“Urdu is Punjab’s mother tongue”: the Urdu / Punjabi controversy between 1947 and 1953 in Pakistani Punjab
This study examines the initial stage (1947-1953) of the Urdu/Punjabi controversy in Pakistani Punjab and the concomitant production of distinct language ideologies by different groups. I argue that three linguistic ideologies emerged in Lahore's intellectual scene in the post-partition years. One was a pro-Urdu ideology defended by Maulvi Abdul Haq and Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad, backed by the provincial government, and based on an assimilation between language and nation. The other two ideologies contested it: one was a Marxist ideology structured around the master binary of Bourgeoisie/People ('Avām), opposing the hegemonic use of Urdu and promoting Punjabi as a language of the people; and the other was an ideology supported by Pakistani nationalists mobilized by Faqir Muhammad Faqir and Abdul Majeed Salik, structured around the binary of Urdu-speaking settlers versus Punjabi natives and promoting Punjabi as a language of an ethnic community facing cultural and linguistic invasion.
Keywords: Urdu, Punjabi, Pakistan, national language, language ideology, Progressive Writers Movement.
Long before the creation of Pakistan, Urdu had been chosen as the national language of this nation yet to be born. And indeed, in the years that followed the creation of Pakistan, the central government undertook a number of initiatives to make it the national language of the country and its sole official language in place of English. But these initiatives encountered resistance in some provinces. An Urdu/Bengali controversy erupted in East Bengal, and an Urdu/Sindhi controversy erupted in Sindh. These have been analyzed in detail by historians1. An Urdu/Punjabi controversy also erupted in Pakistani Punjab, the main subject of this article.
Soon after independence, the authorities of the province of Punjab followed the policy of the central government and took steps towards implementation of Urdu as an official language. The authorities of the province remained for several years extremely proactive as far as this implementation was concerned. This was undoubtedly due to the long history that links Punjab to Urdu, the language chosen in 1853 by the British authorities to be the language of instruction and of administration in the province2. Alongside the efforts of the provincial government to implement Urdu, a local movement for Urdu emerged in Lahore in 1948 (during an Urdu conference), which initially received the blessings of activist and educationalist MaulviAbdul Haq and was led by Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad. Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad advocated the replacement of Punjabi, the majority language of the population of the province, by Urdu. This radical language ideology3 was immediately challenged by some Marxist intellectuals linked to the All Pakistan Progressive Writers Association (APPWA) such as Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, Sharif Kunjahi, and Zaheer Babar. Later on, in 1950, a group of Pakistani nationalists led by Abdul Majeed Salik and Faqir Muhammad Faqir also started challenging this ideology. Both groups produced their own alternative language ideologies, opposing Urdu's hegemony and advocating the development of Punjabi.
This paper examines the initial stage (1947-1953) of the Urdu/Punjabi controversy in Pakistani Punjab and the concomitant production of distinct language ideologies by different groups. In order to trace the history of this controversy, I have relied mainly on articles and essays that appeared in magazines and newspapers published during the discussed period, such as Adabī dunyā, Saverā, Daily Imroz, Chaṭṭān and Panjābī; on speeches delivered at the provincial assembly during the 1948 Urdu conference and during the 1949 APPWA conference; and on interviews of witnesses such as Abdul Rauf Malik and Abid Minto. I will first examine the background and ideology of the Urdu movement and then outline the two different phases of the controversy that followed its inception. During the first phase (1947-1951), Marxist intellectuals contest the ideology of the Urdu movement and promoted Punjabi. During the second phase (1950-1953), a group of Pakistani nationalists took part in the controversy too.
I The Urdu movement in Punjab.
The 1948 conference and the birth of the Urdu movement
The authorities of Pakistani Punjab took their first step towards making Urdu the official language of the province in place of English on January 5, 1948. On that day the regional legislative assembly of the province (located in Lahore) decided to use Urdu as the language of debates instead of English (intervening deputies would have the right to speak in English only by special derogation). Minister of Education Sheikh Karamat Ali declared during the same session:
The medium of instruction in all public educational
establishments and colleges will be Urdu. And the government will even try to make
Urdu the language of our
administrations (Quoted in Ovaisi 2004: 364.)
The field in which the replacement of English by Urdu was considered the most urgent was education. The adoption of Urdu in this field was considered the first concrete step towards a process of decolonization. As deputy Raja Syed Akbar declared during the session of January 6, 1948:
Our educational system is a legacy of the British authorities, and as you know Lord Macaulay had declared, when imposing here the English educational system that his aim was to make this slave People Indian in face but totally English from the point of view of ideas (Quoted in Ovaisi 2004: 363).
The adoption of Urdu would thus enable the provincial
authorities to decolonize the educational system. In order to take adequate steps
ensuring the switch from English to Urdu, the Punjab government decided to seek
advice from experts and activists, organizing between 26 and 28 March 1948 the first
Urdu conference ever held in Pakistan. The venue of this conference was Punjab University
in Lahore, and political personalities such as Abdul Rabb Nishtar and Zafar Ali
Khan, education experts such as M.D.Taseer
and Urdu activists such as Sir Abdul Qadir, Maulvi Abdul Haq,
and Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad participated in it. This conference coincided with
the visit of Mohammad Ali Jinnah to Dhaka (when he made a speech in favor of Urdu
as the national language of Pakistan)4.
Dr. Umar Hayat, Vice
Chancellor of Punjab University, expressed the purpose of the conference with participants at his inaugural speech on March 26, 1948:
You are all experts in Urdu language and literature, and we have gathered you because our University wants to know which means we should use to make Urdu a medium of instruction, transfer in it all the treasures of the sciences and the arts, and make it a truly international language (Quoted in Zulfiqar (ed.) 1986: 169).
