Language-Teaching and Power in Pakistan
DR. TARIQ RAHMAN
Apart from the ethnic aspect of language, there is also the problem of administration, education, higher commerce, media – in short, the domains of power in the state and the civil society. Here too language is s sensitive issue in Pakistan. The use of English favours the Westernized elite while the use of other languages would bring in other candidates for power. This may be called the class question i.e the way in which language relates to socio-economic class in Pakistan. Connection with this constitutes the individual level of empowerment through language i.e how individuals seek to empower themselves by learning the languages of the domains of power – the civil and military bureaucracy, judiciary, education, commerce, media and so on.
2. Survey of Literature
Apart from the role of language in identity construction, there is the issue of its use in education and attitudes towards it. In this context Shemeem Abbas has written on the strong presence of English in education and other domains in Pakistan (Abbas 1993). Sabiha Mansoor has carried out a survey of Punjabi students’ attitude towards languages and comes to the conclusion that they rank English highest; Urdu comes second and at the bottom is their mother tongue, Punjabi (Mansoor 1993). Apart from that there are some studies of the teaching of English (Malik 1996) and the use of Urdu, both formally and informally, outside Pakistan (Javed 1996). But, there being so few linguists in Pakistan, there is not much scholarly research in the highly interesting field of the relationship of language with power in Pakistan. This paper is an attempt to fill that gap.
3. Background Information
Punjabi 48.17 per cent
The census does not mention English, Arabic and Persian. But English is the key to power as far as the modern, employment-based domains of power are concerned. Without knowing English one cannot enter the most lucrative and powerful jobs, both in the state apparatus and the private sector, in Pakistan. There are no reliable figures of the number of Pakistani who can use English. The Census of 1961, however, gave the figure of 2.7 per cent of the population (Census 1961: IV, 30-32). This percentage should have increased because the middle class- or, rather the ‘salariat’ as defined by Hamza Alavi (1987) – has increased and the higher jobs require some competence in English. If those who have passed their matriculation examination, in which English is a compulsory subject, are considered to have literacy in English then the figure comes to 19.56 per cent in 1981 (Census 1981: Table 4.6, p. 31). However, most matriculates from vernacular-medium schools cannot speak English and can barely read their textbooks which they tend to memorize. As such, those with fluency in English could hardly be more than 3 to 4 per cent of the population. Urdu, however, is much more widespread and not only the 20 per cent matriculates are quite proficient in it, but also the students of religious seminaries, madrassas, soldiers, as well as otherwise illiterate working class people living in cities pick it up and use it quite well. Urdu has spread so widely because it is used for inter-provincial communication, entertainment, media (T.V, radio, newspapers) and, above all, lower middle-class jobs all over Pakistan except in rural Sindh.
Arabic is understood only by a handful of religious people in the madrassas and a few academics and scholars connected with Islam or Arabic language and literature. Although Muslims learn to read the Quran – the 1981 census reported that 18.37 persons could read it (Census 1981: Table 4.7, p. 33) – this reading is no more than recognition of the Arabic letters. They are not taught the meanings of words nor can they read Arabic words written without the diacritical marks used in the Pakistani versions of the Quran. Persian too is only understood by a few experts. It is taken as an easy option by students in certain examinations leading to state employment but in general the students never get beyond memorization of a few passages. The indigenous mother tongues of the people are either not taught at all (Punjabi etc); taught inadequately (Pashto, which is the medium of instruction upto class 5 in some schools and an optional subject in higher levels) or taught only in a certain area (Sindhi, which is taught in Sindh). However, some people learn them out of their own interest because books written in them, called chapbooks, are available in all the major cities of Pakistan. An American scholar William Hanaway and his Pakistani co-author Mumtaz Nasir listed 940 chapbooks in Punjabi, Siraiki, Hindko, Khowar, Pashto, Sindhi, Persian and Urdu (Hanaway & Nasir 1996: Appendix A 441-615). Films and songs in these languages, especially in Punjabi and Pashto, are quite popular too.
