you can be an atheist and yet be part of a religious establishment.
S. Guha Jul 02, 2011 07:50pm
As one can have two languages, why not two religions at the same time
syed baqar ahsan Jul 02, 2011 08:52pm
In my country "somebody" destroyed our national leadership,national language,national religion,national syllabus,now there is no unity,faith and discipline.I don't know which strongest bond they are in search of.
AB Jul 02, 2011 08:54pm
To be more specific, it's the culture associated with our mother tongue that truly unites. You can learn French language, but you can never be French at heart. Apart from some superficial differences and idealogies, all religions teach the same human values anyway. So religion has limited role at best in uniting people. Language and the culture associated with that language is the absolute identity of each of us. Don't forget religion can also be changed in free societies relatively easily.
Ejaz Yaqub Jul 02, 2011 09:03pm
Language or communication has an under lying feature that we are trying to understand each other with a purpose to meet each others needs or requirements. In religion, we are convinced that we are right and the other person of a different religion is not necessarily correct. The conflict starts here. More religious we are, more rigid we would be in our dealings with the other person. While both language and religion are means of communication, former has a mutuality inherent in it, while the latter has an individuality, and thus a possibility of heated discussions.
Kiwi Jul 02, 2011 09:09pm
Language is obviously the means of communication. Without language no religion could have been sent down. Language is a must to understand religion. But is it really the stronger bond? I dont think so. For example when I am abroad and I see another muslim we might not even understand eachothers language but there's this distinct feeling you feel when you see another muslim and say salam. People of the same religion have the bond in having the same beliefs. No doubt Language is necessary and we are always looking for our kind. Even in Pakistan a punjabi looks for someone who speaks punjabi to connect to in the big cities. But language is directly affialiated with a certain region Can we say places are more stronger then religion? I think the best example is that at Hajj time.The bond that millions of people from every corner of the world feel at Hajj is far more greater then the bond that a pakistani feels when they see a fellow pakistani during Hajj. Religion I believe is the universal language. I’m not well versed in other religions of the world so i can’t say anything about them
usman Jul 02, 2011 09:18pm
Balochistan, Punjab, Sindh, KP and Kashmir are tied together not by a language or religion but a river, the Indus. Just like the Ganges River has it's own civilization in India. Pakistan's Western Punjab, Sindh, Kashmir obviously has some cultural affinities to their corresponding eastern sections in India. The artificial lines of partition cannot change this. For this group, Southern India might as well be another country. Baluchistan and KP have some cultural affinities to BaluchEstan and Afghanistan respectively. Islam is an undeniable aspect of south asia muslim civilization. Muslims of Pakistan and India are part of the same civilization and culture. There are many differences with the Hindu civilizations. Our similarities should be enjoyed, our differences should be respected. we should be proud of all aspects of our civilization including ancient history.
salim a. farooki Jul 02, 2011 10:20pm
Religion of Islam as a unifying factor works only and only when the Iman of the people is strong. If the Iman is weak, culture takes its place.
MKD Jul 02, 2011 10:46pm
This question was answered in 1971, quite convincingly.
PakGirl Jul 02, 2011 11:29pm
Yep! you can never unite people on the basis of religion. But you can on linquistic and cultural grounds. It is common in mosques to have people of different liquisitic backgrounds grouping up separately. They hang out with different people, seldom see each other outside the mosque. All same faith, but different cultures. Little in common. But bring in a Pakistani of a different denomination, or a hindu of same heritage, and conversation will go into the wee hours of the morning. Political views don't change. Even bias towards those who practice a different Islam stays. But life is good when we are with our own, and your own are those who have same cultural/linquistic background.
Saqib Jul 02, 2011 11:57pm
In 1971 East Pakistani's had a strong feeling of affiliation with West Bengalis from India and they extended similar kind of arguments. Later, West Bengal shifted mostly to English and Bangladeshis stuck to Bangali language, are still wandering what happened with them especially when they saw their rivers being diverted to west Bengal. Today new generation of both sides of Bengal switched over to English but east Bengal is still Muslim and west Bengal Hindu so religion is more constant factor. Therefore, we can say that human relations have different levels of relationship. When it’s about Gossip or sharing common foods you may find a person from same language more intimate, whereas, if comes to some serious matters the situation changes conversely.
