The Teaching of Punjabi : A Study in Power and Prejudice
When the British arrived the schools in the Punjab could be divided, following Leitner, into maktabs, madrassas, patshalas, Gurmukhi and Mahajani schools. The maktab was a Persian school while the madrassa was an Arabic one. The patshalas were Sanskrit schools while the Gurmukhi schools taught Punjabi in the Gurmukhi script. In the Mahajani schools the Landi or Sarifi script was taught to commercial people (Leitner 1882: 10).
The Sikhs considered it a religious duty to learn Gurmukhi enough to be able to read the Sikh holy books. Those following an advanced course studied, among other things, Gurmukhi grammar and prosody (Ibid, 32). The child began his studies at the age of six. He, or she, then proceeded to learn the Gurmukhi alphabet of which Guru Angat himself wrote a primer. The primer, being written by such an eminent spiritual leader, was in itself religious. It was, however, the means to an even more religious end – to enable the child to read the Adi Granth, a sacred book of the Sikhs. After this other works, such as the Nanuman Natak, a Punjabi adaptation of a Hindi drama, were taught. Other subjects, such as elementary medicine and rhetoric, were also taught in Gurmukhi to Sikh children. According to Leitner, there were many people who knew Gurmukhi when he was collecting information for his report (1880s). Urdu, however, had been brought in and was being established slowly by the government (Leitner 1882: 35-37).
Some educational reports, such as that of 1857, tell us that students were taught to `translate them [books in Persian] literally word by word, into the vernacular, but there was no attempt at explanation’ (Quoted from Leitner 1882: 60). This `vernacular’ was Punjabi which was not taught but was used, as we have seen, as a medium of instruction at least at the lower level before the British conquest. This practice continued even after the conquest and Leitner mentions that in `most kor’an schools’ some `elementary religious books in Urdu, Persian or Punjabi are taught’ (1882: 68).
Female education has always been neglected among Muslims but, according to Leitner, `Among Muhammadans nearly all girls were taught the Koran; nor could a Sikh woman claim the title and privileges of a “learner” unless she was able to read the Granth’ (1882: 98). He also gives a Punjabi song which the women had made (loc. cit). Girls were also taught `the Koran together with little boys, and Urdu or Perso-Punjabi religious books, stories of prophets, etc. The Sikh girls read the Granth and other books in Gurmukhi (Leitner 1882: 107). For the Sikhs even Nazir Ahmad's Mirat ul Urus had been translated into Gurmukhi. Leitner suggests that there had been a decline in female teaching since the British conquest because ‘formerly the mother could teach the child Punjabi. Now, wherever the child learns Urdu, the teaching power of the mother is lost’ (Leitner 1882: 108).
Some British officers, besides the enthusiastic Leitner, has suggested that Punjabi should be taught first to children and only after that should they proceed to other languages (in Leitner 1882: 110). Leitner, of course, defended this proposition with much fervour because the thesis he argues in his report is:
That elementary, and sometimes high, oriental classical and vernacular education was more widely spread in the Punjab before annexation than it is now (Leitner 1882: 198).
Besides ordinary mosque, or Quran, schools there were some well known schools both of Sikhs and Muslims. Here only the Muslim, that is the Arabic and Persian schools, are being mentioned in brief. There was Mian Sahib Qadri’s school at Batala which was supported by a landed estate which was withdrawn by the British. Another such school, which also closed down for the same reason, was Maulvi Sheikh Ahmed’s school in Sialkot. Then there were: Mian Faiz’s school at Gujranwala famous for Persian; Bara Mian’s school at Lahore; Khwaja Suleman’s school at Dera Ghazi Khan; Mian Abdul Hakim’s school at Gujranwala and so on. All these schools are advertised as great centres of Persian and Arabic studies (Leitner 1882: 151), but Punjabi books like Pakki Roti must have been taught there.
Immediately after the annexation court circulars and notices were published in Punjabi. The missionaries, true to their conviction that the Bible should be available in a reader’s mother-tongue, distributed bibles in Punjabi (Singh, A 1877: 479). Moreover, the government realised that Punjabi could not be ignored since it was the language of 17,000,000 people. In a note about its importance for the functionaries of the state it was written:
Panjabi is of special importance as being the language of our Sikh soldiers.
It is of the greatest importance that the officers in Sikh regiments should be able to converse freely in Panjabi. Too many of them employ Hindustani.
There is a great deal of tea grown in the Northern Panjab. The Europeans employed there must be able to speak Panjabi (Committee 1909: 116).
However, the official vernacular which the British adopted in the Punjab was Urdu. Reasons for doing this have been given earlier (Rahman 1996: 192-194). Let me sum them up briefly, however, to put things in the historical perspective.
Since the British had done away with Persian in 1836 they did not allow it to continue as an official language in the Punjab where it had that status both in the Mughal and the Sikh courts. They, therefore, asked the advice of their field officers about the language to be used in the lower domains of power and finally chose Urdu for that role. Language-teaching, of course, underwent a radical change. The Administration Report of the Punjab (1851-52) says:
The Persian and Urdu languages might be taught in all schools, under the patronage of Government. But other languages and characters, such as Hindi, Sanskrit, Gurmukhi, Punjabi need not be used.
This did not settle the issue, however, because there were some British officers who favoured the teaching of Punjabi. Most offficers, however, were prejudiced against Punjabi. Their views, spread over a copious correspondence, can be summed up as follows: that Punjabi is a rustic dialect not fit for serious business; that Urdu is an advanced and more sophisticated form of Punjabi and that simple Urdu is easily understood in the Punjab (for the original letters expressing these views see Chaudhry 1977).
In addition to this prejudice there was some apprehension, though it is expressed at very few places and then only in passing, that the British feared the symbolic power (and hence the political potential) of the Gurmukhi script. Thus one British officer wrote as follows:
If Punjabi were adopted as the court language in the Punjab the whole of our educational system would be stultified. We are teaching the population to read and write Urdu, not Punjabi. Besides, any measure which would revive the Gurmukhi, which is the written Punjabi, would be a political error (Melvill 1875: 877).
This occurs among the opinions sought from commissioners of the Punjab in 1873-74, about 17 years after the Punjabis had shown their loyalty to the British in the events of 1857.
However, not all the British officers agreed with this neglect of Punjabi. A number of them – J. Wilson, Deputy Commissioner of Shahpur (in 1894); Robert Cust (in a letter of 2 June 1862) – advocated the cause of Punjabi but to no avail (for details see Rahman 1996: 194-196). The officers who refused to accept their point of view, and who were in a majority, were prejudiced against Punjabi. During this period both Muslims and Hindus developed consciousness about their identity. Religion, language, script, vocabulary and literary tradition were all seen as belonging to one or the other identity. Especially relevant for our purposes is the way Hindi and Hindu identity converged in a process very competently described by Christopher King (1994). Simultaneously, Urdu too became a part, and symbol, of the Indian Muslim identity. Thus the Punjabi Muslims began to identify with Urdu rather than Punjabi during the Hindi-Urdu controversy which began in the 1860s and went on in one way or the other till the partition of India in 1947 (for the Hindi-Urdu Controversy see Brass 1974; Gupta 1970; Dittmer 1972; Rahman 1996: 59-78).
