Let’s acknowledge Bengalis as leaders

Syed Asif Shahkar | Update:

The history of Pakistan has been concocted and forced on the Pakistani Punjabis (and some of Pashtuns) almost like a religion. This ‘history’ has gripped them like a hardcore belief. Pointing out any flaws or casting some doubts about it is tantamount to sin. Ironically, even people that have been made part of this history such as Quaid-e-Azam, Allama Iqbal and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, would have denied the things that have been attributed to them, had they been alive today. But the Pakistanis, especially Pakistani Punjabis and some of Pashtuns, would refuse to listen to them.

Take Allama Iqbal for example. It has been taught religiously that Pakistan was dreamt by him. Justice Javed Iqbal, the son of Allama Iqbal, had been saying throughout his life that this claim holds no truth and Allama Iqbal had opposed the partition of India. However, most Pakistanis, again the Punjabis and Pashtuns in particular, are not ready to believe that. The people like Javed Iqbal, the son of Allama Iqbal, have been termed as liars. Quaid-e-Azam is portrayed as a religious person whereas in reality he was not steeped in religion and lived in a rather British style. The same applied to Sir Syed Ahmad Khan.

One of the biggest fabrications of this history is about national language. One of the reasons of making Urdu sole national language was that the British had forcefully imposed it in Punjab as educational and somehow as an official language and Punjabis had accepted this. Now the question is: why did Quaid-e-Azam who himself didn’t speak Urdu decide to make it the sole national language?

It had two major reasons. First, the large number of leaders in Pakistan movement was comprised of Urdu-speaking people. Among them, Liaqat Ali Khan was on forefront. They wanted to maintain their hegemony, but UP was the major obstacle to their ways. Though, the movement for Pakistan started from UP, it was not part of state of Pakistan. It’s for that reason that this group would have been quite smaller in terms of numbers because they would have been emigrants to Pakistan and thus due to smaller numbers of emigrants, they couldn’t have ruled Pakistan. To overcome the shortcoming of being smaller in numbers, they brought their language ahead of all. Quaid-e-Azam while making compromises with this group, accepted their demand.

The second major reason was to run the legacy of the British system. To take control of Punjab and to strengthen this control, the British used Urdu as a new weapon. The British threw the languages of Mughals and Punjabis (especially of Sikhs) that were Persian and Punjabi out and replaced them with Urdu in full effort to ensure its influential status. In return, Urdu provided the British extremely loyal Punjabis and while wiping out educated lot from Punjab, promoted illiteracy all around. Literacy rate dropped to only 2% from 97%, and once, most educated part of the world was now pushed in the abyss of the darkness of ignorance. Ruling brainwashed uneducated folk was no easier for the British.

After Pakistan came into existence, Muslim League and Quaid-e-Azam wanted to keep the British system intact. Besides, they wanted to keep Punjabis under their control. Urdu was an important pillar for the British system in this newer state. Hence, it was turned into a sacred and holy legacy. Now, the rest of Pakistan had accepted Urdu as the pillar of Islam and Pakistan but what Bengalis had said about this hegemony of Urdu, has been either kept hidden in the history of Pakistan or presented as a Pandora box of the lies. When it was decided officially in the year 1948 that the national language of Pakistan would be Urdu, the Bengalis refused to accept it and questioned how that could be happen. 

First, it was the fact that the larger population of Pakistan was comprised on Bengalis and in contrast to Punjab, Bengali was taught in their schools and colleges. Second, Bengalis were most educated among the entire population of Pakistan. They did not know Urdu. Throwing Bengali out of their home and replacing it with Urdu would not only have a mockery of democracy but at same time it could have rendered millions of Bengali uneducated. Moreover, in the year 1849, Bengal Regiment had played major role in defeating Sikhs and capturing Punjab. After this capture, Bengalis had also played role in replacing Persian and Punjabi with Urdu in Punjab. They knew why British were doing that and as a result of this hegemony, how Punjab was changed all together, Bengalis were aware of this.

The Pakistan government decided to use oppression against the Bengalis that were resisting the hegemony of Urdu, to accept it. Beating, tear gas and bullets were used and as a result, five students namely Rafiq, Jabbar, Salam, Barkat and Shafique lost their lives and are remembered as martyrs of the Bengali language. They are very special martyrs because they were very first ever martyrs in the history of the world that gave their lives for their mother language. In their remembrance, Mother Language Day is marked by entire world on 21st February every year.   Despite of all the oppression, Bengalis stood firm and finally the government of Pakistan caved in and accepted Bengali as second national language and made it official language as well.

Some people term this rebellion of Bengalis as a first dent in the state of Pakistan whereas some term it as the day when the first brick of salvation was laid down for the Bengalis.   In the year 1971, when Bangladesh was created, Bengalis had nothing but many innumerable graves, mayhem, raped women and a country ruined by war. But they had two things. One was the education and second was their nationalism. These two things were given to Bengalis by Bengali language.  On the basis of these two things, today Bangladesh is making progress and being ranked among the economic tigers of Asia. The pace it’s making progress suggests that this former ‘colony’ of Pakistan is faring must better than Pakistan today.

Even today when Punjabi talk about Bangladesh, they couldn’t hide their negative attitude towards Bengalis. They see them as traitors, infidels and even Indian agents. Why is that?

The first crime of Bengalis was they were larger in population. Second, they were well educated. Thirdly, in the elections of 1970, they won 160 seats out of 300 in total. Fourth, they demanded their right to rule. But what if tomorrow a referendum going to take place in Pakistan asking which are they provinces that want to stay with Pakistan? What if Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhunkhwa decide to get separated? Would Baloshistan term Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as traitors?

It’s unfortunate that in the history of Pakistan, even today Bengalis are seen in such a poor light. To me, the time has come when Punjabis should come out of this false pride and ignorance and change their thinking about the Bengalis. They should teach true history of Bengalis to their children. They should call martyrs of Bengali language as martyrs and should erect their statues in Lahore. They should learn nationalism and love for mother language from Bengalis.

For Punjabis to become a great nation, they do not have any other option. This is the only key for the Punjabi identity.

* This article was translated from Punjabi to English by Ahamad Saleem.

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