Punjabi MaaNboli and the Punjabis-1

The PLEA Event: Need for Capacity Building

Celebrations for the 7th Mother Language Day included an event organized by Punjab Language Education Association (PLEA) in Surrey last month that presented a community panel discussion and a speech/song contest for young Punjabis.

It was a prideful pleasure for me to hear children and teens deliver speeches, recite poems and sing songs in Punjabi. Aman Taggar’s power-point presentation was insightful where he supported the use of term ‘MaaNboli’ to represent other dialects and languages of the Punjab. However, for me, the most important aspect of the event was the initiation of discussion here in BC on issues faced by Punjabi Canadians from Pakistan.

The PLEA has been serving (cultural) Sikh Punjabi Canadians from India in the Greater Vancouver area for fifteen years, now it responds to the changing needs of Punjabis by acknowledging (cultural) Muslim Punjabi Canadians. The two communities together represent over 90% of all Punjabis, and democratic progressive people on both sides continue to struggle hard to remove barriers to the development of Punjabi MaaNboli and our cultures. In that, we continue to be snared by the interests of the imperialists in the geographic location of the Punjab, the divisive policies of the federal/provincial governments of India and Pakistan, and the violence of our respective extreme ‘right wing’ political formations.

Punjabi communities in Canada are susceptible to the impact of these determinants. We often carry the same prejudices about each other, and indeed about others, in our mainstream cultures here as we do back in India and Pakistan. To overlook, if not mis-represent, each other in our histories, curriculum, classrooms, discussions, is one such impact. An example of it confronted me early last year in the form of UBC’s two-day Conference on Modern Punjabi Literature where Punjabi literature written in Shahmukhi was neither represented nor acknowledged at any level. My post Modern Punjabi Literature at UBC: A glass half full!, and then, ‘Sanjh’ A New Punjabi Literary Magazine point to such omissions.

Canada is home to 800,000 Punjabis, making Punjabi the Fourth ‘most spoken’ language in the country (0.8%) after English (67.1%), French (21.5%) and Chinese (2.6%). Vancouver Lower Mainland and Metro Toronto account for the majority of Punjabis with Surrey (Newton) being the most dense. In all these areas, Punjabi communities from Pakistan have also been growing, and signs of it are apparent in various cultural and political activities organized in the past few months in Surrey by Fraser Valley Peace Council and Bazm-e-Amno-Adab.

The five members of the ‘Pakistani Panel’, as we called ourselves, gave brief personal views on the issues faced by Pakistani Punjabis in Canada. Please click over and see the discussion in the official report of the PLEA event. Here, i want to reiterate my recommendations. The suggestion was for the PLEA and other educational and cultural organizations to implement capacity building in existing programs and services by including, for example, literature written in Shahmukhi and its writers in the discourse on Punjabi literature; to expand existing Punjabi language courses to offer them in both Gurumukhi and Shahmukhi where students may go on to specialize in one script.

Capacity building is an important step forward for the development of Punjabi MaaNboli languages in BC. So far, my appreciation goes to Sadhu Binning and Anne Murphy at UBC for being responsive on this issue, and by making attempts to be inclusive and wholesome in their efforts to develop Punjabi.

While looking for stats on Punjabi, i found this:
‘As of 2006, the population of surrey is 394,976, a 13.6 percent increase from the 2001 population. The foreign-born population is 150,235, constituting 30.28 percent of the city’s population. Visible minorities number 181,005 or 46.1 percent of the population, while Aboriginals constitute 1.9 percent of the population.’ (Wikipedia)

I am not sure how rejoiced i can be at our ever growing numbers in Surrey while the numbers of native peoples, who ‘owned’ Fraser Valley, are persistent in going down.