English, Urdu and Sindhi are media of instruction in schools corresponding to a class-based division of Pakistan society. The elitist English-medium schools, where the teachers really teach in English and the students come from elitist backgrounds with exposure to English, are so expensive as to exclude lower-middle and working-class pupils. The Urdu and Sindhi-medium schools, as well as the few schools where Pashto is the medium of instruction at the lower levels, are run by the state and are quite affordable for most Pakistanis. Even more affordable, because they provide not only free education but even free board and lodging, are the madrassas which have central bodies which examine students in Urdu and Arabic. However, the madrassas of the Pashto-speaking areas use Pashto as the medium of instruction while those of the Sindhi-speaking parts of Sindh use Sindhi. In the Punjab and Balochistan, although Urdu is the formal medium of instruction, the explanation is often in the local language.
Data about the number of schools according to their medium of instruction is not available. The following chart is based on partial information about some provinces and the assumption that all ordinary state schools in Punjab, Azad Kashmir, Balochistan and the N.W.F.P use Urdu as the medium of instruction. The chart is as under:
Source: Sindh: SEMIS, 1998; Punjab: EMIS, 1998: Tables 122; Academy of Educational. Figures for English-medium schools are from Census Private 20001:12.
There is an indeterminable number of madrassas while the government sources still quote the figure of 3,906 from 1995 (Directory 1995: 282). In 2000 the Ministry of Education sent forms for registration to 7000 so that, at least, is a number one can go by. The press guesses, however, that there might be between 25,000 to 30,000 of them. As mentioned earlier, the madrassas preserve Arabic more as a symbol of continuity with the past and of Islamic identity than a living language, though most of their graduates cannot function in Arabic (Rahman 1999b). They can, however, function in Urdu which has spread through the madrassa network ever since the nineteenth century (Metcalf 1982) and is now associated with Islam and the Muslim identity in both Pakistan and India (Rahman 1999a).
With these facts about languages and their use in Pakistan in mind, let us study how language is linked with issues of power and ideology in the country.
4. Language and Individual Empowerment
Language, then, is a coin and what it buys in the market is power. If one cannot write Urdu and English, one cannot get even clerical jobs in Pakistan except in Sindh. If one can write Urdu but not English one can get lower jobs in all the provinces of Pakistan. Higher jobs, however, are reserved for those who can read and write English. This state of affairs is related to the pattern of the distribution of power. When the Mughals ruled India, they used Persian in the domains of power forcing Hindus to learn this language and become Muslimized in culture (Faruqi 1998). Later, in 1837 when the British did away with the ascendancy of Persian by substituting English in its place in the higher domains of power, both the Hindu and Muslim elites switched to English and Persian declined (Faruqi 1998; Rahman 1999c). Still later, in Pakistan the Westernized ruling sections of the salariat, which dominated the modernized sections of the armed forces and the civil bureaucracy as well as the media and the commercial institutions, did not allow either Urdu or any other Pakistani language to take the place of English. The ascendancy of English, therefore, reflects the ascendancy of those who happen to be powerful at the moment – the Western-trained cadres of the Pakistani salariat.
Contrary to popular perception, the languages of power – whether Persian or English – have never been imposed by the rulers of South Asia. Instead, they have been denied to the masses and rationed out to the middle classes. It is because they are seen as being empowering that individuals and groups demand them in the first place. In the medieval age, this demand was partly met by philanthropist individuals and institutions. For instance, the founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak, was taught Persian by a Muslim philanthropist neighbour (Khan Vol. 1, 1789: 83). In modern times, the state provides institutions for teaching the languages of power but in an obviously class-based and highly discriminatory manner. For instance, in Pakistan the mainstream public education is mainly in Urdu though in the Sindhi-speaking areas of Sindh it is in Sindhi. There are also some Pashto-medium primary schools in the Pashto-speaking part of the N.W.F.P. This vernacular mainstream, however, is for poor people. For the elite of power – the armed forces and state functionaries – the state has created a parallel system of education in which the medium of instruction is English for all subjects or, in some cases, all science subjects. At the top of these institutions are the cadet colleges and public schools. Most of these institutions are either directly or indirectly controlled or influenced by the armed forces. In addition to this, the armed forces run schools through their welfare organizations such as the Fauji Foundation (Army), the Bahria Foundation (Navy) and the Shaheen Foundation (Air Force). Some other state institutions, such as the railways, the customs department, the telephone and telegraph department, the police etc also run their own schools. The federal government also runs some ‘model’ and other schools in English. The buildings of these schools, their teachers and the facilities provided in them are much better than those provided by the government in its mainstream system. These schools charge higher fees from outsiders while students whose parents serve in the departments which run or influence the school pay less. This is how the Pakistani ruling elite itself infringes its own principle of providing education at public expense through the medium of the vernacular.
