Sunday, February 27, 2005

Language question

For the last 34 years since our liberation , we have been taught that Jinnah said "Urdu and only Urdu should be the state language of Pakistan". Whatever else he said on that day or in that speech was carefully removed. Surprisingly I found a nice article in the "Daily Star" today and I was shocked to read the full story. The textbooks in BD need to change to accomodate the whole history and not a fraction of it.

Language question : Tagore, Jinnah, Gandhi and Bose

Muhammad Habibur Rahman

On the language question we shall discuss in this article the views of four illustrious personages of South Asia -- Rabindranath Tagore (1862-1941), the Nobel Laureate, Mohondas Karam Chand Ghandhi (1869-1948), the Bapu or the father of India, Mohammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948), the Quide-i Azam, the first Governor General of Pakistan, and Subhas Chandra Bose, (1897-1945), the Netaji and head of the Provisional Indian Government and the Indian National Army in Burma.

In more than one articles and speeches Tagore emphasised on the importance of mother language which was health-giving like mother's milk. He himself was never tired in re-iterating his assertions in this regard. Unlike Gandhi he was not against English which according to him was a distant light but at home he wanted to have the morning light of mother language.

In the report of the Sadler's Commission (1919) Tagore's views on the language question were succinctly noted: "It is Sir Rabindranath's strong conviction that, while English should be skilfully and thoroughly taught as a second language, the chief medium of instruction in schools (and even in colleges up to the stage of the university degree) should be the mother tongue. He has four reasons for this belief: first, because it is through his mother tongue that every man learns the deepest lessons of life: second, because some of those pupils who have a just claim to higher education cannot master the English language; third, because many of those who do acquire English fail to achieve true proficiency in it and yet, in the attempt to learn a language so difficult to a Bengali, spend too large a part of the energy which is indispensable to the growth of the power of independent thought and observation; and, fourth, because a training conducted chiefly through the mother tongue would lighten the load of education for girls, whose deeper culture is of high importance to India. He holds that the essential things in the culture of the West should be conveyed to the whole Bengali people by means of a widely diffused education, but that this can only be done through a wider use of the vernacular in schools."

To Tagore nationalism was a geographical evil. In March 1921 Tagore read in the newspaper that Gandhi asked Indian women to stop reading English and felt very insensed. On 08 March he wrote to Jagananda Roy the teacher in Shantiniketan. When in 1921 Tagore lamented that walls were being raised in the country and by making home a prison we think we were opening the way of liberation and after expelling the light of the whole world we were worshipping darkness at home and forgetting that those powerful nations who aspire for greatness by hurting others were abandoned by the creator as much as those who voluntarily opt for being small.

The letter when published was brought to the notice of Gandhi. Without being perturbed at all he wrote: Let the culture of all countries flow over our homes but if they want to wipe him over he would not accept that as a forcible occupier a beggar or a slave. He wouldn't live in another's home.

For false pride and doubtful social prestige he would not impose unnecessary compulsion on his sisters for learning English education. He wanted that young men and women, connoisseurs of literature, would voluntarily learn English and other rich languages of the world, and they would make a gift of their learning to India and the world like a Bose (Jagadish Chandra), a Roy (Prafulla Chandra) or like the poet himself. He will not want any Indian forget his or her mother tongue or neglect it, or feel small about it; nor would he like them to express any diffidence in putting across their best thoughts in their own language. For nearly two years form November 20, 1944 to October 1946 everyday Gandhi wrote down a thought for the day. On 13 September 1945 he wrote" Belittling one's mother tongue is like disparaging one's own mother."

In South Africa a help national pride Gandhi stressed the importance of using Indian languages only when Indians wrote or spoke among themselves. He wrote in Gujrat:" Any nation that cherishes its individuality must love its own language and feel proud of it. The learning of English must come second to learning one's mother tongue. When at his behest Gokhale visited South Africa Gandhi insisted that he addressed the community only in his mother tongue Marathi. Gokhale tried in vain to persuade to permit Gandhi to speak in English, but finally gave up in frustration, muttering, "You will have your own way in this as in everything." There was hardly any Marathi-speaking Indian there, Gandhi translated whatever Gokhale said in Gujarati, the language understood by the Indian merchants present there.

