ISLAMABAD: The federal government should accord the status of a national language to all Pakistani languages to promote and protect the country’s linguistic diversity.
This demand was put forth on Sunday in an 11-point resolution approved by participants at a festival organised by the Sindh Graduates Association (SGA) and Theatre Wallay, an Islamabad-based theatre company, in connection with International Mother Language Day.
The festival, which was attended by speakers of at least 15 different Pakistani languages, was held at Shah Abdul Latif Auditorium.
The SGA resolution called upon the federal government to prove its political will for protecting Pakistani heritage by according national language status to all local languages. It also demanded provincial governments to promote these languages and ensure children are educated in their mother language.
The government should allocate equal funds for the protection of languages, the resolution stated.
According to a UNESCO report, 28 Pakistani languages are either endangered or vulnerable to extinction. These languages include Brahui, Balti, Burushaski, Kundal Shahi, Kalasha, Torwali and Wakhi among others.
The resolution also demanded road signs, product labels, travel information and laws to be printed in regional languages. It called upon the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority to ensure issuance of broadcast license to regional language media organisations and to get private channels to devote some time to broadcasts in local languages.
Speakers said every individual is best able to express herself in her mother language and providing children education in their mother tongue is important. They said Urdu was patronised over regional languages after partition, even though many regional languages were quite advanced in 1947.
Naseer Memon, the chief executive officer of Strengthening Participatory Organisation, recounted the grievances of the population of East Pakistan over the treatment meted out to the Bengali language after partition.
With Jinnah and Khawaja Nazimuddin deciding in favour of Urdu as language of the provinces in 1948 and 1952 respectively, the movement for Bengali in present-day Bangladesh was crushed by government. Three Dhaka University students were killed by authorities in 1952 over protests that called for national language-status for Bengali, Memon said.
Similar protests were witnessed in 1973 in Sindh when the province’s population demanded that voter lists be printed in Sindhi, he said.
Memon said Urdu is a fine language, but its promotion should not be at the cost of the country’s cultural diversity and linguistic pluralism.
“Pakistan’s future is not in religious Pakistan but in cultural Pakistan,” he said.
Writer Ahmed Saleem, who spoke in Punjabi, said Punjabi elites are to blame for the neglect of Punjabi language and for pushing a narrative that labeled Urdu as the language of Islamic culture, rendering all other local languages inferior.
“Punjabi never got its due right in the province and it was robbed of its right by Punjabis themselves,” Saleem said. “It was the official language in the province until 1947, but after partition, it was labeled as the language of Sikhs. I would like to ask, were Waris Shah and Bulleh Shah also Sikhs?”
He said Punjab’s hegemony always focused on usurping the rights of other provinces instead of helping promote diversity.
“How can those who try to enslave others be free themselves?” Saleem asked.
The festival also included musical performances from Chitral, Hunza, Sindh and Khyber-Pakthunkhwa as well as poetry recitations in several Pakistani languages.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2014.