Since the Urdu/Bengali controversy was raging in East Bengal and demands were made to grant to Bengali the status of National Language (Qaumī zubān), Maulvi Abdul Haq decided to start his speech with a statement in favor of Urdu and explained why 'Provincial and local' languages (including Bengali) should be sacrificed in favor of it. The ideology he formulated in his speech looked upon all vernacular languages of Pakistan as underdeveloped when compared to Urdu:
Provincial and local languages (Ṣūbā'ī
aur maqāmī zubānen) have neither the popularity nor the breadth
of a language like Urdu, and if we had to favor provincial and local languages to
the detriment of Urdu, people would be deprived of the sophistication, open-mindedness,
and national conscience which are the prerogatives of Urdu speakers. Thanks to its
varied qualities, Urdu has made astonishing
progress. No provincial language (Ṣūbā'ī zubān) possesses such an abundance of books on religion, history, literature and other sciences and arts. For this reason, we should completely accept the superiority of Urdu over the provincial languages (Daily Imroz March 28, 1948).
Then he presented his own definition of a national language and explained why only Urdu could fulfil this role:
A local language (Maqāmī bolī) is only the language of a specific place (Maqām). A National Language (Qaumī zubān) is the language of an entire Nation (Qaum). It gives the opportunity to each individual to be heard by the Nation. It reflects the peculiarities and traditions of this Nation. A National Language is what keeps the Nation together and keeps it from falling apart (Daily Imroz March 29, 1948).
He then added:
Urdu was placed at the center of a language ideology that merged language and nation. Challenging the higher place of Urdu would thus be considered an attack on the nation.
In his speech, M.D. Taseer presented another argument to justify why Urdu should become the national language (and not Bengali). He explained that Urdu could become a national language because it was entirely Islamic:
Of all the languages in the world, only Urdu is born from Islam. Arabic existed before the advent of Islam. But Urdu developed and flourished only after Islam spread here; It is for this reason that it would not be incorrect to say that it is an Islamic language (Quoted in Zulfiqar (ed.) 1986: 195).
It was during this conference that a specific aspect of the language ideology of the supporters of Urdu in Punjab emerged: Pakistani Punjab was designated as a shelter for Urdu, a language threatened in India after the mass migration of Muslims and the adoption of Hindi. This idea had been first presented by Dr. Umar Hayat during his inaugural speech:
We should not forget that Urdu spent most of his life in Punjab, and in these times when the existence of Urdu is threatened in different parts of India it seems to us that it will only have hope for a future in Punjab (Quoted in Zulfiqar (ed.). 1986: 167).
The allusion to the theory of Hafiz Shirani, according to which Urdu was born in Punjab, is notable5. Urdu supporters would continue using it to prove that Urdu was not an alien language but a vernacular of Punjab, which had relocated outside the Province and that the Urdu-speaking migrants from India were bringing back home. Maulvi Abdul Haq – who had himself recently migrated from Delhi – developed in his speech the idea initiated by Dr Umar Hayat. He requested hospitality for Urdu in Pakistan, a language he compared to a refugee expelled from his country:
Gentlemen! Hundreds of thousands of refugees have come to your country. People of all classes, of all status and of all ages. You have warmly welcomed them, you have dried their tears, you have showed them sympathy, you have given homes to those who did not have any and food to those who were hungry. Another refugee, very honorable and respectable has joined these unfortunate ones, it is our National Language. It is as miserable as these refugees; it was exiled from its country. And it came to seek refuge at your home. Respect and appreciate it! It will do many things for you; it will render many services to you. It will destroy Sectarianism, Regionalism, and jealousy, it will extinguish the fire of discord, bring hearts together and make the People of Pakistan one entity, with one heart and one body (Quoted in Zulfiqar (ed.) 1986: 187-188).
In Maulvi Abdul Haq’s opinion, of all provinces of Pakistan, Punjab was the most likely to become the new sanctuary of Urdu:
The province of Punjab has always been at the forefront in terms of the spread and popularization of Urdu, and I hope that, like the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have had the opportunity to settle in this province, this refugee language will receive there the treatment which is due to it (Daily Imroz March 28, 1948).
He reckoned that the resettlement of Urdu in Punjab would result in the long-term replacement of Punjabi with Urdu. To those who were likely to object to this, Maulvi Abdul Haq countered:
Those who say that the language of the Punjabi people is not Urdu are not entirely wrong. But I would ask them: before the arrival of the Arabs was the language of the inhabitants of Egypt Arabic? Did the people of Iraq, Syria, Morocco, and North Africa speak Arabic before that? Now the mother tongue of the inhabitants of all these countries is Arabic. In the same way, a day will come when the language of the people of Punjab will be Urdu, yes, it will really be the case! Myself and many (sic) of us will not be there to see this day. But the generations that will follow us will prove by their actions that I was right! (Quoted in Zulfiqar (ed.). 1986: 179).
According to Maulvi Abdul Haq, the replacement of Punjabi by Urdu would be a natural development. It was an inevitable part of a process of 'linguistic conversion' (from a 'Non-Islamic' to an Islamic language), similar to Arabic replacing the vernacular languages in the regions that were conquered by the Arabs.
Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad and his manifesto (1948)
As soon as the Urdu conference ended, Maulvi Abdul Haq
headed toward Karachi, where he got involved in various activities tied to the promotion
of Urdu in the capital (Foundation of an Urdu College, reorganization of Anjuman-e-taraqqī-e-Urdu,
launch of Urdu journal etc.). It was mainly Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad, an
intellectual from Lahore, who led the Urdu movement in Punjab. In 1946 Maulana Salahuddin
Ahmad had launched Urdu bolo teḥrīk ('Speak Urdu!'
Movement) through his journal Adabī dunyā in reaction to the activities
of local pro-Hindi organizations and in opposition to the growing use of English in administration and in public life6. He would in his Adabī dunyā editorials address readers directly and urge them to use Urdu in conversations (instead of their vernacular) to make the language more prominent. He also insisted that parents should speak Urdu to their children, as it would facilitate their acquisition of education in government schools (where the primary
medium of instruction was Urdu):
If a child's language of instruction is also the language that he speaks daily, he will progress much faster than the child who receives instruction in a language other than his own (Adabī dunyā December 1948: 3).
Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad focused on Punjab because, according to him, it was in this province that he had encountered the greatest number of people willing to give up their vernacular and switch to Urdu:
The 'Speak Urdu!' movement has flourished in places where one could not even imagine that it would meet with any success. And now the sweet words of Urdu echo in the remote rural areas of Mianwali and Shahpur as well as in the small backward cities of the regions of Rawalpindi and Multan (Quoted in Sadeed 2004: 203).
The creation of Pakistan in 1947 and the adoption of Urdu by the provincial and central governments in the months following the creation of the country seemed to lead directly to the fulfilment of his dream. But the situation had changed in the meantime: English and Hindi no longer presented a threat to Urdu. Rather, threats were now posed by vernaculars like Bengali and Sindhi. And Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad castigated those who defended these vernaculars:
As soon as our national language tries to replace English our old regionalist and tribal feelings awaken and we bring our local languages into the arena to fight against the National Language. We consent to be reduced to slavery by foreigners but not to be guided by people of our own breed (Quoted in Sadeed 2004: 204).
Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad summarized the language ideology of the new Urdu movement a few months after the Urdu conference in an essay entitled Taqsīm-e-mulk kā aṡar urdu zubān aur adab par (The impact of partition on the Urdu language and literature). In this essay, Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad repeated some of the ideas he had formulated earlier during the Urdu bolo teḥrīk and developed further some of the ideas expressed by Maulvi Abdul Haq in his conference speech, including the notion that Punjab was going to be a new sanctuary for Urdu. He read this essay at the annual meeting of the Ḥalqah-e arbāb-e żauq in Lahore and published it in December 1948 in his journal, Adabī dunyā7. This essay soon became a kind of manifesto for the supporters of Urdu in Punjab. Maulvi Salahuddin Ahmad begins it by bitterly stating that Urdu has no future in India, where Hindi is being promoted by the government. He continues with an emotional plea similar to that which Maulvi Abdul Haq had made a few months earlier during the Urdu conference.
There is no longer any room in India for Urdu. The city of Delhi has been destroyed, Lucknow is rapidly changing, Hyderabad has only a few days left to live. Urdu has not found even after an intense search any place where it could take shelter. It was born in Punjab8, grew up in Delhi, spent its youth in Lucknow, was widowed there, and now is back to its parents' house. Has it lost its spouse? Is its heart broken? Let's see how the inhabitants of its parental home will treat it. Their traditions are not that bad. They are known for their hospitality. They say they have huge hearts, so let's see how they will accept this unhappy girl (Ahmad, Maulana Salahuddin. 1949: 88).
Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad then states state the reason why Punjab constitutes
sanctuary for Urdu: the Sikhs and the English government had hitherto prevented it from prospering because of the place they gave to Punjabi in the education system. Their departure has cleared the way for Urdu:
The future of Urdu in Western Punjab is not so bad. Punjabi ceased to be taught after the departure of Sikhs (…) The previous regime considered the diploma of Gyānī of Punjabi9 equivalent to the diploma of Fāẓil of Urdu10, and Punjabi, this language of which all the literature would only fill a cupboard, competed with Urdu and was quite successful. The ignorance and indifference of our leaders had a lot to do with it and would have continued to perpetuate this situation. But our independence has solved this problem and we are grateful to it (Ahmad, Maulana Salahuddin. 1949: 90).
Another reason why Punjab is an ideal sanctuary is that, unlike provinces like NWFP and Sindh, Urdu does not face any rival linguistic nationalism here.
In my humble opinion, NWFP will not be able to implement programs similar to those that we are setting up here to promote Urdu. Local and racial prejudices in NWFP will prevent it from giving to Urdu the place of Pashto, and it will be more or less the same story in Sindh. Whatever Maulvi Abdul Haq may say, it is almost impossible for the tree of Urdu to bear fruit when planted in the sands of Sindh or the arid soil of NWFP (Ahmad, Maulana Salahuddin. 1949: 90-91).
Finally, according to Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad, the arrival of Urdu-speaking migrants would facilitate the spread of Urdu in Punjab. Urdu would soon become a vernacular language, and Punjabi children, who previously used to hear Urdu only at school, would now hear it in the streets and houses of their villages thanks to the presence of these native speakers, and would soon adopt it themselves:
You have guessed by listening to my statements that in my humble opinion the future homeland of Urdu will be Western Punjab and that Lahore will be its center. The exodus of Muslims from India provides us daily with thousands of Urdu speakers who are spreading in all corners of the province. It has been two years since I launched the Urdu bolo teḥrīk. I was extremely surprised when I received oaths of allegiance to Urdu from remote rural areas of Punjab and thought it was certainly the result of some divine intervention.
Earlier on, children would study Urdu at school, but as soon as they would come home they would forget everything and start speaking their Punjabi again, and it is clear that despite the considerable time they spent writing and reading Urdu, the language did not enter their veins, and they did not appropriate it in the truest sense of the word. But the situation has just taken a revolutionary turn. The Muslims of Karnal have just entered the 16 districts of Western Punjab, and besides them 500,000 Muslims from Delhi have also arrived (and each week a new group of 5,000 or 6,000 people is arriving from UP). It is not certain that food will remain available in large quantities in Punjab, but Urdu will certainly be available in large quantities (Ahmad, Maulana Salahuddin. 1949: 91).
The replacement of Punjabi by Urdu, to which Maulvi Abdul Haq had alluded in his conference speech, and which he described as the result of a slow process the outcome of which people of his generation would probably not see, Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad here expected to occur in the very near future.
