Farmers Protest: International Language Day

   Posted by: aman   in Other, Punjab

Day 88

Toll 250

Missing 16

Arrested 143 – 23 got bail yesterday, earlier bails too, many still in prison.


International Language Day

For a long time now, the Panjabi language is in crises. Each year on this day language activists talk about the actions we must take to keep the language alive, help it grow. These actions are to include Panjabi in schools – many schools in Panjab, especially convent ones encourage Hindi over Panjabi – better writing and translations for children and adult readers, encouraging women to learn the language and keep the tradition of mother tongue, and so on.

The crises in Panjabi is not unlike other non-English languages in this increasingly globalised world or non-state promoted languages such as Hindi which for some reason many assume to be India’s national language when the Constitution states all languages in India are of equal status.

However, there are also reasons why Panjabi suffers in particular: it goes back to Partition of 1947 when speakers of the same language were divided, like in Bengal; to the reasons why Panjabi Suba movement (1956-66) took place when the National Commission of Languages did not accept the 900-year old Panjabi language as an independent language and in East Panjab the Hindu and the Sikh communities, instigated by the Hind Samachar group of newspapers, divided themselves over language which led to another tri-furcation of East Panjab into Haryana, parts of Himachal Pradesh and drastically reduced the Panjab region.

However, I believe the ongoing farmers protests this year presents a few language related facts which must be highlighted. It also poses questions to the government.

1. The brilliant bridging of the gap between Haryana and Panjab which had separated over language issues.

2. Initially in the protests, almost every communication, verbal or written, was in Panjabi. As the protests grew, this created an environment where non-Panjabis sought to know or even learn some Panjabi. Best exemplified by the twitter spat between Diljit Dosanjh and Kangana Ranaut.

3. So much new Panjabi protest music came out of the protests. At one count around 500 songs in three months that took Panjabi in very native but unfamiliar ways into the world. I say native because resistance is part of Panjab’s DNA. Unfamiliar because this music threw off the tropes of music popular until recently.

Personally, I believe, any language can thrive when it is associated with markets, when it helps people make a living. Else, people move to other languages which they believe will help them earn a living. The neglect and apathy towards Panjabi language in Panjab itself is mostly because it is difficult to make a living in Panjabi language alone which points to the economy of the state.

Here we need to notice that Panjabi is not the language of India Panjab alone, of around 3 crore people. It is actually the language of over 10 crore people, including Panjabi speakers in Pakistan Panjab, and the very vibrant Diaspora from both East and West Panjab. Panjabi is the 10th largest language in the world. Nation states with far fewer language speakers are able to help their languages thrive. Why should then Panjabi languish?

This is where Farm laws come in. Right from the beginning, the government has been saying ‘farmers are now free to sell their produce anywhere’. If that be the case, are farmers allowed to sell across the border? To Pakistan, to Afghanistan, to Iran and Balkans and East Europe? That is what will help create a market. This will truly benefit Panjabi language and its speakers. Panjab’s rice travels 3,000 kms to Kerala but can’t travel a few kilometers neighbouring countries! Just because a foreign lawyer drew a line and the current government is well served by stoking fires with the neighbours?

Sad to say, we know what the government intends. Today, is the 100th anniversary of the historic Nankana Sahib Massacre that took place in 1921 as part of the Akali led Gurdwara Movement. A movement, which when it succeeded through non-violent means and after hundreds of deaths, thousands of injuries, Gandhi christened as the ‘first fight of India’s freedom’. Yet, the government has not allowed groups from Panjab to travel to Nanakana Sahib in Pakistan to pay respect and homage. The government has still not re-opened the Kartarpur Sahib corridor.

This is how the nation state curtails its own people, hampers the growth of the language of its people. This is why the farmers protest – for rights to farm land and produce, for rights to language and culture, for rights to life itself.

This entry was posted on Sunday, February 21st, 2021 at 7:45 pm and is filed under Other, Punjab. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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