Punjab Notes: Mother language, people and politicians


Last week International Mother Language Day was celebrated all over Pakistan which reflected a rich linguistic diversity we can rightly be proud of. In Punjab’s major cities seminars, cultural performances and walks were organised in support of mother language with a flourish once again reminding the power wielders that people have organic and ineluctable link with the language which is different from theirs. The Punjabi pack of political wolves is in a way caricature of a real Czar who had the French as his court language. One of his courtiers said: ‘your majesty, you are the Czar of Russia. Why don’t you speak Russian’? ‘Who says I don’t speak Russian? I talk to my horses in Russian in the stables’, shot back the Czar. Could anyone in the court imagine that the Russian, derided and ridiculed, when owned, would produce Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy? The Czar’s insouciance could be excused as he had no literary tradition of the Russian language to take pride in. The Punjabi philistines cannot be pardoned for the contempt they have for their mother language that has a glorious literary tradition starting from the 11th century onward.

The highlight of the celebrations was the public meeting organised by Pakistan Punjabi Adabi Board at Shimla Pahari, Lahore, in collaboration with a host of cultural bodies spread across Punjab. The board had sought the permission from the local authorities to hold the meeting at Nasser Bagh which was refused at the eleventh hour i.e. in the evening of February 20. The pretext was the security concerns.

Everyone knows all the political and religious parties including the banned outfits are allowed by these very authorities to use this venue and take out rallies on The Mall. The reasons given for not allowing the peaceful intelligentsia and the cultural bodies to hold a public meeting cannot hide the thinly concealed insidious intent of the Punjab government. It in fact made an attempt to sabotage the peaceful and legitimate cultural activity that had a universal dimension. Though not unexpected but still surprising was the attitude of the chief minister who on the question of the Punjab’s mother language proved to be an ‘Amir-e-Ala’ instead of ‘Khadam-e-Ala’. The question of people’s language and culture never fails to give the Muslim League (N) heebie-jeebies whenever it’s raised. It’s in dread though falsely of being dubbed as parochial by their opponents in other provinces who proudly own their languages and cultures.

Despite all the hurdles the public meeting in support of people’s linguistic rights did take place at Shimla Pahari which has become a sort of Lahore’s Hyde Park. Different segments of society came together.

Writers, cultural activists, students, teachers, lawyers, human rights campaigners, workers, trade union leaders, artists, singers and politicians gathered in a show of solidarity. It was heartening to see that a sizable number of culture conscious people braved long distances to be there. They came all the way from Sahiwal, Pakpattan, Bahawalnagar, Faisalabad, Jhang, Chinot, Sargodha, Nankana Sahib, Sheikhupura, Gujranwala, Kasur, Rawalpindi, Multan and other small towns.

Has the slogan the assembly raised been reported to you Mr. Chief Minister? If not, here it is; ‘Saada haqq ethe rakh (Give us our right, here and now). And they were not crying for moon. What they demanded was that their mother language/languages be introduced as a compulsory subject from primary to graduate level. The positive development this year was that some of the mainstream political parties not only supported the demand but also participated in the meeting.

Ejaz Chaudhry of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, Mian Imran Masood of Pakistan Muslim League(Q) and Mohammad Shamim Iqbal, general secretary, National Labour Federation (associated with Jamat-i-Islami) addressed the gathering and demanded that the teaching of the mother language be introduced without further delay. Pakistan Muslim League (N) which claims to represent the people of Punjab stayed away for the reasons cited above. The most conspicuous by its absence was Pakistan Peoples Party which rightly takes credit for drafting the 1973 Constitution that got rid of linguistic conundrum and paved the way for the official recognition of the Pakistani languages. Its leader, Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, who behaves like an intellectual among politicians and politician among intellectuals, did not appear at the scene despite his commitment to address the gathering. He was busy, his SMS read, entertaining his guests at a lunch. No wonder the People’s Party has gone down the drain.

An unusual speaker, Sahibzada Sultan Ahmed Ali, one of the descendents of great classical poet Sultan Bahu, cheered the crowd with his chaste Punjabi when he said that hundreds of years back his forefather chose mother language for his creative expression.

The leaders of Muttahida Qaumi Movement in a function on the occasion of Mother Language Day in Karachi took highly rational and pro-people stand on the complex issue of language that needs to be appreciated. They declared that Pakistani languages be given official status and the national language, Urdu, which happens to be their mother tongue, be not confused with any faith, religion or ideology.

‘This is the year which people will talk about/ this is the year which people will be silent about’.

Remember gentlemen at the helm in Punjab, the people will talk about the leaders who supported the cause of mother language this year. The people will be silent about the leaders who opposed it. And people’s silence surely can kill leaders.