Why is Punjabi viewed as an inferior language?

Published: February 22, 2016
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International Mother Language Day marked with talk on its importance. PHOTO: facebook.com/rsueld

The car paused at a busy signal and as I was fidgeting with my rings, a colourful banner caught my attention. It read ‘goongay Punjab apni zaban mangda’ (the deaf and mute Punjab seeks its language). This statement brought back so many memories.

February 21st is celebrated as the International Mother Language Day. This celebration holds very significant, at the same time, conflicting and tormenting memories in my mind. It started with pain, but eventually evolved into something beautiful.

Punjabi is my maa boli (mother tongue) and it was the only language I was taught when I was a child. My father loved his native language and contrary to his contemporaries, he insisted upon teaching us Punjabi as he believed that the rest of the necessary languages would come to us naturally, with the course of time. We resented his decision for a long time and we had our reasons for it as well. When I went for my school interview, I identified the colour white as ‘cheeta’, as I was confused between Urdu, English and Punjabi. Although I was accepted, I still remember the agony I faced when I became the laughing stock in my school. The Principal was amused and understood the dilemma, she granted admission but that day I learned that this has to change, if I am ever going to be taken seriously.

My siblings and I were a joke for the family as well.

“See how cute they look, so young and conversing in Punjabi”

Even now, when I see a child speaking in Punjabi, I want to assure him that it’s completely okay.

The school was no different as well. As kids have always been ruthlessly blunt and bullying was not recognised as a scarring practice back then, the art of restraint had to be learnt. Most of the questions, learning and sentiments were lost in translation.

The resentment remained with me, where other children were learning English, and doing well for themselves, I was struggling with Urdu. On many occasions, I used to hide my roots, as I felt that there is a certain stigma attached to being Punjabi. It’s associated with the lower-middle class; hence it’s not a very pleasant identity to flaunt.

My mind was unconsciously wired to think and write in English. Like my Macbook auto-corrector, the maa boli was automatically converted into an alien language. A part of me shunned and boxed it into some attic and learned to survive without it.

I continued to pretend that it is not my identity, until I could no longer loathe my origins and learnt to embrace it.

Now, whenever I’m with my mother, no matter how chic the location is, I always prefer to converse in Punjabi, regardless of the weird responses and glances it invokes. There are certain sentiments, which can only be expressed in our mother tongue. In my case, I fell in love with my native language when my father passed away. In his memory, I started accepting and embracing my roots.

Having said that, I regret the fact that I couldn’t transfer my Punjabi dialect to my children, in other words, I could not follow my father’s footsteps. In the fierce competition of moulding them to fit our society, I had to disconnect them from their roots.

A mother tongue is central in understanding the culture we belong to, the society we live in and the history we share. We must teach our children to love their identity, regardless of anything.

Fatima Majeed

Fatima Majeed

An avid reader, freelance writer and home-maker.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Jatt Sher

    Obviously everyone would consider their language superior. The Urdu of today is not the same as that of Mir Taqi, Ghalib or Amir Khusraw and should be purified of hindi loanwords.Recommend

  • Rohan

    Gurumukhi is a derivative of Sanskrit like Urdu and some other Urdu.Shahmukhi is an artificial creation like PakistanRecommend

  • Salim Alvi

    I am of the generation who paid 50% surcharge on many things such as stamps, railway ticket etc for feeding 11 Million Bangladeshi refuges of 1971. BTW, Patwari Ji you seem to be sitting in Delhi, definitely an Indian!Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    In Pakistan the so called elite who are very servile to imperial masters distinguish themselves from masses by speaking in alien tongue Urdu and Angrezi. Urdu and Angrezi are languages of exploitation. Anglos promote this rootlessness of natives by sponsoring Urdu & Angrezi Lit Festivals.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Language and its vocabulary molds your thought process since in adult life one thinks in words. Urdu means Army Tent in Turki. It is the language of barbarians who descended on India. Indian subcontinent can achieve true freedom when it gets rid fof Urdu and its corrupting Arabic & Persian vocabulary.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Most Indian native languages including Tamil use Sanskrit grammar and most of the vocabulary. Sanskrit is on the rise. As India integrates again Sanskrit has great potential in organizing knowledge and even as a Computer Programming Language. Give another 30-40 years and Sanskrit will become language of law, science & Maths.Recommend

