By Dr. Ali Gul Metlo

The linguistic issue has been haunting Pakistan since its very beginning. The grave error was made by none other than the founder of the country Quaid-e-Azam M.A. Jinnah himself by declaring Urdu as the national language before a very charged Bengali audience in Dhaka. Ignoring all the native languages over an alien language to the newly formed realm of Pakistan. He and the rulers after him failed to comprehend the very strong Bengali sentiment and other ethnicities sentiments for their mother tongues and their cultural affinities. The edifice which was built on wrong foundations only made further divisions with the time. Instead of heeding to the demands for rightful status of native languages, the biased and visionless rulers of the newborn country were aiming to appease the Indians who were considering Urdu to be just an alias of their Hindi language with a different script. With this background a sane voice was made aloud.

In 1999 UNESCO declared February 21 as International Mother Language Day.

On 9th February 1951, Sir Sultan Agha Khan while addressing a session of Motamer al-Alam-al-Islamiyya in Karachi, said ‘’Your choice in Pakistan of Urdu will in no way ameliorate or help your relations with your neighbour, nor will it help the Muslim minorities there in any conceivable way. Howsoever you may add Arabic and Persian words to Urdu, there is no denying the fact that the syntax, the form, the fundamentals of the language are derived from Hindi and not from Arabic.’’

He further argued: ‘’Is it a natural and national language of the present population of Pakistan? Is it the language of Bengal where the majority of Muslims live? Is it what you hear in the streets of Dacca or Chittagong? Is it the language of the North West Frontier? Is it the language of Sindh? Is it the language of the Punjab? Certainly after the fall of the Moghal Empire, the Muslims and Hindus of certain areas found in it a common bond. But now today other forms of bridges must be found for mutual understanding.’’

Pointing to its history Sir Agha Khan said: ‘’Who were the creators of Urdu? What are the origins of Urdu? Where did it come from? The camp followers, the vast Hindi-speaking population attached to the Imperial Court who adapted, as they went along, more Arabic and Persian words into the syntax of their own language just as in later days the English words such as glass and cup became part of a new form of Urdu called Hindustani. Are you going to make the language of the Camp, or of the Court, the national language of your new-born realm?’’

The Agha Khan’s advice fell on deaf ears and visionless rulers who were unable to take its notice. However the language movement in Bengal grew steadily. Instead of correcting the policy the government outlawed the protests and resorted to violence in Bengal. It was 21 February, 1952 when the peaceful protesters in Dhaka University were fired upon resulting in numerous killings. The sacrifices made by Dhaka University students became an icon not only for the Bengali language but also for the disadvantaged languages of the whole world with the passage of time. The February 21, was ultimately proclaimed to be as the International Mother Language Day in November 1999 by UN.

The day has been observed every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. Learning from the 21 February 1952 incident in Dhaka, the world made it a point to ameliorate the linguistic problems globally, whereas in Pakistan the situation went worse with the time and lead to disaster after disaster, the biggest one world witnessed was on 16 December 1971 in the breakup of the country.

In Sindh where Sindhi language was in very well advanced position as compared to other languages of West Pakistan suffered the most. Long before the partition, Sindhi was the official language and medium of education. Historically very rich and having literally dynamic traditions. These were the very reasons Sindhi was targeted ruthlessly as soon as Pakistan came to being. Its cities which were booming with cultural and economic activities were vacated through state sponsored violence and imposing black laws. City of Karachi was detached from Sindh. Capital of Sindh was shifted to Hyderabad.

Hundreds of Sindhi medium schools were closed, its use in offices and courts was banned, radio Pakistan stopped broadcasting Sindhi music and other programmes in Sindhi etc. Then came the one unit in 1955 when Sindhi was completely declared an outcaste. Sindhi literary activities and publications were declared anti state. Even postal letters bearing word Sindh were not delivered. Sindh striked back and reacted with extreme anger and full vigour in 1960s, by abruptly challenging the multiple socio-cultural, linguistic, political and economic blows and shocks of last two decades. Resulting in the birth and rapid rise of modern Sindhi patriotism.

The linguistic issue in Pakistan has been intricately knotted with the cultural, socio economic and democratic rights of the people. Languages bring people closer and bring about socio economic and political harmony. This natural cementing element was callously suppressed to serve and to further the vested interest of an insignificant alien minority. Without acknowledging linguistic rights economic, political and human rights are inconceivable. Under the cover of making Urdu as so called national language the jobs, politico-economic and cultural rights were usurped with a trickery and fraud by this well established and experienced clique. The struggle continued against these excesses by the deprived and excluded sections of masses. One Unit was undone. Bengalis achieved independence at the cost of massive human tragedy.

