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Social change through education


Shahid Siddiqui

Education, during different periods of history, assumed different meanings and focused on different objectives. It has usually been equated with change, development and emancipation. It is important, however, to understand that education per se is not change, development or emancipation. It could, however, enhance the life chances of individuals to attain these objectives.

Decolonisation and the Nadvatul Ulema


Shahid Siddiqui

The post-1857 period was a depressing era for the Indians. A large number of freedom fighters were either killed in the War of Independence of 1857 or imprisoned and hanged to death. The voices of freedom were stifled through brutal state power. These times were conducive for Christian missionaries.

Resistance through education

Shahid Siddiqui

The history of imperialism is ridden with treachery, guile and coercion. To control the colonised, all possible methods are used, ranging from persuasion to coercion. India, under the British rule, was no exception. The colonisers suppressed the voices of dissent by using oppressive methods and imposing biased education and language policies.

The desertion of Punjabi


Shahid Siddiqui

Recently a school campus in Sahiwal, Punjab issued a directive to the students to refrain from using foul language inside and outside the school. The note further clarified that “Foul language includes taunts, abuses, Punjabi and the hate speech.” Ironically, it was in Sahiwal where the strongest Punjabi voice of resistance was raised against British imperialism by Ahmed Khan Kharal who laid down his life but did not bow down before the British Raj.

It is important to have an academic analysis of derogatory attitudes towards Punjabi. This article tries to unpack the concept and functions of a language, the association between a language and speakers, the myth of the innate superiority of a certain language, the relationship between the vitality of a language and the academic support from educational institutions, and the conscious desertion of Punjabi by the Punjabi urban elite.

A conservative view about language is that it is merely a tool of communication and is essentially a passive, neutral, and apolitical phenomenon. This conservative paradigm also assumes that certain languages are superior. This view, however, is challenged by Sapir and Whorf who concept of language altogether by suggesting that language is not a neutral and passive phenomenon but a highly political reality that is involved in the construction and perpetuation of social reality.

It is important to realise that there is a positive correlation between the socioeconomic status of speakers and the language they speak. If the socioeconomic status of a certain group of speakers is high, their language is also considered strong. This explains that no language is superior or inferior and it is the socioeconomic status of speakers that determines the status of a language. All languages are equally important and must be respected.

The Punjabi language had always been a victim of social, political and economic circumstances even before the partition of United India. In India, because of royal support, Persian became the language of power and was used in courts. Urdu was very close to Persian in terms of vocabulary and structure. It also had an affinity with the Punjabi language at a semantic level. Urdu was also mutually intelligible with Hindi. These multiple associations of Urdu made it popular in certain parts of India in general and in Muslim communities in particular.

The British got rid of Persian in Sindh by replacing it with Sindhi but surprisingly, in Punjab, Persian was not replaced by Punjabi. Instead, it was Urdu that took the place of Persian. One reason that was given by the British was that Urdu was a refined form of Punjabi. Thus Punjabi was viewed as a dialect or patois with a relatively lower social standard. It is important to understand that languages, in contemporary times, are not evaluated on their linguistic merits or demerits. Rather they are assessed primarily on social, political and economic grounds.

During the Pakistan movement languages were used as political identities. Hindi, Urdu, and Punjabi were tagged with the three major population groups of India – Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs respectively. In this simplistic divide (which was largely political in nature), Punjabi was the biggest casualty. A large number of Muslims whose mother tongue was Punjabi deserted it on political, social, and economic grounds.

Another important aspect is that language is an important identity marker at the individual and national levels. After independence in 1947, the question of the national language was raised and Urdu, because of Muslims’ emotional association with it during the movement for Pakistan, was given the status of national language. The two overwhelmingly majority languages – Bengali, and Punjabi – could not get this status.

There was a strong demand from Bengalis to make Bengali a national language as well. There was, however, no voice heard in favour of Punjabi by the Punjabi population. One important reason for this could be that Punjab had a large share in the army and was close to the power centres. The Punjabi elite wanted to be a part of the mainstream powerful groups and in the process deserted their own language.

It is surprising that Sindhi is taught in schools as a subject. Similarly Pashto is taught as a subject in some schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. But Punjabi has never been a part of school education in Pakistan. Why is that so? Is there something inherently wrong with Punjabi? It is largely because of the social attitude of people who have associated Punjabi with informal and insignificant linguistic functions in life. The language desertion phenomenon is visible in Punjabi urban families where parents speak with their children in Urdu which is considered to be a prestigious language.

It is feared that a large number of families from Punjab would lose Punjabi language in a couple of generations. There is a lot of research available about the significant role of one’s mother tongue in early education. If we want to reclaim Punjabi, the first step is to provide it educational backing by teaching it as a subject in schools in Punjab. It is important that in educational institutions students should be taught that no language is innately inferior or superior.

All languages are equal and must be respected. Also, official patronage is needed at least at the provincial level for the promotion of language. It is important to note that Article 251 of the constitution of Pakistan clearly ssays, about the potential measures of teaching and promotion of a provincial language, “Without prejudice to the status of the national language, a provincial assembly may by law prescribe measures for the teaching, promotion and use of language in addition to the national language.”