II The language ideology of the Marxists and the beginning of the Urdu/Punjabi controversy (1947-1951)
The first Progressive writers conference (1947)
Before the Urdu movement officially began and the provincial
authorities started the process of implementation of Urdu, some Marxist intellectuals
already sensed what the dominant language ideology of the province would be. They
questioned the role of Urdu and stressed the need to use Punjabi as a medium of
instruction during the first Progressive Writers Conference, which was organized
by APPWA and held in the hall of the YMCA of Lahore on December 5th-6th,
194712. This conference was chaired by Abdul Majeed Salik,
writers present in Lahore were invited, whatever their political leaning. Among the participants one could find alongside Marxists like Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Zahir Kashmiri, and Sahir Ludhianvi Pakistani, nationalists like Hafiz Jalandhari, M.D. Taseer, and Shorish Kashmiri. A controversy started when the Progressive organizers of the conference proposed a resolution regarding the use of regional languages as mediums of instruction all over the country. This proposal infuriated M.D. Taseer, who insisted that Urdu and not Punjabi should be made a medium of instruction in Punjab. As he wrote later in an article published in Daily Imroz on August 15th, 1948:
During the first conference of the Progressive Writers a resolution was proposed, demanding that an important place be given to languages of the provinces in the educational system; I insisted that Punjabi should not be included among these languages, because Punjabi is not, compared to Urdu what Bengali is compared to it. Consequently, this resolution concerning the languages of the provinces was not adopted (Taseer 1948: 266).
The proposed role of Urdu in Punjab was criticized by some Marxist intellectuals. For them, Urdu was the language of the intelligentsia, which had imposed it on the common people. M.D. Taseer energetically rebutted this statement, stating that: Those who say that the Rich are imposing Urdu on Punjab do not know their facts; they only refer to what they have read in their books, they pursue only a political goal (Taseer 1948: 266). He maintained that Urdu was not an alien language but a vernacular language of Punjab:
Punjabi is a dialect of Urdu, and as Punjabi is different in each district, Urdu has been used throughout the province. After the creation of Pakistan, the importance of Urdu has increased. In Eastern Punjab, Urdu was already widely used. The dialects spoken there are very close to Urdu. The people from there have settled here, and that is why Punjab became the homeland of Urdu. Urdu was born in Punjab, spent its childhood and adulthood in Delhi and Lucknow, and has moved to Punjab in its youth. (Taseer 1948: 266).
M.D. Taseer returned to this controversy in an article published on June 27th, 1949 in Chaṭṭān. In this article he denounced Marxists who blindly follow Stalin's theories summed up in Marxism and the National Question (which expressly mentions the right to education in mother tongues) and who favor Punjabi over Urdu:
According to them, Pakistan is an aberration. To make Urdu a medium of instruction is an aberration. According to the definition of the Nation set by Stalin13, religion cannot be a unifying factor, and instruction must be given in the mother tongue, and since Urdu is not our mother tongue, during their first meeting (…) they opposed Urdu becoming a medium of instruction in Punjab. They support Punjabi literature from this point of view (Taseer 1949: 293).
The language ideology articulated here by M.D. Taseer is an enlarged version of the one Maulvi Abdul Haq and Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad had previously formulated.
language, religion, and nation. According to M.D. Taseer, to support Urdu is to support Pakistan. In the same vein, to support Punjabi is to support a regional identity over a religious identity, ultimately in opposition to Pakistan.
The second Progressive writers conference (1949)
Undaunted by the bitter debate that had taken place
during their first conference, the members of APPWA continued to question the role
of Urdu and stressed the need to accommodate Punjabi in the language policy of the
province during their second conference, organized in Lahore on November 11th-13th,
1949. In order to display the value of Punjabi, which was ignored or despised by
Urdu supporters, the conference featured plays in Punjabi as well as Punjabi poetry
reading during a mushā'irah (Malik 1950: 65) by
poets like Allah Rakha
Sajid, Ahmad Rahi, and Sharif Kunjahi. The most significant event in this regard was certainly the reading of an essay in Punjabi by Sharif Kunjahi, in which the author debunked the language ideology of supporters of the Urdu movement and stressed the need to promote Punjabi. This essay, titled Ūnṭ te baddū (The camel and the Bedouin) and read on November 13th, 1949, is probably the first manifesto in favor of Punjabi that was made public after the creation of Pakistan (Malik 1950: 92.). It begins with a parable:
Once upon a time there was a Bedouin and his camel on a cold winter night. The Bedouin was sleeping in his tent, and when the night was well advanced, the camel put his head in the tent and said: 'It is cold, can I put my head in your tent?' The Bedouin took pity on him, and the camel inserted his long neck into the tent. A little later the camel shook the feet of the Bedouin and said to him: 'Could you make a bit of space for me? My legs are cold'. The Bedouin agreed, and finally the camel slept inside the tent, and the Bedouin outside. The same story is being repeated now in Punjab: soon, the camel will be found inside the tent, and the Bedouin will be compelled to sleep outside.14
This parable is a humorous comment on the demand by Maulvi Abdul Haq and Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad that Punjab become a sanctuary for Urdu. Sharif Kunjahi predicts that Urdu (the camel) will take advantage the hospitality of his Punjabi host (the Bedouin), who will end up ostracized and dispossessed of his own territory (his tent). Sharif Kunjahi goes on to comment on the statements of a third defender of Urdu – M.D. Taseer - and denounce the latter’s double standard, according to which he objected to the use of Punjabi as a medium of instruction in Punjab (he recommended Urdu instead of it) but accepted the use of Pashto, Sindhi, and Bengali in other provinces.
It is strange that we do not oppose the use of Pashto in NWFP, of Bengali in Bengal, and of Sindhi in Sindh; if the children of the schools of these provinces study and learn how to read and write in their own languages that does not bring any harm to Urdu, but if one says that one must teach Punjabi in the schools of Punjab then it triggers a public outcry! The idea here is that if the real language of Pakistan is Urdu (the inhabitants of other provinces have mistakenly started to speak other languages, and this is an error which we must not repeat!) Then we Punjabis must read and write only in Urdu (Kunjahi 1955).
