The judiciary and the language divide

Published: August 11, 2012
The writer is Director South Asian Media School, Lahore

The writer is Director South Asian Media School, Lahore

In a recent TV discussion, my favourite lawyer, Salman Akram Raja, expressed surprise over the fact that 80 per cent of the opinion published in the English-medium press was not in favour of our activist Supreme Court. On the other hand, in the realm of Urdu, there was a near consensus on the decisions of the honourable Court. Raja is wonderfully bilingual and is persuasive in both languages.

Gradually, Pakistan has moved to the Urdu episteme. The last brick laid on this edifice was the prevalence of Urdu television channels and the failure of English-language channels to survive financially. This is an uncomfortable development because the job market still fights shy of Urdu-only graduates. If you know English, you can go far and even qualify for a job at the global level. The paradox here is that just as globalisation latched on to Pakistan, the media has turned inward through Urdu.

The Urdu-English gulf was always there but it never became lethal because the media market was dominated by print journalism. If you wrote a column in English, you got paid more and the bureaucrat read only English opinion to avoid getting punished through public accountability. The Urdu journalist got paid less for just one simple reason: the manpower supply and demand situation went against him. This had a significant effect on how the state thought about itself. Let us see how that came about.

The language of Pakistani nationalism is Urdu. The market in Urdu-medium education is dominated by the state. Urdu as vehicle of expression is strongly grounded in poetry and passionate expression. Modern knowledge, dominated by economics and its insidious message of opportunism rather than ideology, has not penetrated Urdu. The English-medium education market is and was penetrated by Christian missionary schools with foreign-based exam systems that accepted fundamentalist ideology with some reluctance. The big factor in favour of English was that after matriculation, most disciplines of knowledge were taught in English.

The rise of the TV channel has also been the conversion of the Urdu columnist into TV anchor. The Urdu columnist embraces a number of beliefs uniformly. He tends to be anti-West and anti-IMF while discussing the national economy. He believes in a global conspiracy against Islam in general and against Pakistan in particular and he believes that the United States is leading this assault against the Muslims of the world in league with the Hindus of India.

He is a hawk while discussing relations with India and attacks the moderate writers mostly located in the English-language print media. He believes that the liberal community in Pakistan is traitorous and that all NGOs working in the country are agents of foreign enemies of the state. He attacks the concept of human rights as contained in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and usually sides with the clergy on contentious issues.

If usage establishes discourse, then why hasn’t Urdu’s discourse conformed to the same criterion as that of English, which is logical and sequential? Why is the discourse of Urdu still non-linear, if linearity is the hallmark of functional prose?

Urdu expresses Pakistani nationalism more effectively than English even as it copes badly with the national economy. The economy undermines nationalism through the compulsion of its external linkages. Therefore, in Urdu, it is quite possible to look at the compulsions of international trade as a violation of nationalism and state sovereignty. Since nationalism in all forms has a strong xenophobic underpinning, Urdu is also efficient in xenophobic formulations.

My friend Raja knows that the judiciary is conservative and literalist, close to the mindset of the value microcosmic of the Urdu.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (38)

  • Zalim Singh
    Aug 11, 2012 - 10:54PM

    he believes that the United States is leading this assault against the Muslims of the world in league with the Hindus of India.

    dear sir, you forgot Jews.Recommend

  • entropy
    Aug 11, 2012 - 11:07PM

    Khalid sahib, do you have anything good to say about Pakistan at all? If I felt like this about a country I would emigrate as soon as possible. Recommend

  • Ejaaz
    Aug 11, 2012 - 11:09PM

    Khaled Sahib,
    You have just outlined why it is going to be impossible for the Pakistani state to survive. The pakistani young who could find opportunities abroad were all from English medium education and they have left Pakistan. They miss Pakistan but they are unwilling to come back. They are lost to Pakistan. The Urdu medium educated are functionally illiterate as far the globalized modern world of science and engineering is concerned, and that is who we are left with here. Running the state on emotionalism and symbolism drawn from the Islamic middle ages is not a recipe for success.


  • C. Nandkishore
    Aug 11, 2012 - 11:24PM

    Oh oh. Another way of find the mindset of the Judiciary. Good. Good. Never thought of this angle.


  • asim
    Aug 12, 2012 - 12:14AM

    I think a lot of articles written in english are meant not for pakistani public.