  • Abdullah Ahmad

    I agree. I never encouraged languages to be eliminated selectively, i just think people should only learn the language which is most useful to them and the rest should not be mandatory. A japanese man only needs to know japanese , and a frenchman only needs to know french and english.Recommend

  • Abdullah Ahmad

    The imperial masters are gone. This is not a matter of what is related to what injustice in the past. In this society and era learning punjabi is useless for a young pakistani, but learning english and urdu are absolutely vital. Function is the most important thing and Angrezi/urdu have the most function for our people.Recommend

  • Abdullah Ahmad

    True freedom how? Will our economy improve? will we be paid more? Will our medicare be better? Will we be able to get better education? Will we be able to go anywhere in the world without difficulty speaking?

    Only Urdu and english allow us these benefits. Learning punjabi is going backward and cutting ourself off from the world.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Do Japnese ask these questions? Soon Chinese wont ask such questions? Even Indians will stop asking this questions as they start having pride in their own https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Srinivasa_Ramanujan His native language nurtured his innate talent and abilities… as soon as English and alien environment was imposed on him, his health deteriorated and ability got curtailed. Read this part “Ramanujan credited his acumen to his family goddess, Mahalakshmi of Namakkal. He looked to her for inspiration in his work,[79] and claimed to dream of blood drops that symbolised her male consort, Narasimha, after which he would receive visions of scrolls of complex mathematical content unfolding before his eyes.[80] He often said, “An equation for me has no meaning, unless it represents a thought of God.”[81][82]”

    Anglos and Bedouins robbed and hijacked everything which was ours and imposed their language, barbaric culture and made us rootless. In case of Pakistanis this rootlessness breeds parasites/terrorists who are pertually at war with everything native. Urdu was the language of oppressors, decadent culture of addiction and exploitation of women (Anarkalis)Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Now even a machine can speak and write any language, including English. Urdu is uterly useless decadent language. Language of barbarians. The one who can contribute to the world are the one who are happy with themselves and are naturally in tune with the environment which includes the sound of flowing river, sound of breeze and sound of silence coming from past ancestors who were in tune with their nature. Nature nurture diversity.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Because similar physical survival logic and grabbing plum jobs in alien barbarian’s court who descended on us natives, some of us including one of m ancestors took alien Semitic names such as Salim Alvi and even changed our faith . We collaborated with these barbarians and started hating everything native. So now we have become rootless parsites who are destroying now each other since no more native HinduSikh is left to kill, rape and loot.Recommend

  • Jatt Sher

    It is useless for a young Pakistani but not for a young Punjabi. One must never forget his culture. The Pashtuns proudly speak Pashto, The Balochs speak Baluchi, Sindhis speak Sindhi so why cant the Punjabi speak his language? If you are not proud of your culture and background, you cannot move forward. That does not mean we stop learning Urdu. We keep that side by side. A true red blooded ghairatmand Punjabi would never let go of his ancestral tongue.Recommend

  • Jatt Sher

    Shahmukhi is not an artificial creation and neither is Pakistan. Shahmukhi is the historic language of Punjab since all major Punjabi literature is written in Shahmukhi. Punjab historically has bee ruled by many Persian or Iranic influenced empires such as the Achaemenids, Indo Greeks, Scythians, Kushans, the White Huns etc.
    The word Punjab itself is a Persian word and Punjabi has many Persian influenced words. In Ranjit Singh’s empire Persian was the official state language. Punjab was never a part of the Hindu caste system and was more influenced by Buddhism (Gandhara Kingdom). Pakistan (the region) has historically been culturally, ethnically and linguistically distinct from India and in 1947 it was finally made into a nation.Recommend

  • Rohan

    Punjab was always a part of India likewise balochistan and pashtunistan.
    Pakistan never existed before 1947 , stop learning tampered history in Pakistani madrassas which say Pakistan was created by bin qasim in 600 B.C.Recommend