A number of people, Sikhs, Hindus and British, kept insisting that Punjabi should be taught in the Punjab. In 1867, for instance, Jumna Dass, a tutor to some Sirdars suggested that the teaching of Gurmukhi, being a sacred obligation, should be established by the British at Amballa (Dass 1867: 39). Later Hukm Singh, Pundit Rikhi Kesh and Bhai Chiranjeet Singh wrote a memorandum with a view to persuading the Punjab University Senate to introduce Punjabi as a language of examinations. Among other things they argued that books on grammar, composition and poetry existed in Punjabi and that Sikhs, Khatris and Hindus would welcome the introduction of their mother tongue as a school subject. It is significant that they did not mention the Punjabi Muslims whose mother tongue too was Punjabi but who had begun to identify with Urdu, which was becoming a Muslim religious identity symbol, by this date. Reminiscent of later debates about the teaching of Punjabi in Pakistan, they said that they only wanted Punjabi to be `taught up to the middle school examination in Government schools, like other languages. It is, however, by no means contemplated that Urdu should be supplanted by the Punjabi in the Province’ (Singh et.al 1877: 473). Similar reasons were advanced by Sardar Attar Singh for the teaching of Punjabi.
At that time Punjabi was taught in Normal Female School at Lahore, in the Sat Sabha of the Punjab and several private schools. However, the government did not examine candidates in the language except, of course, its own civil and military officers. The members of the University Senate who debated proposal XI – about allowing Punjabi to be a subject of examinations – were mostly British officers. General Maclagan, Major Holroyd and Perkins opposed Punjabi while Dr. Leitner, Brandreth, Pandit Manphul and Sodi Hukum Singh supported it. Hukm Singh even asserted that the `books usually taught in Government schools exist in the Punjabi language’ while Brandreth pointed out that `there were many well known and popular books in Punjabi before the English came’. However, the opponents considered it below the dignity of a university to teach what they called a `rustic’ tongue. Moreover, they felt that if Punjabi was allowed the flood gates of languages would burst open and Balochi, Pashto, Jatki etc would all clamour for admission. The debate, therefore, ended in a defeat for the pro-Punjabi lobby (PUC 1877: 445-454).
Although the Muslims in general showed little enthusiasm for owning Punjabi, some of their representatives did not oppose it either. Indeed, Nawab Abdul Majid Khan and Fakir Sayad Kamar ud Din, both members of the senate of the Punjab University College, submitted memorandums recommending that the vernacular languages, including Punjabi, should not be excluded from the examination list nor should they be completely neglected (Native Members 1879: 943).
Meanwhile, a number of private bodies, such as the Singh Sabha, promoted the teaching of Punjabi but mainly among the Sikhs. The Singh Sabha too petitioned the Punjab University College to associate its members in a sub-committee to be set up for the teaching of Punjabi and that the entrance examinations (an examination necessary for entering the university) should be in Punjabi as it was in Urdu and Hindi (Singh Sabha 1781: 223).
This was conceded and Punjabi became one of the options for school examinations. Sikh children could also study Gurmukhi if they wanted, but employment was only available in Urdu in the lower and English in the higher domains of power. The report of 1901 tells us that `Gurmukhi is taught in the Oriental College’ (RPI-Punjab 1901: 16). However, because a major motivation for all formal education, including the learning of languages, was employment by the state, the Gurmukhi classes did not become popular (RPI-Punjab 1906: 15).
Those who desired to give Punjabi a more pronounced role in the education of Punjabis suggested changes. J.C. Goldsby, the Officiating Director of Public Instruction of the Punjab, wrote to the senior Secretary to the Financial Commissioner in this context as follows:
It is a question between Punjabi and Urdu, and if the question is decided by the districts or divisions, there is no doubt that Urdu will invariably be chosen because of its practical utility. But Punjabi has a strong claim to be the language of the home in most cases; and more might perhaps be done to encourage the use of it, or at any rate to remove the impression that it is being purposely neglected (Goldsby 1908).
However, the report on education of 1907-8 does say that Hindu and Sikh girls were learning Gurmukhi in greater proportion than boys while Muslims, both girls and boys did not learn it (RPI-Punjab 1908-22). The report of 1910-11 remarks that the demand for Gurmukhi has increased even among the boys mostly in Lyallpur (RPI-Punjab 1911:5). Such yearly fluctuations, however, did not change the general pattern which the report of 1916 sums up as follows:
Urdu continues to be in favour as the school vernacular for boys. Gurmukhi or Punjabi schools for boys and girls numbered 446 with 20,347 scholars, but three-quarters of the latter were girls (RPI-Punjab 1916: 16).
Punjabi Muslims spoke Urdu at home and in informal domains – among friends, in the bazaar etc – but they wrote in Urdu (or English) and they used Urdu for political speech-making, serious discussions and other formal domains. Mohammad Iqbal, the national poet of Pakistan, is said to have spoken the Sialkoti variety of Punjabi but he wrote only in Urdu, Persian and English all his life. In the only interview he gave in Punjabi in December 1930 to the editor of the Punjabi magazine Sarang, Iqbal made it clear that he did not write in Punjabi because his intellectual training had not opened up that option for him. He did, however, enjoy the language and appreciated the mystic content of its best poetic literature.
Ordinary Punjabis too enjoyed listening to Punjabi jokes, songs and poetry. That is why poets like Imam Din and Ustad Daman were so immensely popular. According to Son Anand, an inhabitant of old Lahore, Daman `is still a household name for all those who lived in the crowded “mohallas” and frequented the Punjab “mushairas”’. He held audiences spellbound and was often in trouble for making fun of the authorities. Daman was anti-establishment, irreverent and humorous. These, and the fact that he used words which had an immediate appeal being those of the mother tongue, make him such a success with Punjabi audiences (Anand 1998: ). But pleasure was one thing and politics another. The Urdu-Punjabi controversy was an extension of the Urdu-Hindi controversy. The political need of the time, as perceived by Muslim leaders in the heat of the Pakistan movement, was to insist on a common Muslim identity and of this identity Urdu had become a part in the Punjab. Moreover, having studied Urdu at school, the Punjabi intellectuals had complete command over its written form and literary tradition. Like Iqbal, all the great intellectuals of the Punjab – Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Sa’adat Hasan Manto – wrote in Urdu. Urdu was also the language of journalism – the Paisa Akhbar, the Zamindar of the irrepressible Zafar Ali Khan and the Nawa-i-Waqt of Hameed Nizami being household names – which, like literature, was concentrated in Lahore. Indeed, Zafar Ali Khan modernised the Urdu language and became immensely popular as did Chiragh Hasan Hasrat whose witty columns were enjoyed by all those who read Urdu (Anand 1998: 173-177). Urdu was not only the adopted language of the intelligentsia of the Punjab. It was the symbol of their Muslim identity. That is why they opposed those who advocated the teaching of Punjabi.
Such was the anti-Punjabi fervour of the leading Punjabi Muslims that when Dr. P.L. Chatterjee, the Bengali Vice Chancellor of Punjab University, declared in his convocation address at the University in 1908, that Punjabi, the real vernacular language of the Punjab, should replace Urdu, the Muslims condemned him vehemently. The Muslim League held a meeting at Amritsar to condemn him in December. The newspapers carried the controversy for several months. The Paisa Akhbar, a popular Urdu newspaper of Lahore, wrote articles not only about Chatterji’s ideas but also on the subject of the medium of instruction. Most writers, following editorial policy, said that Punjabi was not capable of being used as a medium of instruction even at the primary level (file of Paisa Akhbar December 1908 till April 1909). A contributor wrote that the educated Sikhs and Hindus, who used to speak Urdu earlier, had started speaking Punjabi out of prejudice against Urdu. However, he added, working class people – porters, cooks, gardeners etc – still spoke Urdu (Paisa Akhbar 16 July 1909). Another argument against Punjabi was that it consisted of dialects which changed after every few miles and had no standard form (Paisa Akhbar 7 June 1909). Most people, however, felt that the promotion of Punjabi was a conspiracy to weaken Urdu and, by implication, Muslims (for a detailed defence of Urdu in pre-partition days see M.R.T 1942; for the controversy of 1908 see Khawaja 1982).