  • Aug 12, 2012 - 12:19AM

    But in the judiciary all are educated in English medium,


  • UK Academic
    Aug 12, 2012 - 12:33AM

    The shift from English to Urdu as the main language shows up in the poor knowledge of English amongst many Pakistani students coming to UK for postgraduate courses and research. My worst experience was two Pakistani Ph D Research students, sponsored by Pakistan Government agencies, who could hardly put together a correct sentence of English!


  • s shah
    Aug 12, 2012 - 1:08AM

    Excellent article. Well said!


  • Khurram Khalid
    Aug 12, 2012 - 1:30AM

    Despite Salman Akram Raja’ eloquence he is quite annoying when he gives his ‘qualified’ justification of the ‘independent’ judiciary.


  • kaalchakra
    Aug 12, 2012 - 4:03AM

    Pakistan’s national language is Urdu. Pakistan’s culture is Urdu. Pakistan’s pride is Urdu. Why does the author look down his nose upon Urdu and Pakistani people who love the most beautiful language of Urdu.

    English medium types have a very useful role to play outside of Pakistan. They can support the nation from the outside and protect it from its external enemies. Any conflict and disagreement between Urdu medium native Pakistani people and English medium elite layer is neither needed nor desirable.


  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Aug 12, 2012 - 4:38AM

    After a brief nap in which you wrote previous two articles, once again you have regained your excellent form. I think after condemning expatriates, next move is, or should be against English language. Its the root of all our problems.


  • Dr Khan
    Aug 12, 2012 - 7:06AM

    Before the British came here the way we thought belonged to the dark ages. (My mullah friends this is the truth.) The English language provided a medium through which we could leap frog centuries of intellectual development. What took the west thousands of years to achieve we can do by learning English and accessing the ideas of Descartes or Charles Darwin. Urdu has limited modes of expression more suited emotional expresion like poetry as the author rightly identifies. All languages can evolve but urdu cannot evolve because the majority of the people in Pakistan do not want to evolve. I hope the impetus for language evolution comes India and we leap frog of their efforts. So in the future we may be able to articulate complex abstract ideas in our own mother tongues.


  • sabi
    Aug 12, 2012 - 11:01AM

    Well said-Now let us speak some plain truth.Reality is, establishment of this country can control ten to twenty percent of population but can not eighty to ninty percent of population.There is a sort of muk- muka(settelment) between upper classes and establishmet as udhar tum idhar ham.That’s why we see uniformity of thoughts in urdu media to serve special purpose i.e sequrity state.Elephant has two set of teeth!
    brilliant article,kudos.


  • dr khan
    Aug 12, 2012 - 12:38PM

    its shame thar urdu rather hindi or hindustani is spoken by only 6 percent of pakistani population,has been imposed upon us at the cost of my mother tongue,very well written urdu media is taleban friendly and unaware of world complexities,let s promote true pakistan through english,sindhi,punjabi balochi and pushto.


  • Tarique
    Aug 12, 2012 - 1:34PM

    A good read but I must say that not just the language affects one’s behaviour but other factors also contribute to this change.
    Even in Britain,class division exists.Here out of 25 supreme court judges,more than 20 judges are from private schools and in our supreme court mostly judges are from Urdu Medium schools so see the stark difference.


  • elementary
    Aug 12, 2012 - 5:07PM

    @UK Academic: It’s a shame that we guage someone’s mental capacities in terms of his ability to speak english.Students concerned may have excellent scientific minds, and right aptitude towards knowledge,but their lack of english language understanding makes them unsuitable;in your eyes.


  • Anonymous
    Aug 12, 2012 - 5:27PM

    Khalid saheb, in short urdu media is true custodian of zia legacy with few exceptions.
    Fortunately people educated in their mother tongue know this difference very well.
    Idea worth to be said again and again.


  • Abid Mehmood
    Aug 12, 2012 - 5:34PM

    Excellent comparison


  • entropy
    Aug 12, 2012 - 7:05PM

    Something I’ve never been able to understand is how Pakistani Punjabis have managed to persuade themselves that Urdu is a different language to Hindi or Hindustani. And that how they have been persuaded to give up their own much richer language and literature for Hindi-Hindustani. Hardly anyone questions this bizarre state of affairs. It is totally baffling. Maybe Khalid Ahmed sahib can shed some light on this?


