Language as a Discourse Urdu Bazaar

Language as a Discourse

Edward Sapir in his work Language: 'A Study of Speech' says, 

 Languages are more to us than systems of thought-transference. They are invisible garments that drape themselves about our spirit and give a predetermined form to all its symbolic expression.”  

Language acts as a medium of expression, however, it is also one of the major influencers of cultural, religious, political as well as social changes. Language has always been used as an intrinsic tool by the colonizers as well as political leaders to influence the minds of people. A particular language may not belong to a nation as a whole, and may change with geographical boundaries. However, several nations adhere to the concept of a National Language that is widely spoken throughout a country. For instance, French is the national language of France, German for Germany and Pakistan’s widely  spoken language is Urdu. During the India-Pakistan partition, both Punjabi as well as Urdu speaking people sought refuge in Pakistan, but Urdu gained dominance.  

What I wish to discuss here is how language often becomes a symbol of identity, religion and also an integral medium to colonize the minds of people. It also depicts how political upheavals play a role in determining whether certain languages should gain importance while other languages are relegated to a subservient position.

Punjabi has always been the most extensively spoken language in Pakistan, however, Urdu is considered to be the language of the nation. It is ironic because more than 50% of the Pakistani population converses in Punjabi and not Urdu. Asghar Wajahat in his popular book 'पाकिस्तान का मतलब क्या' depicts the state of Pakistan and says- पंजाबी को दबा कौन रहा है, उर्दूl’’

It clearly shows how Punjabi is being rooted out because the Government wants Urdu to be at the centre. Politics plays its tricks by depicting Punjabi as the language of Sikhs and Hindus  thereby, justifying why Punjabi must not be at the forefront of an Islamic State. The book goes on to say-पंजाबी को हिन्दुओं और सिखों की भाषा माना गया हैl

The government wanted to use Urdu for creating some sense of ‘national identity’ but failed because people in different districts continued to speak their ‘mother tongue’.

An inevitable question might be raised here, which is:

“Why is Urdu the national language of Pakistan when the most widely spoken language is Punjabi?” The reason for this can be the 'passivity of the emigrant nobility'.  

Most of the North-Indians, post partition migrated to Pakistan. Urdu speaking population from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar were sent to Sindh. As a result of this, just in three years, that is till 1950 more than 50% of the population in Pakistan was those who conversed in Urdu.

An Urdu speaking मोहाजिर (emigrant) Liaqat Ali Khan, who was from Karnal, India, became the first prime minister of Pakistan, and used ‘Urdu’ to politicize people and turn the majority in his favour.  

वे सिन्ध के बड़े शहरों को उर्दू भाषी बाहुल्य क्षेत्रबनाना चाहते थेI”

His ideologies have been vividly discussed in Asghar Wajahat's and we get an insight into how he used language to gain power. The script ‘Gurmukhi’ couldn’t be taken in due to historical reasons . Currently, people write Punjabi in ‘Urdu’. I would like to cite an example from the Asghar Wajahat's 'पाकिस्तान का मतलब क्या' to establish my premise more clearly.

उर्दू में बड़े- से बैनर पर लिखा था, ‘पंजाबी तहरीक’, यानी पंजाबी आन्दोलनI”

The protest being held was against the negligence and the deteriorating status of ‘Punjabi’ but the banners that were made were in ‘Urdu’. An instant thought that comes to the mind after getting acquainted with the fact that Punjabi is being written in Urdu is, ‘To what extent does that do justice to the dialect?’  Punjabi is a difficult language when written, two words written in the same fashion can have a sea of difference in their meanings and there is a certain way in which certain words are pronounced. That being said, its evident that ‘Punjabi’ somehow loses its essence when written in ‘Urdu’. The Sikhs’ holy book, 'Guru Granth Sahib' is written in Punjabi, and this might be one of the reasons as to why politicians wanted to root out Punjabi completely from Pakistan. 

In the present day scenario the condition of Punjabi in Pakistan is quite similar to that of Hindi in India. The only major difference is Hindi is the official language of India whereas Punjabi is not Pakistan’s. The language of the so-called 'elite' is what everyone wishes to learn or use, even in everyday conversation. 