It is now the responsibility of the provincial assemblies to pass laws for the teaching and promotion of provincial languages in the provinces.

The writer is an educationist.


Ahmed Khan Kharal and the Raj


Shahid Siddiqui

The great War of Independence in 1857 brought different ethnic groups of India together to challenge the British Raj. A large number of local soldiers left the British army under protest and stood up against the despotic rule of the East India Company (EIC). The Company, in this situation, was in dire need of human resources to combat with the freedom fighters.

In the pursuit of fresh recruits a British envoy was sent to Sahiwal in Punjab to seek support from the local chiefs. The British envoy met Rai Ahmed Khan Kharal, the leader of the Kharals who were concentrated in Gogera near Okara. Rai Ahmed Kharal, a popular and bold chief of the Kharal tribe, turned down the request of providing recruits to the British and openly declared that he was loyal to the king in Delhi and not to the British. The British did not expect such a response as they had successfully bribed a number of local landlords with ‘jagirs’ and titles.

Rai Ahmed Khan Kharal was born in 1803 in Jhamra a village of Sahiwal, close to Gogera Bangla in district Okara. He had great political acumen and enjoyed cordial relationships with leaders of different tribes. Rai’s upfront dismissal of their request infuriated the British.

Another development that invited the colonial wrath was that tribes in and around Sahiwal refused to give revenue to the British government. This was an open rebellion which posed a serious challenge to the authority of the British administration. The British were not expecting such a revolt from the local tribes.

Sensing the impending storm of resistance, the British ordered Berkely, the assistant commissioner of Sahiwal, to suppress the resistance at any cost. His task was to penalise those who challenged the British authority by refusing to pay the revenue to the British Raj. A large number of ‘rebels’ were arrested and put in Gogera jail. Gogera in those times was the headquarters of Sahiwal. The arrest of innocent people at such a large scale was unacceptable to Rai Ahmed Kharal. After consultation with his comrades, Rai decided to free those who had been arrested by the British.

This was a daring step but Rai was ready to embrace all the consequences. On the night of July 26, 1857 Rai Ahmed Kharl attacked the Gogera jail and set all the prisoners free. During the process a number of casualties took place but the objective of freeing the prisoners was successfully achieved. Rai Ahmed escaped the scene with a large number of his comrades and went to the jungle of Gishkori situated a few miles in the neighbourhood of Gogera. This act was an open defiance to the British Raj and the British administration resorted to extreme actions – including burning down villages.

It was important for the British to get rid of Ahmed Khan Kharal, the leader who inspired the people to stand up against the British Raj. The British arrested his family members and threatened to kill them. Rai, in order not to risk the life of his mother and other family members, presented himself for arrest. His arrest led to enhanced unrest created by the strong protest of various tribes.

The administration succumbed under the pressure and freed Rai Ahmed Kharal on the condition that he would not leave Gogera. Rai came out of jail but his objective was to unite the tribes and put up a resistance to the foreign rule. In a covert meeting of his close friends and allies held in a jungle it was decided that all tribes from both sides of River Ravi would get together and attack the check posts, which were symbols of the British establishment in the area.

It was not easy to catch or kill Rai in straight battle as he knew the terrain quite well. There was, however, one technique to trap him. It was the same technique that was used against Tipu Sultan and Sirajuddaula – by buying the loyalties of an insider who would give inside information. Two persons offered their services to further the cause of the colonisers by betraying their friend and leader. One was Sarfraz Kharal and the other was Nehan Singh Bedi.

Rai Ahmed Kharal could not imagine that his professed friends and colleagues would sell their friendship and the freedom struggle for petty worldly gains. Both Sarfraz and Bedi were part of this secret meeting. Soon after the meeting Sarfraz Kharal leaked the proceedings of the secret meeting to the British administration. According to the plan, Rai Ahmed had to cross River Ravi to meet with his allies. Berkely, who had been told about Rai Ahmed Kharal’s movement by Sarfraz Kharal, hastened to River Ravi to pin Rai down before his crossing of river Ravi. Rai Ahmed Kharal, however, was faster and crossed Ravi before Berkley could reach there.

Rai Ahmed Kharal and his comrades fought bravely against the Berkley troops and forced them to retreat. It was a great victory for them. Rai Ahmed decided to offer his prayers. Berkley and his forces were not very far away. As Rai Ahmed was offering his prayers Berkley attacked. Rai’s friend, Bedi identified him and according to some sources, it was he who fired the first bullet. The day was September 21, 1857 – the 10th of Muharram – and the great freedom fighter breathed his last.

To celebrate their victory, the British set the villages of the rebels on fire. Rai’s death was a big blow to his friends and to the local tribes. One of his friends, Murad Fatiana, promised to avenge Rai’s death and killed Berkley just two days after Rai’s death.

Rai Ahmed Kharal’s valiant struggle against the British has become immortal. He has become a legendary character in Punjabi folk poetry dholas, written by different poets and sung by the masses – eulogising the revolutionary role of Rai Ahmed Kharal, who laid his life but never bowed to the might of British Raj.

The writer is an educationist.