Punjabi is a regional language not a form of hate speech, Beaconhouse

Published: October 19, 2016
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Beaconhouse School Logo. PHOTO: FACEBOOK

I studied at the Beaconhouse School system for 13 years, but I have never felt this ashamed to call myself a Beaconhouse Alumni. A few days ago, your branch in Sahiwal issued a circular banning the use of foul language in school and classifying foul language as hate speech, abuses, taunts, and Punjabi.

Letter from beaconhouse. Photo: Mangobaaz

The central issue is not the ignorant and outright discriminatory letter issued by your administration. It is not an isolated event or just a grammar mistake made by your branch. It goes far beyond that. The issue is that you categorising a language spoken by 120 million Pakistanis as “foul” reinforces the linguistic bias against Punjabi and other regional languages that has existed for decades.

The issue is also your irresponsible response issued after the outrage on social media, which is nothing short of a defensive justification of your actions instead of simply owning up to your mistake. Instead, your use of a sarcastic and taunting tone in your apology; calling people “hashtag activists” and “social media vigilantes”, is not only derogatory to those expressing their concern on this issue in the first place but it shows just how little you are aware of the actual problem behind discrimination against regional languages and how little you are willing to do anything about it.

When you ask a child not to speak a language that defines his or her regional identity, you are asking that child to not display his or her regional identity which is not only a direct form of discrimination based on culture (allowing it to be on the same level as discrimination based on gender, race or religion), but it simply goes against Article-251 of the Constitution of Pakistan which binds provinces to adopt necessary measures for promoting, teaching, and using regional languages.

I do not disagree with your clause to discourage foul language. But foul language can be foul/offensive/hurtful words in ANY language be it English, Urdu, Punjabi, Saraiki, Pashto, Balochi, or Sindhi. The words themselves are to be discouraged and yes that is the inherent responsibility of the school as well as parents to ensure that. But did you once think of how the parents of the children of Beaconhouse Sahiwal would have felt? Imagine them growing up speaking a language that has been spoken in their region, culture, music, and in all their lives yet their children come back home with a disciplinary letter from their school that says,“please ask your child not to speak that language in school”?

What bothers me the most is your half-hearted response. You blamed this on your admin head claiming he was trying to be diplomatic and meant Punjabi curses, but my question is why curses in Punjabi in particular? Curses and swearing in any language are bad, looked down upon and should be banned, but why single out Punjabi? The fact that you felt the need to write “Punjabi” separately in the same sentence as banning foul languages shows the kind of language bias that we need to address.

Beaconhouse’s response. Photo: Facebook

I do not know where this divide came from. It may have been the urban-rural differences and how people associated languages to differentiate between the urban elite and the rural poor or it may have been the portrayal of Punjabi in the media as a language spoken by the illiterate or simply “truck-driver language”. It may have been the constant struggle to choose between one’s mother tongue, one’s adopted language (Urdu) and one’s official language (English) that was brought in by colonisers.

What I do know is that when a child is brought up in a household where Punjabi is the dominant language, their ownership of that language is immediately challenged the minute they step into school. I was born in a small village in central Punjab and was raised in a household where Punjabi is not only spoken with utmost pride but is worn like armour. Yet the day I stepped into my first Beaconhouse, everything changed. The language of instruction was English but the “unofficial” language of communication was Urdu. Urdu was a language both the teacher and student were expected to know, but your institution discriminated against students who spoke a different language. You did not go this far and issue letters to warn parents not to let their child speak his or her first language, but it was the way you taught your students.

My teachers used to discipline me every time they caught me uttering a word in my mother tongue, even outside of a formal classroom setting. And it’s not just you or your way of instruction, it’s everyone around us who is conditioned to believe that Punjabi is a “bad” language. I have been bullied all through elementary and middle school for being someone who had a rural Punjabi background. I have been called words like “paindu” and “jaahil” by my peers every time I was unable to use an alternative word for Punjabi for something. I was laughed at every time I would mistakenly say “godha” instead of “ghutna” when referring to my knee. It made me feel inferior to everyone around me. I have been in the council and provided services to your school for over three years. I represented your school at a local and national level, winning awards and laurels in academics, debates, and art. Yet my grades did not matter, my performance in the debate team or the school play did not matter. What mattered was that I was speaking an “uncivilised” and “uncultured” language; one that I have been born into, one that was an important part of my identity yet still I was taught to be ashamed of ever speaking it in public.

