Language is usually considered to bring more wealth to a culture, and is a pride to its speakers more often than not: one can look at the situation in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain or France, where the official language has been mixing (sometimes) peacefully with other languages such as Welsh, Gaelic, Basque, Breton and others. This mixing has been acquired through struggles and dedication from native speakers who did not want to see their heritage sacrificed on the altar of unity.
However, there are some cases in which the struggle is not so easy and has been subject to feuding for decades and even centuries.
Pakistan and India, for instance. India is not a country with only one official language: it is in reality a patchwork of different languages, among them Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi, Pashto… and many more.
In the case of Punjabi, which is now neglected even within the borders of Pakistan, the issue goes back to the 19th century after the fall of the Sikh Empire and annexation of the region by the British East India Company in 1849. Under Sikh rule, Punjabi was taught in every village and was compulsory for all men and women. After 1849, the British Company undermined Punjabi education and banned the language, forcing the country’s elite to adopt English.
In the mid-20th century, the government decided that Urdu was to be Pakistan’s official language. This decision provoked civil uproar from Bengali speakers and the bloody suppression that came after led to the creation of the International Mother Language Day.
The establishment of Hindi as official language and English as Lingua Franca in India provoked civil and political unrest from Urdu speakers, who feared for the conservation of their language. But they are not the only ones; lately, a bill has been submitted that would allow the title of “Offical language” being applied to several languages instead of one.
But this will be a thorny problem, as different languages within the same borders are seen as a threat to the unity of the country. At the same time, is ignoring the pleas for protection of these languages from the ones who speak them a threat to unity too?
As we can see, language is far from being a simple debate in Pakistan. We will have to keep our eyes and ears opened to see what comes next