  • Imtiaz Mehmood
    Aug 12, 2012 - 8:28PM

    Either we raise the level of Urdu or discard it to any case if its not going to live up the challanges of modern world, it would be discarded to dustbin..the urdu media starts with a story about Hazrat Umar’s period to write about judiciary…In english its is either american jurisprudence or Justice katju, the difference is in front of us.


  • Dr Khan
    Aug 12, 2012 - 8:47PM

    Can you translate a book on general relativity into urdu ? Can you translate Immanuel Kant into urdu ? How about number theory ? Currently Urdu lacks the terminology, the modes of expression to do it. You will find such works by Bengalis. The Bengalis have done such things because they have a intellectual culture which we frankly lack. They have made an effort to develop their language which we cannot for ideological reasons.


  • Arifq
    Aug 12, 2012 - 8:54PM

    Khaled Sahib Urdu maybe the medium of education but regional languages are very different, maybe you can comment on this aspect in your next piece. Thanks


  • gp65
    Aug 12, 2012 - 10:10PM

    @elementary: “@UK Academic: It’s a shame that we guage someone’s mental capacities in terms of his ability to speak english.Students concerned may have excellent scientific minds, and right aptitude towards knowledge,but their lack of english language understanding makes them unsuitable;in your eyes.”
    This person did not say anything about the students’ overall skill – just with their English language proficiency. Surely if these students are to get their Ph.D. degrees in UK, it is reasonable to pass judgment n their English proficiency?

    One related area where I would be interested in learning about the practice in PAkistan since I do not know. What is the medium of instruction for science and engineering in Pakistani colleges? In India higher science degrees are taught in English only.
    Even people who study in Hindi/Gujarati/Marathi medium upto matriculation have to shift to English if they want to study science/engineering in college. The reason is our local languages simply do not have adequate vocabulary for most scientific terms. In light of this the students struggle the first couple of years in college but subsequently become proficient in English because to begin with they are bright students anyway.


  • Peace Seeker
    Aug 12, 2012 - 10:25PM

    A lot of work has been done to translate scientific knowledge into Urdu and Urdu is growing and is a dynamic language. English is a good window for looking at the world outside and for gaining scientific knowledge and technical knowhow. We need to know both English and Urdu well. Facility only in one of these languages is a serious drawback. The author’s statements are interesting hypothesis which should be corroborated with facts so that they can be believed in.


  • entropy
    Aug 12, 2012 - 11:20PM

    Although I don’t agree with most of what Khalid sahib has written in this article he has touched upon something fundamental about Pakistani society: though ‘Urdu’ (real name ‘Hindustani’) was originally peddled to the common man as the language of sophistication and culture it has become the language of conservatism, extreme reaction and even barbarism. I think we must strip Hindi-Hindustani (dressed up as ‘Urdu’) of its status as national language of Pakistan. What right does Hindi, an imported language of 3% of the population, have to such an exalted status? The national languages of Pakistan should be Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, Balochi, Shina and Balti. We can keep Hindustani as the language of interprovincial communication.


  • kaalchakra
    Aug 12, 2012 - 11:49PM

    ” The Bengalis have done such things”

    Dr Khan. I am interested in learning more about this effort. Any easily accessible references – possibly online? Thanks in advance.

    If Bengali can do so, why not Urdu? After all, the world’s greatest thoughts and deepest mysteries have been captured so beautifully and easily by Allama Iqbal.


  • sindhi
    Aug 13, 2012 - 12:14AM

    we don’t recognize urdu………jaey sindh………Recommend

  • UK Academic
    Aug 13, 2012 - 1:57AM

    It took these two Ph D research students more than 6 years each to achieve the minimum standard for a UK Ph D, and that only after I had spent a very large amount of my time on correcting their English. If their intellect had been high enough they would not have taken more than six years. The average time for a UK engineering Ph D is just over four years. For your information I have supervised students from many countries, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, UK and so on. In my view the real problem was the selection of poor quality students and my fault in thinking that government agency sponsored research students would be amongst the best in Pakistan! I was clearly wrong in underestimating the role of corruption and favouritism in the selection of sponsored students in Pakistan! The two individuals did not have any clue about what research and Ph D is all about.


