ISLAMABAD: While linguists agree that there are around 70 major languages which are spoken in Pakistan, last year’s population census had only collected data about only six of them, effectively whitewashing them in the single largest demographic record of the country.
Apart from Urdu and four provincial languages, Seraiki was the sixth option available on census forms, pointed out speakers at a session titled ‘Census and Mother Languages’ on the first day of the Mother Languages Literature Festival at Lok Virsa on Saturday.
They said that information collected by enumerators was incomplete since speakers of major languages such as Hindko or Brahvi were listed under the monolithic option of ‘others’.
“Around 18-21 per cent of the population of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa speaks Hindko, but it [language] was not included in the language options given on the [census] form,” complained Seraiki writer Akram Mirani.
“Brahvi, a Dravidian language, was also excluded. These two languages should have been included in the forms,” he argued.
Mirani also questioned the authenticity of the census findings since they showed that only 4.5 per cent people living in the Punjab and 0.1 per cent of the people living in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) spoke Urdu.
“There is no effort to collect accurate data. The census enumerators were also not trained and sensitised on the language issue,” he claimed.
Panelists further said that the inclusion of a few major languages in the census form did not raise their prospects.
“We have listed these languages in the census form but the question is, when will the state recognise them and impart education to kids in their mother tongue,” asked Jami Chandio, a Sindhi writer.
He said that the people of Sindh have for long struggled to get their identity cards in Sindhi.
Chandio further emphasised that a language was not only a means of communication but also entails an entire culture and history spanning hundreds of years of evolution. He said the solution to the language issue in Pakistan was to amend the Constitution and make Urdu the state language, English the official language while major languages could be declared as national languages, according them the recognition they deserved.
The speakers also lamented the way Punjabi speaking families, particularly in major cities, were surrendering their mother tongue in favour of Urdu.
Last year’s census had shown that there were as many as 207 million people living in Pakistan. The door-to-door exercise, however, was criticized for ignoring languages which are spoken in entire regions such as Shina and Burushaski in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2018.