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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The Heer Waris Shah Sessions by Paraga

Waris Shah - Source: maati.tv

Waris Shah – Source: maati.tv

My friend Sohail Abid, who also happens to be the founder of Folk Punjab and the Folk Punjab Fund for Punjabi Books, was leaving town so I thought I should see him. He invited me to come over to the Academy of Letters and introduced me to a remarkable treasure for which I would remain grateful to him.

Every Wednesday evening, a calm but captivating session of reading is held in the common room of the Writer’s House in the Academy of Letters, Islamabad.

People passionate about Punjabi classical literature gather to recite the epic love story Heer Waris Shah, which is considered the most famous literal masterpiece of the civilization in Punjab. Written by renowned Sufi poet Waris Shah in late eighteenth century in Central Punjab, this romantic tragedy epic is surpassed by very few works of art, if any, in terms of its eloquence.

But what is so significant about reading Waris Shah in this forum when you can do so at home, you would ask.

Not only is the language difficult to grasp for even the more experienced readers, but the discussion in the sessions offers the right historical, etymological and cultural context for the passage. And every single session is an education.

The session is regularly attended by some of the renowned Punjabi and Urdu poets and writers. A regular is Punjabi short story writer Malik Mehr Ali, who is known for his mastery of the language and exploring rare interpretations. The likes of Punjabi poet and vocalist Hazrat Shaam also attend the sessions, who keep alive the age old tradition of reciting this piece of poetry in a melodious tune.

I have personally learned a lot from these sessions, which have ignited a renewed interest in Punjabi classical literature, but more than anything else, in Heer Warish Shah. The lyrical quality and the folk wisdom of this fascinating work of art really gets you hooked. And add the intellectual orgasm the discourse offers you and there is little else that you can ask for.

The sessions are organized by Tariq Bhatti, a civil servant by profession and a man of refined taste in literature. He founded Paraga in 2013 for the development and promotion of literature and arts in Punjabi language.

“I always had this urge to establish a forum where friends with a common interest could gather to read Punjabi classical literature.” Tariq Bhatti said while explaining his aims behind Paraga and these sessions. “Since the times of the Mogul, Punjabi has largely been a verbal language. Even today people cannot read or write the language because of the lack of familiarity with the script. Paraga is a humble effort to bridge this gap.”

Bhatti also said that the forum plans to recite literature from other classical Punjabi poets such as Shah Hussein, Baba Farid and Bulleh Shah. The forum also plans to offer a platform to budding poets.

You can join the Paraga.org facebook page for updates pertaining to the sessions. The recordings of the previous sessions can be found at paraga.org.

The session will not be held in the last Wednesday of Ramadan. However, it has the last session of July tomorrow right after Iftaar at the same venue. After the fasting month, the sessions will be regularly held at the usual time of 7 in the evening at the usual venue.

It is an excellent opportunity for those who want to learn about classical Punjabi literature and want to increase their Punjabi vocabulary.

In any case, I always look forward to the event and there is hardly a better way to spend the evening.

Paraga welcomes everyone.

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Note: The edited version of this post was published here

Nargis Turns Pious & Why I Support “Vulgarity”

Source: Express Tribune

Behold! O creatures of the pure, we taketh the source of thy pleasure, but to offer a lot of thanksgiving, for the Lord doth so after its bounty you have collected. Still will you not be grateful? (Land of the Pure 12:10)

So Punjabi stage dancer and actress Nargis, whose performances are considered by a good number of moralist, civilized and self-righteous Pakistanis as “vulgar”,  (not that their beliefs are any lesser)  has bid farewell to “show” business and has turned pious. She has informed the press at her residence in Lahore after reportedly returning from abroad that she is planning to become an Islamic religious scholar and has shrugged off allegations of conspiring to murder a local PML-N thug, who was allegedly harassing her. Whether her conversion was the result of the increasing Islamophobia she must have endured in the West or her repentance for the past sins, she did not clearly state.

So we are only left with Veena Malik (mainly) now it seems.

By the way, if you don’t know who Nargis is, here is a glimpse of one of her performances.

So before I mock and then justify Nargis’ born-again-piety without invitation, let me put in my own cents of morality to make you feel bad before you actually leave and close this page out of disgust. First of all, let me assure you that while I don’t really share the vulgar Punjabi wildness and the barbaric and hypocritical lust of the audiences of the Punjabi striptease or otherwise mujra, I support it wholeheartedly and would watch it unconditionally if and when provided the opportunity. I don’t mind if you consider me a vulgar, disgusting, sexist, Satanic and uncivilized male beast, but here are a few objective reasons for it.