Apart from these institutions there are chains of highly expensive English-medium schools like the Froebels, the Beaconhouse and the City School System. Here the tuition fees ranges between Rs 1,500 to 8000 per month. These schools cater for the elite of wealth. Even more wealthy people get their children educated outside the country or in the International American school which charges over US $ 10,000 per academic year.
In short, the Pakistani ruling elite itself creates and maintains a class-based, discriminatory system of schooling. In this system the majority of the population is either left illiterate or given vernacular-medium schooling which puts them at a disadvantage in the quest for empowerment via a vis the elites of power and wealth. Moreover, the ruling elite does not only lack faith in its own education policy but also subverts it by investing in a parallel model of education from which it stands to benefit.
Sensing the usefulness of English as a language of power, the people go to great hardships to provide English medium education for their children. Thus there are schools claiming to be English-medium institutions all over Pakistan. They charge between Rs. 50 to Rs. 1500 per month and they provide education of so variable a quality that it defies classification. A number of religious organizations too now run such schools. They claim to combine Islamic socialization with skills in modern subjects and English.
5. Language Textbooks and Ideology
One special feature of these three ideological themes is that Islam is made to support nationalism of which militarism is taken as the chief expression and most desiderated value. In short, Islam is co-opted in the service of the state in a process described by Jamal Malik, though in other contexts, as the ‘colonialization of Islam’ (Malik 1996). According to some analysts the purpose of this indoctrination is to create support for the state’s militaristic, anti-India policies (Saigol 1995 ). It has also been pointed out that Pakistani society is male-dominated, hierarchical and power-oriented and that these textual messages tend to maintain the prevalent pattern of the distribution of power (Ibid).
While a number of people, notably K.K. Aziz (1993), have looked at history and social studies textbooks for their ideological messages, the language-teaching textbooks have been explained from this point of view only by the present author. The percentages given below refer to the number of ideological items – all lessons and exercises – in the textbooks from class 1 to 10 in the government schools of Pakistan.
It should be remembered that only English and Urdu are compulsory languages in most schools. Thus, it is Urdu which is the primary ideology-loaded language in the Pakistani educational system.
Urdu is also an ‘Islamic’ language in the sense that under British rule it was adopted by the Islamic religious scholars, (ulema) and clergymen (maulvis) to disseminate Islam (Metcalf 1982). In Pakistan too it is the language of examination of the madrassas affiliated to Central Board such as the Deobandis, the Barelvis, the Ahl-i-Hadith and the Shias (see Nayyar 1998 ; Rahman 1999: Chapter 5). It is also the language in which religious tracts are written and sermons are given. Moreover, it is the language of some of the most reactionary Urdu newspapers so that most of the material inciting people to fight in Kashmir, struggle against perceived Western domination or support Islamic fundamentalism is available in Urdu. This means that the ordinary literate person in Pakistan is much more exposed to right wing views which are meant to, and may, make him support anti-democratic and pro-war views.
6. Modernity as a Domain of Power
Another impact of modernity is the need to express newer forms of reality – such as new facts about the world investigated by the scientific methodology. New terms to express these new concepts had to be created. This is part of corpus planning and it has been carried on in Urdu, Sindhi, Pashto, Punjabi, Siraiki, Balochi and Brahvi in the last fifty years. The creation of these new terms are governed by certain imperatives out of which the ideological ones are important. In Urdu, for instance, the state uses Arabic and Persian roots to create new terms. This is in conformity with the state’s ideological imperative of emphasizing the Pakistani (rather than the ethnic) and the Islamic (rather than the secular) identity of its citizens. The ethnic nationalists, on the other hand, use the older roots of their indigenous languages to create new terms. This is because they want to emphasize their indigenous, ethnic identity rather than the uniform Pakistani one which the state would have them adopt (for details and examples of terms see Rahman 1999: Chapter 12).
