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Lost heritage: Revisiting the roots of Saraiki, the language of Multan

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By Keshav Chhabra

Hindustan vandeej giya, assan vi rovoon tey tussan vi rovoo!

(Hindustan has been divided. We cry; so do you.)

The familiarity in those strange words springs out effortlessly for the ex-residents of an undivided Hindustan. As if ‘something there is that doesn’t love a wall’. [1] The wall which has divided many and hasn’t given the world much to celebrate has out-strengthened the bond of love. The partition of Hindustan resulting into the formation of two countries, Pakistan and India, has, since then, been commemorated as a tragedy. The decision had baffled many, as portrayed brilliantly by Manto, ‘for whom, the Partition was an overwhelming tragedy’. The imprint of the event can be reflected in literature works in languages including English, Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, Sindhi and many others.

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But a language spoken by more than 20 million people continues to be ignored. The first sentence wasn’t in Punjabi, or Dogri, but in Saraiki (previously known as Multani), one of the most ancient in the world, but ‘un-developed’. Siraiki speaking people, though majorly in Pakistan, can also be found in Middle-East, Afghanistan and India (as a result of migration in 1947). In an attempt to understand the roots of the language, NewsGram team interviewed Dr. J.C. Batra, President of Siraiki International.

Dr. Batra has been a Barrister-at-law, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India. His mother tongue is Multani/Siraiki and he continues his efforts to promote Siraiki language throughout the world.

Multan is one of the most ancient cities of the world, dating back 6,000 years. And Dr. Batra believes that Multani is one of the most ancient languages in the world. He says, “Multan’s name was derived from Mool Sthaan (roughly translated as basic/root place). Multani is the mother of Sanskrit. But the language was undeveloped, before Pāṇini formulated rules of Sanskrit morphology. Not only Pāṇini, Charak, Patanjali, Kautilya Chanakya, Dronacharya are some of the great historic figures who spoke Multani.”

Previously, the language was known as Multani. It is only after the social and political leaders undertook the initiative to promote the language, it was renamed Saraiki/Siraiki in the 1960s. The language has three writing systems, having Persian script, Devanagari Script and Shahmukhi. One of the most ancient scripts, the Laṇḍā script is also used to write Saraiki.

Talking about the usage of Saraiki in the British India, Dr. Batra said, “George A. Grierson, an Irish linguist scholar, conducted the Linguist Survey of India (1898-1928) spent half a volume writing about Laṇḍā, also including Multani and other languages.” Born near Multan in the undivided India, Dr. Batra migrated to India in the present day Kunjpura, a village in Karnal (Haryana). He said he was baffled by the partition of the country and had always wanted to go to his birth-place.

“I did apply for a visa and I went there. When I was conversing there in Multani, a little kid asked his father- Dad, you say he has come from India. But he is speaking Saraiki. I was curious about what Saraiki was? His father told me that Saraiki was the new name for Multani.

“Saraiki has been the victim of the new culture. Our colonizers employed language as a tool of colonization and they have succeeded. One finds all the sign-boards and other public writings in English or Hindi, whether you go to Chandani Chowk or Katda or Kunjpura.

“The vocabulary, the thinking has changed. The terms we use have undergone a huge change. We don’t think in our mother-tongue anymore. We think in the language of the colonizers.”

Though Dr. Batra was justified in what he was saying, the driving force behind this huge project was still a mystery. He said, “Like me, there are many people who are keen to search their roots. This will certainly help in the revival of the language, the culture and bringing the two countries together. We want the revival of our roots so that we don’t get enslaved.”

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When asked what can be done to promote Saraiki, Dr. Batra was hopeful about the future and mentioned many practical and feasible ways to bring Saraiki and other ethnic languages in our usage.

“The language needs to be developed and brought in use. Books about Saraiki in English or Hindi will help to bring this change. The language should be taught at different levels. Another brilliant way can be to bring the language to use in economic purposes (or rozi-roti, as he calls it). The process is slow, but steady.”

There are many universities in Pakistan which continue to promote academic studies in Saraiki including Islamia University (Bahawalpur), Bahauddin Zakariya University (Multan). Allama Iqbal Open University Islamabad and Al-Khair University (Bhimbir) offer M.Phil. & Ph.D in Saraiki. Apart from that, there is no shortage of Saraiki literature. From Khwaja Ghulam Farid to Mohsin Naqvi, there have been many Saraiki poets. “Around one thousand books and six hundred magazines are published in Saraiki language every year,” says Dr. Batra.

