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February 21, 2021

Tribulation of Mother Tongue

Lahore

February 21, 2021

A language is first step toward civilization, its evolution led society towards civilized life. Its development is centurieslong process that makes languages flourish and draw new marks of civilizations. Individuals or particular time frame may have contributed in grooming a language, but in the long-run it is collective social involvement that develops a language in best its form. It is preposterous to say that a language completes its phases of development in a specific time frame, or like religions, Chosen People of Almighty bestow them to mankind. Rather in this unique overlong process all and sundry regardless of class contributed equally and generously. No matter what one’s native language is, power-wielding elite cannot dictate to expunge particularwords froma language just because those were developed by followers of different sect or religion, or lower castes. This is an indisputable fact that notwithstanding ground realities, mother tongues are still major source of socio-economic development. A mother tongue conjoins us; it makes us share ideas, creeds, and other routine matters with each other. It’s hard to trace origin of languages; researchers believe that to trace down genesis of language, we need to explore prehistory of 6000 to 5000000 years; such research is beyond comprehension. However, in this evolutionary voyage of thousands of years, languages developed in different forms and played vital role in human development. Theremay be host of ambiguities in this centuries-long voyage, but this indubitable reality remains thatman learn to speak a language by his mother or fromhome wherein he is raised. Its mother tongue that unconsciously grooms man intellectually. Linguists believe man learns best in his first language, being more familiar with mother tongue; he can convey his feelings, ideas and needs more accurately than any other language. It is prime duty of every independent state to ensure protection of native languages, values and

culture. Societies that sacrificed their native language and culture for borrowed ones eventually lost their identity with the passage of time. These defunct languages and cultures today found only in folk tales. Today many languages and cultures are at the verge of extinction; according to a study ofUNESCO, from1950 to 2010 about 250 languages got extinct, and with them their centuries old rich literary treasure is also lost. Furthermore, UNESCO has warned that about half of World’s approximately 6000 languages are seriously endangered or dying. This indicates that by the end of current century multiple times more languages will die. Reason propounded here is “World is heading towards fusion of civilizations”. In case so happens, then agreement on common heritage, values and traditions will become a distant dream. Why languages and cultures are dying? To understand this phenomenon, we need to analyze those languages and cultures which are consistently expanding at the cost of others. Prominent amongst these is English; all backward, under-developed third world countries of Asia and Africa where employment opportunities are meager; brain-drain is one major problem these countries are facing. As these countries cannot offer bright future to their promising youth, so move to those countries which reward them according to their talent. Thismigration to another civilization for better economic opportunities weakens relation with their roots and their second or third generations rarely look back towards their past. Hence this cultural onslaught is likely to affectmore to those countries having weaker economies. Linguists believe that over half of world’s languages will go extinct by end of current century. This fear of extinction has made world community observe International Mothers LanguageDay every year on 21 February. This day is observed with commitment to preserve and protectMother Tongue; as well as to pay tribute to Bengali students killed by Police on 21 February 1952, whose only demand was they should not be forced to quit their mother tongue. Researchers believe thiswas onemajor factor that led to Dhaka fall. Few months after creation of Pakistan, Bengali languagewas removed from postal Stamps and currency notes, only Urdu and Englishwere officially recognized. Bengali intelligentsia agitated at thismove and tinge of resistance once again seen in Bengali literature. DailyMillat in popular editorial wrote, “Exceptmother tongue, recognition of any other language as official is like embracing slavery”. Daily Azadi wrote, “If only Urdu is recognized as official language, then thosewho have studied Bengali only, they will become illiterate and ineligible for Government jobs”. Such articles created an atmosphere of resistance in East Pakistan; Bengalis feared survival of Bengali language would be a stake if Urdu was imposed. As a result in January 1948, they formed “Rastrabhasa Sangram Parishad” to preserve and protect Bengali language. Initially this body secretly organized it movement for Bengali Language, however it cause was exploited by forces thatwere against united Pakistan. Historians believe Quaid-e-Azam was forced to say that Urdu would be the only state language of Pakistan. Irrespective ofwhatwas logic and wisdom behind this decision; Quaid address led to regular movement for Bengali Language. In 1948, Bengali students and civil society called for agitation and started demonstrations. On 26 January 1952, when constituent Assembly declared Urdu National Language, there were widespread demonstration and strikes against this decision. A general strike was called on 21 February 1952, to control the situation, section 144 was imposed. Even than students gathered at Dhaka University, to disperse them, Police initially baton charged then opened fire. Struggle of Bengalis proved that different cultural and lingual entities cannot be linked together in the name of single culture. On the other hand this insistence made East Pakistan Bangladesh after 19 years. Today, when are once again observing International Mother Tongues day, we need to ponder if we have learned anything from events of 1952; or still living in same mind-set wherein local languages are made a symbol of class discrimination; in educational institutes they are painted as symbols of ignorance and incivility? Worst victim of this mindset is Punjabi. With over 200 million native speakers worldwide, it is believed this was language of Harappan Civilization, despite enviable history and literature, Punjabi language is struggling for its survival. In this context, anti-Punjabi behavior of Provincial Govt. of Punjab is deplorable. Punjab Govt. never took steps to introduce Punjabi officially and is hell-bent to discourage Punjabi Journals, periodicals, and dailies through a official policy. Recently UNESCO declared Lahore city of literature; Ministry of Information in this context issued an advertisement that did not include a single Punjabi literary figure. It is unfortunate that we are celebrating Mother Language day but at the same time we are conspiring to Kill local languages especially Punjabi. Today we are to talk about rights of all those languages which are at brink of extinction, along with their rich heritage. We need to talk about conspiracies being hatched to strangulate them. Mind it, if your language is alive, your identity is alive, and otherwise history will recognize you with a different name and identity.