Sharif baloch Jul 03, 2011 12:09am
Today in Arab world there are non Muslims living in with majority of Muslim citizens and it is a sign of linguistic bond.Afterall one can change the relegion but not language.
Sumit Mazumdar Jul 03, 2011 12:19am
Neither language nor religion may be sufficient. Please look at South America - with the exception of Brazil and Belize all other countries speak Spanish and are catholic. Yet they are different countries. Some have gone to wars against one another. What unites us, if at all, is a perception (real or fake) of common history or destiny. This perception is sometimes seemingly strengthened by the observation that language and/or religion is common. And that can change with time (think East Pakistan/Bangladesh. ) I agree with Mr Rao, real unity can only follow love and respect that is there in spite of differences.
Hari Jul 03, 2011 01:04am
All human beings want to communicate their feelings and thoughts to others. Language is the medium. Naturally, you feel most comfortable in communicating in the language you master - the language you grew up with, the language that comes naturally to you. As for religion, it is between you and Almighty and you and Almighty alone. Humans are imperfect, full of emotions, and eventually bound to perish. No human should even try to dictate his religion to others - religion is just for your self-improvement in the face of countless imperfections. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians are all children of Almighty and are all directly answerable to that Almighty.
M.D.Bhasin Jul 03, 2011 01:07am
Language (more appropriately -- accent) and religion (more appropriately -- sect) are the major forces of culture that create affinity. Apart from these there are some other forces like nationality and race that may unite the people but are not necessarily part of culture. The strngth of these forces varies according to circumstances. For example at the time of war, nationality reigns supreme; when in a third country language becomes the strongest attraction and in a dispute over ethenic identity, race and religion play most important role. There are also certain universal factors that bring closeness. For instance, identical views and likings, economical and social status, political interests etc. Coming back to language and religion (when other forces are neither supporting nor opposing), language being the handy tool is far more strong. In fact, language looses its purpose if there are no more than one person to share it. Whereas, religion can be best practiced in seclusion. In fact it is a very private thing, if no political tone is given to it.
avtar Jul 03, 2011 01:22am
I have always what should have the been the national language of Pakistan - Punjabi. The script is Urdu. Prior to Bangladesh the majority language was Bengali. But as Noorani points out rightly that language does provide a strong bond - religion is basically a private matter.
Roger Rao Jul 03, 2011 01:46am
Human beings will always have something to differentiate about, with others - short, fat, tall, rich, poor, rustic, urban, religious, atheist, dark, fair, European, Asian, language, hometown, foreigner, weaker, stronger, good looking, bad looking, cultured, boorish - so on and so forth. The objective will always be to build relationships on such 'commonality' in values, etc. Depending on how "religion" is defined, and given the fact that religion is really a 'personal experience', there could be as many 'religions' in the world, as there are people. In a sense, languages are inherently designed to be more sociable - because they allow you to communicate and understand what is going on in each other's minds. Language is more primal, and to that extent 'precedes' religion. But look at it this way, though: Would all human beings not unite, if Martians attacked this world? Sometimes I wish they did Roger
Mohammed Baluch Jul 03, 2011 02:01am
How lucky we are that we share a language with the people of North India. And with so many of us speaking English as well, that helps us bond with people of so many nations - and for those that allow it, we even go and live in their lands and adopt a second or third nationality! This way, Pakistanis can never become isolated and insulated as has been a trend of late. Reach out to the world and embrace diversity.
ali hassan Jul 03, 2011 02:44am
In the end, a dispute has a chance to settle between two parties basing on religious values / directives even having different languages but same may not be said in case the arrangement is reversed.