Gandhi wrote his first major book Hind Swaraj ("Indian Home Rule") While presiding over the All-India Common Script and common language conference, insisting that Hindi should be India's common language, Gandhi said that whenever he spoke English he felt "I am committing a sin." While attending Lucknow Congress he argued that unless Congress business was conducted in Hindi, rather than English, Swaraj was not possible. "In provincial matters, the provincial languages may be used," he conceded "But national question ought to be deliberated in the national language only."

At Nagpur, Gandhi moved for adoption for new Congress creed, which changed" The object of the Indian National Congress" from "Responsible colonial Government" to "the attainment of Swaraj by the people of India by all legitimate and peaceful means," He spoke in support of his creed he had drafted in Hindi, insisting it should be Indian's national language and the language of every Congress meeting.

In the Lucknow session of the All-India Muslim League in 1936 a resolution proposing Urdu as the language of Muslim India was moved. The resolution was strongly opposed by the delegates from Bengal. On the direct intervention of Jinnah, it was ultimately resolved that "whatever Urdu language is the language of the area its unhampered development and use should be upheld, and where it is not the predominant language, adequate arrangements should be made for teaching it as an optional subject"

On 19-21 February 1938 at the Haripura session of the Indian National Congress Subhas Chandra Bose said in his Presidential address: "To promote national unity we shall have to develop our lingua franca and a common script . I am inclined to think that the distinction between Hindi and Urdu is an artificial one. The most natural lingua franca would be a mixture of the two such as is spoken in daily life in large portions of the country and this common language may be written in either of the two scripts, Nagari or Urdu"

On 22 February 1938 Poet Sanjoy Bhattacharjee, the Editor of Purbasha wrote to Rabindra Nath Tagore bemoaning why and for what fault the well -enriched Bengali language should be deprived of the honour of being the state language of the country and requested Tagore's views on that question.

Tagore expressed his inability to protest against the decision of the Congress not to regard Bengali as the state language. He wrote back, 'The duty of Congress is in the Congress's hand. I am not even a member. If you want to strive in vain , you do. You are younger in age . You have got enough time'. Tagore never expressed any opinion to make Bengali a state language. He had little enthusiasm for that. Both Jinnah and Gandhi were of the view that in the provinces language of the provinces may be used. In all-India level Gandhi pleaded for Hindi and in Pakistan pleaded for Urdu.

Before India was partitioned All-India Congress decided on Hindi and All-India Muslim League opted for Urdu. Jinnah was a little surprised when he found his choice was opposed in Dhaka. On the question he was not at all emotional or sentimental. He did not earn much proficiency in his mother language. Both English and Urdu appear to be his acquired languages.
Jinnah was a-matter-of fact practical man . The question of good steno typists was more important than formal higher education. He thought that he used his common sense when he said that Urdu should be the only state language in Pakistan and provinces would be free to decide on the question of administrative language in provincial matters . We may suspect that there would have been hardly any protest had Jinnah said that for the time being English would remain as the state language of the country. English was destined to be the state language of both India and Pakistan for considerable time.

The people of Dhaka gave Jinnah a formal reception at the Race Course Maidan on 21 March 1948. In the afternoon that day Jinnah spoke for about an hour on language issue and the language movement. He said, "About language as I have already said , this is in order to create disruption among the Musalmans. Your Prime Minister has rightly pointed this out in a recent statement and I am glad that his government has decided to put down firmly any attempt to disturb the peace of this province by political saboteurs or their agents. Whether Bengali shall be the official language of this province is a matter of the elected representatives of the people of this province to decide. I have no doubt that this question shall be decided solely in accordance with the wishes of the inhabitants of this province at the appropriate time."

Speaking in favour of Urdu as the state language Jinnah said, "Let me tell you in the 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 this province. But let me tell you very clearly that the Sate Language of Pakistan is gong to be Urdu and no other language. Any one who tries to mislead you is really the enemy of Pkistan. 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, as I have said, it will come in time"

In spite of great enthusiasm for Hindi, English is destined to be the principal language in India. Pakistan broke on the question of language. Though Urdu is the state language of Pakistan, Bangla is the state language of Bangladesh, English is a dominant language for communication at home and abroad.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jinnah the champion of the ordinary man...right!! Jinnah filled the Muslim League with West Pakis from the start. He was for delegitimising our Bengali language and culture with his 'more Islamic' Urdu (really an amalgam of Hindi).

8:31 PM  

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