EDUCATION
ONE NATION, ONE LANGUAGE
Do not push Punjab to another language-divide conflict
- IP SINGH*
Do not push Punjab to another language-divide conflict



Such was the simmering that it took just a comment from Union home minister Amit Shah for the Punjabi language pot to boil over. Shah may have "clarified” his stand, but the damage is done: ‘one nation, one language’ has stirred many demons from the past when Punjabis were forced to disown their mother tongue in the census of 1951 and 1961.

Bitter Past

For many, the quick reaction of Punjabis may have come as a surprise. But former Punjabi University Patiala vice-chancellor Dr J S Puar, who witnessed the developments of 1960s, says this is because of the bitter past when it comes to language imposition.
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 ‘One nation, one language’ has let loose memories of being pushed to disown mother tongue for over a decade for Punjabis, threatening hard earned stability.
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"History tells us that there was strong attempt to impose Hindi in Punjab which created a lot of bitterness. This is playing its part in shaping the reaction now, as those who love their mother tongue will oppose any advocacy of the concept of one nation, one language,” says Dr Puar, who was also linguistics professor at the varsity.

"The propaganda had started soon after the Partition and the Union government had to issue the orders as it became absolutely clear that many Punjabis had disowned their mother tongue and registered Hindi instead,” said Pritam Singh Kumedan, a retired bureaucrat.

Tn May 1957, "Save Hindi agitation” was launched by the Hindi Samiti. Those who were in favour of Hindi, raised highly provocative slogans against Punjabi.
 
Pandit Mohan Lal (in pic), who remained the finance and home minister of Punjab in Congress governments of 1950s-60s, has recorded these anti-Punjabi slogans — "langri bhasha nahin parenge’’(We will not use crippled language that is Punjabi), "gandi (dirty) bhasha nahin parenge”, "jabri (imposed) bhasha nahin parenge” — in his book "Disintegration of Punjab”. These, not surprisingly, led to communal clashes, in Jalandhar particularly, in which two persons were killed and seven injured on February 8, 1958. "The Hindi agitation came and fizzled out. It, however, left a trail of bitterness behind,” says Lal in his book.

Such was the impact of the vicious opposition to Punjabi language — which also played a big role in the development of communal fault line in the polity of the state — that Government of India in 1951 issued a special order to compile separate data for Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and Pahari in case of Punjab, PEPSU, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Bilaspur.

Late Aiit Singh Sarhadi (in pic), who remained minister in North West Frontier Province in 1943, later a Lok Sabha member and advocate general of Punjab, mentions in his book "Punjabi Suba — The Story of Struggle” that an influential Hindu leader, Dewan Alakh Dhari, who was the chief minister of a princely state, wrote in May 1953 that the Hindus of Punjab and PEPSU by declaring in the 1951 census that their link language was Hindi made their position on Punjabi speaking state very clear.
 
Sarhadi, who watched the developments from very close quarters, also mentioned that the language divide led to communal polarization and, on February 10, 1951, one man was killed in a clash between Hindus and Sikhs of a village in Jalandhar. Tension prevailed, as clashes also took place at several other places. It was against this backdrop that then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru ordered language data should not be mentioned in the census and then home minister C Rajagopalachari had to give a statement in the Lok Sabha, acknowledging major trouble in Punjab and PEPSU on the language issue.

"Hate propaganda against Punjabi and associating religion with mother tongue damaged Punjab a lot in every way. Time has proved that it was wrong — morally, socially and politically. Over the years Punjab has defied that divisive agenda and artificial division on mother tongue and now across communities Punjabis call Punjabi their mother tongue,” says senior journalist and political commentator Rakesh Shantidoot. 

60 years later

An analysis of 2011 census data reveals that, across com- munities, natives of Punjab have registered their mother tongue as Punjabi. This conclusion can be easily drawn by comparing figures of Sikh population and Punjabi speakers: in India, in Punjab and in other states. The magnitude of difference between Sikh population and Punjabi speaking population in Punjab makes it clear that Punjabis are owning their mother tongue.
Despite people like Varinder Sharma, president of Brahmin Jagriti Manch who insist that Punjabi remains the biggest binder of Punjabi society, the reaction of Punjabis to ‘one nation, one language’ has shown that the concern that Hindi might again subsume their mother tongue exists at a subtle level. For, during the controversy voices underlining importance of Hindi-—like that of prominent Punjabi singer Gurdas Mann —can be heard, too.

Punjabi in schools

Truth is also that Punjabi is facing a major challenge at a practical level. Most private schools strongly discourage conversing in Punjabi and, in terms of preference, the language remains at third place.

"Existing political class of Punjab, including Congress and Akali Dal-BJP lack the intellectual capacity to under-stand the importance of teaching in Punjabi medium at school level. Students are being taught in English medium but their English remains weak. Earlier, they would teach very good Punjabi and equally good English. If they know how to study in Punjabi, it will help to study them in English further. CBSE schools promoted Hindi and that took toll on Punjabi language. Cultural hegemony of Hindi has in- creased. It is a very big loss to the Punjabi language and cultural flowering of the new generation,” says Dr Pritam Singh, Professor Emeritus, Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom.

Two warning letters issued by secretary education in little over five years confirm this trend. Then school education principal secretary Anjali Bhawra in a letter to all the deputy commissioners on February 19, 2015 had asked them to ensure that that Punjabi was being properly taught in private schools till Class X as mandated by the Punjab Official Language Act, 2008.

The letter noted that the government had received reports that students were being punished if they were caught speaking in Punjabi, which was not only disrespect to the mother tongue but also violation of the basic rights of the children.

Five years later, in the first week of February, state education secretary Krishan Kumar wrote to chairpersons of Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and Council for Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE) to ensure that all schools affiliated to them teach Punjabi as a compulsory subject as mandated by state law. It had also asked them to issue directions that their schools didn’t discourage children from speaking in Punjabi.

He pointed out that department had been receiving complaints that some of these schools were discouraging the students from speaking Punjabi during informal discussions whether among students or among students and teachers during school hours. "This has an adverse impact on the mental development of the students as some of them may find it difficult to express themselves,” he noted asking chair- persons to issue directions to the schools that do not indulge in such practice.

"Earlier schools were discouraging Punjabi more blatantly and openly and would even levy fines. But after the two government letters they do it more subtly. The trend is still there. Schools ask students not to converse in Punjabi even at homes,” says Punjab Jagriti Manch general secretary Deepak Bali. "We have been receiving complaints and calls from parents about schools banning speaking in Punjabi in schools. In the last couple of years alone, we have addressed around two dozen such complaints. My son faced this issue at his school. Later, when he wanted to take Punjabi as his subject in Class XI, his school tried very hard to dissuade him,” adds Bali.

To Taranjit Kaur Hundal, who runs CBSE-affiliated The Heritage School in Jalandhar, the trend has no scientific basis and defies logic. "We, too, have English medium school, but we use Punjabi to help students understand things better. Schools started the practice of discouraging Punjabi and started preferring Hindi over it and now parents are keen on it,” says Hundal.

Dr JS Puar also agrees. "Biggest threat to Punjabi is now coming from CBSE-affiliated schools who discourage Punjabi. Discouraging mother tongue is against the very principle of education,” he says.
 

*IP Singh is Assistant Editor at The Times of India, Jalandhar. This article first appeared in timesofindia.indiatimes.com and is being reproduced here courtesy TOI.


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