That’s not even the worst thing you have done. Being ridiculed was something I can imagine every child with a different first language then Urdu faced in their early schooling, because of the setting of most public and private schools, but you made me lose my faith in my own language. To this day I am unable to fully speak fluent Punjabi. I heard it all around me, I was spoken to in Punjabi and yet still I could not speak it because oh well my school, my teachers and my classmates all taught me not to. Every time my grandparents would speak to me in Punjabi (the only language they know and proudly speak), I would sheepishly reply in Urdu, and they would have to try to change their words into Urdu just to talk to me. It is still an obstacle I have to face every day and I am sure there are thousands of children like me who have absolutely no confidence in their mother tongue as a result of the bias that exists in schools and our society. I spent 13 years of my life in your institution, and with all the good things you have given to me as an institution, you have given me a battle with my regional identity that I fight to this day and I know I am not the only one.

It is a matter of concern that it took us this long a time to raise our voice against a bias that has existed in this society for as long as we can remember. Regional languages in Pakistan have always been marginalised in a school setting, but it has never gone as far as a prestigious institution like yours officially prohibiting its use. This bias has been implicit in nature and so deep-rooted into society that it was hard for people to identify this as an issue that needs to be dealt with immediately. However, when a social institution like a school endorses such discrimination, it raises alarms against the kind of mistreatment of our children in school that we cannot tolerate.

As a school, you should be responsible for the actions that you take to ensure a healthy environment for child development. You have not only angered hundreds of thousands of Punjabi-speakers who see this as an attack on their mother tongue but you have also enraged Pakistanis who are concerned about children and the future of their country. You still need to issue a formal and sincere apology to all those people you have angered with your statement. An apology that shows that your institute has owned up to their mistake and has realised the extent of discomfort it has caused and is free of tasteless remarks. As of now, we need a clear policy from your institution stating what the code of conduct of your school is when it comes to the promotion and teaching of regional languages. We need change in the system so children will not have to go through the struggle that children my age went through when they were in school.

Punjabi is a beautiful language. It has given us one of the richest cultures in the subcontinent. It has given us Baba Bulleh Shah, Waris Shah, Ghulam Farid, Sultan Bahoo, and Mian Muhammad Baksh. It has given us Bhangra, Dhol, and Gidha. It has given us Stapoo, Kikli, and Pithoo-Garam. It has given us so much more than a regional identity and yet we cannot seem to own it as one. I hope to see a revival, slow but steady, of this culture. And it is you who has to change your collective attitude towards regional languages and adopt non-discriminatory policies that can make this revival happen. You should welcome and celebrate the diversity your students bring to your institution, teach them to embrace their regional and cultural identities instead of being ashamed of it. Let the students “Seek the Light”.

Raina Iqbal

Raina Iqbal

The author is a student at California State University in Los Angeles and an Alumni of Beaconhouse School System. She is an award-winning public speaker with a keen interest in Public Policy and international Affairs. She tweets @rainaiqbal

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

  • Saraiki Banda

    Punjabies have always humiliated saraikies for their language. Now english medium people are doing the same to the punjabies and now they are crying. Good job Becanhouse. We Saraikies are with you. Punjabi is a third class languageRecommend

  • Ahmed Ata Khan

    Totally agree with you Raina. My kids have studied in Beaconhouse too, and the administration can be, and mostly is, as bull-headed as evident. Their arrogance finally got the worse out of me and I shifted my kids to another school.Recommend

  • M. S. Chaudhry

    Punjabi is not a regional language. Not only majority of Pakistanis speak it, it’s one of the national languages of India. It’s medium of education in Indian Punjab and second language of British Columbia, Canada. In Pakistan, an Urdu writer who sells 500 books calls himself best writer, whereas in East Punjab, Punjabi writers publish their books in hundreds of thousands. First Punjabi writings are traced back to 12th century. There are far more Ph. Ds. in Punjabi than Urdu. It has far more local vocabulary and phrases than Urdu. The problems is not with Punjabi language. It’s with Pakistani Punjabi. It is the only community in entire world which hates it’s own mother tongue and heritage. Language comes later, they won’t recognize their real mothers to gain some kind of benefit. Soon these people will be teaching Chinese in their schools.Recommend