The percentage of people speaking Hindi as their first language is much greater than the people speaking English but only those who can speak English fluently are considered to be civilised, sophisticated, refined and 'culturally superior'. Perhaps we are still perpetuated in the state of being ignoramus. We don’t even consider the people who have an expertise in Hindi, as we feel it’s the language we use for communication. Here I would like to bring in Ngugi Wa Thiong'o's idea of which he talks about in his essay, 'Decolonising The Mind', which is “When you start praising the coloniser, and start feeling that they are somehow superior, it is then that you are successfully dominated by them.” The British coloniser wanted to introduce and establish their language and culture and they knew that it could only be done by giving the indigene a new language which will make them denigrate their own. They can only bring in their culture by making the colonised feel ashamed of their own civilisation. English to India came from the coloniser, but is now the marker of ‘sophistication and refinement’ and is blended with the culture in a way that rooting it out is almost impossible.

Something similar is the case with Urdu in Pakistan. It was considered to be the language of the ‘elite’. Asghar Wajahat puts emphasis on the fact that Punjabi was the language which majority of the population spoke, but right after Pakistan was made, Punjabi started getting neglected. Asghar Wajahat's पाकिस्तान का मतलब क्या' says-

पंजाबी भाषा की उपेक्षा, पाकिस्तान बनने के साथ ही शुरू हो गई थीI”

Although Saraiki and Sindhi were being taught in primary schools, Punjabi was nowhere in the picture. Its not even taught at the university level which comes as a shock. There is no Punjabi newspaper in Pakistan and hardly any other publication in the language, whereas there are newspapers, magazines and other publications too in Saraiki, which is the language of Multan, but a very few of the total population can actually speak or comprehend it.

If this is the state of Punjabi, shall we even imagine the condition of Hindi in Pakistan? No where in the country is the language taught. Both Hindi and Urdu are the formal registers of Hindustani, which derives its base from the Khari Boli dialect and developed in the 13th century C.E.

The modern standard registers are mostly indistinguishable. In the ancient times, Hindi was written in 'Brahmi' which was closely linked to 'Kharoshti' which was used in what is now Pakistan, but it eventually died out. Fundamentally, Hindi and Urdu come from the same parental language, which is 'Hindustani'. In Pakistan, ‘Persian’ derived words influence the language more whereas in India, the language is more ‘Sanskritised’. Although when the languages are spoken, there are only minute differences. So, the question arises that if both Urdu and Hindi have the same origin and only have slight differences then why is Hindi not used or even taught in Pakistan? 

Once in the book 'पाकिस्तान का मतलब क्या' Asghar Wajahat asks a famous Urdu writer, Ajmal Kamaal;

पाकिस्तान में हिंदी कहीं नहीं पढाई जाती?”

To which he got a response: 

हाँ... कहीं नहींI”

One of the possible reasons for this can be, that Hindi is considered to be the language of ‘Hindustan’. It is the official language of India and therefore perhaps people in Pakistan refrain from learning or reading Hindi. It is important to notice that how language is linked with ‘national’, ‘religious’ and ‘ethnic’ identity. 

Talking about linking language with religious and ethnic identity Urdu cannot be ignored.  When we hear the word Urdu, we automatically tend to link it with Islam which is one of the many stereotypes the author tries to debunk through the the book 'पाकिस्तान का मतलब क्या' . Urdu can be linked to many things such as Sufism, shayari, great literature and creating a stereotype that its only a language related to Muslims will be idiocy.

Urdu has been regarded as one of the pre-eminent languages of literature in the subcontinent. Beautiful poetry, prose, novels, musicals, ghazals, nazms and a lot more has been written in Urdu which is soulful and doesn’t stand any religious biases. Writers like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Amir Khusrow, Munshi Premchand, Ismat Chughtai, Sadat Hassan Manto and many others who wrote in Urdu have written great works which appeal not just to Muslims but anybody. 

Hence, Wajahat’s 'पाकिस्तान का मतलब क्या' can be seen as a critique of linking language with a ‘National’ or ‘Religious’ identity which he very subtly puts across through his experiences.

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