Sethi’s gestures for the good of Punjabi

By Mushtaq Soofi | 5/31/2013 DAWN

Najam Sethi, after taking over as the care taker chief minister of Punjab, took some measure galvanizing the cultural scene that would have attracted little attention in the normal circumstances but as we all know, we do not live under normal circumstances in the cultural sense.

Thus his action is being perceived as very significant in view of the self-induced cultural amnesia the Punjab suffers from. In order to appreciate the implications of his cultural activism we need a perspective. The Punjab these days seems to be a cultural wasteland despite having more than 5,000 years glorious history. In view of our intellectual inertia, it will seem hard to believe that it was Punjab that created what we call civilization of the subcontinent as a result of confrontation and interaction between the Dravidians and Arya. It was Punjab where the Rig-Veda was composed or revealed to the `Rishis`, the sages. It was the universally celebrated Taxila University in the Punjab where great Panini wrote his Ashtadhyayi, the first book on linguistics and Chanakya Kautilya his famous Arthshastra, analyzing the dirty but real secrets of stat-craft for the first time in the recorded human history.

Ghandhara in Punjab produced some of the finest pieces of sculpture. And again it was Punjab that laid the foundations of synthetic Hindu Muslim culture after the arrival of Arabs from the south and that of Turks from the north, leaving indelible imprint on our collective life.

The visible sign of our cultural deterioration and decline is the disowning or rejection of our language by our elite, wallowing in its self created arrogant ignorance. If you lose language, the most vital element of culture, you are destined to lose your culture as it is language that enduringly preserves and transmits collective memory from generation to generation. Not just that! Language is a mode of thinking and each language has a mode of thinking specific to it. So by losing your lan-guage you lose your intellectual and spiritual evolution as well as your specific way of thinking.

The rot, as far as our language is concerned, started after the annexation of the Punjab by the British in mid nineteenth century. The British colonial administration deliberately demolished the vast network of indigenous system of education. The use of the Punjabi, the Persian and the Sanskrit was almost banned in the new European type schools set up by the colonialists where English was adopted as medium of instruction for upper class and Urdu for middle and lower classes.
Soon after the demolition of old educational infra structure, Punjabis were declared illiterate and ill cultured as Dr GW Leitner, one of the most celebrated linguists and educationists, pointed out in his famous survey known as `A report on education in the Punjab`.

According to Leitner`s findings Punjab was not only most literate in the entire subcontinent but also had the highest female literacy rate. The colonial officials were so hostile to the indigenous education imparted in the independent Punjab that after the occupation, an incentive oriented public order was issued which declared that a person who returned his sword would get prize of one `Anna` and the one who re-turned `Punjabi Qaida`(primer) would be rewarded with six `Annas` After the emergence of Pakistan, muddled vision of culture and language further confounded the issue. Linguistic and cultural diversity of the country was perceived to be a threat to the ill conceived notion of national unity.

The Bengalis, who spearheaded the Pakistan movement, were the first to debunk the newly invented myth of monolithic uniformity that denied the rich diversity of the federating units of the country. They rose in protest and got their language recognized as one of the national languages.

Sindh declared Sindhi its official language. Punjab, Balochistanand Khyber Pakhtunkhwa pretended as if no such issue ever existed in their territories. It is only recently that the government of KPK introduced the teaching of various languages spoken by the people in its area.

As a result of the struggle waged by Punjab`s writers and intellectuals against all odds the department of Punjabi language and literature was established in mid 1970s at the Punjab University. With the passage of time subject of Punjabi literature was offered at BA and FA level that attracted a huge number of students though a few teachers were appointed to meet the requirement. The teachers of other subjects voluntarily offered their services to teach the language and literature to the great delight of the students who opted for the subject.

Sadly top to down approach was adopted which was lopsided to say the least. It should have been other way round. Pakistan Punjabi Adbi Board, a representative cultural body of all the Punjab, brought the situation to the notice of Mr Sethi requesting him to take remedial steps. And steps he took indeed and took very promptly. With no ifs and buts like a culturally conscious intellectual that he is, he approved generous grant for some of the institutions and ordered the immediate release of official ads for the regional newspapers and magazines.

He also discussed the issue of introducing the teaching of mother language at primary level with the officials concerned. He, to the delight of millions whose language is treated with contempt by the bankrupt elite of the Punjab, expressed himself in Punjabi in some of his public appearances.

Thank you Mr Sethi, you have done Punjab proud.
Nothing less was expected from an intellectual of your caliber.

A verse of Shah Latif, the great poet of Sindh, comes to mind: `Not all humans carry mark of beauty nor all birds are swans / rare are the men who emit the fragrance of spring`. Let us hope, the incoming chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, will build on what Mr Sethi has done in his short stint. Cultural infrastructure is as important as the material one if human development of holistic nature is the goal.

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