  • Rohan

    It’s because of the ideology of Pakistan which states that everybody has to follow one religion,language and be one.So the people have to hate and destroy their own culture and identity.
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  • Bairooni Haath

    Pakistani Punjabis are taught to be ashamed of their language, culture, clothes, customs and entertainment. Written Punjabi language is not taught to Punjabi children. Beaconhouse is just following what the state has decreed. Isn’t it 70 years too late for Punjabis to get outraged over this? You abandoned your own without a fight so why should anybody else speak for you?Recommend

  • Grace

    The ideology of Pakistan is not against Punjabi or any of the regional languages. Urdu is close to Hindi so if the issue were ideology, Pakistan would ban Urdu and make Arabic its language which is not the case. The problem in Pakistan is that some people do not understand the value of culture and tradition. They have been duped into thinking that something imported from the West ( like English) is better or something imported from India ( like Urdu / Hindi) is better. No one says you don’t need English and Hindi but we also need our own languages and culture. I would tell people that if they want their children to have good education, do not send them to places like Beaconhouse where children will be taught to hate themselves. The teachers there need education themselves if they cannot appreciate the wisdom and beauty of traditional Punjabi poetry and prose. As a native Punjabi speaker, I will never send my children to such a school which disrespects the majority population of Pakistan because it doesn’t have the insight to understand the importance of native languages.Recommend

  • MR.X

    as a beaconite myself, they are raising kids with superiority complex because they can speak englishRecommend

  • MR.X

    Bravo to this young lady, As a beaconite i completely agree..We should be proud of our native language ..we(as a nation) still have the slave mindset that speaking english makes you superior..Some of the masterpieces written By Bulleh Shah(R.A) and Hazrat Ganjshakar(R.A) are in punjabi,,beaconhouse needs to stop producing wannabessRecommend

  • Cheema

    can totally relate with you. punjabi has been stigmatized but its a positive development that more and more educated class is rising to defend their right to love their mother tongueRecommend

  • Akhtar Tufail

    Ms Raina has spoken well.Recommend

  • SB

    Why punjabies don’t feel same like the above event when they attack saraikies?Recommend

  • Sadaf

    Thank you ! Punjabi is the sweetest language and should not be dismissed in this way . This kind of pseudo politemess just exposes their own ignoranceRecommend

  • Wasif Jalal

    All this culture thingy is based on emotions. So what if we loose culture, this life is short. look beyond the death, whats really important.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Seems you dont have kids in Pakistan. You will have to send your kids to Amritsar for Punjabi.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Have you mastered arabic and english?Recommend

  • Grace

    A lot of educated families who understand the value of heritage and culture teach their children Punjabi as their mother tongue. The exception are the middle class Punjabi or working class people who think that they are moving up by speaking another language – be it English or Urdu / Hindi. Educated Punjabis know English, Urdu / Hindi and other languages but do not forsake their heritage. Kids in Pakistan get enough exposure to Indian shows, movies and dramas in Hindi so they don’t need to go to India. Most educated Punjabi families who maintain Punjabi teach Shahname script and Punjabi verses at home. Those of us who quote Punjabi prose and poetry also learn this at home. Indian Punjabi and its dialects are different to that used in Pakistan with the possible exception of Amritsar where it is closer to that spoken in Lahore. Even then, Pakistani Punjabi is written in Shahname / Shahmukhi ( original Persian Punjabi script used over 1000 years) and not in the later evolved Gurmukhi script used in India which is only a few hundred years old.Recommend

