Tag Archives: Punjabi

Urdu-isation of Punjab

Punjabi is one of the world’s most widely spoken languages today. It has over a hundred million native speakers, more than German, French, Persian or Urdu. Unfortunately though, it has also been one of the most neglected lingos, in its own home and by its own people. Punjab’s elite first deserted it for Urdu and then for English. There has been a virtual ban on education in Punjabi in the province for 150 years now, ever since the fall of the Sikh empire in 1849. In Punjab Assembly, a member cannot speak Punjabi without the speaker’s permission.

The land which is today Pakistan was home to the Harappa and Gandhara civilisations as well as to some of the oldest extant texts like Rigveda and Arthshastra. It has had its own traditions and languages thousands of years old. The Punjabi language itself has a written literary history of almost a thousand years. Its first poet, Baba Farid, belonged to the 12th and 13th centuries while the last classical poet died in early 20th century.

The decline and suppression, so to speak, of the Punjabi language and literature started with the British East India Company’s annexation of Punjab in 1849. The British found that education in Punjab under the Sikh empire was far superior to what they had introduced in the rest of conquered India. Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, first principal of Government College Lahore and founder of the University of the Punjab, writes in his “History of Indigenous Education in the Punjab” that at annexation, “the true education of the Punjab was crippled, checked, and nearly destroyed”. Our system, he wrote, “stands convicted of worse than official failure”.

Under Sikh rulers, Punjabi qaidas, or primers, were supplied to all villages. Its study was compulsory for women. Thus, almost every woman could read and write the lundee form of Gurmukhi. To subdue their new subjects, the British planned to cut them off from their language and tradition, and set forth to collect and burn all Punjabi qaidas. They searched homes for qaidas and announced the prize of one aana for someone who returned their sword but six aana if they returned a Punjabi qaida. The language which once had the backing of an empire was now neglected and suppressed.

After Pakistan was created, our policymakers considered cultural and linguistic diversity a threat to national security and tried to impose a monolithic faith-based ideology on the people. They declared Urdu the national language at the expense of Bengali, Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi, Brahui, Pashto and others. Urdu was a language that was never spoken in the regions that made up Pakistan in 1947. Bengalis rose up in arms against this and got their language recognised as a state language alongside Urdu in 1956.

The struggle for recognition of languages other than Urdu continues to date in Pakistan. One of the things nationalists in Balochistan complain about is the suppression of their language and culture. In Lahore, thousands gather every year on Mother Language Day seeking an end to the 150-year-old ban on education in Punjabi. It’s time we reconnected with our past because the state of denial we are in today will lead us nowhere.

(Originally published in The Express Tribune)


Potential for Punjabi newspaper remains intact

By Shafqat Tanvir Mirza

Some traditions of journalism continue in one mode or the other from age to age. The tradition of literary journalism set by the daily ‘Imroze’ was partially adopted by daily ‘Jang’, which carried a Punjabi column and poetry in its literary supplement. Now ‘Nawai-Waqt also follows suit.

But as far as Punjabi literature is concerned, alongside these papers, various literary publications have also made a great contribution during the last 54 years. Among these are ‘Punjabi’, ‘Punj Darya’, ‘Punjabi Adab’, ‘Punjabi Zaban’, ‘Lehran’, ‘Haq Allah’, ‘Saver International’, ‘Ravail’, ‘Waroley’ and ‘Seraiki Adao’ from Multan. ‘Punjabi Zaban’, ‘Haq Allah’ and ‘Punj Darya’ are dead while the remaining papers continue to flourish. However, on other fronts, journalism in Punjabi has faced far harder times.

The first Punjabi weekly, ‘Wangar’ was published in the seventies by Fakhar Zaman, but it could not be sustained There was another weekly, ‘Punjab di Awaz’ edited and published by Dr Muhammad Amin, but it vanished without leaving any impact on the scene. In the same fashion, still another weekly, ‘Neeli’, was published from Karachi, but could not survive.

Front page of Punjabi language daily Lokai on August 04, 2013
Front page of Punjabi language daily Lokai on August 04, 2013

The first serious attempt at daily journalism in Punjabi was made by journalists Husain Naqi and Zafaryab Ahmad, who started the regular publication of the four- page daily ‘Sajjan’ from Lahore in the nineties, at a time when Benazir Bhutto had come into power at the centre and Nawaz Sharif was chief minister of the Punjab. This was the first-ever attempt to bring out a daily in Punjabi. The four-page daily was well received by readers in the Punjab, and at one time the circulation of ‘Sajjan’ rose to an impressive 30 000 copies daily.

The financial difficulties facing the paper were, however, aggravated after the provincial government adopted a hostile attitude towards it. Though there was no deliberate attempt to harass the management, the paper did not obtain its share of government paid advertisement. The central government of Benazir Bhutto too had a lukewarm attitude. However, since outwardly the paper supported the Pakistan People’s Party coalition government, it received some meagre financial help in the shape of advertisements etc. This though proved insufficient to keep it alive for long.

Historically speaking, before the division of the province in 1947, the Punjab had had a sound tradition of Punjabi journalism, but this was exclusively in Gurmukhi, the script used by the Sikhs. Therefore, it could be said that this window was not open for the Muslims or the Hindus.