Baloo Jul 03, 2011 02:45am
Definitely language is more stronger bond to unite than religion. Pakistan is a prime example which was created on basis of religion but haven't been able to unite their provinces. On the other hand India was able to unite because it gave freedom of language and states were divided based on language. That is the only thing India got it right. All indians feel proud to be Indians because they are united in their language and traditions.
Azadeh Bakhtiar Jul 03, 2011 03:19am
We as Pakistani's have come to realize that there are many facets of our identity. While our Official (English) and National (Urdu) languages are both foreign to us (I think Urdu is the mother tongue of only 4 % Pakistani who are migrants/refugees from South Asia)... the vast majority of Pakistani's speak an ancient language that ties us to the historical lands which encompass the trans-indus region of Pakistan for several thousands years. As we become more educated and literate, we are re-appreciating our native languages and realizing the importance they play in our and our future generations life. We have also learned that we dont need to shove one language down one ethnic groups throat at the expense of the other. Fortunately, Pakistani's as a whole are capable of learning many languages. There is a new awakening in Pakistan, people are proud of speaking their native language of Sindhi, Panjabi, Pashto, Balochi, Seraiki etc... and at the same time are capable of conversing in English (Official Language) and Urdu (national) language allowing us to switch in order to facilitate communication. Furthermore, many Pakistanis from one province are often bilingual speakers of the language of adjacent provinces further strenghtening communications. I for one am conversant in English, Pashto, Panjabi, Persian (a little) and Urdu (Basic). Not to toot my own horn, but I think thats pretty good :)) All people of Pakistan, the municipal, provincial and federal government have a big responsibility in promiting each regions ethnic and linguistic heritage which is something we as Pakistani's need to cherish and advance. A Pakistani government that promotes Sindhi, Panjabi, Pashto, Balochi etc.. will produce a better and more proud Sindhi Pakistani, Panjabi Pakistani, Pashtoon Pakistani and Balochi Pakistani etc... We have learned to appreciate our distinct identities and the strenghts and qualities we each bring to the table. As Pakistani's we have come to realize that identity consists of multiple factors such as Religion, Language, Culture, Ethnic Group, Customs/Traditions and Social status. We can no longer just have a polarised view and label ourselves as just one or the other as that is and has failed. It took us a while to realize this but now most Pakistani's, especially amongst educated circles (eg. the rebirth of Panjabi and Pashto amongst educated sections of those provinces etc...) are placing great significance on other critical components of our Pakistani identity.
A. Jha Jul 03, 2011 03:53am
We , people of Indian sub continent and Iran have common history, ancestors, culture and language. religion changes but not ones history. Let us come together and show the world our common fatherland " Aryastan".
Narayan Jul 03, 2011 03:56am
I live in Paris and from my name its evident that I am a Hindu. My parents come from UP/Bihar but I was bought up in England. Many south Indian cafes here and the food is nice and people pleasant but I don't understand a word of Tamil. I goto to a Pakistani cafe, I can understand everything what people say and I can order my food in Hindi. Can also engage in a bit of banter with the staff. The food is like what I grew up with and fond memories of my parents come back to me. Strangely enough I feel at home with the "enemy".
Abroo Jul 03, 2011 04:16am
It is a complex question. Both language and religion are part of what is commonly referred to as culture. There are varying examples of harmony and discord in societies with multiple languages and/or religions. There are nations and peoples around the world who have shown us that peaceful coexistence between peoples of different creeds and culture is not only possible but necessary. We should look up to leaders like Mandela - who made peace with an Afrikaner minority that mistreated and tortured his people for decades, but also insured their status as equal citizens of new South Africa. That country has one of the most enlightened constitution of the world.