  • Allah Rakha

    What has been written in the article is just the tip of an ice berg. Punjabi being the regional identity of more than 120 million people living in Pakistan has now become a point to bring this debate to the table. Since 1947, till now, Punjabi (officially written in Gurmukhi script) changed to Urdu and now we see a ban on that as well. Great, but one thing, from where did this Urdu originate? The answer lies in the partition when the Muslims came to Pakistan from India and specifically from UP, CP region and forced this language upon so many people there. The Bengalis were crushed and made to speak Urdu and that was one of the key elements which broke Pakistan into 2 halves. Still, Pakistan is not ready to understand the importance of ethinicity, regional identities and races. If a guy speaks in Punjabi he is considered to be an illiterate and uncouth. That’s the mentality of the Pakistanis ignoring the fact that the Punjabis constitute majority of the land and masses.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Persians script is not even 200 years old. ArdhNagri & present DevNagri is native and same as GuruMukhi http://www.punjabmonitor.com/2013/04/gurmukhi-script-older-than-gurus.html Trying to divide people by script is conspiracy.. NamDev , Marathi saint spent more than 25 years and his 100 or so couplets are in GuruGranth SahabRecommend

  • Grace

    I take it you are not Punjabi which is why you do not understand that Punjabi in Persian script has been used for close to 1000 years. I suggest you do some real reading and get an overview of history. Baba Fareed and countless Sufi poets wrote in Punjabi. Baba Fareeds works from 13 th century are written in the Arab- Persian script known as nastaleeq. Sikhism and Gurmukhi only developed in thr 16 th century. If you think Persian script is only 200 years old then walk around Dehli and ask yourself why Muslim monuments from 800 years ago are inscribed with Persian script. It will help clarify things for you. The original script for Punjabi is the Persian form since most Punjabis are Muslim. The Punjabi population in India comprising of HIndus and Sikhs is much smaller than the combined Punjabi population of Pakistan so of course most Punjabis use the Persian Shahmukhi / Shahname and this is the language of the Sufi poets of the region which everyone quotes regardless of religion. Educated Punjabis in Pakistan have not forgotten their history, language and culture.Recommend

  • Grace

    Sorry my friend but Punjabi predates Urdu by many centuries and Punjabi was written in the Persian nastaleeq script long before Urdu was developed as a language. Baba Fareed’s writings in Persian nastaleeq Punjabi script called Shahmukhi / Shahname existed before Urdu came to be as a language and before Urdu was ever written in Persian script. This has nothing to do with 1947 since Punjabi was and continues to be used in the same script by the majority of Punjabis who are Muslims from the much larger West Punjab.If some uneducated person does not understand the value of regional languages or the breadth of Punjabi prose and poetry, that is that individual’s problem alone and it should not stop educated people from speaking the beautiful language of the soil. I suggest you educated your children to this reality.Recommend

  • Sami Shahid

    Some Indian migrants are against Punjab, Punjabi and Punjabi Language. These Indian Migrants feel that only Indian Migrants are the most educated and modern people in Pakistan which actually is not a reality. I am not calling them Indians but just trying to expose their mentality.Recommend

  • Sami Shahid

    If Punjabi is not a regional language then its not even a national language of India. Punjabi belongs to Punjab and Punjab belongs to Pakistan ! We don’t hate our mother tongue instead we learn Urdu so that people of all provinces can communicate with each other. Nobody here asked your opinion so you should avoid spreading hatred over here. Indian punjab has its own film industry because neither Punjab is a part of India nor Punjabi is a national language of India… Got it ? Next time do not try to spread hatred on our page !Recommend

  • Sami Shahid

    Neither we want anyone else to speak for us nor we hate our language, culture , costume and entertainment. We just learn urdu so that people of all provinces can communicate with each other. You are hiding your identity because you are a hater so you better comb your hair and get out from here.Recommend

  • Sami Shahid

    Everybody is allowed to practise their religion, culture and language. We learn Urdu so that people of all provinces can communicate with each other but nobody asked your opinion so why are sharing your hateful thoughts with us ? There is no need of you Rohan !Recommend

  • Sami Shahid

    Can you shush Alvi ? Can you ? And yes we can send our children to Indian occupied Punjab if the Indian Army is not there. After all the entire Punjab belongs to Pakistan !Recommend

  • Sami Shahid

    Who attacked siraikis ? You nasty Indian !Recommend

  • Allah Rakha

    I completely agree with you and not against a single thing what you mentioned whether Shahmukhi or Gurmukhi.. it’s the way how a common person from the region would express and identify with his people, would pass it on to others, would hone it for rest of his/her life and as fellow bloggers have also mentioned that how big this language is and the popularity has scaled not only ‘Bar-E-Saghir’ but internationally as well and considering the fact that the very region which boasts of having most of the local ‘Punjabis’, the govt. of Pakistan is the main culprit. Look at the other country like India.. there you have so many languages and yet the people have the freedom to write or speak in their own native languages. I guess, Pakistan suffers from Urdu being superior kind of OCD.Recommend

