Promotion of Mother Languages

Promotion of

The Case of Punjabi

Compelled by our social and economic needs, we have become so used to learning different languages that we have made them our household languages, but at the expense of our mother tongues. However, giving their due status is a pressing national need. As speakers of the Punjabi language, we are probably the last generation that has learned this language from our elders, but we have failed to pass on this precious asset to the next generation. Due to this reason, Punjabi is getting out of our homes as a recent study suggests that during the past two decades, the number of Punjabi speakers has declined by 5.5 percentage points. As per the figures quoted in the fifth national census (1998), 75.23% of the population of Punjab spoke this language but the number has declined to 69.67% as per the results of the 2017 census. This growing neglect of and disregard for the Punjabi language is not limited only to Punjab, rather the number of its speakers has fallen in other provinces as well. The number of Punjabi speakers all over the country has dropped from 44.15% to 37.78% during the same period — it was 48.17% according to the 1982 national headcount.

These figures ring the alarm bells and if we do not pay heed to this, we may fail in saving Punjabi from extinction. The gravity of the situation can be gauged from another angle; a large number of people who consider Punjabi their mother tongue do not converse in it with members of their family. They are only documented as Punjabi-speakers while they actually are not; they are only paper Punjabis.
The Punjabi language spoken in Pakistan is still the 20th most spoken language in the world. According to “Languages of the World (23rd edition), which is published by a US-based research center ‘Ethnologue’, the most authoritative resource on world languages, the number of speakers of Punjabi language in Pakistan – identified as the Western Punjabi – is 83 million. But, it is heart-wrenching to note that owing to individual, collective, institutional and governmental slackness, this beautiful language, which has a proud vast wealth of literature, is seeing a downfall. Why and how we have come to this stage? To know the answer to this critical question, Jahangir’s World Times sought the opinions of senior as well as young activists who are vociferously advocating the cause of promotion of the Punjabi language. Here is what they said:
1. Praveen Malik
Parveen Malik is a well-known and highly-respected writer and an authority on the Punjabi language. She is a novelist, poetess, broadcaster, translator, publisher and media personality. Malik is a recipient of several prestigious literary awards and distinctions including Waris Shah and Baba Fareed Awards. She has authored two books of Punjabi short stories Kee Jaana Main Kon (1984) and Nikkay Nikkay Dukh (2004). Her autobiography ‘Kasiyan da Pani’ was published in 2016. She is currently serving as Secretary, Punjabi Adabi Board, Lahore, which is a leading organization promoting Punjabi language and culture in Pakistan. In recognition of her meritorious services to the Punjabi language, she was awarded Tamgha-e-Imtiaz by the Government of Pakistan in 2017.
Parveen Malik said: “After the Urdu language was declared the medium of instruction in schools of Punjab, there has been a significant time span when people conversed in Punjabi while reading and writing was done in Urdu. There was no compulsion as to what language one should speak. So, the contradictions were not so conspicuous and a considerable number of Punjabi speakers existed. The real problem started when some anti-Punjabi people or groups directed the schools to strictly ensure that their students speak only the Urdu language. When you kick a language out of mainstream education, and make its speakers feel that their language is an inferior one, then the number of its speakers will surely decline. The biggest stumbling block in the way of the promotion of the Punjabi language were the policymakers who were born, unfortunately, in Punjab but they never owned their motherland. At present, around 10% of people in Punjab can somehow read a text written in Punjabi, but when a language is not allowed to make it to the curriculum of even a primary school, how would you ensure that people are able enough to write in it? Unless Punjabi is taught as a compulsory subject in all schools and colleges – from primary to at least graduation level – there can be no betterment in the situation.” She added: “Since 1976, the Punjabi Adabi Board has, besides publishing books, conducted numerous seminars and other such events to make the governments realise that a popular language cannot be suppressed. It is highly encouraging that due to the efforts of the Board and other such organizations, there is a growing realization of giving Punjabi its due status and people are becoming aware of the significance of the mother tongue. This is just a step in the right direction and I am pretty hopeful that we will soon achieve our goals.”
2. Dr Mushtaq Adil Kathia