  • Jatt Sher

    I have just given you historical evidence for Pakistan (region) being historically, culturally, linguistically and ethnically different than the rest of India and you come up with a predictably dumb response. I did not even mention Bin Qasim or Islam. India never existed before 1947 and is a made up concept. Pakistani region was only under the Mauryan Empire for only 100 years and that too under Buddhist Ashoka and later under Islamic Mughals and Christian British. Other than that the regions in Pakistan were not united with those of India. Go to the Harrapa DNA Project and you will see that Pakistanis (Punjabis, Sindhis, Baloch, Pashtun) are genetically different from Indians as they have more of Baloch (Dna type) which means Iranic blood while Indians have more South Indian (Dravidian) blood. Only Indian Punjabis match up to Pakistani Punjabis and they only form 3% of India.Recommend

  • Jatt Sher

    I have just given you historical evidence for Pakistan (region) being historically, culturally, linguistically and ethnically different than the rest of India and you come up with a predictably dumb response. I did not even mention Bin Qasim or Islam. India never existed before 1947 and is a made up concept. Pakistan (the region) was only united by mainland India for only 100 years by Mauryan Empire, that too by Buddhist Ashoka and later by Islamic Mughals and Christian British. Go to Harrapa DNA Project and you will se that Pakistanis (Punjabis, Sindhis, Balochs, Pashtuns) have more Baloch (DNA type) which means Iranic blood in them while Indians have more Native South Indian (Dravidian) blood in them, so Pakistanis are genetically different from Indians. Only Indian Punjabis have similar results as Pakistani Punjabis and they form only 3% of India.Recommend

  • Rohan

    It’s called Indian sub continent and Indian civilization for some reason and that’s why Punjabi Muslims pretend to be Arabs to disassociate themselves from it.
    Plus 90 million Punjabis have more in common with Indian Punjabis,jatts and Sikhs who form a chunk of the northern population plus sindhi Muslims have a alot in common with sindhi Hindus though they are less in number here and muhajirs are basically Pakistanized Indians so Pakistan has more in common with India
    Creating an artificial country based on a hateful 2 nation theory which was proven to be false in 1971 doesn’t make you very different. You weren’t born in Arabia and it isn’t a British conspiracy to draw Pakistan near IndiaRecommend

  • Rohan

    When pakistan was created, the country’s diverse inhabitants had little in the way of a common identity that might bind them together. Indeed, even the very idea of Pakistan—which emerged in the 1930s, as some Indian Muslims began their quest for a separate homeland—had a relatively short history. Pakistan’s politicians have struggled with this lack of a common identity and principles ever since. As early as 1956 Hans Morgenthau presciently noted, “Pakistan is not a nation and hardly a state. It has no justification in history, ethnic origin, language, civilization, or the consciousness of those who make up its population … Thus it is hard to see how anything but a miracle, or else a revival of religious fanaticism, will assure Pakistan’s future.Recommend

  • Jatt Sher

    Again, I have given you proof as to why Pakistan is ethnically, historically, culturally, linguistically and genetically different than India and you chose to ignore that and come up with another dumb statement that ‘Pakistan are not Arabs’. Newsflash: We dont claim to be. Indian Punjabis only form 3% of India while Mohajirs form only 8% of Pakistan. By the same logic is a made up nation that did not exist before 1947.Recommend

  • Jatt Sher

    By the same logic India is a made up country that did not exist before 1947. Pakistanis are genetically different from Indians (other than 3% of Indian Punjabis and 8% of Pakistani Mohajirs), you can verify that in Harappa DNA Project. Historically, the Indus region, before the 1000s, been mostly ruled by different kingdoms and empires than mainland India. Hinduism influence was considerably less here, with Buddhism being more dominant and Iranic kingdoms like Achaemenid Empire, Indo-Scythians, Indo-Greeks, Bactrians, Indo-Parthians, White Huns, Kushan Empire. You, ofcourse would ignore this. I did not mention being Arab in my comments however you keep repeating that. Recommend

  • Rohan

    Mohen jodarro was an indigenous civilization, trying to portray yourself as European is another result of an identity crises which Pakistanis have so that their silly 2 nation theory is justified
    Karachi had a slim Muslim majority and around 45% Hindus and it was Hindu majority till the mass murdering bin qasim arrived so stop portraying yourself as European because you’re another packi with an identity crises trying to escape the Indian pastRecommend