  • Rohan

    But I will still give my opinion and you cannot stop and have no right to tell me what to doRecommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Pakistan was created by Anglos. They dont need it any more. By next year Pakistan will be limited to Punjab around Lahore, west of Wagha.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Ask a serious student of Punjabi. Dont know if you read the link page. It is by a Sikh. Pakistani Punjab is Muslim. Literacy rate was dismal in Punjab because Mulla imposed alien script. Muslim Punjabis convey that their conversion was because of soofism. It is a lie. Conversion was for physical survival and not for any spiritual yearning. A spiritual person will be in quest of finding where he came from and where he will go after death… why he was born to his parents… why with particular DNA, language and who were his native ancestors… Person who converted for material reasons like Bhuttos of Hariyana, other Rajputs like Hayats etc & the haris & kammis who worked on their fields, had guilt and so willingly cut their roots. This cultural suicide is the reason behind breeding of suicidal terrorists in pakistani punjab. Baba Farid didnt use Persian script. Persian script was first used in Mughal darbar. It did not reach to masses till 19th century when Sikh Shahi also started using it though in Gurudwaras exclusively HuruMukhi was used. GuruMukhi kept Sikhism alive.

    Pakistani Punjabis talk about Soofism but never honor their soofis. No town or road is named after them. Misdiles are named after Afghans, stadium after Libyan Gaddafi but not sufi.

    Till 18th century hardly 15% Punjab population was Muslim. That is why I say use of Persian script is not even 200 years old.

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  • Sami Shahid

    Are you kidding me?Recommend

  • Agha

    “Punjabi is a regional language not a form of hate speech, Beaconhouse” Here lies the problem. Punjabi is NOT a “regional” language. Neither are ANY of the Sindhi, Pashtun, Balochi and Seraiki languages “regional” languages. This is the insult wrought on the local nations existing within Pakistan that Urdu is a national language but others are “regional”. All the languages mentioned above belong to “nations” (yes Pakistan is not ONE nation for all those who winced at this). Sindh, Baloch, Punjab, Pakhtunkhwa, Seraiki, these ARE nations in themselves. We are still unable to accept that our country is not “a nation” but “a group of nations”. Refusal to accept such a simple and self evident reality is what leads to such terms as “regional languages” for Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi, Pashtun and “national language” for Urdu. We are totally confused. Don’t get me wrong, this article is brilliant but the writer still has fallen prey to denigrating labels for languages that make up the majority of the country(through no fault of his own).Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    You are a kiddo. Chase the $ trail. More than $500 Billion in today’s $ were given by Anglos so far.Recommend

  • Sami Shahid

    You Indians should promote Hindi in India because Urdu is not India’s national language !Recommend

  • Allah Rakha

    As if your ancestors came on a donkey from Saudi Arabia and gave birth to you here in this god forsaken place. This is the mentality problem with you, you don’t try to own your culture and believe in being imposed by your govt. policies. Countries far better than Pakistan have accepted Punjabi and other regional languages originating from this very land as their own and allowed them in their universities. Get a life or at least speak the truth.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Urdu means Turki Army Tent. Indeed it is not Indian. Babar wrote first Urdu sher in Urdu/tent on his love boy Babri, appreciating beauty of his behind.Recommend

  • Sami Shahid

    What are you talking about….Punjabi is our language and we use Urdu as a common language so that people of all provinces can communicate with each other…where as neither Urdu is a language of India nor Punjabi is a language of India. Indian Punjab has a separate film industry in which they promote their own culture and language which is not a part of India. ” Suicidal terrorists in Punjabi Pakistan ” well I never heard about them but they might be Indian Hindus or Indian Muslims disguised as Pakistani’s because you know Muslims of India have an old habit to practice terrorism in other muslims countries because if they will practice terror in India than the Hindu Army will attack their families LOL.Recommend

  • Rohan

    And Pakistan is a part of India Recommend