In short, most of the arguments were the same which were used by the functionaries of the state and right wing intellectuals in Pakistan later. The difference was that in pre-partition India almost all notable Muslims united to oppose their own mother tongue in support of Urdu. In Pakistan, on the other hand, identity-conscious Punjabis and their left-leaning sympathisers supported Punjabi much as the Sikhs and Hindus had done earlier while establishment and right-wing people supported Urdu. The question was one of the politics of identity in both cases: before the partition almost all Punjabi Muslim leaders and intellectuals insisted on their Muslim identity so as to give a united front to the Hindus and Sikhs; in Pakistan some Punjabi intellectuals felt that the cost of renouncing their Punjabi identity was excessive while the others felt that it was necessary to prevent the rise of ethnicity which, in their view, would break up Pakistan. On the eve of the partition, then, Punjabi was not owned by the Muslims.
Although most educated Punjabis supported Urdu for political reasons and took pride in it, there were some who felt that the loss of Punjabi was too dear a price to pay for these attitudes. One such person was Faqir Mohammad, who later took the poetic nom de plume Faqir, thus becoming Faqir Mohammad Faqir. He was born on 5 June 1900 at Gujranwala. His ancestors had migrated from Kashmir and practised oriental medicine. Faqir was only fifteen years old when his father, Mian Lal Deen, died. It was then that the young Faqir wrote his first couplet in Punjabi. It is:
Dil dee vasdi vasti ujar meri, vasi aap neen kithe sidhar chale
Rovan de ke meriyan akhian noon, le ke dil da sabr qarar chale
(After having left the habitation of heart desolate, where have you gone?
After giving tears to my eyes, you have departed -- taking the peace of my mind away?)
He then got his Punjabi verse corrected, as was the custom of his times, from Imam Din and Ibrahim Adil in Gujranwala. He also started reciting his Punjabi verse in the meetings of the Anjuman Himayat-e-Islam where great poets – Altaf Husain Hali, Zafar Ali Khan and Mohammad Iqbal among them – read out inspiring nationalistic poems in Urdu. For a living Faqir earned a diploma from the King Edward Medical College and practiced medicine – even performing operations of the eye according to witnesses (Akram 1992: 16). In 1920 he left both Gujranwala and medicine and became first a government contractor and then the owner of a construction business, in Lahore. But the honourary title of doctor which had been bestowed upon him by his admirers is still a part of his legendary name – Dr. Faqir Ahmad Faqir.
It was this man who first became a champion of Punjabi. He was a Punjabi poet, the first collection of his verse having been published in 1941, but more than that he had the dedication, the energy and the confidence to initiate movements and keep them going. Faqir supported Punjabi even before the partition and later, when the Sikh-Muslim riots had made it a tabooed subject in Pakistan because of its associations with the Sikhs, he still supported it. Soon after the establishment of Pakistan he decided to initiate a movement for the promotion of Punjabi. Initially he met with refusals. Even those who sympathised with his ideas, such as Sir Shahabuddin, an eminent politician and member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly, declined to join him in this politically suspect venture. Eventually, however, he managed to persuade Abid Ali Abid, a noted intellectual and Principal of Dyal Singh College in Lahore, to hold a meeting of pro-Punjabi intellectuals. Faqir himself did all the hard work. In his Punjabi biography he writes:
I wrote all the invitations when I reached home and I myself went to distribute them to all the invitees. I felt this to be a very difficult period of my life. Sometimes half the day was wasted in just delivering the invitations (my translation from Punjabi in Faqir n.d).
At last Faqir’s efforts bore fruit. In the first week of July 1951 the first Punjabi meeting was held. The invitees were distinguished men of letters – distinguised, of course, in Urdu. Among them were Maulana Abdul Majeed Salik, Feroze Uddin, Dr. Mohammad Din Taseer, Abdul Majeed Bhatti, Ustad Karam Amritsari, Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum, Mian Alias and others. Abid Ali Abid, the host, was also among the participants and Faqir, the indefatigable activist of the Punjabi language, listened keenly as Maulana Salik, the president, gave his speech. He says he was surprised that Salik fully agreed with him but this was hardly surprising because opponents of the idea would hardly have bothered to participate in the meeting. At the end of the deliberations the participants agreed to establish the Pak Punjabi League with Salik as president and Faqir as secretary. Both of them were also entrusted with the task of the publication of a monthly called Punjabi which first saw the light of day in September 1951. The purpose of this magazine was to induce the Urdu-using intellectuals of the Punjab to write in Punjabi. And, indeed, to a certain extent – perhaps a remarkable extent given the anti-Punjabi sentiment of the times – the magazine did succeed in making eminent literary figures – Ghulam Rasul Mehr, Zafar Ali Khan, Shorish Kashmiri, Hameed Nizami, Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabussum, Waqar Ambalvi, Qateel Shifai, Syed Murtaza Jilani, Dr. Mohammad Baqar, Dr. Abdus Salam Khurshid – write in Punjabi.
Faqir Ahmad Faqir, however, did not rest content with this achievement. He also organized the first Punjabi conference at Lyallpur (now Faisalabad) in 1952. In this, among other things, it was resolved that Punjabi should be taught from class-1 upto the M.A level. Since then every conference, every Punjabi language activist, every Punjabi newspaper or magazine has reiterated this demand.
Another major achievement of this conference was that it created an organization to provide reading material in Punjabi. This organization was called the Punjabi Adabi Akadmi (Punjabi Literary Academy). It too was headed by a committed activist, Mohammad Baqir, who worked on the lines of Faqir Mohammad Faqir. According to the latter:
Dr. Mohammad Baqir started working with full power as soon as he took charge of the Academy. The result of this was that after a few months of running around he succeeded in obtaining a grant of Rs. 20,000 from the central government. During this time the Academy also made Rs. 7,900 from the sale of books (My translation from Punjabi).
The books which were sold were the Academy’s own publications – classics of Punjabi literature like the poetic works of Bulleh Shah, Heer of Waris Shah, Mirza Sahiban of Peeloo and Hafiz Barkhurdar, Bol Fareedi, the poetic works of the poet-saint Fariduddin Ganj Shakar, the poetic works of Ali Haider, Kakare, the collection of the poems of Syed Hashim Shah, the Saif ul Mulook of Mian Mohammad Baksh and several epic poems (vars) as well as different versions of rhymed folk tales. In addition to these literary classics the Academy also published textbooks for class 1 and 2 as well as a textbook for B.A in Punjabi. This book was entitled Lahran, a title which was used later for the well known periodical of Punjabi.
For some time Mian Bashir Ahmad, Vice Chancellor of the Punjab Unviersity, appeared to have been converted to Punjabi. This was a feather in the cap for Dr. Faqir who wrote that the Vice Chancellor’s statement, that the progress of Punjabi would not harm Urdu, was very welcome. He pointed out that the pro-Punjabi press had requested the university to re-start the Honours, High Proficiency and Proficiency in Punjabi classes which it had stopped. Moreover, the government was also requested to make Punjabi the medium of instruction at the primary level. But, lamented the writer, the university’s decision-makers had not taken any concrete steps in favour of Punjabi despite its Vice Chancellor’s statement in support of it (Faqir 1953: 2-3).
