Urdu as of­fi­cial lan­guage

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In­va­sions into ter­ri­to­ries in­vite in­va­sions into cul­tures. Colo­nial rule cre­ated rifts within sub-con­ti­nen­tal so­ci­ety, re­plac­ing the ulema as ed­u­ca­tors or chief guardians of knowl­edge with those who had re­ceived Western ed­u­ca­tion. Lead­ers who were con­ver­sant with English and ac­cus­tomed to the English way of life, such as Mo­ham­mad Ali Jin­nah, Ma­hatma Gandhi and Jawa­har­lal Nehru, led the in­de­pen­dence move­ments of Pak­istan and In­dia. Their lead­er­ship and their post-Par­ti­tion rule made them iconic fig­ures and role mod­els for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. Once the dust of Par­ti­tion set­tled, In­dia and Pak­istan faced var­i­ous prob­lems on cul­tural and so­cial fronts. One of these prob­lems was the se­lec­tion of a sin­gle lan­guage as the na­tional lan­guage.

Lan­guage has an in­te­gral role in form­ing the cul­ture of any so­ci­ety. Pak­istan is a lin­guis­ti­cally di­verse coun­try. Its of­fi­cial lan­guage, cur­rently in use, is English, whereas Urdu is its na­tional lan­guage. Ar­ti­cle 251 of the Con­sti­tu­tion re­quired Urdu to be used for of­fi­cial and other pur­poses within 15 years from the es­tab­lish­ment of the 1973 Con­sti­tu­tion. The Con­sti­tu­tion per­mit­ted the use of English for of­fi­cial pur­poses un­til ar­range­ments were made for its re­place­ment by Urdu. Par­lia­ment and other ex­ec­u­tive bod­ies re­mained obliv­i­ous to this sig­nif­i­cant pro­vi­sion. The su­pe­rior courts also took decades be­fore pass­ing the re­cent di­rec­tion, for the en­force­ment of Urdu as the of­fi­cial lan­guage.

It is an un­de­ni­able re­al­ity that Urdu is a re­mark­able lan­guage — hav­ing an ex­ten­sive history, rich in vo­cab­u­lary, brim­ming with literature and rich in prose and po­etry. Urdu has pro­duced some of the world’s finest po­ets, nov­el­ists and fic­tion writ­ers. These lu­mi­nar­ies have added to the ever-shin­ing glory of the lan­guage. How­ever, it is also a re­al­ity that re­gional lan­guages like Pashto, Sindhi, Balochi and Pun­jabi are spo­ken widely in the coun­try. Im­ple­men­ta­tion of Urdu as an of­fi­cial lan­guage is a re­form and not a revo­lu­tion. This re­form must crop up from schools and a new gen­er­a­tion, with un­der­stand­ing, pru­dence and ap­ti­tude for the Urdu lan­guage has to be raised.

In view of the di­ver­sity of cul­tures and lan­guages in Pak­istan, the im­po­si­tion of one lan­guage af­ter 68 years of in­de­pen­dence is like try­ing to catch a missed train. A bet­ter so­lu­tion can be reached if par­lia­ment amends the time pe­riod re­quired for im­ple­men­ta­tion of Urdu as our of­fi­cial lan­guage. Muham­mad Saad Khan,

La­hore

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