To speak one’s language

  • Linguistic-Nationalist movements in Pakistan


Recently, the Sindh Assembly passed a unanimous resolution, asking the provincial government to ensure that every private school teaches the Sindhi Language as part of its curriculum. As many schools respond positively, complying with the orders of the government, the move, once again highlights the existent nationalism of ethnicities in the country.

Among fiery speeches on the issue in the house, the Sindh Education Minister Syed Sardar Shah declared that if any school violates this law “I will personally go and cancel their registration.”

As a result, a number of private schools in Karachi have agreed to include Sindhi in their curriculum from Grade 3 in the new academic session. The schools also asked for syllabus of basic language from the Sindh Education and Literacy Department.

The decision is part of a broader demand by the Sindhi speaking residents of the province, which is to give Sindhi the status of a national language in the country, a movement steeped in the history of Pakistan.

In 1961, a report published by the Commission on National Education “set in motion ethnic forces that continued to unfold for the next ten years.” Until 1959, both Urdu and Sindhi were compulsory subjects in Sindh from class 3 and both were mediums of instruction, at the option of the students, up to Class 10. However, the report presented a view that time and effort given in the schools to Urdu, the national language of Pakistan, was inadequate. Hence it recommended that ‘Urdu should be introduced as the medium of instruction from class 5 from 1963, and should continue progressively in higher classes.’ The recommendation was condemned by several politicians of Sindh, Baluchistan and East Pakistan.

To bear a distinct ethnic outlook and still be a loyal Pakistani, is not unpatriotic, neither it is unjustified

At that time until the 1970s, East Pakistan was itself embroiled in an issue related to its language. A major factor which had alienated Bengalis from the rest of the Pakistanis was this issue of language. Having a deep attachment to their mother tongue Bangla, the East Pakistanis wished for it to be one of state languages of Pakistan as early as the time of creation of this country, in the life of Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. As long as East Pakistan survived, its history is replete with agitations, riots and movements to give an official status to Bangla. Although the language was accepted in the 1956 Constitution as one of the state languages, the issue, along with many others, fuelled the fire of the secessionist movements in East Pakistan and coupled with startling errors by the Western wing, culminated in the creation of Bangladesh.

The wounds of the separation of East Pakistan were still fresh, when in 1972, demands were made to declare Sindhi a national language and the official language of Sindh. In response, the Urdu-speaking Sindhis, threatened at the prospect of losing their own mother tongue, raised slogans of a Muhajir Sooba (province). “Walking over the edge of an ethnic razor”, the Sindh Assembly produced a Bill in the same year, whereby Article 267 of the Interim Constitution provided that Sindhi be made a provincial language and Sindhi and Urdu be made compulsory subjects in secondary schools. The enforcement was possible only after an intervention by the then President of Pakistan and Sindh finally returned to an ‘uneasy peace’.

Yet around the same time, “South Punjab witnessed the emergence of two competing political trends in 1970: a Bahawalpur-based movement centred on the demand for restoring the geographical and administrative boundaries of Bahawalpur state that had been merged into One Unit in 1955, and a Multan-centred linguistic-nationalist movement for the creation of a province comprising those districts of Punjab where Seraiki language is spoken.”

In recent times, political discourse in south Punjab has tilted in favour of an identity movement based on Seraiki, the first language of 20 million people in Pakistan, ranging across southern Punjab, and some parts of Sindh. The demand for Punjab’s geographical and administrative reorganisation is also rooted in the argument that it may not be possible to effectively administer the province’s vast population– approximately 110 million, large enough to be the 12th most populated state in the world.

With its national language being Urdu, which, along with English, is also the official language, Pakistan has several regional languages. Four of these are provincial languages– Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, and Balochi. With an overwhelming majority of Muslims, the religion of Islam proves to be a great uniting factor, with most of its tenets and traditions adopted unanimously across Pakistan. Yet in terms of customs, each ethnicity has its own linguistic and cultural heritage, to which it holds dear. Language, the means of communication is foremost, with many regional languages in Pakistan threatened to the verge of extinction. To bear a distinct ethnic outlook and still be a loyal Pakistani, is not unpatriotic, neither is it unjustified. To protect and promote each regional language is not only in the interest of that community, it is what adds to the diverse cultural outlook of Pakistan.