A teacher by profession, Dr Mushtaq Adil Kathia is the head of the Urdu department at Sialkot University. Although he heads the Urdu department, yet Punjabi is his forte and he is a strong advocate of it. Author of 9 well-received books, Dr Kathia is always at the forefront in publishing books, organizing conferences and mushairas (poetry meets) of Punjabi language. He is the chairman of the prestigious Mahkain Punjab Adbi Board. Dr Kathia says: “It is a sad reality that most literate people in our country consider speaking and writing in Punjabi improper, rather a disgrace. A wrong perception has developed in our society that those who speak Punjabi are underdeveloped or illiterate. Due to this reason, the trend of writing, reading and speaking in Punjabi is on the decline. I think, only 10% of Punjabis today can read the Punjabi language and I am saying this on the basis of my own experience. I have been publishing the Quarterly Mehkaan for the last 15 years and a weekly newspaper Punjabi Chanan and I know how much interest people take in these publications. They admire the newspaper for its design and layout but say they cannot read the Punjabi language. Despite that, I insist and urge them to at least try reading that because I feel reading and writing in Punjabi is not that difficult for a person who can do these tasks in Urdu.” Dr Kathia opines that in order to increase people’s proficiency in the Punjabi language, we must make it a part of the school syllabus. Moreover, the government should support and patronize those who write books in this language, and facilitate their publication as well. If a medical or science or history book is translated into Punjabi, it must be published by the government and then these should be sent to libraries in schools, colleges and universities all over the country. He said. “A language grows and develops only when people’s livelihoods are attached to it. If education in Punjabi is popularized and the young men and women who have studied in Punjabi will have ample job opportunities, people will automatically turn towards it.”
3. Dr Jameel Ahmad Paul
A retired professor and publisher of the daily newspaper ‘Lokai’, as well as an ardent supporter and active worker of Punjabi language and literature, Dr Jameel Ahmad Paul rues the fact that literacy rates are very low in Pakistan. He says, “A careful estimate suggests that based on international standards, only 25% of Pakistan’s population can be called literate. In Pakistan, most people living in rural areas are illiterate. The government adds 2-4% in the previous ratio to give a positive impression that Pakistan has around 60% literacy rate. If we take it as true, then the literate population of Punjab should be able to read a Punjabi text as Urdu, the medium of education in Pakistan, is written on Persian script and the same script is used in Punjabi as Shahmukhi.” Responding to the question as to what role the Punjabi press can play in the promotion of this language, Dr Paul said, “We should use the word ‘Punjabi media’ rather than ‘Punjabi press’. The Punjabi press can play a significant in the promotion of Punjabi but, unfortunately, media all over the world is also in crisis nowadays as the press is being increasingly taken over by the electronic media and those who were used to reading printed newspapers are turning to their online versions.
4. Masood Malhi
A well-known name in Punjabi broadcasting, Masood Malhi is the recipient of Masood Khaddarposh Award (2016) that was conferred on him for his glorious services in the domain of broadcasting, and of Mehkaan Award in 2013. He is affiliated with Radio Pakistan since 1997 and has been a part of the world’s largest Punjabi radio network “Punjab Radio USA” for the last eleven years. Besides, he has been working with Punjabi service, i.e. Punjabi SBS, of Radio Australia since 2013 and, during this period, he has interviewed over 180 different renowned personalities for this service. His book of Punjabi poetry is in the final stages. Masood Malhi has dedicated all his talent to the promotion of the Punjabi language since 2003 and is a strong advocate of making Punjabi not only the official language of Punjab but also an integral part of education.
Masood Malhi says, “In the contemporary world, media is a powerful and effective tool to convey your thoughts and aspirations to others. In the domain of electronic media, radio is the one that has historic importance. The popularity of voices presenting radio programs in Punjabi is the touchstone to measure that of the programs. These voices are making new records of public appreciation and popularity. Although these radio programs are the true representation of the Punjabi language, yet it is a sad reality that the channels in private as well as public sector have failed to live up to the expectations attached to them in this regard. We should have promoted Punjab, Punjabi and Punjabism from this medium, but we made them comedy shows wherein jesters would jest at one another just to gain popularity. It is due to this reason that programs of international Punjabi radios have been unable to gain ground in our society. Moreover, we have shown a complete disregard to modern trends in this field.” Masood says that promoting the Punjabi language is the responsibility of all the Punjabis and the government should also play its role in this regard. “It is high time we realized that giving mother languages their due status is a pressing need of the hour. Unless we implement Punjabi as a medium of education, the number of its speakers will continue to decline in the coming years,” he said.
