Status of mother tongue

FOR the second time in three years, National Assembly member Marvi Memon’s move for granting the status of national language to the mother tongues of a large number of Pakistanis has been thwarted. khowarA standing committee of the Assembly defeated the bill by a 4-1 verdict. The bill sought the status of national language for Balochi, Balti, Brahvi, Khowar, Punjabi, Pashto, Shina, Sindhi, Seraiki, Hindko and “all those mother tongues as deemed to be major mother tongues of Pakistan by the National Language Commission”. It also called for establishing a ‘National Language Commission’ “with a purpose to developing criteria for giving the status of national languages to mother tongues….” which the mover pointed out was in consonance with the PML-N’s election manifesto. Having failed to get the parliamentary nod for a similar bill she had moved in May 2011, Ms Memon maintained that “the main purpose of the bill was to show respect to all regional languages”. The call made perfect sense since the recognition of diversity in language and culture is central to the good health of a country. Perhaps it would have made some sense if the reluctance to approve the bill had been based on a fear that, no matter how hard everyone tried, there would always be a risk of some languages being excluded from the privileged list. Nor are there any reports of anyone on the committee standing up and pointing out that it was more a question of changing the negligent official attitude towards mother tongues beyond and above bestowing national status on them. Instead, the logic provided by the special secretary of the law ministry in opposing the bill betrayed a severely deficient understanding of history. The secretary said “…there should be one national language of a nation”. The real shocker came when he surmised “the country had already suffered the East Pakistan tragedy in 1971 as a result of the decision to declare both Urdu and Bengali as national languages….” This was indeed a very a strange approach — once again — in the name of national interest. A more realistic version of history says the disillusionment in East Pakistan was in large part caused by the denial of due recognition to Bengali. The lesson has obviously not been learnt. Sadly, so many decades later, the same flawed reasoning has been used to block an eminently sensible move in the Pakistani parliament.–Dawn]]>

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