Dr. Batra runs a blog in order to promote the language. He has represented Siraiki International at various conferences in and outside India, and continues to do so. Himself a fluent speaker and influential author of Saraiki, he has written various poems in the language and he was generous enough to recite one for us.

You can watch the video here:

 

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Pakistan’s Court Summons TV Team for ‘Disrespecting’ Valentine’s Day Ban

On February 14, Geo TV’s popular Report Card show dedicated a 15-minute segment to discussing the justification of the court’s ban on Valentine’s Day coverage and celebrations

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People buy flowers to celebrate Valentine's Day in Islamabad, Pakistan, Feb. 14, 2018. Pakistan's media regulatory authority, acting on a court order, has instructed all news channels, radio stations and print media to refrain from promoting Valentine's Day. VOA

A Pakistani court has summoned several TV reporters from the country’s largest private TV station over accusations of “ridiculing” last year’s ruling that barred Valentine’s Day celebrations and its media coverage across the country.

On February 14, Geo TV’s popular Report Card show dedicated a 15-minute segment to discussing the justification of the court’s ban on Valentine’s Day coverage and celebrations.

Two of the panelists in the show questioned the rationale for the ban.

Hasan Nisar, a prominent Lahore-based political analyst, declared the restrictions “illogical” and “ridiculous” for society.

“I do not even have anything to say on it, it’s funny,” Nisar said.

Echoing Nisar, Imtiaz Alam, a leading reporter and panelist of the show, said the restrictions were “useless.”

“How can the court interfere as it is against the fundamental rights of the people? Do we have Taliban regime in Pakistan?” Alam asked.

“This is a cultural martial law and curfew to enforce the extreme ideologies. This is a sick mindset, and the moral policing through PEMRA [Pakistan Electronic Media Authority] is shameless,” Alam said.

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Valentine's Day
People buy flowers to celebrate Valentine’s Day in Islamabad, Pakistan, Feb. 14, 2018. Pakistan’s media regulatory authority, acting on a court order, has instructed all news channels, radio stations and print media to refrain from promoting Valentine’s Day. VOA

Court order

Last year, on February 13, Islamabad’s High Court declared Valentine’s Day celebration un-Islamic and imposed a ban on any public or official celebrations.

The government reinstated the ban for a second consecutive year earlier this month to comply with the court’s ruling.

PEMRA also issued a fresh directive to remind its TV and radio licensees to refrain from promoting the day on their stations.

“Respondents are directed to ensure that nothing about the celebrations of Valentine’s Day and its promotion is spread on the electronic and print media,” PEMRA’s notification reads.

On charges of failing to adhere to the court’s order and PEMRA’s instruction, Islamabad court summoned the Geo TV host, two guests and the chief executive officer of the station to appear before the court next week and defend themselves in a contempt-of-court case.

“This act of the host and the participants apparently is tainted with malafide, ulterior motives, aims to undermine the authority of the court and to disrespect the order passed by the court, which clearly comes within the definition of the contempt of court,” the court said, according to local media.

The ban on Valentine’s Day celebrations and sensitivity toward it are not new in Pakistan. Some political and religious groups, such as Jamaat-i-Islami, have carried out rallies and protests against the celebration of the day, declaring it “unethical and un-Islamic.”

There have been instances in the past where local authorities prohibited the February 14 festivities in different cities across the nation.

In 2016, President Mamnoon Hussain also warned Pakistanis to stay away from celebrating Valentine’s Day, declaring it was “not a part of Muslim tradition, but of the West.”

ALSO READ: If You Are Going Single Into This Valentine’s Day Then These Tweets Will Lift Your Spirit

Valentine's Day
A couple buys flowers to celebrate Valentine’s Day, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Feb. 13, 2017. A Pakistani judge has banned Valentine’s Day celebrations in the country’s capital, saying they are against Islamic teachings. VOA

General debate

Valentine’s celebrations have increased in Pakistan over the last decade, particularly among the country’s youth.

The enforcement of the ban on its celebration and media coverage for a second consecutive year has sparked a larger debate among some of the country’s liberal and conservative circles.

A section of the society defends the celebrations and considers them harmless, though for others the day does not have any place in their religious practices or their traditions.

Pakistan, for the most part, is a conservative Muslim society. Public displays of affection are not the norm and often are viewed as unacceptable.

But some Pakistanis, like Saleema Hashmi, a Lahore-based artist, and renowned educator, believe the system is focusing on “irrelevant issues” at the expense of more important and pressing issues the country faces.

“Don’t our courts have better things to do instead of passing rulings on celebrating a mere romantic day?” she asked. “I do not understand how celebrating or denouncing Valentine’s Day can impact our religion, traditions, social or cultural norms.” (VOA)