The government recently informed a three-member Supreme Court bench hearing a constitutional petition about Urdu as official language that within the next three months all government and semi-government organisations are to use Urdu to conduct office business and provide information to the public.
Office signboards and street names are to be written in the national language; and the President, the Prime Minister and all other holders of public office are to make speeches in Urdu language whether inside and outside the country.
It is about time the national language got its due place. Article 251 of the Constitution says, “the national language of Pakistan is Urdu, and arrangements shall be made for its being used for official and other purposes within fifteen years from the commencing day.”
Nearly three decades on, the ‘arrangements’ leave a lot to be desired. The introduction of Urdu as a compulsory language up to O’ level alongside matriculation has been a step in the right direction.
On the public level, it is a natural link language among the four federating units. Nonetheless, English still dominates almost every sphere of national life.
Languages, needless to say, are part of national/sub national identities. Which is why, leaders of proud, self-confident nations speak in their own national languages at international forums and on state visits abroad.
That though does not mean denying the advantages English offers as a language of learning, and in the pursuit of knowledge-based economic activity. Notably, the rise of Bangalore as the Silicon Valley of India is attributed, by information technology leaders in Bangalore itself, mainly to a high rate of English literacy in that part of the country. Urdu needs to be suitably promoted as an official/national language and the use of English encouraged as lingua franca.
The court also took note of clause (1) of Article 251 that says “without prejudice to the status of the national language a provincial assembly may by law prescribe measures for the teaching, promotion and use of a provincial language in addition to the national language.”
As Justice Jawwad Khawaja observed while hearing the petition about the official language, the Balochistan government has taken steps for the promotion of six languages spoken in the province, including Punjabi, but the province where the majority population of Punjabi speakers live, remain uninterested in it.
The reason is said to be the provincial government’s apprehension that it would be seen as a reflection of Punjabi chauvinism by the already distrustful smaller provinces.
Which is a baseless apprehension considering that in many instances governments as well as UNESCO spend considerable amount of money and effort to encourage people to learn even minority languages so as to preserve and promote their cultural and literary heritage.
It would be only appropriate for federal and provincial governments to play their respective roles to implement Article 251 of the Constitution as it relates to both the national and regional languages.
Source: Business Recorder