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Punjabi going off signboards sparks anger at Panjab University

A sign board in English at Panjab University, Chandigarh.

Students of the Punjabi department at Panjab University, Chandigarh, have started a drive to “save the status of the language” as the administration has not been using it on signboards while English and Hindi are used.

Mehtab, a student of the Punjabi department at PU, is one of the leaders of the movement against the new signboards on campus. He stresses, “Chandigarh was created on land acquired from the farmers of Punjab, but the condition of Punjabi here is very poor. Most students come here from Punjab, most of them speak Punjabi. But still there are efforts of oppressing the regional language.”

The students have submitted an application over this to the vice-chancellor, Arun Kumar Grover, and the deans of university instructions and social welfare. Mehtab said, “Around four years back, too, the same thing had happened, but Punjabi had then got its place back after protests.”

And this language movement is not on the campus alone but also in the state of Punjab, and across the border in Pakistan’s Punjab. In Punjab here, the language is seen at the third place on signboards after English and Hindi, something that Patiala MP Dharamvira Gandhi is also campaigning against.

Echoes across border

Punjabis across the border are fighting for “official status” to the language in Pakistan even after 70 years of Independence and the partition. Hundreds of poets, artists, students and journalists sat on a hunger strike on Friday outside Lahore Press Club, asking, “Punjabi da kasoor ki e? (What is Punjabi’s fault?)”

Maqsood Saqib, a journalist from Lahore, has a study circle where university students are taught Punjabi and the writings of Waris Shah, Shah Hussain, Bulleh Shah, and Guru Nanak Dev, among others are discussed. “Punjabi is considered the servant’s language,” he said. It is spoken by 44% people in Pakistan.

Ahmed Raza, president of a group called Punjabi Parchar in Pakistan, explained over phone, “Punjabi is an optional subject from Class 6 onwards here, but there are no teachers for this optional subject.”

Why it matters

‘Moi Dagestan’, a book written by a Russian poet-critic Rasul Hamzatov from Dagestan in his native language Avar, has been translated in Punjabi as ‘Mera Daghistan’ and used to stress the importance of the mother tongue. In it, talking about cuss words in his mother tongue, he writes how women in his area would say, “May your children be deprived of the language that their mother speaks!”

Shakespeare stresses upon it in ‘The Tempest’ when Caliban tells Prospero in Act 1 Scene 2, “…The red plague rid you/For learning me your language.”

Poet Surjit Patar, who chairs the Punjab Arts Council, says in one of his poems that a single word, ‘time’, has eaten away so many words of Punjabi used to decsribe the time of day, such as ‘amrit vela’, ‘waada tadka,’ ‘pauh futala’, ‘dhammi vela’, ‘tiki dupehar’, and more.

New mode of protest

Students at PU are now organising a workshop outside the V-C office to teach Punjabi where they have invited him and other teachers too. Panditrao Dharennavar, a native of Karnataka who has learned and propagated Punjabi for years, and teaches here at the Post-Graduate Government College in Sector 46, is part of it: “We will teach Punjabi at PU where the regional language is being given no space at all.”




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