I simply do not see what is so wrong with it. I acknowledge that while it is female objectification of the highest order, (but then again, what isn’t? (especially burka)) I also acknowledge that the actors and dancers and producers work very hard to come up with these, well let’s face it, musicals. Furthermore, I acknowledge that these important members of the society, by which I am referring to the entertainers, take home a very good chunk of pubic wealth home which they otherwise would not even have hoped to pocket in their wildest dreams other than resorting to taking the law in their very own hands. This is a great relief for many a poor kanjars in our highly pious society. May I remind Her Holiness that she owes a lot of her current assets and quality of life to this “shameful” and cringeworthy industry.

Furthermore, I believe that the mujra should remain active for as long as people want to watch it, and here I am talking about stage performances and not private mujras, the latter of which you cannot possibly ban thanks to the secret morals of our mai-baaps, or elders and superiors if you will. You know, the eugenically superior of our society, which is sadly too conscious of its deprivations and have-nots. Once found redundant in terms of market demand, the mujra would die its own death-of-a-dog in a free market economy.

Nargis in action (Source: postpk.com)

A lot of people would find this an occasion to attack Nargis for her “sins”, but I would strongly support her even still. For what choices does she have to survive in this horrifyingly religious and self-righteous society with selectively erotophobic morality but to wear the charade of piety, also known as the hijaab? What choices does she have but to assume a social role which everyone despises in private but cannot possibly condemn in public from a social role that everyone has a soft corner for in private but cannot help but insult and condemn in public? Don’t be upset at why people act this way. They are brought up to. But she, well, needs to live, breathe, procreate too.

I could tell from one of her TV interviews which I won’t be able to find that she had been feeling those pressures. But first let us talk about the morality and “vulgarity” of the Punjabi stage theater and our highly moralist commentators and administrators who are always too keen to shove their phalli down the already-congested throats of the masses. The mujra can be rejected to be of bad taste, I agree, especially since the frequent lustful references in it are bound to go down as inappropriate in a society which has based almost all its beliefs on the guilt it associates with sex. If you ever come to know how hypocritical the jeering Punjabi male youth are in this regard, you would feel even sicker.

But is there any justification to ban it? Is it synonymous with prostitution? How insulting. Apart from the racially charged political and moralist slurs from the supposedly-liberal self-exiled phoning-from-London hysteric, there has been many attempts, especially by that of the administration of our patriotic overlord, the Khadim-e-Aala of the Punjab, to ban it,  because it has been spreading “vulgarity” in an already vulgar society by any objective or subjective standards. Because anything that the majority of the population of this country does not agree with must be banned. We are a nation of banners anyway. You know, banners like off with the heads of blasphemers.

Art, and yes I will insist upon calling it an art form, is only a subtle reflection, and yes it is a very subtle one, of what the society around it is. I find a number of trends in our society far more vulgar and far more immoral than the mujra or even the much maligned Punjabi film industry for that matter. Take the religion for example, for I don’t know from where should I start. The burka, the segregation of the sexes, the forced marriages, forced child marriages, life of celibacy enforced on women via marriage with the Koran, domestic violence, acid throwing, gang rape, public humiliation, torture, murder and not sure what else that is protected by the state in one way or another. But no, no, the mujra must be the source of all the evils in the society. Dancing and stripping women, Allah tauba.

It is the age-old hypocritical trait of this culture to despise the ones who entertain them as inferior castes and kanjars, a Punjabi derogatory epithet with sexual and moralist connotations, and this trend has even been loosely prevalent in the subcontinental history, thanks to the caste system of our highly bigoted racist ancestors. Though what gives me immense pleasure is that those who claim to be from the lineage of the Prophet, or the Syeds, have been joining their ranks in the recent times. But surely they must be liars.

I am sick up to my nostrils (with gooey filth, almost exploding) with the hideous, disgusting, nauseating and hypocritical Islamic-Punjabi and Islamic-rest-of-the-civilized-Pakistan morality that I and millions others are forced to inhale every second. Though I do believe that these are characteristics which are roughly displayed by our incurably pathetic species in one form or another around the world. At times like these, I often take the pleasure of reminding this great evolutionary mistake of a species that they are nothing more than animals and nothing more they will ever be, no matter how hard they try.

While I mourn the loss of Nargis from the stage to the obscurantist and chaddor-wrapping clutches of Moralist Islam, I am proud to support what you call vulgarity and very proud to be an immoral, vulgar man.

And I am not sorry.