Baloch, Sindhi and Pakistani minorities to move UNHCR against ‘language oppression’

Geneva: Pakistan’s Baloch, Sindhi and other minorities have decided to move the UNHCR against what they call “the language imperialism of Urdu in Pakistan”.

These groups and experts have pointed out that less than eight percent of Pakistanis speak Urdu and yet Urdu has been thrust upon the nation as a national language.

The continued use of Urdu as the language of instruction in government schools, even though it is spoken at home by less than eight per cent of the population, has also contributed to political tensions in Pakistan, claims a policy paper issued by the UN organisation recently to coincide with the observance of the ‘Mother Language Day.’

Senge H. Sering, the founder of the Washington D.C.-based Institute for Gilgit Baltistan Studies, told ANI, “I strongly condemn Pakistan’s policy of using Urdu as medium of instruction in schools of Gilgit Baltistan. United Nations’ UNESCO sees this as detrimental to the proper upbringing of children and hindering their educational development and well being. Instead, local languages should be used as medium of instruction in schools”.

He added, “Pakistan is committing cultural genocide in Gilgit-Baltistan. Balti, which is spoken in Baltistan, is part of the Tibetan language and on the verge of extinction since there is no government mechanism to support its revival”.

Lakhu Luhana, Chairman of the London-based World Sindhi Congress, said, “There is a “history of apartheid and criminal discrimination against Sindhi language that continues to date. Urdu is the mother tongue of less than one percent. Sindhi people have waged a historical struggle to save their language. There are two important things to note (1) Sindhi is a national language in India but not in its own land; and (2) In a way, February 21 which has been declared by UNESCO and celebrated as Mother Tongue Day is an judgement against Pakistan.”

Ashraf Sherjan, Baloch political activist based in Germany, said, “Yes, this is true. Urdu is the language used in Pakistani schools. In Balochistan also, they are using Urdu language books. Only in Sindh, they have a class to learn the Sindhi language and to read and write. It’s shameful to say that I am a Baloch. My language is Balochi, but sorry, I can’t read or write in Balochi because I was never allowed to learn my own language, it is forbidden.”

“Pakistan could take lessons from countries like Sweden and the United Kingdom, where both are teaching Balochi at the university level. Oman and Bahrain too are giving Balochi language classes to Baloch communities living there. It is lamentable that in my own country (Balochistan), teaching of Balochi language is banned,” he added.

Azizullah Bugti, a Baloch Republican Party leader based in Switzerland, told ANI, “The Urdu language is imposed on the Baloch in schools, but approximately 8.5 million Baloch don’t speak Urdu in their homes. They only speak Balochi and Brahvi.”

He said the day is not far when people from other parts of Pakistan would impose their language and culture on the indigenous people of Balochistan, “not soon, but after generations.”

The policy paper further reveals that post-independence governments in Pakistan adopted Urdu as the national language of instruction in schools. This caused alienation in a country home to six major linguistic groups and 58 smaller ones.

According to the UNESCO policy paper, both Pakistan and Bangladesh continue to face language-related political challenges.

It further opines that being taught in a language other than their own can also negatively impact a child’s learning, and adds that language can serve as a double edged sword in the sense that “while it strengthens an ethnic group’s social ties and sense of belonging, it can also become a basis for their marginalisation.” A review of 40 countries’ (ANI)