The contributors of Punjabi, being eminent writers of Urdu and Pakistani nationalists, insisted and reiterated that the domains of Urdu would not be intruded upon. For them Urdu deserved the honour of being a national language (the other being Bengali after 1955); it deserved to be the medium of instruction in senior classes; and the language of national communication. Their only concern was that Punjabi should not be completely ignored and devalued. That is why, even when they demanded the use of Punjabi in certain domains, they distanced themselves from the Punjabi of the Sikhs. Indeed, some of them used the termed `Pak Punjabi’ for the variety of Punjabi they wanted to promote (Ambalvi 1955: 9). Hence, one finds that Hameed Nizami, the founding editor of the Nawai Waqt, an Urdu newspaper known for its aggressive nationalism and right wing views, advocated the teaching of Punjabi to little children. Recounting his personal experience, he said that his own children expressed themselves more fluently in Punjabi than in Urdu whereas he and his wife had always used Urdu earlier (Nizami 1951: 11-12).
The effort to teach Punjabi floundered on the rock of culture shame and prejudice. In my previous book I have gone into some details of the fact that the Punjabis have some sort of affectionate contempt or culture shame about their language (see Mobbs 199: 245; Mansoor 1993: 119 for surveys of opinions about it). This culture shame gives rise to, and is in turn fed by, myths of various kinds. The most common ones are: Punjabi is a dialect not a language; it is so full of invectives and dirty words that it cannot be used for serious matters; it is a rustic language and its vocabulary is so limited that it cannot be used for intellectual expression; it lends itself to jokes and is essentially non-serious and therefore unsuitable for serious matters; it has no literature, or at least modern prose literature, in it etc. etc. Most of these prejudices, as we have seen earlier were part of the British attitude towards Punjabi. Whether they were internalised by Punjabi Muslims because of British rule; contact with Urdu speakers; or the fact that Urdu was the language of creative literature and lower level jobs in the Punjab; cannot be determined. What is known is that since the nineteenth century, Punjabi Muslims have held such prejudiced myths about Punjabi.
Most Punjabi activists have spent a lot of time and effort to refute these myths. The early articles in Punjabi in the nineteen fifties began these efforts and even today, after nearly half a century, the same arguments and counter-arguments are being exchanged. Sardar Mohammad Khan, writing in 1957, argued that Punjabi cannot be a `dialect’ in isolation. It must be the dialect of some language (Khan 1957: 26). But by ‘dialect’ the opponents of Punjabi mean that it has not been standardized. The answer to this is that standardization, which is part of language planning (corpus planning to be precise), is an activity which needs planning, money and administrative power. It can only be accomplished by powerful agencies, such as governments, which privilege one variety of the language; print its grammar and dictionaries and, above all, use it in the domains of power beginning with schools (Cooper 1989: 131-144). So, the fact that there was no standardized norm of Punjabi in the fifties did not mean that there was anything intrinsically deficient about the language. What it meant was that the government had been indifferent to it which brought one back to what the activists said all along – begin by teaching Punjabi. The printing of the school texts would by itself begin the process of creating a standard norm.
The other arguments are also part of the non-use of the language in the domains of education, administration, commerce, judiciary and the media. All languages are adequate for the expression of the social reality of the societies in which they are born. However, it is only when they are used in other domains – domains which modernity has brought in – that, their vocabulary expands. To some extent it expands by borrowing from other languages spontaneously but, for the most part, language planners create new terms. This process, called modernization or neologism, is necessary when `a language is extended for new functions and topics’ and takes place even in developed, modern societies though not to the extent it occurs in developing ones (Cooper 1989: 149). But this too is done by powerful language-planning institutions, generally state supported ones. In the case of Punjabi the state did nothing of the kind. Hence, if Punjabi is deficient in modern terms (technical, administrative, philosophical, legal etc), it is not an inherent limitation but merely lack of language planning. Once again, the fault is that of the state and not that of Punjabi.
The absence of books is also the consequence of lack of state patronage and non-use in any of the domains where books are required. In short, the use (or intent to use) the language comes first. Language planning activities follow as a consequence and the language gets standardized and modernized later. This sequence was not always adequately comprehended either by the supporters or by the opponents of Punjabi. Thus they talked, generally in emotional terms, about the merits and demerits of the language rather than about the role of the state and the modernization of pre-modern languages through language planning.
One myth which is somewhat baffling at first sight is that of the alleged vulgarity of Punjabi. The typical refutation of the charge – a charge levelled yet again by no less a person than Mian Tufail Mohammad, a leader of the religious party the Jamaat-i-Islami in 1992 – is that all languages have `dirty words’ (Khan 1957: 29). Mian Tufail was condemned by a large number of Punjabi activists (Baloch 1992), but the fact remains that he said what many Punjabis believe about their language. What requires explanation is that such an absurd myth should exist at all. I believe it came to exist, and still exists, because Punjabi is not used in the formal domains – the domains of impersonal interaction. The norms of interaction in the formal domains preclude personal, egalitarian give and take. Thus one does not use the invectives which one uses with one’s companions and friends. Moreover, since the abstract and learned terms used in the domains of formal learning and law are generally borrowed from a foreign language, they do not strike one as earthy and vulgar. Since Punjabi has never been used in these domains, it lacks these words. Thus, when the familiar Punjabi words for the body and its functions are used, they strike the listener as vulgar and unsophisticated. The classical poets of Punjabi solved this problem, like Urdu poets, by borrowing words from Persian just as the English poets borrowed from Latin and Greek. For instance Waris Shah, describing the beauty of Heer’s body, said:
Kafoor shana suraen banke, saq husn o sutoon pahar vichhon
(Fair and rounded like swollen water bags were her beautiful buttocks
Her legs were as if sculptors had carved them out of the mountain
[in which Farhad had
carved out a canal for his beloved Sheereen i.e mountain famous for love]
The term suraen for buttocks is from Persian and is also used in classical Urdu poetry. The commonly used terms, both in Punjabi and Urdu, would be considered far too obscene to be used in literature. Similarly Hafiz Barkhurdar and Waris Shah both use the term `chati’ (breast, chest) for their heroine’s breasts. The term chati is a neutral term (breast, chest) which can be used for men, women, children and animals for the upper, front portion of the anatomy. To express the feminine beauty of this part of the heroine’s body, the poet resorts to metaphorical language. The use of the Punjabi expressions would have been considered coarse and unseemly.
The point, then, is that Punjabi literature resorts to the same stylistic strategies as other literatures of the world when dealing with tabooed areas. The popular impression that Punjabi has no `polite’ equivalents of tabooed terms is based on ignorance of Punjabi literature. This ignorance is but inevitable in a country where Punjabi is used only in the informal domains and educated people code-switch increasingly to English when they venture into areas which are even remotely connected with sex. Thus even the Punjabi words for wife and woman are falling into disuse as people prefer to use the circumlocution bacche (literally, children), family, and kar vale (the people of the household) instead of run, zanani and voti. To conclude, all the myths about the inadequacy of Punjabi are consequences of its non-use and marginalization by the state. Hence, whether they fully understood the role of power in language planning and use or not, Punjabi activists were right when they insisted that their language should be taught at some levels if it was ever to take its place as a respectable language.