The first ever elected democratic government was formed in the remaining Pakistan after suffering worst humiliation.  Now the Sindhi language and the first ever democratic setup of the remaining Pakistan became the new main targets. After the fall of Dhaka and humiliation, the minority privileged class found their vested interests in jeopardy in a democratic Pakistan. Within few months language riots were inflicted on Sindh by the same mindset and clique who wanted to ensure continued hold on much of the national resources through imposed artificial linguistic hegemony. Under the cover of these language riots they once again succeeded in ensuring a very fattened portion for them in civil bureaucracy, positions in higher education- through the enforcement of the so called Urban Rural Quota System which was very unique from other three provinces. Not only this but the experienced rioters and intriguers employed tactics to ensure future political arrangements to their unjust advantage. The nascent and weak democratic government succumbed to their generations old experiences of blackmailing through rioting and intrigues.

Similar was the case a century ago in 1860s, when under the cover of Hindi-Urdu language controversy, the same mindset demanded quota system in government jobs on the basis of religion. This was their main objective for language riots then. The gains obtained through rioting and blackmails in 1972 language riots, have since been grown out of proportions and extremely violent for last over a quarter of a century, resulting in passing of SPLGA in Sindh.

Unfortunately this all have the tacit support of pro dictatorial institutions and groups in Pakistan. Not only this but regional and international powers who do not wish democracy to take its roots in an egalitarian, plural and sovereign Pakistan have nurtured and sponsored them. Moreover the just solution of linguistic issue extends and attaches itself firmly with the struggle for democracy in Pakistan.

So what is the crux of the matter. Much has been debated about the linguistics issue of Pakistan. Let us examine the very basics. The fact being that the Urdu is not a separate language in its own right. Its just another name of Hindi with another script. Hindi has been known with many different names or people have been naming the very same language with different names or interchanging these at a time or at different times. These names include but are not limited to Hindustani, Khariboli, Hindi-Urdu, Hindi, Urdu, Rekhta(Hybrid), Dehlvi, Zabān-e Urdu-e mo’alla (court language), Zabān-e Urdu (the language of the camp) etc. As for as different scripts are concerned many language have more than one script. Even Sindhi has eight different scripts, still Sindhi remains to be just one language. Scripts do not make languages. Languages are also not made by hybridizing it with other languages or borrowing vocabulary from other languages. However the living languages have the capacities to absorb words from other languages and enrich themselves.

Furthermore the name Urdu has been associated with the downfall of the foreign ruling dynasties in India. The Hindi speaking courtiers and camp followers very cunningly posed it to be a separate language to ensure the continuity of their privileged status and vested group interests in changing dynastic political environments. Actually the name Urdu came from these experienced and well established groups whose vested interests have been associated to serve the foreign ruling dynasties and emerging colonial imperialists. They have been using the different names and scripts as a tool to gain, further and protect their vested interests. By doing so they have created divisions.

The very first division was that of Hindi language itself and then came the division of people on the basis of religion, then the division of subcontinent, then division of Pakistan. The remaining Pakistan is still undergoing further divisions due to this very reason. Urdu has never been a separate language neither it would pass the test of history to prove itself as a separate language in its own right. This is the objective and historic context in which the linguistic question in Pakistan be examined.

History has proved that it was grossly wrong to impose Urdu as a national language. We stand much more divided after 66 years when it was imposed as so called national language. It has created deadly divisions in the social matrix. Its time to correct the historic wrong done at the time of birth of the country. Insisting on this wrong to be carried still further would only create further divisions and frictions.

Let us stop here and revisit the issue with an open mind. In all practical context Hindi language has been the national language of Pakistan since its very birth but with its alias Urdu. Much has been lost so far, let us cut further losses and accept all the native languages to be our national languages and compensate and rehabilitate them to possible extent. The losses native languages have suffered from day one due to mistakes and injustices be addressed in the light of universal consensus which has been built so far globally. By doing so further divisions in the society on the basis of language could be stopped and this will contribute much towards tolerance, peace and harmony which we badly need. This is the message of 21st February- The International Mother Language Day, the world has been celebrating with a purpose every year.

(The writer is a London based Sindhi patriot and democrat. He is a regular commentator on socio economic and political issues.

Courtesy: Sindhi e-lists/ e-groups, February 21, 2013.


  1. How exactly the quota benefit the people who are more educated and more competent?

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