References
Celebrates International Mother Language Day
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newton_Town_Centre
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surrey,_British_Columbia
Modern Punjabi Literature at UBC: A glass half full!
‘Sanjh’ A New Punjabi Literary Magazine
Official report of the PLEA event
http://www12.statcan.ca/english/census06/analysis/language/allophone_cma.cfm

Lost and Found

LOST UNESCO REPORT
Lost and Definitely Not Found is the citation on Punjabi in the UNESCO report referred to by Author Activist Kuldip Nayar that lists Punjabi as one of the languages set to disappear in fifty years. We are getting frantic messages at Uddari from all types of flustered Punjabis to the following effect:

“I have wasted much time in locating the alleged report on Punjabi. It does NOT exist. The language spoken by 120 million people can NOT disappear in 50 years. It is a simple logic.” Poet Amarjit Chandan in an email message from London, Britain.

“For quite some time now reference is being made on both Pakistani and Indian Punjabi Internet networks to a UNESCO report that allegedly predicts that in the next 50 years the Punjabi language will become extinct. I have tried in vain to get hold of the report to make sure it is not a hoax” Author Ishtiaq Ahmed in The News, 5/24/2008 previously Stockholm and now from Singapore.

“Early last month Prof. Ishtiaq Ahmed had asked me about such report and source was Mr Kuldip Nayyar. I checked with several persons including Mr Nayyar. He said he had seen some such report and did not remember where and when. He was quoted in The Tribune of March this year. Accordingly I informed Prof. Ishtiaq” Journalist Gobind Thukhral from Chandigarh, India.

I first heard of this report and Kuldip Nayar’s initiatives from Rights Activist Mohammad Tahseen in Lahore. Now, though unsuccessful in locating Punjabi either in the ‘UNESCO Red Book on Endangered Languages’ or in the UNESCO report ‘Our Creative Diversity’, i did FIND a March 2008 news report where Kuldip Nayar seems to be in the same situation as the rest of us.

“I have gone through a report prepared by Unesco which says the Punjabi language will disappear from the world in 50 years. It shocked me. I am out to save Punjabi language and culture,” he said. He was invited by the Punjabi Bachao Manch seeking his help to save Punjabi in Chandigarh, capital of Punjab, a state carved on the basis of Punjabi language.” (http://www.sikhsangat.org/news/publish/social_issues/Punjabi_language_will_disappear_in_50_years_Unesco_report.shtml)

I must tell you that the FINDING of such a report is an issue of mere academic interest to me because i, coming from the West Punjab, do not need UNESCO or Kuldip Nayar from East Punjab to tell me that Punjabi is an endangered language; and that, if appropriate actions are not taken it will for sure become extinct in the near future. Here is a criteria that United Nations has developed to find the survival state of a language.
“Languages were originally divided into five categories; a sixth, potentially endangered languages, was added later:
(i) extinct languages other than ancient ones;
(ii) nearly extinct languages with maximally tens of speakers, all elderly;
(iii) seriously endangered languages with a more substantial number of speakers but practically without children among them;
(iv) endangered languages with some children speakers at least in part of their range but decreasingly so;
(v) potentially endangered languages with a large number of children speakers but without an official or prestigious status;
(vi) not endangered languages with safe transmission of language to new generations.”
(Source: http://www.helsinki.fi/~tasalmin/europe_index.html)

The status of MaaNboli Punjabi languages in Pakistani Punjab hovers between these two:
(iv) endangered languages with some children speakers at least in part of their range but decreasingly so;
(v) potentially endangered languages with a large number of children speakers but without an official or prestigious status;

And so, i would say to find a way to multiply Kuldip Nayar in both his male and female incarnations, at the rate of Thousand-A-Minute-Aggregate, and give tenacious support to all Kuldip Nayars and Nayara Kuldips in both the Punjabs and the Diaspora, to pull our Maanboli Mothertongue out of this rut.

Still, that UNESCO report needs to be FOUND.

Meanwhile, i like to take this opportunity to log a few other cases of Lost & Found but this time, i will be brief and do it later.

Feel free to make use of this space if you have lost something that you can not do without, something that is not a pet but still has to be found. If there is something of immense cultural value that you have found that was lost and it is not your pet…

Writings of Kuldip Nayar
Endangered Languages