Bureaucratic Excesses and the National Language Question

Today is Pakistan’s 68th independence day and we still have a lot of unresolved issues in our backyard.

Recently, Marvi Memon, a PML-N MP from a Punjab reserved seat, introduced a Constitutional Amendment bill into the National Assembly. The bill was about proposing to declare Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi, Hindko, Shina and Barahvi among others to be national languages as opposed to their current regional status.

It was rejected by the multipartisan National Assembly Standing Committee on Law and Justice, 4-1. The bill sought to amend the Article 251 which declares Urdu the only national language.

A lot of people have a problem with this, but since it was voted out under due process, I do not. However, I do think such underdog bills deserve a chance for a broader voting in the House instead of the scrutiny from the Standing Committee.

Another disturbing aspect here was the interference from the bureaucracy during the debate on the bill. The Special Secretary of the Law Ministry, Justice (R) Muhammad Raza Khan, opposed the bill because as per him the bill was pointless under the light of Article 28, which guarantees the fundamental right of preserving a language and a script.

But perhaps, this bill is not about preserving these languages as Marvi Memon explained. Her point is to honor the languages by declaring their status as national. 

Source: Express Tribune

Marvi Memon – Source: Express Tribune

It just sounds like another piece of political correctness, unnecessary to some, but our constitution gets so much wrong in the textbook after all. So maybe it is important. Article 1 anyone?

He also opposed it because declaring another language, Bangla, as the national language, apparently caused the separation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Well, first of all, people should get their 1971 history right. But let’s not get into that.

What the honorable Secretary forgot is that the UN International Mother Language Day is inspired by killings in a protest against neglecting Bangla as the national language. And he also seems to ignore other constitutional and political differences that led to the 1971 war.

The argument about more than one national language threatening the union of the federation is also beyond me, since English and Urdu will remain to be the official languages and those who use Urdu to communicate to those with a different mother tongue would still continue to do so.

Not sure if there is any evidence to suggest that more than one languages weaken a federation. South Africa seems to have 11 official languages.

However, since the purpose is symbolism for people on both sides of the debate, the arguments from other side may or may not make any sense.

In any case, underdog bills should be given a chance of voting in the House and bureaucracy should stay away from the process of legislation and leave it to elected MPs. That’s the only way to see where the representatives of the people stand on this issue and to overcome federal authoritarianism. 

Some of the arguments against more than one national languages are really strange. But as long as the proposals are voted out democratically, I have no problems at all.

 Happy Independence Day.

 

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