5. Saba Pervaiz Kiyani
Ms Kiyani runs a YouTube channel “Khojo” where she discusses the various topics related to the history, culture of Punjab as well as different social issues. She aspires to preserve the Punjabi language for future generations by making apt use of social media. She opines: “Social media has elevated communication to a very different level. Through it, our own individual thoughts are being conveyed to the people without any censorship. Social media outlets are playing a constructive role in the promotion of our language, music, literature and culture. As a Punjabi YouTuber, I am confident that social media have been instrumental in introducing our younger generation to Punjabi.” She urged the female students of colleges and universities to speak in the Punjabi language as it is the only way to keep this beautiful language preserved for future generations.
6. Abrar Nadeem
Noted poet, columnist and broadcaster, Abrar Nadeem, is a senior producer at Radio Pakistan and he also conducts Punjabi shows from the platform of FM 101. He is delighted at the fact that the popularity of Punjabi poetry, stories, novels and prose has become more popular than it was in the past, though it is happening at a slow pace. He points out that films made in Indian Punjab are earning huge public appreciation on our part as well and it is an encouraging sign for the future of the Punjabi language. He says, “I don’t feel that the Punjabi language can be extinct in the near future due to the growing popularity of Punjabi films and music.”
7. Ali Usman Bajwa
Ali is a young Punjabi activist and short story writer. He is also a writer and director of films and two of his short films have won huge critical appreciation and awards. On the need to promote the Punjabi language, he says, “Like all other languages of the world, the promotion of the Punjabi language is imperative. Since the history of Punjab is linked with this language, if it goes extinct, all the history and rich literature it proudly possesses will be erased from the face of the earth. Promoting this language is the collective responsibility of the people and the government. Moreover, world organizations that are working in this domain should also come forward to play their indispensable role in this regard.” He also suggests that Punjabi should be made a compulsory subject from primary up to graduation level.
8. Dr Iftikhar Ahmed Baig
Noted educationist Dr Baig says it is an undeniable reality that children learn things more easily in their mother tongue than in any other language. So, to increase the pass percentages of students, Punjabi should be made the medium of education. He says, “The developed nations trod the development path successfully just because they made their native languages the medium of education. We have lagged behind them because we ignored this secret of success. Kids can learn better in their mother tongue and when you foist any other language on them, that would be an additional burden and they will not be easy with that. This is the reason behind the high dropout ratio in Pakistan. If we want to increase literacy rates in our country, we will have to make mother tongues the medium of at least primary education.” Dr Baig laments that we do not take pride in speaking the Punjabi language. He was rueful of the decision by a famous chain of private schools that prohibited the use of Punjabi by saying that it was a foul language.
9. Nawaz Tahir
Senior journalist Nawaz Tahir has been covering the proceedings of the Punjab Assembly since 1985. Commenting on the role and performance of the provincial legislature in the promotion of the Punjabi language, he informed that the national language in Punjab Assembly is Urdu while English is the official language that is used for correspondence. However, a member of the Assembly may speak in English or his/her mother tongue with permission from the honourable speaker of the house. He says, “Apart from one or two resolutions, as a provincial legislature, the role of Punjab Assembly in making Punjabi a part of the educational system has not been satisfactory. I can’t remember any significant resolution or bill in the provincial assembly that has been moved to include Punjabi as an integral part of the educational syllabi in Punjab, as it was done in Sindh.” He says that other than Hanif Ramay, Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi, Fazal Husain Rahi, Abdur Rashid Bhatti, and late Syed Nazim Hussain Shah (for Seraiki language), no legislator has made any speech or moved a bill or resolution that can be considered of historical importance.
According to the United Nations, every two weeks, a language goes extinct with all its treasure troves of knowledge and culture. We have to save Punjabi from meeting this fate. As a popular proverb goes “where there’s a will there’s a way,” we have to translate our love for the Punjabi language into its practical use in our daily conversations – at homes, schools, bazaars, and offices. This is the only way to make Punjabi a language that not only lives but also thrives.

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