Preserving the smaller languages of Pakistan

Published: February 10, 2015
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The writer is executive director at the Institute for Education and Development in Swat. He tweets @zubairtorwali

The writer is executive director at the Institute for Education and Development in Swat. He tweets @zubairtorwali

According to a news item, the Higher Education Department expressed grave technical reservations on the funds allocated for the establishment of the Gandhara Hindko Academy under the auspices of the civil society organisation, the Gandhara Hindko Board, which has been working on the development of Hindko language and culture.

The establishment of such an academy for one of the oldest but underdeveloped languages of Khyber-Pakhtukhwa (K-P) is indeed a laudable move by the government. However, this initiative is deemed to undo a similar but somewhat broader initiative by the previous government, which was about the incorporation of four other languages, including Hindko, in primary education in the province. The former ANP-led government of K-P had passed the K-P Regional Languages Authority Act in 2011 for the development of regional languages. This was done after the inclusion of the four other regional languages — Seraiki, Hindko, Khowar and Kohistani — as compulsory languages in primary schools. This authority had Hindko as one of the main languages.

The current government has allocated funds for the Hindko Academy but there is no mention of the Regional Language Authority in its Annual Development Plan (ADP) 2014-15. Nevertheless, we see a scheme and curriculum development in five languages under the ADP 2014-15 with over Rs200 million allocated as its budget till June 2014. But this budget was not spent as the programme had been abandoned altogether. What will happen next is very much clear by the establishment of the Hindko Academy.

In K-P, about two dozen languages are spoken, with Pashto being the language of the majority. None of these languages, besides Pashto, ever had the status of being a language of school instruction in the province. Majority of the languages in K-P are severely threatened by extinction. A number of these minority languages, including Gawro, Badeshi, Ushojo, Chiliso, etc., have already vanished and the rest will wane over a decade or two if the government’s apathy remains as it is. No doubt, a number of local civil society organisations and individuals have carried out impressive work for the documentation and promotion of these languages, but owing to the lack of state patronage and scarcity of resources, the work could not be sustained for a long period of time. The native speakers of minority languages had tied their hopes with the Regional Language Authority, but owing to the favouritism and confusion of the current government, that hope was curtailed.

The government’s move to establish an academy only for a single language is to sabotage the establishment of an authority for regional languages, as espoused by the previous government. Agreed, the linguistic minorities living in the mountainous regions of K-P have no effective political representation either in Peshawar or Islamabad, yet they are no less Pakistani than any others. Their languages deserve to be represented within the national fabric. The current K-P government must fulfil its constitutional obligation by immediately establishing the Regional Language Authority proposed by the lawmakers under the K-P Regional Language Authority Act of 2011. A few administrative temporary measures like the establishment of the Gandhara Hindko Academy cannot excuse the government of its constitutional obligations.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th,  2015.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • Iqbal
    Feb 10, 2015 - 8:58AM

    Preserving the so called smaller languages of Pakistan is equivalent to preserving the very idea of Pakistan. Else, the society will become the fiefdom of the dominant powerful. Contrary to what they may expect, instead of leading the so called homogeneity, it will usher in an err a of strife and deep discontent. A very well articulated piece. Recommend

  • Chachoo
    Feb 10, 2015 - 8:07PM

    It is pretty interesting to note that those people who live in Attock upto Pindi speak Punjabi and that same language is named as Hindko as soon as the Attock bridge is crossed. In my whole lifetime i could not ever understand that what is the difference in a Punjabi of North Punjab and Hindko language.

    Also in my view language is not something holy as it is just a mode of communication. But recognition of more than 5 different languages in one province will only complicate a problem. Look at Karachi where every Ethnicity have their own ghettos except in Posh localities. The melting pot type situation in one region should be avoided.
    A tug of war will start among different cultures with the recognition of so many languages in one province. Next the question will arise that what language should be spoken in assemblies and government offices. It will only complicate the situation.Recommend

  • Tamer
    Feb 10, 2015 - 8:20PM

    Due to the boost in mass communication and increasing dominance of some cultures, according to UNESCO, the number of endangered languages all around the globe is increasing. This does not however imply that one fine day all “smaller” languages would be replaced by the two major languages of the world i.e. English and/or French.

    Fate of languages in future will very much depend on how their role is steered by the users. The onus will lie on the speakers of minor languages as to how they warranty the preservation of their own cultures and not to pin their hopes on the state organs only. Recommend

  • adil zareef
    Feb 10, 2015 - 11:13PM

    most insightful and informative…food for thought for policy makers…Recommend

  • Muhamnad Ashtar Chattha
    Feb 12, 2015 - 11:55PM

    After reading this article I am feeling so sad. In our land of,the pures it is not new thing that some minority languages are dying. Here humans are killed kids are murdered and raped and no one takes notice so who is going to do some thing about dying languages?
    However I have one suggestion lets start a Pakedia of Pakistani languages. Wikipedia will be our model in this regard. I am amazed how Wikipedia is serving lot of human languages and is helping to preserve human heritage. Wikipedia is offering shah mukhi Punjabi gormukhi Punjabi and Sindhi sites. Indeed hundreds of languages from all around the world are being served by Wikipedia . How much romantic it looks that Wikipedia has revived some dead languages such as akkadian. I am hopeful our Pakedia can work wonders to save our Pakistani languages.
    So let’s do it today any delay will be harmful in this regard.Recommend

  • Wasi
    Feb 21, 2015 - 3:06PM

    @Chachoo:
    Hindko is a dialect but it has vastly different characteristics than pnjabi. The kind spoken in Peshawar and Kohat is very different to Hazarewali. And celebrating the uniqueness of each culture won’t cause isolation. The slums that you mention are the result of economic circumstances not social or cultural. In fact by nationalizing and promoting indigenous languages, people’s connection with their roots becomes stronger and that helps the country overall. Because we have not been promoting local cultures and traditions is why we have extremist mindsets. People forget their roots and adopt new ideologies as cultural identities. Coupled with illiteracy, poverty and unemployment it leads to militancy. When a language dies a culture dies and when a culture dies society suffers and the integrity of the state is more at threat than it would have been if local languages were promoted.Recommend

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