With Pakistan’s senate panel approving a proposed legislation to grant national language status to Punjabi, lovers of the shared language on the Indian side of the border are elated.
Pak senate’s standing committee on law and justice approved a constitution amendment bill on May 11 to give the status of national language to Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto and Balochi, too, alongside Urdu, which is the only language that has the status there at present.
“So far, Punjabi has been considered as marginalised language in Pakistan despite the fact that Punjabi-speaking people are in majority there,” said Dharam Singh, former head of the Punjabi department at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. “Pakistani Punjabis are thus deprived of the language as a subject in school education.”
Dharam, who has written several articles for Punjabi journals published in Pakistan, added, “If this bill becomes law, it will help in reducing illiteracy among people of Pakistani Punjab, because Urdu is the medium of instruction in educational institutions. It is a fact that mother tongue as the medium enhances literacy rate.”
Both Punjabs have similar dialects but different scripts for Punjabi — Gurmukhi in India, and Shahmukhi in Pakistan.
Prof Manjinder Singh of GNDU opined, “Like India, Pakistan is also multicultural and multilingual country. Replacing the mother tongue of the people with some other language, such as Urdu, is a hit to the society of Pakistan. With the recent bill, there is a ray of hope of restoration of the lost glory of Punjabi and other regional languages in the neighbouring country.”
Deepak Bali, a mother tongue activist, said the step has been taken late, but in the right direction. “It will pave the way for Punjabi’s promotion there, and also help the Punjabi society in many respects as it is the mother tongue that forms the literature, music, rituals, and religious beliefs of cultural groups.”
He also hoped that this will help in getting people of both Punjabs closer to each other. “Ultimately, it will leave a positive impact on India-Pak ties that are going through a turbulent time these days due to tension on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
The objective of the bill is to recognise all languages in the Pak constitution and set an example of having acceptance for all Pakistanis speaking any language and belonging to any corner of the country.
Not everyone is as hopeful, though. “In India, regional languages, including Punjabi, enjoy a status equal to that of Hindi, but these arrangements are only on paper, and Hindi is promoted as the sole national language of the country,” said Surinder Bangar, a Punjabi writer.