  • Tergon18

    Can you argue with facts and logic? Nowhere has he mentioned Moenjodaro. He has only listed historical empires and kingdoms that Pakistan (Indus Region) was part of. If you had ever read history you would know of these empires. And the genetic make-up of Pakistanis can be viewed on the Harappa DNA Project (it is available online), which shows them having different blood than Indians (other than 3% Punjabis and 8%Muhajirs). Nowhere has he claimed that Pakistanis are European either.Recommend

  • Rohan

    Then can you quote me the research Paper? Plus he mentioned the Greek empire which obviously from Greece not Pakistan.Don’t know why Pakistan come up nonsensical arguments to justify the already failed 2 nation theoryRecommend

  • Sindus

    Have you ever studied history? After Alexander’s invasion of the Indus Region (Pakistan), his generals carved up an empire there which was Buddhist and called the Indo-Greek Kingdom. Just go Google the Indo-Greeks, Indo-Scythians, Indo-Parthians, the Kushans, the White Huns and the Achaemenid Empire. Everyone who has ever studied history knows about these. Go Google the Harappa DNA Project (the entire DNA spreadsheet is available on the internet) which will show you about the genetic differences between Indians and Pakistanis (other than 3% of Indian Punjabis and 8% Pakistani Muhajirs).Recommend

  • Rohan

    So Pakistanis are descendants of Alexander and all other empires which resulted in their creation and separation from India, more nonsense to defend the indefensible 2 nation theory which actually failed in August 1947, Pakistan died on the day it was bornRecommend

  • Jatt Sher

    Please, open the Harappa DNA Project and go study history. Otherwise, if you keep coming up with such nonsensical comments, it would be pointless to carry this argument on. I never claimed Pakistanis are descendants of Alexander (for genetics, go to Harappa DNA Project).Recommend

  • Jatt Sher

    Also, I think you simply cannot argue against the results of DNA tests. Therefore go to the Harappa DNA test website and see for yourself whom the Pakistanis are descendants of.Recommend

  • Rohan

    Reading selective studies by bogus Pakistani universities is something that I will never do.The foreign tribes who came to subcontinent never drew the borders of Pakistan
    Justifying the failed 2 nation theory is the only thing you have doneRecommend

  • Jatt Sher

    Pakistanis are genetically, historically, culturally and linguistically different from Indians (apart from 3% Indian Punjabis and 8% Pakistani Mohajirs). The Indus Region (Pakistan) has always had a different culture and history than Mainland and Peninsular India. Fact.Recommend

  • Jatt Sher

    Have you ever been to Pakistani Punjab? Many urban Pakistani Punjabi families speak Punjabi and the older generation speaks it. It is only a problem with the younger generation.Recommend

  • Jatt Sher

    That is because they are their ancestral tongues. Punjabi is our ancestral tongue aswell therefore it should be promoted. In all these countries regional languages are spoken as well.Recommend

  • Abdullah Ahmad

    Not really. Punjabi is our ancestral tongue, but here in Lahore where i live Urdu serves as a better tool for communication then Punjabi does. All the signs ,billboards, govt forms, paperwork, books and other things are all in either urdu or english. Why learn punjabi where i have needed it?Recommend

  • Jatt Sher

    It is not a study by a Pakistani university, it has been done by an American genealogical institute and its results have been posted in Indian websites as well. When presented with facts and logic, you start calling everything bogus and keep repeating this mantra ‘failed 2 nation theory’, while I give you comprehensive historical and genetical evidence for the 2 nation theory. Your comments have shown your ignorance as to history and genetics (both of which are easily verifiable on the internet). You are an obvious Indian troll.Recommend

  • Rohan

    You haven’t quoted a single research Paper and trying to defend the indefensible by giving some historical nonsense.The Greeks, Huns may have come to India but they surely didn’t draw the radcliff line and share their genes with only people who are now Pakistanisi.
    Plus mixing that with the ideological nonsense that you learn in your history makes you look like another packy troll come hate mongerRecommend