Sharif Kunjahi then reiterates his reservations regarding Punjab becoming a sanctuary for Urdu and counters two of the arguments that the supporters of Urdu often used to deprecate Punjabi: 1) It is an inferior language (because its lexicon - its "wings"- is partly borrowed from other languages), and 2) It is the language of the Sikhs:
We have nothing against Urdu, but we find it difficult to understand why, among all the provinces and regions of Pakistan, it is only Punjab which must pay tribute to Urdu. It is the official language of Pakistan, and its status should be the same throughout the country. Some people say that Punjabi cannot be considered a language in the true sense of the word (...) Its wings are borrowed. Some even consider that it is the language of the Sikhs. They use these hollow arguments to prove that Punjabi deserves the fate which has been reserved to it in our time. The people who know about languages and have studied them are aware of the fact that no country or people can progress without the help of others, and therefore no language can boast of not having borrowed its wings from others. If a tree takes nothing from the ground and the surrounding air it is never going to grow and flourish. Therefore, languages are not linked to religions but to places and regions. Religions use a language above all to transmit their message to people, and a language is born in a region as naturally as anything else (…) Punjabi has been spoken here since a time when Urdu did not yet exist. And at that time the Sikhs did not exist either. People spoke Punjabi before the birth of Guru Nanak (Kunjahi 1955).
Later on, Sharif Kunjahi examines the origin of the prejudices Punjabi Muslims harbor against their own language. These prejudices are the result of the 'divide and rule' policy of the British colonizers.
It sometimes seems to me that as the English sought to sow discord between peoples, they used languages to pit people against each other (…) They pitted Sikhs against Muslims and Muslims against Sikhs; as a result, Punjabi Muslims do not consider Punjabi to be their language (Kunjahi 1955).
Finally, Sharif Kunjahi concludes by addressing a third argument of the opponents of Punjabi: that concerning the weakness of the literary corpus of the language. Sharif Kunjahi concedes this fact to Urdu supporters but insists that it does not disqualify Punjabi as a medium of instruction. The essay ends with an impassioned plea:
We cannot say that a lot has been written in Punjabi. But the reason is that Punjabi has not been given a chance by our people (the Sikhs on the other hand have written a lot in Gurumukhi); and to decide that a language should disappear because little has been written in it is as absurd as killing a hungry man instead of feeding him. This is what happens with hungry languages. Their bellies demand food, and you are busy preparing the rope that you will slide around their neck (Kunjahi 1955).
The criticism of the hegemony of Urdu and plea for Punjabi are a manifestation of the language ideology of the Marxist intellectuals, which would be further formulated in the following months in an essay written by the newly appointed secretary of APPWA, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, and published in Saverā. He writes in it that:
The Progressive Writers Association does not consider the government of Pakistan a benefactor of Urdu, but considers that this government is fighting against Urdu, and wants to make it a tool of exploitation, and wants to do with it what it is doing with culture. It wants to reserve this language for a limited class and make it the tool of the bourgeoisie, and its goal is through this to destroy the regional languages of the people ('Avām ) of Pakistan, because these are the languages through which the people can best understand their current situation, and they can, by educating themselves in these languages, get rid of their ignorance. Their literature, songs, aspirations, desires, joys and sorrows are preserved in these languages, and we wish that education in these languages continues side by side with Urdu, and that they have the opportunity to develop and grow (Saverā .7–8, (1950): 262).
Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi undermines here the very foundations of the language ideology of the Urdu supporters. One can see him here translate the binary of bourgeoisie versus masses, which structures Marxist discourse, into a binary of Urdu versus regional languages, and thus counter the idea presented by Maulvi Abdul Haq that Urdu is a unifying language that erases disparities. Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi believes that, on the contrary, the implementation of Urdu would widen these disparities, as it is a tool of hegemony for the bourgeoisie, and he exposes its long-term implication: the destruction of regional languages, which will help the bourgeoisie maintain control over the masses. This is why there is an urgent need to protect and develop the languages of the masses, as it is a way to empower the masses themselves. Therefore, the demand for education in the mother tongue that had infuriated M.D. Taseer during the first Progressive writers conference is again emphasized. One can easily see how this ideology applies to Pakistani Punjab: the replacement of Punjabi by Urdu advocated by some intellectuals is opposed, and its use as medium of instruction and development supported.
The Punjabi column of the Daily Imroz (1951).
In line with their ideology, the Marxists of Lahore used all their available resources to promote Punjabi: they devoted each month a special session of their weekly literary meeting to Punjabi15 and published in their official magazine Savera as well as in the Daily Imroz16 some poems in Punjabi penned by Marxist writers like Ahmad Rahi, Afzal Parwez, Tanwir Naqwi, Qamar Yurish, and Shaukat Ali.
Mian Iftikharuddin, the owner of the Daily Imroz, decided to use his newspaper and its broad platform to promote Punjabi and launched in August 1951 a weekly Punjabi column, Gall bāt (Conversation). Zaheer Babar, active member of APPWA and nephew of Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, was in charge of this column. The appearance of a column in Punjabi in a newspaper as popular and prestigious as the Daily Imroz provoked controversy. Some readers sent letters to the editor of the Daily Imroz to protest against this initiative. One of them was Asghar Ali, a resident of Gujrat whose letter was reproduced by Zaheer Babar in the September 8th, 1951 column:
There is nothing about Punjabi that justifies devoting a whole column to it. Our duty is to develop Urdu in its place. And to make our children forget Punjabi and consider Urdu to be their own language (Quoted in Babar September 8th, 1951).
Amanullah, a resident of Rawalpindi, expressed a similar position in a letter published in the column of September 22nd, 1951:
The suggestion of Mr. Asghar Ali that our children should adopt a sophisticated language like Urdu is entirely commendable (…). Punjabi has not yet been assigned an alphabet. Muslims write it in the Persian alphabet, Hindus in Devanagari, and Sikhs in Gurumukhi. And this language has no significant grammar, it is totally devoid of it (Quoted in Babar September 22th 1951).