Romi Jul 03, 2011 04:47am
If language unites, the why are Bengalis and Punjabis divided into different countries? Fact is people who want to divide will use whatever they get their hand on, and people who don't won't. On your other point that people can be bilingual but only belong to one creed, that is a viewpoint of the so-called monotheistic religions (Christianity, Judaiism, Islam, etc.) which gets very threatened by other religions that believe in another God. But the so-called polytheistic religions (Hinduism, partly Buddhism) do not preclude praying to several Gods and do not get threatened when someone else brings along a different God from their religion. That is why Hindus are very comfortable worshiping in other religions (when you have a million gods of your own, one more doesn't threaten you), and why in Punjab, in the same household, one son can be Hindu and another can be Sikh.
ahmad Jul 03, 2011 05:03am
language played an important role in creation of bangladesh. conflicts in sind, baluchistan and pukhtunkhuwa are due to different languages the people of these provinces speak.
Faraz Jul 03, 2011 06:26am
I live abroad and whenever I meet Indians, there is this instant connection. It's not just the language it's also the culture, too, which us Pakistanis may not want to admit but is similar to India. Its just not the same with Arab people. It never goes beyond (practicing) religious rituals with the Arabs, so no doubt culture (and included in it, language) is a greater, wider, more powerful 'medium' that brings different people together. Although I doubt the Pakistanis living in Pakistan or the less traveled Pakistanis would want to agree with this, they think we are Arabs and this culture/geopolitical confusion has been one of the major problem with Pakistanis and Pakistan.
Venky Jul 03, 2011 06:48am
A very different article is these times. Thanks author. In my opinion, I think language unites people to communicate while religion unites people to be human among different language spoken of the same religion. Since you cited the example of gentleman from Kerala, I would tell you that it is the language unites Keralites because all religious people of Kerala speak Malayalam at home and outside. As for as religion uniting people, look at the way people behave when Hindus travel criss-cross India to visit temples from Bhadrinath to Rameshwaram. So, to me anything unites people in a humane way is welcome.
sharma Jul 03, 2011 07:07am
Hope someday we Indians and Pakistanis have sense enough to not try blow the other away but to live in peace and find food and health for your poor.
gonsalves Jul 03, 2011 07:31am
Funny. South Asians hate each other. In Canada or Germany or Antarctica Religion or language nothing will. Unites them. They always have reasons to hate each other.
Nazeer A. Baloch Jul 03, 2011 07:42am
the native language is stronger than country language.It is not necessary that speaking a common language in country is soul bridge of bonding . the language which represents our land,culture and history has extreme attraction.
R.K Mohindra Jul 03, 2011 08:13am
Mr Saad Waraich, I could not have said it better. Language is a far stronger bond.
Shakeel.Quddus Jul 03, 2011 08:28am
When Gandhi was in South Africa in the early 20th century fighting for the Indian labour under the assault by the most ferocious racial regime, he was flabbergasted. He saw a community under siege divided along the same lines--religious, ethnic and cast. Rather than stay united and survive, the Indians split the way Indians always split and always had been splitting. What was true in South Africa is not an exception. This is part of the great tragedy of the Indian sub-continent historically. In the American revolutionary war, the military General George Washington insisted, as a defensive measure, to put Americans on the field. Within two hundred years of the founding of the American republic, Americans already had a developed sense of what constitutes an American. Gandhi died without experiencing a developed sense among Indians, not in South Africa, but in India
pradeep Jul 03, 2011 08:35am
I will have to start with an anecdote: In mid-nineties, I was in Karachi for the first time. My host was a Mohajir – instant connection with someone who comes from that land that is about Ganga maiya and jhula on the peepal ki per. The person I was set up to drive me spoke no English and at a certain point, I looked at a commercial hoarding, asked him to translate the text. He absolutely fell from the sky: " Saab, aap Urdu bol sakte hain, padh nehin sakte hain?" He did not realize, I was a native of India as we continued chatting in our common language. I do not think people feel closeness because of the language alone but because it represents a way of thinking and a lot of shared experiences - otherwise known as culture. This is why when a Punjabi Pakistani and a Punjabi Hindu Indian have so much in common as have an Indian Bengali and a Bangladeshi Bengali. This is also why, even inside India, I would have (as a native Bengali) more in common with people from the North –despite the fact that we do not speak the same language but we share so much together while South Indian experiences stand apart ( even though in this day, a lot of things are changing because of closer connectivity). Finally, as a fluent Italian speaker -if I meet an Italian outside Italy, I am immediately drawn to him/her despite the fact that by no stretch of imagination, I look like one. Same thing happens, when I meet a fellow US citizen, our common experiences (culture) added to the shared language cements our bond. Of course, Pakistan is also my place!
