When in the early 20th century the British government vowed to implement the use of the Urdu language in Punjab and what was then the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), there were a lot of conversations amongst various British officers through letters. These have been printed in a book Punjab Mai Urdu Kaa Nifaz (Implementation of Urdu in Punjab) compiled by Chaudhry Mohammad Rafique.
Sir James Wilson (1853-1926), the Deputy Commissioner stationed in Shahpur (now Sargodha), wrote one of his letters: “If the purpose of language’s imposition is to hike the literacy ratio, then that goal can be achieved only through the implementation of the mother tongue.” He cited the example of ancient Britain where as long as Latin was in use, the literacy rate was very low. “The time was right when Latin was replaced by English’’
Over 74 languages are spoken in Pakistan
Of course, the argument of Mr Wilson has come true after more than a century – when we see that the literacy rate is still low in Pakistan, where the mother tongues have not yet been made the medium of education.
A linguistic controversy erupted merely a few months after the 1947 Partition when the Muslim League leaders and intellectuals insisted on implementing Urdu as the national language – for both West and the East Pakistan.
Bengalis, who had a mammoth population of 44 million in the Eastern wing of Pakistan, doggedly demanded to recognize Bengali alongside Urdu. But their demand was ignominiously rejected by dropping Bengali from the list on the eve of the Pakistan Educational Conference.
In the first session of the Constituent Assembly held in Karachi on February 23, 1948, a leading figure of the East Pakistan Congress wing Dhirendranath Datta tabled a motion asking to include Bengali. This demand was rejected by the opposition. Even the first Prime Minister of Pakistan Liaquat Ali Khan opposed it, arguing that “Pakistan has come into being at the demand of a hundred million Muslims in the Subcontinent and their language will be Urdu.”
The decision in favour of only the Urdu language was vehemently rejected by the members of Tamaddun Majlish (a cultural organisation of Dhaka).
On March 19, 1948, Governor-General Mohammad Ali Jinnah visited Dhaka, where thousands of Bengalis warmly received him, hoping that he would rekindle the language issue but Mr. Jinnah declared Urdu the only national language of the new-born Pakistan. Addressing a mammoth crowd at the Ramna Race Course Maidan on March 21, Mr. Jinnah categorically said, “Let me make it very clear to you that the state language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other language. Anyone who tries to mislead you is really the enemy of Pakistan. Without one state language, no nation can remain tied up solidly together and function. Look at the history of other countries. Therefore, so far as the state language is concerned, Pakistan’s shall be Urdu.”
Mr Jinnah’s views on this issue did not go down well in the hearts of Bengalis.
The Basic Principles Committee of the Constitution Assembly of Pakistan submitted its recommendation in January 1952, insisting on Urdu to be the only official language. The government later imposed Section 144 in Dhaka to quash the 21st February processions of thousands of Bengali students that eventually led to the killing of six Bengali students and several more wounded.
This was perhaps the first movement in history that stood for the right to a language that was spoken by about more than 44 million people. In 1999, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESACO) declared February 21 as an international day for mother tongues. UNESACO finds that there are at least 7,097 languages spoken in the world but unluckily, more than 3,000 languages may die by the end of the 21st century because 40% of the world’s people are not provided teaching opportunity in their mother tongues.
According to the Forum for Language Initiative, there are over 74 languages spoken in Pakistan, namely:
Ayre, Badishi, Bagri, East Balochi, West Balochi, South Balochi, Balti, Bateri, Bhaya, Brahui, Brushski, Cheliso, Damili, Dari, Dehwari, Dhatki, Domaki, English, Gavarbati, Ghera, Guaria, Gauro, Gujarati, Gujri , Gargula, Hazaragi, North Hindko, South Hindko, Jadgali, Jandawara, Jogi, Kabutra, Katchi, Kalami, Kalasha, Kalkoti, Kamweri, Kashmiri, Kitti, Khetrani, Khuwar, Indus Kohistani, Katchi Koli, Parkari Koli, Vadhiara Koli, Kundal Shahi, Lehnda, Lasi, Lawarki, Marwari, Memoni, Odd, Ormari, Pahari Pothwari, Pakistan Sign Language, Palola, Central Pashto, North Pashto, Southern Pashto, West Punjabi, Sansi, Seraiki, Savi, Sheena, Sheena Kohistani, Sindhi, Sindhi Bheel, Torwali, Urdu, Ashojo, Wagri, Wakhi, Vanichi and Yadga
But the existence of dozens of languages is in grave danger, perhaps except English, Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi, Brahvi, Kashmiri, Seraiki and Hinkdo. Many marginalized languages have not been mentioned in the census forms themselves. However, the credit goes to the PTI-led government in KP provine, when its legislators passed a resolution demanding that another fifteen languages spoken in KP should be mentioned in the census form.
More than two dozen languages are spoken in northern Pakistan, several of which are either moribund or will be die in the near future as they are being affected by increasing pressure of globalisation, influence of internal and external colonisation and the influence of languages spoken around them.
For instance, the following Pakistani languages have been facing serious threats for two decades.
This language in one of the most endangered languages in the world, spoken in Araway village in the Chail valley of Swat. According to a BBC report, about only three speakers spoke Badeshi.
Wakhi is an Iranian language mainly spoken in Gojal and Hunza in the Gilgit-Baltistan region. However, a small number of Wakhi-speaking people also live in Yasin valley in the Ghizer district of Gilgt Baltistan. According to BBC, Wakhi is spoken by over 9,000 speakers . This language is slowly becoming extinct because its speakers are cattered in different areas.
Balti is a Tibetan language spoken by the Balti people in living in Skardu, Shigar, Granche and Kharmand of the Gilgit-Baltistan region.
People living in the area of Batera on the east bank of the Indus River speak Bateri, a Dardic language.
One of the most moribund languages, spoken by almost 700 people living in a village of Nalam valley (Pakistani Kashmir).
This Dardic language is said to be moribund because it is spoken in scattered villages surrounded by a majority of the Shina-speaking population on the eastern side.
Spoken by a limited section of the Pashtuns in the Kani Guram area in South Waziristan. Bayazid Ansari or Pir Roshan (1525-1585) the eminent spiritual leader, religious scholar and warrior, also belonged to the Ormar tribe. It is believed that Ormari was the mother tongue of Shaukat Khanam, the mother of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The number of Yadgha speakers is told at about 6,000. It is considered an endangered language due the influence of Khowar, a majority language in Chatral.
Lasee is spoken in the coastal district Lasbela of Balochistan. The strength of the speakers of Lasee is estimated at some 11,000.
It is spoken in Sindh, particularly in the outskirts of Hyderabad, Kot Ghulam Muhammad and Mirpurkhas. It is considered one of the threatened languages because the number of its speakers has been estimated at just a few hundred.
This language is spoken in Tharparkar, Umerkot, Badin, Mirpur Khas, Rajasthan (India). The number of its speakers is estimated 132,000. In Pakistan, Datki is dominated by Sindhi and its speakers are mostly Hindus.
The state needs to take timely and appropriate steps to revive these and so many other endangered languages and secure the culture and identity of the peoples that they represent.
The author teaches literature at Degree College Zhob and is a columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org