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    Propaganda Against Jinnah Over Language Controversy

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    Mr. Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan, has his fair share of critics. Criticism of a great man or woman does not necessarily diminish his stature. However criticism has to be based in fact and not in distortion. If one corrects a distortion about Jinnah, one is invariably accused of “deifying” the man. In other words, if one does not tow the line of the critic, you are automatically guilty of blind worship of Jinnah. This is the bane of every researcher.

    One criticism of Jinnah is that he imposed Urdu as the national language on Bengalis. This is utter and complete distortion of the facts. While this distortion has endured 70 odd years, we must look at the facts honestly and fairly. There are many other things to criticize Jinnah on, but ceteris paribus the language issue is an unfair criticism, as the facts will show below. To understand the argument, one must make a preliminary argument. Urdu and Hindi (together Hindustani) was spoken and still is spoken and understood from KP to Bengal, the entire North region of the Subcontinent. When Pakistan came into being, it had five provinces, including East Bengal.

    In March 1948, Jinnah visited East Pakistan as the Governor General of Pakistan. By this time the language controversy was already brewing in Bengal. There is much for which Jinnah should rightly be criticized during this trip. There were positives of course. He repeated his assurances to the Hindus of East Pakistan and schedule castes, promising complete equal rights to them referring to his 11 August speech. Similarly he told his Bengali listeners on 20th March 1948 that the Bengali martial spirit had been suppressed to a point where they were kept out of the armed forces. He said the martial spirit of Bengal was historically known and that in sovereign Pakistan they would have all the opportunities to revive it i.e. to participate in the armed forces. Then he went terribly wrong at other places. It was almost as if he was being fed what to say. He warned his listeners of conspiracies hatched to undo Pakistan, sewing the seeds for what would become the staple language of Pakistani rulers, civilian and military, against dissent. These criticisms aside, we should consider what he actually said on 22 March 1948 when he spoke of Urdu as the state language i.e. official language and NOT national language as is often misattributed to him. He in fact promised the protection of Bengali language and Bengali way of life.

    Following is what Mr Jinnah said:

    “Let me tell you in clearest language that there is no truth that your normal life is going to be touched or disturbed so far as your Bengali language is concerned. But ultimately it is for you, the people of this province, to decide what shall be the language of your Province. But let me make it very clear to you that the state language of Pakistan is going to Urdu and no other language. Any one who tries to mislead is really the enemy of Pakistan. Without one State Language no nation can remain tied up solidly together and function. Look at the history of other countries. Therefore so far as the state language is concerned Pakistan’s language shall be Urdu, but like I said, it will come in time” (Page 150, Jinnah Speeches and Statements 1947-1948 Oxford University Press).

    Of course in hindsight it would have much better if Jinnah had retained the English language as the state language of Pakistan but inevitably opened up the question of why independence? Still English Language was and is de facto the official language of Pakistan. All of the Constitutions Pakistan has had were written in the English language and all business of the government and the courts are carried out in English. Urdu has never been nor can it be an official language despite repeated attempts since the beginning. Indeed during his time as the President of the Constituent Assembly, Mr. Jinnah, who had spoken of Urdu as the State Language, insisted on conducting all parliamentary business in English. So it was mere psychology at play. Aga Khan had even recommended Arabic as the National Language of Pakistan, a proposal that was rightly shot down.

    There were enough arguments why Urdu and Urdu alone could have the state or official language of Pakistan, as Mr Jinnah said. Pakistan was a Federation of Five Provinces. Each of the Province had its own language but it was only Urdu that was understood to some extent in all provinces and no province could make a claim that Urdu belonged to it exclusively. Mr Jinnah promised that Bengali language would not be touched. However could Bengali be the state language of Pakistan if it was only understood in one province? If it was the question of official work in East Bengal, surely making it the provincial language of East Pakistan would suffice which again was promised by Jinnah. By way of analogy, should Punjabi become the official and state language of Pakistan today because Punjabis are in the majority.

    To this, critics say that India has 22 official languages. This is completely untrue. India has two official languages under the 1950 Constitution: Hindi and English. The 8th Schedule to the Indian Constitution does not make 22 languages official languages but protected languages and languages that the Hindi should draw upon for vocabulary and enrichment. I quote here Article 344 and Article 351 of the Indian Constitution:

    “Article 344

    (2) It shall be the duty of the Commission to make recommendations to the President as to—(a) the progressive use of the Hindi language for the official purposes of the Union;
    (b) restrictions on the use of the English language for all or any of the official purposes of the Union;

    351. It shall be the duty of the Union to promote the spread of the Hindi language, to develop it so that it may Special procedure for enactment ofcertain laws relating to language. Directive for development of the Hindi language. serve as a medium of expression for all the elements ofthe composite culture of India and to secure its enrichment by assimilating without interfering with its genius, the forms, style and expressions used in Hindustani and in the other languages of India specified in the Eighth Schedule, and by drawing, wherever necessary or desirable, for its vocabulary, primarily on Sanskrit and secondarily on other languages.”

    Pakistan took a different route and made Bengali and Urdu National Languages under the 1956 Constitution and Pakistan remained a bilingual country till 1973. If you visit Mr. Jinnah’s mausoleum, you would see that there are inscriptions in both Bengali and Urdu on it.

    The Constitution of Pakistan 1973 makes protection of language and script a fundamental right:

    “28. Preservation of language, script and culture. Subject to Article 251 any section of citizens having a distinct language, script or culture shall have the right to preserve and promote the same and subject to law, establish institutions for that purpose.”

    So let us not be misled by propaganda. Not just each province but all groups of people in Pakistan have a fundamental right to preserve and protect their language. Let us put this language controversy to rest at long last.

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    1 Comment

    1. Mushtaq Bilal February 21, 2021

      There are historical reasons for why and how the process of “nation-thinking” among North Indian Muslims takes place in and through Urdu. A couple of books on the topic include Christopher King’s “One Language, Two Scripts” and Tariq Rahman’s “From Hindi to Urdu.” The issue of script is central to what later becomes a “national identity” and it precedes Jinnah.
      It is presumptive to term the complexity of the relationship between what Benedict Anderson calls “print-languages” and the idea of “nation-ness” as simply “language controversy.” The crucial problem, I think, is that Jinnah felt the need to say that “ultimately it is for you [Bengalis], the people of this province, to decide what shall be the language of your Province.” Did he presume that Bengalis would leave Bengali, a language that is much older than Urdu? In Jinnah’s defense one can say that he didn’t have a nuanced understanding of the complex role “print-languages” play in the curatorial process that leads to a “national” identity.

      For a better understanding of what Hamdani sahib, and many other Pakistani academics and commentators, call “language controversy,” one will have to take into account the history of Bengali language and literature and its relationship with similar processes of “nation-thinkin.”

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