San Sar Jul 03, 2011 09:18am
Language is one of the main reasons that that Bangledesh (East Pakistan) chose to separate. Jinnah's attempt to replace Bengali with Urdu was one of the early causes of discontent.
sandeep limaye Jul 03, 2011 09:45am
i dream of the world in which any individual can choose any religion of his choice. in one family i want that if father wants to be Hindu he may be if his wants to be christen she may be if his daughter wants to be Jew she may be if his son wants to Muslim he may be. all praying to god in his or her own way but still living like a good family. religion should be choice of individual not forced by society or family. if grandfather of this family feels that all this religious talks are nonsence and there is no god he should be free to hold his view with due respect
sab Jul 03, 2011 11:51am
Think of religion, creed, ethnicity, nation as the different layers we wear. While language is the core that lets us exchange our thoughts and ideas. We can decide how much of each ingredient above constitutes our main identity. Or ask ourselves what aspects of life enrich it further and should be given how much importance. For me language scores higher than most of my other identities, but for someone else religion may score higher. As long as it helps one to understand the others rather than feel alienated or superior over the differences.
sharma Jul 03, 2011 12:34pm
Religion, language race, sex, caste are all excuses that humans find to kill the other. DOnt people of same religion fight and kill? After religion becomes same, sects appear then subsects. the real issue is 'us and them". Listen to this song by Pink Floyd for the untimate gyan. Those who think that religion will unite the humanity and eradicate all wars are wrong because religion is just an excuse and not the cause. We can find n number of excuses to kill the 'other'.
sharma Jul 03, 2011 01:44pm
India cannot be defined by one definition other than that it is diverse and yet it is connected. The problem happens when people of Indian subcontinent start forgetting their subcontinental roots. it doesnt happen in Malaysia or Indonesia. It has happened with Indian MUslims only.
kumar Jul 03, 2011 02:23pm
Language can create a long-lasting bond, which religion cannot. I am a south Indian and am always annoyed when I read elsewhere about the supposedly sameness of Indian and Pakistani culture. What they really should be saying is that North Indian and Pakistani cultures are same, and not use the phrase 'Indian culture'. The differences in cultures of South India and North India are too wide for them to be taken as a singular 'Indian culture'. And I believe in the role of language, in shaping the culture, to be the primary factor for the differences.
Secular Jul 03, 2011 04:00pm
Difference between language and religion: We think language is here to serve us whereas we think we are here to serve our religion. Once we decide that religion is here to serve us and connect with our inner self (and that we are not here to serve our religion) , then all religious wars will hopefully stop.
Jay Jul 04, 2011 10:35am
Simply saying salaam to a co-religionist or feeling for him for a fleeting moment on the airport hardly means anything. Can you co-exist with him is a more pertinent question.
Ejaz Jul 04, 2011 10:57am
'Butan-e Rang o Khun to tord kar millat main gum hoja Na torani rahe baqi na irani na afgani' Iqbal
Zarrar Paloba Jul 04, 2011 11:41am
Without going into any controversy, may I add that we as Indians had our share of serious problems, while remaining united. You have absolutely wrong perception of Indian Muslim psche. We are patriotic and our love for our country is beyond any doubt. It is sad that minorities any where in the world live under the fear of loosing their identity.
Khan Wali Jul 04, 2011 12:21pm
Urdu was not the language of west Pakistan, Its the language linking whole the Sub continent.
Azhar Jul 04, 2011 12:37pm
Language is a stronger bond for superficial people; religion is the stronger bond for those who think.
dg88 Jul 04, 2011 12:48pm
Religion is a personal affair while language is a social thing. So religion binds us with our creator while language and culture bind us with each other. Being an Indian and living in the US, I have seen pakistanis who have high affinity towards indian punjabis. But somehow it has gotten into the head of pakistanis that they are closer to Arabs. Also, I have seen Indians being separate into linguistic groups, but rarely will you find animosities.