  • Jatt Sher

    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AuW3R0Ys-P4HdDhib1M5OE1wWENNb2haUFFWZzNBMEE#gid=0
    This is the Harappa DNA Project spreadsheet. Whenever I quote a research paper you call it Pakistani propaganda, despite it having no connections with Pakistanis whatsoever. The Greeks and Huns intermixed more with the Pakistanis since they are located in the North-West where all of the invasions and kingdoms were. You seem to have zero grasp of geography, history or genetics. Why are Tamils, Marathis, Bengalis etc. more darker than Punjabis, Pashtuns etc.? That is because they have different genes, even a fourth grader will be able to tell you that. You dont even have an arguement and keep repeating about being taught bogus history and ‘failed 2 nation theory’ while yourself rejecting genetical studies and history of the subcontinent.Recommend

  • Jatt Sher

    Look, if you dont want to learn it than dont. However the older urban generation and the entire rural generation (which comprises more than 70% approx of the population) still has Punjabi as their mother tongue. When all the education, media, governmental paperwork is all in a language which is not their first language, there is going to be a problem.They feel alienated with this ‘Urdu’ culture. It must be promoted in Punjab side by side with Urdu and English. If a language declines, as Punjabi is now, it also causes cultural decline and Punjabis will have no identity of their own and will lose an ancient cultural and linguistical heritage. If one is not proud of ones culture, traditions etc. then societal decline slowly sets in.Recommend

  • Abdullah Ahmad

    Yes. 60-70% of the population is still using punjabi as a language.

    Do you want a langauge where everyone is able to communicate with each other irrelevant of province?

    Okay, sure, They can learn punjabi at home and learn other languages as school, just as kids here learn urdu at home and English at school .

    And no, the decline of a language has no links with the decline of culture. The festivals and things are going to still be there, but in Urdu. You could potentially argue that it would make a difference in literature, but those who study punjabi literature of their own volition are basically non existent.

    Regards to identity, let me tell you what will happen. These people who feel ” Alienated” Feel such becuase they are incapable and unwilling to adopt. They develop a even stronger sense of identity, though the ( us vs them ) line of thinking.

    You need proof? Ill give you proof.

    The first generation of any immigrant Pakistani/brown people in a western country , without exception always turns out like this. They barely integrate , are not willing to, and they group together ( people of the same ethnic/racial background. ) Even Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs are best buddies, as they all form part of the ” in group ” And there they learn to ignore their differences because the external threat of white people is there. So they get along. They dont learn any language properly. There is not any real form of integration.

    That is why even David Cameron has seen the need for integration
    http://www.secularism.org.uk/blog/2016/01/david-cameron-is-absolutely-right-to-raise-the-integration-of-muslim-women

    The second generation, after having studied in their schools are much better overall. They speak both their home language and english, and are integrated just fine.

    The same thing needs to happen here.Teach Urdu and english in the schools , and let punjabi be taught to those who wish to.
    The old generation that is feeling ” alienated ” Is already in due course to die out in the next 2-3 decades. Facilitation of that group will do nothing.

    The points of your argument is as thus. =
    Punjabi is ancestral so we should learn it. = Not a objective reason to learn it.

    Not learning it results in social decline = Almost All the social programs and humanitarian things that have happened in pak are due to the influx of English and English ideas. Womens rights, clean water, human rights, it is not from the punjabi lands where these ideas came from, but from western lands.

    It makes the older generation inconvenienced. = The older generation has no need of any help anymore. They are already past their prime. Doing things for them is a waste of resources. They support themselves, they are unwilling to adopt or change, they are still insistent on calling a punjabi a punjabi and a balochi a balochi. Let them speak it amongst themselves, and we can teach Urdu and English in the schools. This older generation has chosen to stick to such a inconvenient language that certain dialects cannot even communicate with each other. The fault is not sticking to punjabi, but sticking to ONLY punjabi, and ONLY their dialect.

