The language issue arose in the immediate aftermath of independence — it had to be decided which language, or languages, would the new Muslim nation speak, officially and colloquially. While it seemed that the elevated position of English would have no threat in
for the foreseeable future [and
as it happens to date], the tussle, therefore, began a rather interesting term
‘national language.’ Pakistan
Hence, Pakistan became a country where the official language — the language in which all government functions are undertaken and which is the medium of instruction in higher education — was undisputedly English, but where there was a debate on the ‘national’ language where one wasn’t quite sure what the status really meant but felt passionately about it nonetheless.
Despite the unclear legal nature of the term ‘national’ language, a fierce debate soon arose pitting Urdu versus Bengali in
Thereafter, there was a protest in
and a meeting at the Dacca deplored the omission of Bengali
— the language spoken by the majority of Dacca University ’s people from official discourse.
The fiercely national Bengalis had also now decided to ‘protect’ their language. Pakistan
Amidst the ‘protection’ war between Urdu and Bengali, the premier of
As reported by the
During the CAP debate on language, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah as the president of the Assembly stayed impartial. One could see his uneasiness with the stance of the members of the
In his decade of days in
As he conjured the new nation of
Therefore, in an ironic turn of events, Jinnah adjusted his monocle and began reading his rather long and detailed speech to the people of East Bengal, albeit not in Urdu, which he was going to argue for, and nor in Bengali which his audience could understand, but in the King’s English — the language he himself was most comfortable in. The crowd didn’t care which language the ‘Shahinshah’ — Emperor — of
“…Whether Bengali shall be the official language of this Province is a matter for the elected representatives of the people of this Province to decide. I have no doubt that this question shall be decided solely in accordance with the wishes of the inhabitants of this Province at the appropriate time…But let me make it very clear to you that the State Language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other language. Anyone who tries to mislead you is really the enemy of
Students immediately responded to this speech, and it was reported by Tajuddin Ahmad, an eyewitness, that “Quaid-i-Azam’s speech hurt every person of this province, everybody is disgusted he was expected to be above party.” Others reported that “people broke down a gate, destroyed a picture of the Quaid and protested against the Quaid’s pronouncements.” The Great Leader was not above board any longer.
A few days later, Jinnah spoke at the convocation of
“For official use in this province, the people of the province can choose any language they wish…There can, however, be only one lingua franca, that is, the language for intercommunication between the various provinces of this State, and that language should be Urdu. Its State language must be Urdu, a language that has been nurtured by a hundred million Muslims of his sub-continent, a language understood throughout the length and breadth of Pakistan, and above all, a language which, more than any other provincial languages, embodies the best that is in Islamic culture and Muslim tradition and is nearest to the languages used in other Islamic countries.”
There was an immediate reaction from the students assembled there with chanting, ‘Na, Na, Na!’ to make sure that their Great Leader had heard them. But not only did Jinnah dismiss the demand for the co-equal status of Bengali, he also labelled it as not ‘Islamic’ enough, and therefore unsuitable as one of the state languages of a Muslim country. As an English speaker, Jinnah could, however, be forgiven for not knowing that people in East Bengal or for that matter in large parts of west Pakistan too, still did not read, write or understand Urdu.
The cat was out of the bag. Jinnah or