These letters show that the rhetoric of Urdu activists like Maulana Salahuddin
Ahmad had gained popularity among the educated classes. The idea that children should
know only Urdu and that Urdu should soon replace Punjabi
seem to come directly from the writings of
Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad.
Zaheer Babar responded to these letters with arguments that echoed those presented by his uncle Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi in his Saverā essay. For Zaheer Babar, Urdu should not be promoted to the detriment of local languages:
Actually, it is a fact that a nation cannot progress until it develops its local languages alongside with its National language. Therefore, because of Urdu, we should not ignore local languages. The status of a language should not be judged by the number of educated people who use it but by the volume of the masses who speak it throughout the country (Daily Imroz December 1, 1951).
By this logic, a local language like Punjabi deserves special attention (even if it is used mainly by illiterate people) because it is the language of the masses:
Twenty million Punjabis use this language in every place, whether at home or at the market, on their farms, or at the mosque, with their friends or with their enemies. A Punjabi will converse with another Punjabi only in Punjabi. We can therefore conclude that to express personal feelings one always prefers one's mother tongue. So why not develop this language? (Daily Imroz September 29, 1951).
III The language ideology of Faqir Muhammad Faqir and Abdul Majeed Salik’s group and the second phase of the Urdu/Punjabi controversy (1950-1953)
The Urdu/Punjabi controversy, which had begun after
Marxists started contesting the language ideology of the Urdu movement, entered
a second phase in July 195017 with a meeting organized by the Punjabi poet Faqir Muhammad Faqir in Dyal Singh College, Lahore. Abdul Majeed Salik chaired the meeting, and Abid Ali Abid, Dr Mohammad Baqir, M.D. Taseer18, Ustad Karam Amritsari, Maula
Bakhsh Kushta, Sufi Tabassum, and Abdul Majeed Bhatti
participated in it. No Marxist intellectuals (such as Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi or Sharif Kunjahi) were invited
to take part in it. The participants mostly belonged to the circle of Pakistani
nationalists. The aim of this meeting was to discuss the future of Punjabi in the
context of an Urdu movement threatening to wipe it out. The deliberations of the
are reported as follows by Abdul Majeed Salik:
Everyone thought that the circumstances were different from what they had
been before the creation of Pakistan, and that we were presently facing a different
kind of situation.
Hindus and Sikhs had previously united on the issue of language and supported Hindi and Gurumukhi against Urdu. They wanted to weaken Urdu. Muslims could not accept this, because Urdu had established itself as the national language of all of India. Punjab was considered its largest stronghold. This is why the Muslims of Punjab did not want the diffusion of Hindi and Gurumukhi. But now that Pakistan had been created, and Urdu and Punjabi were no longer adversaries. One was our national language and the other was the language of our province, and our mother tongue. Both could flourish at the same time and support each other (Panjābī, April-May 1956: 6).
This meeting led to the creation of a monthly Punjabi
journal called Panjābī, edited by Abdul Majeed
Salik. The first issue appeared in September 1951 and
featured contributions from literary and journalistic personalities such as Abid
Ali Abid, Shorish Kashmiri, Hamid
Nizami, Zafar Ali Khan, and Akhtar Ali Khan. The essays published in the first issues of Panjābī contested the language ideology of the Urdu movement as it was formulated by Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad. The authors reacted to Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad’s wish to see Urdu replace Punjabi. Abdul Majeed Salik wrote in his essay Sānūn panjābī bolī te faḳhar ai (We are proud of the Punjabi language) (Panjābī, October 1951: 9-10):
The language of our province, our mother tongue that we speak night and day in our homes and with our friends, is Punjabi. And it will remain Punjabi until the end of the world. Urdu cannot replace it. To try to replace people's mother tongue is to go against nature (Panjābī, October 1951: 10).
Why can't Urdu and Punjabi be used side by side? Urdu has its own place. It is our national and official language, and there is therefore no doubt that its rank is higher than that of Punjabi. But Punjabi also has its place, and we can't take it away from it (Panjābī, November 1951: 11).
Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad had also stressed the need to speak Urdu to children to enable them to better adapt to the use of the language at school. Hamid Nizami challenged this practice was challenged in the above-mentioned essay. He recounted an experiment he had conducted with one of his children, with whom he chose to speak Punjabi and not Urdu:
I have observed this strange fact that one of my children would speak Urdu with great speed but would suddenly stop. Because he would suddenly think of a word of which he does not know the equivalent in Urdu. And when I spoke with him in Punjabi he did not stop, and his speed remained fast (Panjābī, October 1951: 12).
Hamid Nizami drew the following conclusion from this experiment:
Children's education must be in their mother tongue, because a second language places a weight on their mind. And if the instruction is given in a second language, at some point the child's mind stops progressing (Panjābī, October 1951: 12).
Hamid Nizami's position is
the exact opposite of that of Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad. According to Hamid Nizami, it was not necessary to help children adapt to school
by speaking to them in Urdu. Rather, what was necessary was for schools to adapt
to children by using Punjabi as a medium of instruction. Hamid Nizami mentioned in the same essay that he had adopted this
position after reading Mohammad Baqir's essay entitled
Panjāb te panjābī (Punjab and Punjabi), (Panjābī, September 1951, p15-16) published a month
Panjābī, which also challenged Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad's views. Mohammad Baqir had written in it:
It is a reality that today Hundreds of thousands of Punjabi children go to school, but those who leave it become illiterate after a few years. Because once they have left it, they never have to deal with Urdu again. And in the end, they can no longer read or write. If Punjabi were taught to them in primary schools, they would not forget the language after leaving school, and if newspapers, magazines, and books were published for them in Punjabi, then they would continue reading. Even if they no longer went to school, it is possible that once they became adults, they would also learn to read Urdu. I think that in Punjabi-speaking regions, primary school education should be in Punjabi. If this measure is adopted, individuals will quickly learn to read and write and will learn it in such a way that they will never forget it. (Panjābī, September 1951: 15-16).
Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad reacted very bitterly to this contestation of his ideology by Abdul Majeed Salik and Hamid Nizami, who had been known earlier for their support of Urdu and saw in it an act of treason. He wrote in an editorial in Adabī dunyā:
Who could have imagined that this language (Urdu), whose survival and consolidation were some of the fundamental objectives of the creation of Pakistan, would be threatened as soon as this country was created, and that those who once upon a time were never tired of singing its praises would one day refuse to recognize its place and ignore its advantages? (Quoted in Sadeed 2004: 211).
In spite the challenges they posed to the ideology of the Urdu movement, these essays published in the first issues of Panjābī did not exhibit the hostility towards Urdu that characterized the writings of Marxist authors. The role and importance of Urdu are never questioned by the contributors of Panjābī. Indeed, its necessity is underlined by writers like Abdul Majeed Salik, who consider it to be a marker of identity:
Urdu is our national language and a big pillar of the edifice of Pakistan. When the Bengalis, Punjabis, Sindhis, Pashtuns, and Baloch talk to each other, they do it in Urdu. Our offices, newspapers, radio stations, and films are serving the Urdu language. It can be said that in the same way that an Englishman cannot survive without the English language, a Pakistani cannot remain Pakistani if he abandons Urdu (Panjābī, October 1951: 9).
If there is some hostility, it is directed towards Urdu-speaking migrants who take the superiority of their language for granted. In an essay entitled Urdu dā navān daur ("The new era of Urdu" (Panjābī, September 1951: 8-10) Abdul Majeed Salik narrates a discussion he had with an arrogant Urdu-speaking migrant who was laughing at the sound of some Punjabi words. When Abdul Majeed Salik confronted the migrant, the latter asked: "But you agree that Urdu is a better language than Punjabi, don't you?" (Panjābī, September 1951: 9). Abdul Majeed Salik replied:
I am unable to prove that Urdu is a better language than Punjabi, nor do I claim that Punjabi is better than Urdu. All individuals consider their own language the best in the world, and all languages are good. There is nothing bad in any language, and I can prove that Punjabi is a good language only through the argument that it is my mother tongue (…) The only thing that justifies your preference for Urdu is that it is your mother tongue. If you list ten qualities of Urdu, I will enumerate twenty-five qualities of Punjabi. (Panjābī, September 1951: 9-10).
The superiority of Urdu (as well as, to some extent, the very foundation of diglossic hierarchy, since all languages are “good”) is thus questioned by a Punjabi speaker who will not let Urdu replace his language. Punjabi becomes here a tool of self-affirmation in front of an Urdu-speaking community imbued with cultural arrogance. The Urdu/Punjabi controversy, which was interpreted by the Marxists as a conflict between the bourgeoisie and the masses, here acquires an ethnic dimension, as Abdul Majeed Salik identifies Urdu with the community of Urdu-speaking migrants. In his essay this controversy appears fundamentally linked to an ongoing confrontation between Urdu-speaking settlers and Punjabi natives.
This ethnic conception was elaborated in 1953 by Dr. Aziz ul Hassan Abbasi in his essay Asīn te sāḍḍī bolī (We and our language) (Panjābī, November-December 1953: 50-54). Dr Abbasi wrote:
The enemies of Punjab have come from across the Yamuna River and are trying
to destroy it by enticing us and playing tricks, and their main weapon is their
language. They want to kill two birds with one stone. First
they will try to make our language disappear.
Because when our language is erased, our culture will also be erased. And when we have forgotten and lost our language and our culture, we will be slaves to others. What will become of the lions and lionesses of Punjab once they have been enslaved? See for yourself: The men will not carry a stick on the shoulder but will have in one hand a box full of betel leaves and in another a box full of betel nuts, and instead of a turban they will wear a two-layered cap, and they will also be wearing a kurta made of silk threads and a narrow pajama like those worn by eunuchs (Hījṛe) (Panjābī, November-December 1953: 51).
The author warns his Punjabi reader about the arrival of Urdu-speaking migrants, which he considers an invasion. To make his warning more effective, he conjures the dreadful ethnotype of a betel-eating, urban effeminate Urdu speaker and warns the readers that their language, habits, clothes, etc. might be sooner or later adopted by Punjabi people, which he portrays also in a stereotyped manner as a proud, martial and rural nation, a nation of lions and lionesses. This is also the reason why the author does not accept Urdu as a national language. Urdu-speaking migrants are too different from Punjabis to belong to the same nation and imposing the language of the former on the latter would amount to a hegemonic move.
This claim of Urdu to fulfil the role of national language is dangerous. What is the meaning of 'national' (Qaumī) here? (…) When there is no unity in the way of life, in the way of behaving and speaking, how can one talk of a nation, a national language and a national culture? Are we going to consider this social chaos our national culture? All this is just a trap, an illusion, a slow poison developed to turn Punjabis into slaves. (Panjābī, November-December 1953: 53).
Thus, preserving Punjabi is of the utmost importance. The Punjabi language is a shield that protects Punjabis against the acculturation that the adoption of Urdu would cause and make them first into slaves of the Urdu-speaking migrants and then later disappear altogether as a people, since: “A People (Qaum) which has abandoned its language and started speaking another languages is doomed in the short term.” (Panjābī, November-December 1953: 50).
A new language ideology has finally been clearly formulated here, which opposes Urdu in the name of a Punjabi people (Qaum), resisting colonization by an Urdu-speaking invader.