    In the next half century, do you want people all over Pakistan to still have the problem of basic communication with each other? And to be cut off from each other and the outside world as much as we already are?Recommend

  • Rohan

    Now what survey says marathis and Bengalis are darker.Frankly this racism is why east Pakistan separated.India is a mixed country with many fair skinned people, Brown skinned along with dark skinned as typified in your research
    The Punjabi tribes be it Muslim or Hindu have as much Caucasus genes as each other and people of Uttar Pradesh, jatts of haryana and Sikhs have as much causcois and north European genes than Punjabi Muslims
    Seems like you havent passed 4 th grade maths and coming here on forums and posting research papers.Side effects of madrassa education I seeRecommend

  • Jatt Sher

    Just stating a fact that Bengalis, Marathis and Tamils are generally darker than Punjabis, Kashmiris, Pashtun etc. is not racism. I did not say that being fair makes a person superior, I just stated a fact. Punjabis have lower (average 25-28% South Indian) DNA and higher Baloch (which here means Iranic, nothing to do with baloch ancestry) DNA upto 44-48%. While the rest of India i.e Marathis, Gujratis, Rajshtani, Tamil, UPite and Bengalis have majority South Indian Dravidian DNA and lower Baloch Iranic DNA; the complete opposite of Punjabis. Punjabis only form 3% of India. Did you even read the study? It really goes on to prove the 2 nation theory that historically, genetically, linguistically and culturally we are two different nations.Recommend

  • Rohan

    You haven’t read the study yourself and you really show your colours by defending the failed 2 nation theory.Recommend

  • Jatt Sher

    I have read the study in great detail which is exactly why I am giving you historical, cultural, genetical and linguistic proof of why we are two different people. It seems to me that you have run out of arguments and are now going to repeat ‘failed 2 nation theory’ and ‘madrasah education’. This is what all you Indian trolls can really do, when presented with facts and logic, respond with personal attacks and repeating ‘failed 2 nation theory’.Recommend

  • Rohan

    Actually you started ppersonal abuse and I just gave a retort.
    Plus 2 nation theory was drafted by lunatics like iqbal and jinnah in 1940’s not by Greeks in medieval era.Secondly it was based on religion not skin color, if you don’t even know this you really are madrassa educated with an iq in single digitsRecommend

  • Jatt Sher

    Well, I have proved to you why we are historically, genetically, linguistically, culturally and in terms of religion, two different people so it seems only fair that we have different nations. Iqbal and Jinnah were visionaries who saw vast differences between these two people and proposed the two nation theory. I don’t know why you are posting nonsensical comments like ‘Greek in medieval period’ Why are you bringing the Greeks into this? Recommend

  • Jatt Sher

    You have also been proved be a troll countless times, from lying about Shahmukhi, then showing zero knowledge about the history of the subcontinent, geography or genetics. It seems like all this is a result of Shiv Sena inspired Hindutva Mandir education.Recommend

  • Rohan

    I’ve never even voted for shiv sena and I’m an atheist,the only one lying here is you by defending the indefensible with more lies and ideological nonsense
    you know nothing about subcontinentRecommend

  • Jatt Sher

    Well, you are the first athiest i’ve ever come across who does not believe in genetic/scientifc and historical evidence (both proven, very very easily verifiable on the Internet, books, anywhere). Your above, easily debunked by evidence, comments about Shahmukhi, the Greeks in the Indus Region (Pakistan) and genetics can put even a second grader to shame. You have given me absolutely ZERO historical/scientific evidence or reason for your arguement, while I have based my entire arguement on easily verifiable historical and scientific research and evidence. Calling all this ‘lies and ideological nonsense’ isnt going to help.Recommend

  • Imran Hussain

    Gurmukhi is a derivative of Gupta scripts which is derived from Indo-Aryans migrating from Central Asia. It is an artificial creation. The Arabic scripts are the evolution of South Asian culture; not your old Central Asian Indo Aryan invader scripts.Recommend

  • Imran Hussain

    No one pretends to be anything; Islam is for everyone, hundreds of millions of Indians, Bengalis, Nepalis, Sri Lankans, malays etc are Muslim. You too can also be Muslim; Punjab is just another element of the Muslim worldRecommend

  • Rohan

    Central Asians bought Arabic scripts not Sanskrit with themRecommend

  • Yasir

    First go study what was the cause of Dhaka Fall. Who were the leaders and bureaucrats of that time. First go and enlightened yourself that who has been ruling Pakistan after the death of Liaquat Ali khan. who got the strings of the county. Recommend

  • Yasir

    So you want Panjabi as a National Language of Pakistan? Please don’t chase the foolish discussion, better to check the history rather beating about the bush. Please see the history that was the reason of Bangladesh downfall. How wanted to abandoned what!! Just answer in yes or no? Panajbi as a National Language?Recommend