It is often observed that we consider anyone speaking regional languages, especially Punjabi as ignorant and not intellectual. It is common for people to be labelled as illiterate and uncivilized if they speak Punjabi. This is why parents try their best to refrain from speaking in Punjabi with their kids. Quite honestly, parents’ approach cannot be criticized as the harsh reality is that when a three-year-old is enrolled in school and begins to speak in Punjabi, they label the child as illiterate. Needless to say, this can be quite disturbing for young minds and naturally, parents want to prevent this embarrassment. Hence, the mother tongue is ignored and sacrificed. The sad fact is that children are discouraged from speaking in Punjabi at both their homes and places of education. However, the enthralling Sufi kalams of Baba Bulleh Shah and others are in Punjabi. Punjabi continues to be the most widely spoken language across Pakistan. However, from what I have observed, most of the people in Punjab, especially those living in the urban centres do not encourage and rather reprimand their children to speak in their mother tongue notwithstanding the beauty of their mother tongue.
In almost all Pakistani schools these days, especially private ones which are the preferred institutions, a child generally learns two new languages, that is, English and Urdu, and the teaching of all other subjects is also via the medium of either of the two. The contrasting observation is since recitation of the Quran as a component of the subject ‘Islamic Studies’ is also part of the curriculum in Pakistani society whether, at school, a madrassah or at home, almost all children end up learning Arabic as well. However, I believe that as far as the effectiveness of learning is concerned, it is in the best interest of any child that primary education be imparted in the mother tongue. This shall push up our literacy rate which is presently gauged by a person being able to write his name as learning to communicate through the written word in their mother tongue. Children learn at a faster pace if they start learning various subjects in their mother tongue instead of learning a completely new language first. This is why a three-year-old enrolled in a nursery class in Punjab naturally finds it difficult to read in Urdu or English.
The argument for not having ‘Punjabi’ as a subject and Punjabi as a medium of imparting knowledge is that in this day and age it is of no use while learning English and Urdu are essential. However, this line of argument assumes that it is common knowledge that in real life knowing Punjabi is not of any use while learning Urdu and English is essential for education and a vocation. Practically, one has to admit that this line of thinking is not entirely wrong. After all, one has to get a job and earn a livelihood. Therefore, Punjabi is ushered out of the door.
No prominent persons in positions of power are heard speaking or delivering a speech in their mother tongue, Punjabi. This is what I term as the inferiority complex of us Punjabis in Pakistan. It is obvious that Punjabis in Pakistan live in some kind of confusion. The bitter truth is that we have gradually destroyed our own language since we never owned it with pride and confidence. Despite being the largest spoken language in Pakistan, it is not taught in any school. You would not find any sign boards in Punjabi in Punjab, except excerpts written on rickshaws and trucks etc. Such contradictory behaviour is simply baffling. However, one does observe a few traditionalists speaking in Punjabi bringing a smile to my face. Such people have not completely given up on their mother tongue, at least not yet. Deep inside, this makes the Punjabi in me immensely happy.