However, lack of understanding of the political dimensions of language policy (and use), also led the Punjabis to hold some self-congratulatory and ego-boosting myths. One was that the Punjabis were so large hearted and generous that they had accommodated Urdu even by sacrificing their own language. A variant of this myth was that Punjabis, being truly Islamic and nationalistic, cared more for Urdu, which symbolised the Islamic and Pakistani identity, than their own mother tongue. Still another variant was that, being ardent lovers of Urdu, the Punjabis had forgotten their mother tongue in their enthusiasm for Urdu. These myths were wrong because they did not take culture shame, language policy, political and economic reasons into account at all. More politically aware Punjabi activists, like Shafqat Tanvir Mirza, argue that the predominantly Punjabi ruling elite gave Urdu more importance than the other indigenous languages of the country in order to keep the country united through the symbolism of one national language; to increase their power base and in order to keep the centre stronger than the periphery. By appearing to sacrifice their own mother tongue the elite can resist the pressure of other ethnic language-based pressure groups to make themselves stronger at the expense of the Punjabi-dominated centre (Mirza 1994: 91). This, indeed, is the consequence of the policy of marginalizing Punjabi. However, it appears to me that many decisions of the ruling elite, as indeed of other human beings, are not so calculated and rational. It is more likely that the low esteem of Punjabi, the idea that it is not suitable for formal domains, is as much part of the Punjabi ruling elite’s world view as it is of other educated Punjabis. To this, perhaps, one may add the conscious feeling that any encouragement of their own mother tongue will embolden the speakers of other indigenous languages to demand more rights and privileges for their languages thus jeopardising the position of Urdu as a national language. In short, the Punjabi elite’s marginalization of Punjabi is not because of generosity or disinterested love of the country but a mixture of culture shame, prejudice against their own language and the desire to keep the centre, and therefore themselves, dominant in Pakistan.
Language-Teaching in Pakistan (1950s and 1960s)
The University of the Punjab permitted students to take Punjabi as an optional language in the early fifties. Critics said that there would be no students who would study it. Faqir Ahmad Faqir agreed but, nothing daunted, suggested that it should be compulsory not optional (Faqir 1953). This did not, however, come to pass. In 1954 the question of Bengali being accepted as a national language of Pakistan was very much in the air. The greatest opponent of the proposal was Maulvi Abdul Haq who still insisted that Urdu alone could symbolise the unity of the Pakistani nation. The Punjab Youth League’s secretary, Farooq Qureshi, took this opportunity to demand that they would celebrate a Punjabi Day. This was probably the first time that the fair of Shah Hussain was used in March 1954 to raise the demand of Punjabi being made an official language. The post-graduates’ union of Punjab University decided to hold a discussion on the issue. The Vice Chancellor; M. Sharif, who was sympathetic to Punjabi and who, above all, did not want the students to get out of hand presided. Masood Khaddarposh, who was present, relates how the students became so unruly in their enthusiasm that they drowned everybody’s speech in full-throated shouts if someone used a non-Punjabi word in the speech. Khaddarposh says that he went on the stage, congratulated the students on becoming free of the oppression of other languages, and said that a new policy consistent with independence should now be created. Then only would there be people who would deliver speeches without putting in Urdu and English words in them (Handwritten report by Masood in my personal collection). Although Masood perceived the students’ exuberance as their desire to discard Urdu and English, such a conclusion is not warranted by the fact that students respond in the same enthusiastic manner to Punjabi mushairas, debates, discussions and other cultural events even now. In a mushaira at F.C. College Lahore on 17 February 1998 the students were equally exuberant (Saver Mar 1998: 44). It appears that they take the language as part of fun and, since it is a change from the languages they use in the formal domains, they tend to relax and take the whole thing as entertainment. This does not mean, however, that they hold Punjabi in prestige (indeed Sabiha Mansoor’s survey shows they do not) and want to discard other languages.
A concrete step in favour of teaching Punjabi was that in 1961 the Board of Secondary Education accepted it as an optional language in schools from class 6 till F.A. In 1962 Abdul Majeed Bhatti and Mohammad Afzal Khan wrote the first book for class 6 (Sultana 1975: 27). This was, of course, a triumph for the Punjabi activists especially because this was the Ayub Khan era when the centre, being dominated by the military and the higher bureaucracy, was highly intolerant of multi-lingualism and multi-culturalism. Indeed, since West Pakistan was one unit since 1955, the indigenous languages were at the lowest ebb of their fortunes. Ayub Khan’s centrist government looked at language-based assertions of identity with great suspicion. In the case of Punjabi it was felt that the Punjabi activists would join the Sikhs across the border to undermine the two-nation theory on the basis of which Pakistan was made. Thus the Punjabi Majlis, an organization to promote Punjabi, was banned in 1959 while the Punjabi Group of the Writer’s Guild was banned in 1963. Despite these setbacks the sixties saw something of a renaissance of Punjabi literary and cultural life. The details of this are given in my previous book (Rahman 1996: 200-202) and need not be repeated. An important development, which bears repetition, is that short stories, plays and poems which were produced during this period laid the foundation for the M.A in Punjabi which started in the 1970s at the Punjab University.
Ayub Khan’s government was toppled in March 1969 by students and politicians. In his place came General Yahya Khan who imposed martial law while promising elections and transition to democracy. Yahya Khan, like Ayub before him, appointed a commission headed by Air Marshal Nur Khan to propose changes in the education policy. Nur Khan’s emphasis was on the nation and hence he favoured the two national languages, Urdu and Bengali, while ignoring all the other indigenous languages of the country. The reaction to this by the Sindhi and Punjabi activists is given in my previous book (Rahman 1996: 118 & 203). Here, I shall refer only to details which are about language teaching but have not been given sufficient space in that book.
About 500 Punjabi activists presented a memorandum on behalf of 13 pro-Punjabi organizations to General Yahya Khan on 31 August 1989 (Dawn 2 September 1969). Among them were the Punjabi Adabi Sangat, Majlis Shah Hussain, Punjabi Adabi Society, Majlis Mian Mohammad, Majlis-e-Bahu, Majlis Waris Shah, Majlis Shah Murad and Rahs Rang, a dramatic group of Lahore. The writers of the document took their stand on social justice possibly because Ayub Khan’s regime had enriched a very narrow elite and, in reaction to that, ideas like socialism, Islamic socialism and social justice were in the air. The document said:
Languages used by different classes of the people are often taken as representatives of their social placing and economic background and aptly reflect the stratification that has taken [place] in our society. If we have to safeguard ourselves against this perpetuation of privileges, which has been rightly marked as a major social problem, we shall have to give these languages of the masses their due in society (Memorandum 1969: 5).
This reference to social stratification was all the more forceful because Nur Khan himself had spoken out against the privileged position of English and that there was a caste-like distinction between Urdu and English medium students (PNEP 1969: 3; 15-17). Now the activists of Punjabi argued that there was another caste-like distinction too – between the users of Urdu and those who knew only Punjabi. Indeed, the knowledge of only Punjabi was considered ignorance – so low had the state’s language policies brought down Punjabi. This, said the Punjabi activists, could only be reversed if Punjabi was taught. The practical steps they recommended were:
(1) Open the doors of our seats of learning to Punjabi by:
(a) adopting it as a medium of instruction at primary level.
(b) making it an elective subject uptill the secondary classes.
(c) opening separate departments for it in higher academic institutions.
(d) creating a separate chair for it in the University of Punjab and other universities to be opened in this area.
(2) utilise Punjabi as medium of instruction for the adult literacy programme(s) in the Punjab area (Memorandum 1969: 6. Based on an article by Malik 1969).
The September 1969 issue of Punjabi Adab also devoted itself to the education policy. Well-known figures – Masood Khaddarposh, Shafqat Tanwir Mirza, Safdar Mir (Zeno), Asif Khan, among others – wrote in favour of Punjabi.