The first-ever daily in Gurmukhi was brought out by Bhai Dit Singh for a religious organisation, Singh Sabha Lehr. This was followed by another Gurmukhi daily, ‘Amrit Patrika’, brought out by barrister Bhola Nath from Jhelum in 1896. The Sikh religious organisations in fact arranged the publication of many dailies and weeklies till the time of Partition. This tradition of Punjabi journalism then shifted to East Punjab, and today, three widely circulated dailies, ‘Ajeet’, ‘Tribune Punjabi’ and ‘Punjab di Awaz’ continue to be published in that part of the Punjab, representing journalism in Punjabi.

Two literary monthlies in the Persian script, both published by enlightened Christians, Joshua Fazluddin and Col Bhola Nath Waris, were also present on the scene before 1947. The ‘Punjabi Darbar’ of Joshua was published in the thirties from LyalIpur (now Faisalabad) and ‘Saarang’, a well-produced magazine in both the scripts, was published from Lahore. This journal also carried an interview with Allama Iqbal on the Punjabi language in its issue of 1930.

The Muslim Punjab started paying attention to literary journalism after Partition, and it was the Urdu daily, ‘Aghaz,’ which initiated a weekly literary supplement in 1949-50. After the closure of ‘Aghaz’ the late Zaheer Babur, a established journalist at the time, started a weekly Punjabi literary page in the daily ‘Imroze’, which continued till the death of the paper at the hands of the Nawaz Sharif government in November 1991, after a valiant struggle by its staff to prevent its demise,.

Inspired by the story of ‘Sajjan’, Mudassar Iqbal Butt, a new entrant to journalism, started a Punjabi weekly ‘Bhulekha’ in the mid-nineties. He converted the weekly into a four-page daily in 1999. ‘Bhulekha’ is today being regularly published from Lahore and hits the newspaper stalls each morning. While ‘Bhulekha’ is quite a hard-hitting newspaper, it is unfortunate that unlike ‘Sajjan’ it is not a full-fledged paper that could give a Punjabi newspaper reader all the reading material that is part of any newspaper.

Before the publication of ‘Sajjan’, it was advised that those behind it must give a complete paper of at least eight pages that could compete with the Urdu papers. To achieve this, it was also suggested that visits be undertaken to countries where there are many Punjabis ready to subscribe to the paper and make donations to it. It was certainly possible to have offered something to the 30,000 readers, who had welcomed even the badly produced ‘Sajjan’ a complete newspaper, by taking such initiatives. But it seemed the management of the paper was in a mysterious hurry, which led it to a failure.

However, as a first attempt, the paper has paved the way for a newspaper m Punjabi to be brought out. Attempts to do so continue. A four-page daily under the name. of ‘Jhok’ was briefly brought out from the far-off area of district Rahim Yar Khan and its fate was quite predictable. ‘Jhok’ too has passed into history, but, despite the failures, the potential remains for a newspaper in Punjabi to be published as a widely circulated daily, able to reach a large audience.

(Published in Dawn on May  26,2001)

The Pathan who wrote the largest Punjabi dictionary

SMK 1Dictionary

Sardar Muhammad Khan was born in a Punjabi-Pathan family in Basti Danishmandan in undivided Punjab’s Jalandhar district on the first day of 1915. He studied at the Islamiya High School Jalandhar and received his BA from the University of the Punjab in 1934. Sardar Muhammad Khan joined the British Indian Army as a civilian employee but soon found that what he truly loved were words, their sounds and their meanings. His love for words drew him to the world of dictionaries and linguistics. It is said that he knew the Oxford English Dictionary by heart.

But the language he loved and worked on the most was Punjabi. Sometime during the turbulent years of the partition, he set forth on a marvelous work. For the next 50 years, not many people knew what this reclusive person was doing for hours and hours in an old Rawalpindi quarter or at a small press he ran after his retirement. He was writing a dictionary, a Punjabi-Urdu dictionary which would prove to be the most detailed and authoritative on the subject.

Sardar Muhammad Khan, or SMK, did not suffer fools gladly. A friend once tried to provoke him by saying he did not know the four-letter expletive in Punjabi. “The next day I gave him a list of 300 four-letter expletives about anatomical parts in English,” SMK told Nadir Ali in an interview in 1996.

In 1965, he published 152 pages of the ‘Aleph’ part of the dictionary under the name of S Khanam, which was actually his wife’s name. He did not publish anything under his own name to stay clear of bureaucratic red-tape. But this was a voluminous work and SMK alone could not undertake its publishing. He handed over the final draft to the then Punjabi Adabi Board secretary and a Punjabi scholar, Asif Khan, and bid adieu to this world on May 26, 1998.


No public or private body, including the Punjab government, was willing to publish the dictionary, a project SMK gave his life to. It would have been a great loss had it not been for the Punjabi Adabi Board and Sachal Studios that contributed human and financial resources to bring SMK’s magnum opus to life in 2009. The dictionary comprises two volumes of 3,600 pages and lists 64 dialects of Punjabi. It contains idioms, riddles and treatises on traditions and customs. It is undoubtedly the best Punjabi dictionary in the Shahmukhi script. Thank you Sardar Muhammad Khan!

(This article was originally published in The Express Tribune)