Tajammal Jul 04, 2011 12:48pm
Urdu was the language of whole Hindustan at that time specially Muslims. Jinnah was wanted to unite his nation on one language.
Uzair Jul 04, 2011 12:51pm
Urdu was the language of whole Hindustan at that time specially Muslims. Jinnah was wanted to unite his nation on one language.
brijesh Jul 04, 2011 01:04pm
Sorry! Urdu was what??? Urdu was hardly present in the south and in the north only in patches. I think language more than religion defines us most. Having said that, its a wonder that contemporary India is united.
analysis Jul 04, 2011 01:06pm
As per the analysis of comments on this topic I see that 100% Indians think that language is more important than religion while about 60% Pakistanis believe that religion is more important. Those 40% Pakistanis who believe that religion doesnot matter are mostly in USA or out side Pakistan.This assessment itself points to the chances of how soon we can expect peace in the subcontinent. I guess there will be peace eventually but doesnt look like its an easy road!!!!
Sam Jul 04, 2011 02:06pm
If Muslims in Pakistan feel so close due to language, why did they split the country ? South Indians did not ask for a split, eventhough they are far, as per this article. This article, is very shallow.. eventhough it has some good data and information..
Yamini Jul 04, 2011 02:31pm
Urdu - the language of all muslims ? You must be joking. 90% of the Pakistanis' great-grandfathers would have spoken their local language and knew little or no Urdu. Even Jinnah didnt know Urdu and spoke only Gujrati and English.
M.Shafi Noorani Jul 04, 2011 02:38pm
Yes we here in all over Turkey enjoyed a bonanza "The 9th Turkish Language Olympiad ", in which more than a thousand students from Turkish Schools all over the world ( roughly from 130 countries ) participated to show their talent in songs , music, turkish folk lore and even talk show surprisingly all in Turkish Language. Their performances were applauded by the public and it was a true example of friendship bonded by the language and not the religion.
ghazala ashref Jul 04, 2011 03:46pm
It depends on the way we think. Religion becomes strongest bond for those who prefer religion over language and language becomes for those who prefer language and culture over religion.
Mohammad Ali khan Jul 04, 2011 07:14pm
Language is more important,because all major religions have started in the spoken language of the locals.
Mohammad Ali khan Jul 05, 2011 02:46am
014.004 YUSUFALI: We sent not a messenger except (to teach) in the language of his (own) people, in order to make (things) clear to them. Now Allah leaves straying those whom He pleases and guides whom He pleases: and He is Exalted in power, full of Wisdom.
shiva Jul 05, 2011 01:02pm
A common language is needed for communication - beyond that it is shared experiences, thinking, and commonalities of interests that create bonds. Linguistic chauvanism ("I truly belong to this language, you do not", "My language is the best in the world", etc.) are just as bad as religious extremism. I speak 6 languages (from 3 unrelated linguistic families) and am sure each language is beautiful in its own way - and have seen barrriers to bonding with people who look nothing like me drop away as I speak with them in their language. At the higher level, note: the speech-impaired folks bond too with ordinary folks; and every dog-owner believes he/she can truly communicate and bond with his/her "man's best friend"!
Shahid Ashraf Jul 05, 2011 04:23pm
Dear Sharma and Zarrar, I sort of agree with both of you. While Sharma is right that Indian Muslims confused themselves by forgetting their ancestral binding and link with the Indian or subcontinental root... It happened because when the British came here and they introduced their own system of governance, the Muslims who ruled for thousand years on India suddenly started to feeling like minority and in their desperation linked themselves with the larger Muslim community (based on religion) i.e. the Muslim Ummah... I think this is where they made a mistake! They would have continued their struggle for political rights as Indians rather than Muslims - I guess. This also makes the point that I agree with the writer that language makes stronger bond than religion!