by: Jumma Baloch
Once I asked a wise man what makes us distinguished from other nations, he said “Language and Land” if these two things were taken away, annihilation of that nation is assured. Today, approximately 6000 languages are spoken around the world and Balochi is one of them. UNESCO proclaimed 21st February as International Mother Language Day in its General Conference in November 1999. The first Mother Language Day ceremony was held at the Headquarters of UNESCO, and its Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura, in his opening speech said, “languages are not only an essential part of humanity’s cultural heritage, but the irreducible expression of human creativity and of its great diversity.” he added “Favouring the promotion of linguistic diversity and the development of multilingual education from an early age helps preserve cultural diversity and the conditions for international understanding, tolerance and mutual respect.” Vigdis Finnbogadottir, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Languages and former President of Iceland, took part in the first celebration of International Mother Language Day. She highlighted the value of languages both as means of communication and as expressions of culture and identity. Ms Finnbogadottir qualified languages as “humanity’s most precious and fragile treasures.”
The inspiration to commemorate International Mother Language Day comes from the struggle of the Bengal nation to get their Mother tongue recognized as their national language. Language movement was strong in East Pakistan- now Bangladesh- since the birth of Pakistan in 1947. Pakistan’s education minister Fazlur Rahman called a Pakistan Educational Conference in Karachi in November 1947 and the representative of East Pakistan at the conference, opposed Urdu as the only national language. Pakistani leadership never understood the aspersion of the people for their Mother Language and continued to pursue its policy to force Urdu upon all as the only national language of Pakistan. On January 26, 1952, The Basic Principles Committee of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan announced its recommendation that Urdu should be the only state language. In a public meeting at Paltan Maidan, Dhaka, Prime Minister Nazimuddin declared Urdu alone to be the state language of Pakistan. Both the developments sparked off the second language agitation in East Bengal.
The situation got worse on 21st February 1952 when police fired upon the students of Dhaka University who wanted to protest against the decision in front of the Provincial Assembly, which was in its budget session. Students defying a ban took out a procession from Dhaka University and marched towards the Provincial Assembly. The police opened fire on the students in front of the Medical College hostel; five students Mohammad Salauddin, Abdul Jabbar, Abul Barkat, Rafiquddin Ahmed and Abdus Salam were martyred. The next day the area around the Dhaka University, Medical College and Engineering College were crowded with thousands of men and women who came to offer prayers for the victims of the police firing. After the prayer, they took out a procession, which was again fired upon, killing four people. On 23rd February despite the resolution passed unanimously by the Provincial Assembly, recommending to the Constituent Assembly that Bengali should be one of the state languages of Pakistan, a complete general strike was observed that paralyzed Dhaka. On the same day the students from Medical collage raised a Shaheed Minar (Martyr’s Memorial) overnight on the spot where Barkat lay down his life, to commemorate the ultimate sacrifices of the students and general population for their mother language. Shaheed Minar later became the rallying symbol for the Bengalis. Mr. Rafiqul Islam commenting on the events of 1952 in his book “A Tale of Millions” said, “The language movement added a new dimension to politics in Pakistan. It left deep impression on the minds of the younger generation of Bengalis and imbued them with the spirit of Bengali nationalism. The passion of Bengali nationalism which was aroused by the language movement shall kindle in the hearts of the Bengalis forever … Perhaps very few people realised then that with the bloodshed in 1952 the new-born state of Pakistan had in fact started to bleed to death.” Nearly after 20 years from the day, these brave sons of Bengali nation scarified their life for their mother language their motherland broke free from the tyranny of Pakistan. Today they are a proud nation having their mother language as their national language.
The base for the struggle of Baloch national movement is different than the Bengali liberation movement was, instead of mother language, its inspiration comes from motherland. Even though both are essential part of a nation’s identity, but there are two reasons why motherland became the rallying symbol for Baloch nationalism.
Unlike Bengalis, Baloch did not vote to become a part of Pakistan, and were forcefully annexed by a military occupation in March 1948. Fight against occupation, and to liberate the motherland became the cry of the Baloch national movement. Balochi language is not developed as Bangla that is why Balochi could not become the commercial or the academic language of Balochistan. The agony of suppression of the Balochi language by the regime was felt in a small quarter of the educated Baloch and could not become a mass movement.
For invaders to occupy a land and impose their domination on it peoples is easy, but to maintain that domination permanently, the occupying force has to unleash an organized repression of the cultural life of the people concerned, in other words cultural genocide is the only way for a occupier to maintain domination on native people. Language is the base of all cultures and that is the reason why it is always the first casualty of cultural genocide. To set out a long term strategy, the occupier engages in uprooting the national culture and language from the occupied people to deny the future generations any chance of knowing their heritage. Thus, permanently integrating the people into the dominant colonial hegemon.
After occupying Balochistan, the Pakistani regimes pursued the same phenomena of the colonist. In its 61 year of rule over Balochistan, Pakistani rulers dashed all attempts by Baloch intellectuals to develop Balochi into the academic language of Baloch nation. The Chief Minister of Balochistan, Shaheed Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti’s Balochistan National Alliance government (04.02.1989 to 06.08.1990) introduced Balochi language in schools by starting from grade one but soon as Bugti Government was dissolved by Islamabad, the Balochi education project started by him, was discontinued.
The situation in the western (Iranian) Balochistan is grave and can be considered as ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide. Clergy regime of Iran is not only over populating the Baloch cities in Balochistan with settlers but after Bander Abbas they are now trying to change the demography of the port city of Chahbahar as well. Persian is being imposed on all the other nationalities living in Iran. Promotion of Balochi culture and language is considered a crime by the rulers of Iran. Martyrdom of Yaghub Mehrnehad is a proof of and Iran’s barbaric repression of Balochi culture and language. Culture is a powerful weapon of resistance against occupation and Shaheed Yaghub Meharnehad knew that well, so did the enemies of Baloch nation. When he started to organize Balochi folk music shows and language classes to promote Balochi culture, the Iranian occupying forces could not tolerate it and they arrested him, tortured him and then sentenced him to death.
Baloch nation has endured occupation and breakup of Baloch land by the British, the barbaric genocide at the hands of Iran, five brutal military operations by the Pakistani army. In today’s Balochistan; human rights violation is a common every day practice, where, killing of thousands of civilians, abduction and torture of more than 6000 Baloch youth, sexual abuse of Baloch women including Zareena Marri , and forced internal displacement of 250,000 tribemen from their ancestral tribal lands through brutal military operations, falls on deaf ears internationally. Despite the brutal atrocities, Baloch people never gave up and the reason for this endurance is the strong sense of belonging to the land and its cultural heritage. Pakistani and Iranian state repression of Baloch culture and language, and systematic marginalization from their historic lands have forced the Baloch nation to realize that the only hope in future lies in the resistance to their collective annihilation; otherwise, they will only be remembered in history books as an indigenous people of once a free country called Balochistan.
Thanks to: Baloch Warna