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September 24, 2015



Opponents of Urdu

Many people are vehemently opposing the directive given by the Supreme Court to make Urdu the official language of the country. Their chief arguments are that Urdu is the mother tongue of less than 10 percent of Pakistanis, and that not retaining English as the official language would cause a disconnect between us and the rest of the world.
A BBC report on this issue quoted an ethnic Pashtun tweeter saying that: “Urdu is not the language of majority, still it is the national language of Pakistan. Even in linguistics, minority is imposed on majority”. Perhaps this Pashtun tweeter would accept Punjabi as the official language because it is definitely the language of the majority.
The same report claimed that 48 percent of Pakistanis speak Punjabi; however, it failed to mention that there is hardly any opposition to Urdu in Punjab. In fact, most of those who want Urdu as the official language are from Punjab.
The report also quoted a journalist who supported English as the national language because “nearly every village in Pakistan has at least one privately-run English medium school these days”. This journalist does not know the standard of English language teaching in 90 percent of these schools. He should know that children studying in these schools can’t write even one paragraph in the English language.
Despite being the official language, English remains a totally alien language, written in an alien alphabet. On the contrary, Sindhi, Pashto and Balochi are all written in almost the same alphabet as Urdu.
The BBC report also says that many Urdu terms that meant one thing in northern India, the home of Urdu language, mean quite another in Pakistan. This may be true, but the number of such terms cannot be so large as to cause much of a problem.
Some others say that Urdu does not have the capacity to adequately express the meaning of most technical terms. But this should not be a hurdle in adopting Urdu as the official language. Those

terms that have no Urdu equivalent at present should be used as they are.
Here are some facts for the opponents of Urdu. The most popular poets in Pakistan are Iqbal, Faiz and Faraz. All three wrote in Urdu, although it was not their mother tongue.
Similarly, the most popular playwrights in the country are Amjad Islam Amjad, Asghar Nadeem Syed and Munno Bhai. All three are Punjabi.
The channels getting the best TRPs are those whose programming is in Urdu. None of the regional language channels gets much advertisement business. On the other hand, what happened to channels that transmitted news in English? One switched to Urdu within a few years and the other had to be shut down.
Don’t these facts amply demonstrate that Urdu is the most appropriate option for the official language of Pakistan?
Urdu is, in the true sense, the lingua franca in Pakistan.
English should be taught at our schools and universities as an optional language – as happens in other countries.
Urdu is the language that unites us as a nation. In universities in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, and many other cities students from various parts of the country are able to communicate with each other only because they all know Urdu.
Many opponents of Urdu say it is as difficult for most people as is English. That is sheer intellectual dishonesty. Urdu is certainly not the mother tongue of the majority, but the majority does understand and can speak Urdu. Learning in Urdu is much easier for the whole Pakistani nation than learning in English.
Many people argue that English is necessary for communication with the outside world. But what percentage of our people goes abroad? Not even one percent, I am sure. How many people living in Pakistan have to communicate with English-speaking people? Again, less than one percent.
We cannot and should not burden the whole nation with the task of learning English for the sake of that tiny percentage of people. Our education system’s energies should be directed towards that part of our population which is to remain here.
What benefit have we had of teaching our youth in English? We have only hampered our students’ ability to think clearly. Instead of developing expertise in their subjects, they remain busy trying to improve their English language skills because that is a pre-requisite for any good job.
In most of the private sector companies, interviewers ask candidates questions in English although employees do not have to speak in English to perform their job.
It is regrettable that in the examinations for the civil service, there are two compulsory papers of English language, while Urdu remains optional. Does command over the English language improve the capacity of our civil service? Surely, it doesn’t. In fact, it hampers their work because they spend more time trying to write correct English than on improving the quality of their work.
Most of those who are opposing making Urdu the official language are doing so because they will lose their supremacy over ordinary folk the day Urdu becomes the official language.
The writer is a staffer at The News.
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