It was in the sixties too that the Punjabi language movement came to have a slightly left of the centre image. This image came from the fact that the Communist Party favoured the languages of the common people. According to Safdar Mir, Eric Cyprian, an important member of the party in the 1940s, said it was necessary to use Punjabi to communicate with the people (Interview in Viewpoint, 25 Jan 1990). In the forties too some leftists, such as Mrs Freda Bedi wife of the Communist leader of Lahore B.P.L Bedi, addressed `rural audiences in Punjabi from a public platform’ (Anand 1998: 16). Although Punjabi did not become the preferred language of the Communist Party in Pakistan, leftists did sympathise with it. Thus there were avowed socialists like Major Ishaque, Safdar Mir and Ahmad Rahi in the movement. Moreover the anti-establishment, rebellious themes of Najam Hussain Bhatti’s plays were left-leaning. In any case, supporting any Pakistani language other than Urdu was seen as being leftist by the establishment. The Punjabi activists, however, made Shah Hussain, a sufi saint, their symbol of inspiration. Shah Hussain is said to have rebelled against orthodoxy by having fallen in love with a boy (Madho Lal), drinking wine and dancing and was, therefore, an anti-establishment symbol. Moreover, the Punjabi activists took to celebrating the anniversary of his death in the Mela-e-Chiraghan with much fanfare. They also danced on the day much to the disapproval of the puritanical revivalists of the Jamaat-i-Islami and ordinary, somewhat orthodox, middle class Punjabis. Thus, when 100 Punjabi writers demanded all regional languages as media of instruction on 5 April 1965 at the Mela-e-Chiraghan (PT 6 April 1965), the demand must have appeared as part of a conspiracy to undermine the foundations of orthodoxy to many people
The Department of Punjabi at the Punjab University
The demand for opening the Punjabi department at the university became stronger. Apart from old champions of Punjabi like Faqir Mohammad Faqir, even people otherwise associated with Urdu like Dr Waheed Qureshi, voiced this demand on 5 August 1969. General Bakhtiar Rana, a member of the Punjabi Adabi League, also made the same demand and numerous small organizations lent their voices to it. The Punjabi Adabi Sangat, for instance, gave several statements in the press demanding M.A in Punjabi (Musawat 24 August 1970).
Faqir Mohammad Faqir’s role in the establishment of the master’s degree at the Punjab University has acquired legendary overtones. Junaid Akram, his biographer, says that he met Alauddin Siddiqui, the Vice Chancellor of the University, and persuaded him not to oppose the idea. Finding the Vice Chancellor willing he met members of the Academic Council and other decision-making bodies and won their approval (Akram 1992: 56). The popular legend has it that he lay down in the office of the Vice Chancellor saying that he would live on the floor unless the M.A was instituted. The Vice Chancellor, completely dismayed by these unorthodox tactics, made the required promises to persuade Faqir to lift the siege. In any case in 1970 the M.A Punjabi classes began at the Oriental College, Punjab University, Lahore.
Faqir Muhammad Faqir’s jubilation knew no bounds. According to a witness, Arshad Meer, he celebrated this great advance in the status of Punjabi at Gujranwala. The Vice Chancellor, Waheed Qureshi, Mian Mohammad Shafi and other notables attended. Faqir paid homage to the Vice Chancellor in verse and the activists of the Punjabi movement felt that their dream had come true.
The first member of the faculty in the Punjabi Department were people who lacked formal degrees in the language but were known for having written in it. Among others were Alauddin Siddiqui, the Vice Chancellor, himself; Ashfaq Ahmad, the noted Urdu dramatist and short story writer; Khizar Tameemi, Sharif Kunjahi and Qayyum Nazar (Akram 1992: 56).
Soon Najam Hussain Syed, a well known intellectual whose book on Punjabi literature Recurrent Patterns in Punjabi Poetry (1986) is still a milestone in the field, was invited to chair the new department. Najam, himself a creative writer of somewhat left-of-the centre orientation, made a comprehensive curriculum for the M.A which did not exclude leftist, identity-conscious, Punjabi literature. Later, when Zia ul Haq took over, all institutions had to move towards the right because the regime was not only centrist, like all previous regimes, but legitimized itself so emphatically in the name of Islam that it became paranoid even about trivialities. Thus, according to Khalid Humayun, some lines of Anwar Masood’s humorous poem `Aj Ki Pakaye’ (what shall we cook today) were expurged because they referred to Pakistan’s friendship with the U.S.A. These lines are:
Kaleyan de nal kaioon mariye udariyan
Sadiyan te hun Amreeka nal yarian
(why should we fly with the blacks forsooth
After all, we are great pals of America)
Not only these lines but the whole stanza was proscribed which, Humayun rightly observes, was unbelievably absurd (Humayun 1986: 231).
Shahbaz Malik, who became the chairman of the Punjabi Department during Zia ul Haq’s days, was known for his rightist views. It was during his tenure that most of the changes mentioned above – such as the exclusion of identity-conscious, political or Sikh literature – took place. Complaints against the department kept coming (Sajjan 30 September 1989), but Shahbaz Malik continued to head it (see his interview in Chowdhry 1991). A lecturer, Khalid Humayun, said that so absurd was the ideological witch-hunting at this period that theses on Ustad Daman and the folk songs of the Punjab were accused of subverting the ideology of Pakistan – the former because Daman had criticised martial law; the latter because popular values were contrary to those which the state supported (Humayun 1990). In an interview Afzal Randhawa, a prominent writer of Punjabi, says:
The syllabus should take into account the needs of Punjabi in modern times and its present level of development and should aim at its promotion. People outside the university have done some work on their own which the administration is averse to making part of the syllabus (Randhawa 1990: 15).
By `syllabus’ Randhawa meant not only the curricula at the masters, but indeed at the B.A and F.A, levels too, but the last lines referred to the ideological bias of the Punjabi Department.
Masood Khaddarposh and Punjabi-Teaching
During the seventies and early eighties, a new figure came to invigorate, and even dominate at times, the Punjabi scene. This was the somewhat enigmatic figure of Mohammad Masood who was popularly known as Masood Khaddarposh (=one who wears rough cotton clothes). Masood was an Indian (and then Pakistan) Civil Service officer. The ICS-CSP cadre as a whole was known for being very Anglicized and alienated from the people and their indigenous culture. Masood, however, proved himself to be diferent when he associated with the tribal people of India, called the bheels and won their trust. They are said to have called him Masood Bhagwan (= god). Later, in Pakistan he wrote a `Minute of Dissent’ to the Sind Hari Commission Report (1950). The Hari (peasant) of Sind was supposed to be the worse example of feudal oppression in Pakistan. The main report, however, did not highlight the injustices done to the Haris. Masood’s `Minute of Dissent’, however, did so. The press, therefore, welcomed it as enthusiastically as it condemned the main report. The chief minister of Sind, Ayub Khuhro, himself a Sindhi feudal lord, remarked in March 1951: `the problem of haris does not exist in the province it exists only in some newspaper offices’. This made Masood even more popular and he came to be known as Masood of the Hari Report. What Masood’s minute of dissent was about can best be understood only by reading it but even its opponent, Ayub Khuhro’s historian daughter Hameeda Khuhro, condemns it in no worse terms than this:
This [Masood’s Minute] did not concern itself with the terms of reference but was a diatribe on the iniquities of the zamindar and their supposed penchant for women and an idle life; their cruelty towards the cultivators whom they treated like `slaves’; the evils of absentee landlordism of which there could have been hardly any example in Sind at that period! He then wrote an essay on Islamic history and his opinion of the rights of `peasant proprietors’ in the Holy Quran of which he also said, `Barring a few exceptions, the precepts of the Quran in this regard have not been practiced by the Musalmans throughout the Islamic history’ (Khuro 1998: 393).
But, however much Hameeda might ridicule Masood, people agreed with him. The `Minute’, therefore, increased his prestige very much.