Yet another impact of modernity is the change in world view which has come about in Pakistan. The reflection of this change as far as language in concerned takes many forms. First, the older Persian textbooks which reflected a magical, non-rational, pre-modern world view have been replaced by textbooks which reflect the modern point of view. This ‘modern’ view, however, is that of the ruling elites of the state. The older texts had tales in which cause and effect were not necessarily connected because the magical and the miraculous penetrated so deeply in one’s life. The powers that be could curse or bless; punish or reward; kill or allow one to live for reasons which always remained inscrutable. This created or reinforced the idea that the world, like one’s despotic rulers, was not amenable to rational or comprehensible codes of conduct. Moreover, the Persian texts were erotic and presented women as lustful, deceitful and cunning. All these ideas helped to sustain political despotism and male dominance. The British intervention changed these texts making them very puritanical and nationalistic (Rahman 2001a). This has created an attitude of contempt for the medieval classics in Pakistan---a contempt which goes hand in hand with the idea that the West is ‘shameless’ and our own culture is ‘pure’.
In Pakistan this has resulted into a devaluation of the indigenous languages of the people as well as their pre-modern, agrarian world view. The people were not taught their indigenous languages except in Sindh and their beliefs and practices were dismissed as superstitions. The people, however, did not leave their languages or views. They spoke them, of course, but this they could hardly help doing. What is surprising is that they learned to read their languages. Although the indigenous languages of Pakistan were not officially used as media of education, books in them were written and there is evidence that they were used in educational institutions (Sheerani 1934).
The present author has seen manuscripts or printed versions of such books in Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi and Brahvi in libraries and private collections in England and Pakistan. These books are about the rudimentary teaching of Islam, in praise of the Prophet of Islam and saints and about rituals of cleanliness and so on. Some of them are also about tales of legendary love affairs such as Heer and Ranjha and so on. These books have been read by people in their houses since at least the 18th century onwards. Thus, there is an existing tradition of literacy in the indigenous languages despite official non-recognition (Rahman 2001b).
This continues to this day as evidenced by the chapbooks in the indigenous languages on sale in the cities of Pakistan which have been mentioned earlier. The present author has read a number of these chapbooks. Like their predecessors they too are about religion and legendary stories or love affairs. Some of them are also about astrology, magic, casting spells and writing letters. They cater for those pre-modern people who are still comfortable in the world of magic and pre-modern non-rational modes of thinking. However, the modern world is at hand and very powerful; hence the need to learn to write letters in order to empower one’s self.
Besides the level of the national or ethnic groups, there is the level of the social class. Language is very much a marker of the socio-economic class in Pakistan too. English is associated with the upper-middle and upper class; Urdu with the lower middle and middle class while the local, indigenous languages are the preserve of the peasantry, unskilled labourers and the working class in general. This refers more to official, formal interaction typically in urban contexts rather than to informal interaction. However, in Sindh there are areas where Sindhi is used even formally in domains in which Urdu is used in other parts of Pakistan. Being connected with class, English has the highest snob value followed by Urdu and other local languages. This equation does not remain constant all over the country. In Sindh and parts of the Pashto-speaking belt, pride in indigenous ethnic identity is strong enough to counteract the prestige of Urdu however much it may be in demand for purely pragmatic reasons.
At the individual level, the necessity of learning a standard, printed language is dictated by pragmatic considerations. People want to learn English and Urdu because, under the present circumstances, they need these languages to obtain employment i.e. to empower themselves. The knowledge of English opens the doors to the most lucrative and powerful jobs in the state, the private sector and the international bureaucracy. It also gives ones prestige, influence through informal social contacts and a certain snob value. Urdu too gives access to jobs though only at the national level and not very high ones even then. It too is a marker of middle class status and a badge of education and urban socialization. In short, it too is empowering as far as middle class, salariat-based urban Pakistani society is concerned. The indigenous languages alone, other than Sindhi, do not give access to jobs in the salariat and the power which comes from them. Those who know only these languages are either restricted to working class jobs or, if they possess power, to quasi-feudal land ownership, tribal leadership, political manipulation or trade.
Besides being part of ideological claims and counter-claims and power struggles between ethnic groups and classes, languages are also associated with certain ideological biases in Pakistan. Thus, English is seen as the carrier of western, liberal values; Urdu is seen as an Islamic and Pakistani-nationalist language while the indigenous languages of the country are associated with ethnic nationalism and identity. However, English is being appropriated by the Islamic revivalists and under-privileged Pakistani groups who are impressed by the fact that it is a language of empowerment in the modern world.
To sum up, language is a very important factor in modern Pakistan. It is the key to the complex issues of the distribution of power between the ethnic groups, the socio-economic classes and individuals inhabiting the country. To understand how language provides the ideological and pragmatic basis for the different dimensions of these struggles at various levels is to understand at least some part of why such struggles take place.
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