  • Pmbm
    Aug 13, 2012 - 2:27AM

    How can other people learn sciences and economy in their languages(Chinese,Arabic,Russian) but Pakistanis can not in their national language.


  • Dr Khan
    Aug 13, 2012 - 8:27AM


    Here are some titles by Bengali authors which I googled.
    Apekshikata Tattva (in Bengali – Theory of Relativity)
    Sudur Niharika (in Bengali; title : Distant Nebulae)

    As I understand Bengalis have been publishing scientific work in Bengali for more than a hundred years. Incidentally, the first English translation of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity from German was done by two famous Bengali physicists called Bose and Saha. Both also lectured in Bengali.

    I don’t care too much for poetry; to me man’s greatest intellectual achievements are in science and mathematics. Perhaps I am not intelligent enough to gasp the beauty of Iqbal’s poetry.


  • Dr Khan
    Aug 13, 2012 - 8:58AM


    Arabic – I have read articles that describe Arabic as highly metaphorical language which does not even translate well between different Arab countries.
    Chinese – I know little about Chinese. But I don’t think the Chinese will not go berserk if they translated Charles Darwin.
    Russian – Russia has a rich scientific literature going back two centuries although they started later at the scientific enterprise than the west europeans.


  • Justin Truthful
    Aug 13, 2012 - 12:20PM

    “In a recent TV discussion, my favourite lawyer, Salman Akram Raja, expressed surprise over the fact that 80 per cent of the opinion published in the English-medium press was not in favour of our activist Supreme Court. On the other hand, in the realm of Urdu, there was a near consensus on the decisions of the honourable Court.” These are sweeping generalizations and no facts or figures have been marshaled to support these assertions. Unless appeal to facts is made, these would only remain suppositions at best. At worst these could only be a figment of imagination!


  • Lala Gee
    Aug 13, 2012 - 7:08PM

    While I was reading through the article and the comments, I thought of responding to some of the lapses and errors in the article and the comments. By the time I reached at the end, it was a task impossible as it would have required me to write equivalent to a whole article. I would only express my disappointment over the level and lack of knowledge and understanding of the contributors. I would also like to mention that Germany, France, Japan, China, Russia, South Korea, and many others did not progressed and achieved success because their nations were apt in English language. In fact, most of these nations are known for their poor skills in English language, and I can assure you from my own personal exposure with all these nationals that they are hardly better than Pakistanis. Further, someone mentioned that Urdu is another name of Hindi or Hindustani, I suggest them to watch “Hindi Samachar” (Hindi News) on Indian Door Darshan channel to know the real difference between Hindi and Urdu, or spend some time on “wikipedia”.


  • Lala Gee
    Aug 13, 2012 - 7:27PM


    “One related area where I would be interested in learning about the practice in PAkistan since I do not know. What is the medium of instruction for science and engineering in Pakistani colleges? In India higher science degrees are taught in English only.”

    The education system in Pakistan is same as in India. All the professional level eduction is delivered in English language. Since last 20-30 years, increasingly more emphasis has been given to English language as a medium of instruction in lower levels leading to more participation in ‘O’ and ‘A’ level exams held by the University of Cambridge, UK.


  • al
    Aug 13, 2012 - 9:55PM

    Just a whining from a representative of the very tiny microscopic minority of kala sahibs who have no connection with the locals. English media will remain unpopular as it does not represent the masses. It will remain an elitist medium of expression confined to those who think they are the intellectuals and gods…Recommend

  • Aug 14, 2012 - 12:13AM

    So Urdu is a hallmark of fundamentalism and primitive theories and English personifies tolerance, secularism and future thinking. A great social divide. But no suggestions from the acclaimed liguist?


  • Pmbm
    Aug 14, 2012 - 1:37AM

    Your comment “Urdu can not evolve because people of Pakistan do not want to evolve” says it all. I wonder what can help evolve regional dialects Like Punjabi,Pushto, Sindhi, Baluchi, sairiaki,putwari , Dari etc etc


  • kaalchakra
    Aug 14, 2012 - 6:53AM

    @ Dr Khan

    ‘Apekshikata Tattva
    Sudur Niharika”

    With due respect to those who may be offended, I am sure we can find better words. Arabic is the most comprehensive and perfect language, which can meet all current and future needs of science. Why doesn’t the government fund some scholars to supply all such new words as they arise?


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