Later, this unusual bureaucrat became even more unique, indeed legendary, because he started dressing up in khaddar which the impeccably dressed South Asian officers, both civilian and military, never wore in public till the 1970s when Prime Minister Z. A. Bhutto gave respectability to this dress by wearing it in public.Thus, instead of the usual suit complete with necktie, Masood often turned up in the indigenous shalwar qamees which was taboo in official circles. So it was this legendary, somewhat enigmatic, figure who became a champion of Punjabi. Even while he was in service he often used Punjabi in conversation. This, however, was hardly unusual. What was somewhat unusual was that he often asked people to give evidence in Punjabi because he felt they would express themselves more clearly in the mother tongue. Even more unusual, and bordering on the eccentric this time, was his insistence that prayers should be said in Punjabi because one should know what one was saying to God (Akhtar 1986). This alienated the ulema but, luckily for Masood, the idea was generally ignored and the religious opposition against him did not become widespread. After his retirement Masood became the convener of the Punjab Forum – an organization for the promotion of Punjabi.
Now it was this man who wrote in favour of using Punjabi in different domains and, above all, of teaching it. His arguments referred to the Quran (that God guides people in their own language); conspiracy theories (that the Jews wanted only one international language) and ideas of cultural preservation, ease of developing new concepts in the mother-tongue and so on (Masood 1969 et passim).
Masood was an energetic man and, having been in the machinery of the state, he believed in influencing the decision-makers in the state apparatus. Thus, apart from writing articles, memoranda, letters to the editor and making speeches from different fora, he also wrote letters to high government officials asking them to take steps to teach Punjabi. Among others, he wrote to the President, the governor, cabinet ministers like Abdus Sattar Niazi and Dr. Mahbub ul Haq and the chairman of the Literacy Commission to make policies in favour of teaching Punjabi. When the state functionaries did not respond satisfactorily he released his letters or a summary of his efforts to persuade them to the press. A typical release of 16 September 1984 states:
At last I went personally just last month to Islamabad to speak to the present Head of the Literacy Commission and I quoted several verses from the Quran to make it clear that all education and literacy must be imparted in the mother tongue.
Among his several interviews in the press – in Punjabi, Urdu and English – the one which had circulation outside the Punjabi-language activists was the one which I.A Rehman published in the Herald (July 1984). In this Masood pointed out that he had advocated multi-lingualism in Pakistan for more than 25 years. He denied that Urdu was necessary even as a link language but said that it would be retained. All Pakistani languages, he said, should be national languages and would be taught in the Punjab (Rehman 1984).
Masood’s hour of triumph came when on 02 January 1985 he collected some leading figures of the country including Dr. Mubashir Husain, said to be the architect and theoretician of the PPP, A.H. Kardar, Fakhar Zaman (PPP senator and Punjabi writer), Mazhar Ali Khan (editor of Viewpoint) Abdullah Malik (the famous Urdu novelist) and Mumtaz Daultana (famous politician) and made them agree to adopt a charter for the `restoration of the cultural dignity of the Punjabi-speaking people of Pakistan’. The teaching of Punjabi was the focus of this charter. The basic thesis was that colonial values had deprived the Punjabis of the use of their language in formal domains. Now, if the lost dignity of the language was to be reclaimed, it was necessary to use it in the administration and the judiciary. But this meant that it should be taught first and this is what the 139 signatories of the charter vowed to bring about (Charter 1984; Viewpoint10 Jan 1985; The Muslim 3 Jan 1985).
These were Zia ul Haq years and the presence of known leftists among the signatories – people like C.R. Aslam, Mazhar Ali Khan, Safdar Mir, Mabashar Hasan – alarmed the right wing. The press, especially the Urdu press, attacked the charter when it did not ignore it. The charter, therefore, became as politically controversial, as much a part of the ongoing left-right debate, as most other intellectual matters did at that time.
In the same way the International Punjabi Conference of 1986, organized by Fakhar Zaman in Lahore also became controversial. This conference has been described in my previous book (Rahman 1996: 205-206) and all its proceedings have been collected in one volume (Qaisar & Pal 1988), so there is no point in describing it here except to say that the demand for teaching Punjabi was not only the subject of resolutions but also an issue around which many of the papers revolved.
The second International Punjabi Conference, after having been postponed several times, was held from 26 to 29 December 1992. Fakhar Zaman, its convener, was also the Chairman of the Academy of Letters and had much power being close to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto who was enjoying her second tenure in government. But, possibly because the PPP did not want to confront the centrist military and the bureaucracy and the bias against Punjabi was well entrenched in the establishment, the conference lacked the fervent anti-establishment enthusiasm of the 1986 conference which had become a political statement against Zia ul Haq’s martial law. Once again the teaching of Punjabi was a crucial issue. Although Fakhar Zaman did say that Punjabi would become a medium of instruction (Ghumman 1995: 300), but everybody seemed to feel that no substantial change would be made.
Neutralising the Ideological Threat from Punjabi
Although Punjabi was taught to so few children, the state ensured that the textbooks for teaching it were saturated with state-sponsored ideology. Several steps were taken for this purpose. In 1986, 2009 primary schools of the Punjab were selected and 46,930 pupils of class 1 were interviewed. The idea was to write down the words they used so that words common to Punjabi and Urdu could be identified. N.K. Shaheen Malik, the Director of the Project, made some textbooks called Entry Vocabulary of Pre-School Children based upon his major finding that 68.8 per cent words of small children were common to Punjabi and Urdu while only 27.7 per cent words belonged only to Punjabi (Malik n.d. 14).
The idea, however, was not so much to teach Punjabi as to point out that teaching Punjabi children through Urdu was justified because children understood new concepts in a language which was so close to their own that they were already familiar with it. However, the project did deal with the teaching of Punjabi too. This teaching was very little but such as it was, it had to be ideologically correct. Thus, in a workshop for teachers of Punjabi held in April 1986, care was taken to emphasize that `Musalmani’ and not `Sikhi’ Punjabi should be taught (Malik 1986: 19).
The Punjabi textbooks, like the textbooks in the other Pakistani languages, are saturated with ideological moralising. The three main themes here too are Islam, Pakistani nationalism and glorification of war and the military. The present author found that items (prose or verse) on these subjects out of the total number of items in the textbooks were as follows:
The preface of all these books explicitly states that the student should learn Punjabi in the light of Islam, the ideology of Pakistan and nationalism.
Efforts to Popularise Punjabi
Between 1980 and 1986 the Punjabi Adabi Board got around a hundred books written in Punjabi. These books were written by well known writers on subjects as wide ranging as folk songs (Lok Geet by Tanwir Bukhari) to fiction, biography, religion and history. There were books on Harappa and other cities and even books on games and women. The books were not written in only the Lahori dialect (the language of institutions working in Lahore and most Punjabi language activities)but included those in the Multani, called Siraiki since the 1960s, one (Musarrat Kalonchvi’s Vaddian da Adar (1986). This was in keeping with the policy of the Punjabi Adabi Board, which considers Siraiki only a dialect of Punjabi and not a separate language, and agrees to promote its teaching in this capacity. It is also because of this policy that the Punjabi activists have never opposed the teaching of Siraiki literature. In their view, the teaching of Siraiki would only prove that the literary roots of all the dialects of their common language are the same.
Thus when Taj Mohammad Langah, the leader of a Siraiki political party, said that a separate department of Siraiki should be opened at the Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan, Shafqat Tanwir Mirza, the well known Punjabi intellectual and activist, agreed with him. Said Mirza:
No Saraiki M.A student can ignore Baba Farid, Sultan Bahu, Bulleh Shah, Shah Husain, Shah Murad and ultimately Waris Shah.
Thus, in his view, the difference between Siraiki and Punjabi, being deliberately created by politicians, will come to an end (Mirza 1995 a).
