M. Shah Jahan
February 21st is known as the International Mother Language Day solemnized in 1999 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It reiterates its commitment to linguistic diversity and ask the Member States to honor the day as a reminder that linguistic diversity and multilingualism are vitally important for sustainable development. The motive of this celebration is to give recognition to an approximately 7,000 languages spoken internationally since linguistic diversity is growingly threatened due to globalization.
On the other hand, this day is also notable as Language Martyrs’ Day, 21st February 1952, when four young students were killed in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, because of Bengali and Urdu language controversy. This sparked a rioting that finally led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 whereas the Government of Pakistan eventually recognized Bangla as a national language in 1956. However, it was too late.
Pakistan is situated in an area where multiple languages are spoken for centuries and 27 among them have been declared endangered by the UNESCO. Due to globalization processes, they are increasingly under threat, or disappearing completely.
A report prepared by the British Council states that Pakistani students are best served by education if they are to be taught in their mother tongues. The report demands that education in mother tongue is more effective especially in early years because children learn to read and read more quickly and easily in a language they are already familiar with. Besides, it enhances their critical thinking.
What is more, denying teaching children in their mother language is a blatant violation of their universally recognized fundamental right. Various UNO reports indicate high drop-out rate at primary level because of this. What is needed is the immediate introduction of mother language in schools and colleges throughout Pakistan. This will give immense boost to literacy, reducing the travails of learning among the children. It has been observed that many parents neglect their intangible heritage by ignoring this fact just in order to continue in the rat race of modernism.
Language is the key if we want to tackle the problems of illiteracy, extremism, ignorance, and cultural alienation in Pakistan. National unity is much needed in this regard by taking all regional languages into account. Moreover, defending mother languages is considered part of human rights.
Many countries have diverse official languages including Iran, Russia, Belgium, Canada, India and Afghanistan among others and that is the plurality of their national languages. Their languages have not posed a threat to their national security. On the other hand, only 22 languages are spoken in the Arab world, where a single language has not ensured security. Therefore, decision makers should know that having more than one national language will not pose a threat to national security and narrative.
Furthermore, the efforts should be made on national, governmental and educational levels to protect L1 – the mother tongue. The federal government should give the status of a national language to all Pakistani languages to promote and protect the country’s linguistic diversity. It is also demanded from the provincial governments to promote these languages and ensure children are educated in their mother language. Besides, the government must allocate equal funds for the protection of languages and media channels need to devote some time to broadcasts in local languages.
What is urgently needed is that all regional languages including Sindhi, Balochi, Pashto, Punjabi, Siraiki, and Balti, should be given national and constitutional recognition and protection for national cohesion. This will be in the interest of country. One should not forget that when demands are not met and legal problems aren’t solved by assemblies, it leads to further disappointments among masses.
Consequently, common people lose trust from state institutions and it gives birth to negative results. All steps to advance the propagation of mother tongues will assist not only to push linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to expand awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions all over the world. It is said that when languages fade, so does the world’s rich cultural diversity.
Let’s get rid of this idea that says ‘If you speak your language, you are conservative, if you speak other’s language, you are modern.’ Let’s celebrate everyday by speaking and learning the mother language of our ancestors and preserving linguistic diversity and promoting mother tongue-based multilingual education.
The writer is a social worker and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org