The 1947-1953 Urdu/Punjabi controversy on which this paper has focused was followed by a long series of Urdu/Punjabi controversies, the most recent of which occurred in 2004. In May of that year, a special issue of Akhbār–e Urdu, the official journal of the Muqtadrah qaumī zubān (National Language Authority) of Pakistan, was inaugurated in Islamabad. This issue was dedicated to the history of Urdu in Punjab. In his editorial, Fateh Mohammad Malik, then chairman of the same Muqtadrah qaumī zubān, criticized some statements recently made by the Chief Minister of Punjab Chaudhry Perwaiz Elahi on the occasion of a visit of his Indian counterpart Captain Amarinder Singh. Perwaiz Elahi had declared during this visit that Pakistani Punjab should follow the model established by Indian Punjab and make Punjabi its medium of instruction. Fateh Mohammad Malik considered this proposal the result of a conspiracy aiming at de-Islamizing the province and proudly rejected it, stating that Urdu could not be replaced because “Urdu is Punjab’s mother tongue” (referring here to the Shirani theory mentioned earlier) (Fateh Mohammad Malik 2004: 5-7). A new Urdu/Punjabi controversy broke out, with intellectuals from all sides reacting to Fateh Mohammad Malik’s statement. Some, like Mushir Anwar, expressed their agreement, ('Urdu as Punjab's mother tongue', Dawn, May 7 2004.) and others, like Dr.Tahir Kamran (The News, June 27, 2004.) and Kazy Jawed (‘Urdu's Punjab link’, The News, June 6, 2004), as well as the Punjabi language activists Safir Rammah (‘Urdu as Punjab's mother tongue’, Dawn: May 13, 2004) and Maqsood Saqib (‘Urdu as Punjab's mother tongue’, Dawn: May 20, 2004) expressed their indignation. Rammah wrote that “depriving schoolchildren from learning their mother tongue amounts to breaking a vital link to their rich heritage through deliberate social engineering.” Likewise, Saqib wrote that “it is no joke to replace the language of another origin with the language of another land. It only serves the all-powerful vested interests.” He added that “the demand for Punjabi as a medium of instruction is as old as the birth of Pakistan and is not a new thing for all of us. We should all endorse this demand, as the drop-out rate of school-going children in Punjab is very high. One of the factors for this deplorable situation is that children are denied their basic human right to read and write in their mother language.” Finally, a writer using the pen name Akhilesh wrote on the website apnaorg.com that “Punjabi was suppressed by the British due to fear of Sikh/Punjabi uprisings, and the same thing happened after the independence of Pakistan, when these Poorbias19 had control over the country, so they carried on their policy and now they find instruments like Prof. Fateh Mohammad Malik among Punjabis.”20
It is remarkable to see that the question of instruction in the mother tongue in Punjab remains as controversial as it was between 1947 and 1953, and that during this 2004 Urdu/Punjabi controversy, the three language ideologies that I have analyzed in this paper re-emerged. The followers of these ideologies exchanged arguments echoing those exchanged between 1947 and 1953. While Fateh Mohammad Malik and Mushir Anwar follow clearly the ideology of the Urdu movement, Safir Rammah and Maqsood Saqib follow the Marxist ideology, and Akhilesh’s identification of Urdu with an hegemonic community of Urdu speaking settlers trying to exploit Punjabi natives echoes the ideology of Dr Aziz- ul Hassan Abbasi. Indeed, the controversy continues, with no end in sight.
About the Author
Julien Columeau holds an MPhil in Islamic studies from EPHE, Paris, and a PHD in History from EHESS, Paris (on 'Movements in favour of Punjabi in Lahore between 1947 and 1960'). He writes in Urdu, French and Punjabi. He has published 3 books in Urdu : ‘3 novelette’ (2013), ‘Zahid aur do kahanyan’ (2013) and ‘Chaurangi’ (2017), as well as an Urdu translation of Salima Hashmi's book on Pakistani contemporary art 'The eye still seeks' (2020).
I would like to convey my sincere gratitude to Dr. Ali Qasmi, Dr. Ludmila Vasilieva, Mr. Ahmad Saleem, Jameel Pal, and Mr. Junaid Akram for providing me or helping me find invaluable documents, and to Mr. Abid Minto and Mr. Abdul Rauf Malik for taking the time to answer my queries and allowing me to record our discussions. I would also like to thank Aaron Glasserman for his precious help as well as Roy Bar Sadheh and Qalandar Bakhsh Memon for their comments and advice.
3. On the notion of language ideology, see Schieffelin 1998, who defines language ideology as “self-evident ideas and objectives a group holds concerning roles of language in the social experience of members as they contribute to the expression of the group” (Schieffelin 1998: 4).
13. M.D.Taseer undoubtedly refers to Stalin's Marxism and the National Question (1913). An Urdu translation of this text was circulating in Marxist circles, which was published by the Peoples Publishing House (PPH) (Malik 1950: 112).
14. A version of this essay was published in the Punjabi page (Gall bāt) of Imroz on March 13th, 1955, and a modified version of it appeared in Sharif Kunjahi’s essay collection Jhātyān (Insights), published in 1960 (Kunjahi 1960: 19-22). I quote here the Imroz version.
17. Faqir Mohammad Faqir wrote that this meeting took place during the first week of July 1951 (Faqir 2000a: 35 and 2000b: 37), and this information was reproduced by Dr. Tariq Rahman (Rahman 2008: 231). July 1951 is incorrect because according to Faqir Mohammad Faqir (Faqir 2000a: 35 and 2000b: 37) and Abdul Majid Salik (Panjābī April-May 1956: 4, 5), M.D. Taseer had participated in this meeting, but the latter died in December 1950. It seems more likely that this meeting took place in July 1950.
18. The presence of M.D.Taseer at this meeting, who had shown on numerous occasions that he had little regard for Punjabi, is surprising, but Arshad Mir mentions that M.D. Taseer had changed his opinion after he had met Faqir Mohammad Faqir at a mushā'irah in 1949 or 1950, during which he had challenged him to translate an intricate verse by Mirza Ghalib into Punjabi; Faqir Mohammad Faqir had immediately improvised an idiomatic translation, and thus convinced M.D Taseer that Punjabi was a developed language in which complex ideas could be expressed (Mir 1976: 160).
20. See the responses as letters to the editor at: http://apnaorg.com/articles/urdupunjabi.html.
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