The demand for teaching Punjabi took three forms in the 1990s. First, there was the old demand that it should be made the medium of instruction at the primary level. Secondly, there was the demand that serious efforts should be made for teaching it in schools where it was an option. Thirdly, that the masters courses should be comprehensive and not propagandist i.e that they should not exclude the literature of the Sikhs or anti-establishment Pakistanis. Eminent figures like Hanif Ramey, chief minister of the Punjab in the PPP government, launched a campaign for introducing Punjabi at the primary level in November 1991 at Pakpattan – for symbolic effect, from the shrine of the sufi saint and first poet of Punjabi, Baba Fariduddin Masood Ganj Shakar (1175-1265 AD) (Frontier Post 25 November 1991). He also announced the creation of yet another organization, Punjab Eka (Punjabi union), to work towards this aim but, like all the other such organizations, its efforts proved futile.
Those who demanded more serious efforts in teaching it pointed out from various fora, including Punjabi publications like Sajjan, Maan Boli etc, that schools did not encourage students to take Punjabi; Punjabi textbooks were not available; teachers were not available and so on. State functionaries, like Zulfiqar Khosa, the Minister of Education of the Punjab in 1990 (the first tenure of Benazir Bhutto) reiterated the old excuse that, since Punjabi was divided into dialects, it could not be used as a medium of instruction at all (Sajjan 27 April 1990).
Increase in the Teaching of Punjabi
Although government policy towards the teaching of Punjabi did not change significantly, it had to accommodate itself to the presence of an increasing number of graduates in the language which the Punjab University was turning out every year. They had to be absorbed somewhere and generally it was college and school teaching they aimed at. However, very few schools and colleges offered Punjabi. It was, after all, a ghettoizing language with little prestige in society. It was not useful for procuring jobs either. Thus all private schools eschewed it altogether. As for the state run Urdu medium schools in the Punjab, they too refused to hire teachers though here and there, because of the personal efforts of one person or the other, teachers were hired and the subject was introduced. The number of appointments of lecturers in the colleges of the Punjab cannot be ascertained. However, the Lahran of November 1987 gives the insignificant figure of only 7 lecturers in the whole province. Other people give similarly depressing figures (see Milr 1989 who claims that in Lahore there were 6 vacancies for Punjabi; 115 for English, 85 for Urdu, 9 for Persian and 6 for Arabic), and lamented that the new graduates (with M.A in Punjabi) were jobless (Pal 1989). The regular students in the department were around 40 during the eighties but since the Punjab University allows candidates to take the examination privately (i.e without attending classes), around 100 to 150 students get M.A degrees. Many obtain the degree only after having acquired another, more instrumentally useful, degree but quite a large number do enter the extremely limited job market of Punjabi teaching as several articles point out (see the editorials of Sajjan 25 May 1989 and 14 March 1969). The Punjabi activists often claim that a large number of students were keen to study Punjabi (Milr 1989 b) but the sad truth is that, given the lack of prestige and jobs, students take Punjabi as a `soft’ option. That is why there are reports that examination papers at some levels are so easy as to ensure that everybody passes. Thus the M.A in Punjabi is often of lower academic standard than other M.As.
In formal interviews Punjabi activists claim that students are denied Punjabi and are keen to study it. Informal conversations with students and teachers, however, reveal that Punjabi is taken as an easy option. Such kind of revelations are given only in confidence but sometimes they are given in formal interviews too. For instance, the monthly Punjabi Likhari (January 1997) interviewed several lecturers in Punjabi in government colleges and it emerged from the interviews that these lecturers knew that students were attracted to Punjabi to get high marks. Out of six lecturers five conceded that the main attraction was the possibility of getting high marks. The sixth one, Ihad Nabael, said that although previously this was the main motivation, students had started taking genuine interest in Punjabi now because some studied it as an option in schools too (Nabael 1997: 63). Almost everybody had some complaint against the syllabi. In a penetrating essay Shafqat Tanwir Mirza has pointed out that Punjabi textbooks excluded the best known writers such as Asaf Khan, Abdul Majid Bhatti, Shahbaz Malik, Afzal Ahsan Randhawa, Saleem Khan Bimmi and so on. Instead, they had included Ataul Haq Qasmi and Sarfraz Zahida whose contribution was very little (Mirza 1995 b) (also see another expose of the Text Book Board by Mirza in Nation 20 October 1996).
In 1994 there was again a spurt of activity in favour of teaching Punjabi. A number of organizations and individuals issued statements in favour of it and 125 members of the Punjab Assembly signed a resolution for the teaching of Punjabi in the provincial assembly. Fakhar Zaman, incharge of the Cultural Wing of the PPP, addressed a forum organized by the Urdu daily Jang in which a number of well known Punjabi intellectuals also spoke (Shafqat Tanwir Mirza, Abdul Rashid Bhatti, Afzal Ahsan Randhawa, Akhtar Husain Akhtar, Abdul Ghani Shah among them). He promised much but no major change took place (Jang 17 Jan 1994).
Arif Nikai, Chief Minister of the Punjab, set up a committee for the promotion of Punjabi language and culture with a budget of 50 million rupees. An important aspect of promotion was making Punjabi compulsory not just in state run Urdu schools but even in English-medium schools which were mostly in private hands. Moreover, at the primary level, it would be a medium of instruction (PT 20 June 1996). But all these ambitious intentions came to nothing and before long Benazir’s PPP government, of which Nikai was a member, was thrown out.
In the late nineties the movement for teaching Punjabi became weaker. Either for this reason, or for some other, at least one Punjabi organization adopted angry, even chauvinistic, tones while advocating the age-old demands about promoting Punjabi. This was Lok Seva Pakistan of which Nazeer Kahut, who was at daggers drawn againt the Mohajirs having lived and observed the militancy of their political party the MQM at Karachi, was the leader. In one of his press conferences he said that if `Punjabi was not taught at the primary level, Pakistan would break up’ and that Pakistani Punjabi children should be allowed to go to the Indian Punjab to get educated in their mother-tongue (Nazeer 1994: 15).
In 1996 a field survey carried out by the Punjab University’s Institute of Education and Research revealed that peoples’ attitudes towards Punjabi had not changed since the partition (and earlier). Parents still preferred Urdu and English for instrumental reasons. Teachers still felt they did not have enough command over Punjabi to be able to teach in it. Students were still not positive towards it. But a number of people did agree that there should be no difficulty about teaching it at the primary level (Chishti 1996).
Several Punjabi publications, such as the monthly Ravel, kept reporting that a movement for teaching Punjabi was going on. A number of enthusiasts did promise books for students and teachers were demanded (several issues of Ravel in 1991-92). The Maan Boli Parhao movement held workshops (13 Oct 1991 at Gujar Khan reported in Ravel November 1991). The movement got more momentum in 1994 but nothing substantial came about. Punjabi publications pounced upon every little event – a school’s headmaster starting classes in Punjabi, a teacher reporting success and so on – but no major breakthrough came about. Roughly, this is the condition in 1998 too.
Punjabi has been the victim of the way power has been in the hands of foreign elites or of indigenous elites who have internalised the world view of foreign elites. Thus, during Mughal days it was not taught in its own right because Persian, a foreign language, was the language of the domains of power and the symbol of power and good breeding. During the British period too it was taught only to the Sikhs but, because it was not used in the domains of power, even they paid less attention to it than to Urdu. As for the Punjabi Muslims, they became ardent supporters of Urdu not only because they had studied it from childhood but also because it was a symbol of their Muslim identity and, therefore, part of their power struggle against the non-Muslims in British India. In Pakistan, Punjabi is still regarded as a rustic, and hence inadequate, language for serious work and is also associated with ethnicity which is seen as a grave political threat by the ruling elite which wants a strong centre. As such, here too it has been ignored while Urdu and English have been promoted by using them in the domains of culture and power. Punjabi, therefore, remains the informal medium of instruction at the lower level in schools and a soft option for students at higher level. The Punjabi activists have sought to change this state of affairs since the fifties in Pakistan but have not met with significant success so far.
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