The federal government has asked the heads of departments, to implement a cabinet decision to gradually introduce Urdu as the official language of the country. According to a circular, these heads have also been asked to propose ways in which Urdu could take the place of English. Article 251 of the constitution of Pakistan taking precedence, the cabinet decided on May 14, that Urdu would be the official language. This Article entails that the ‘English language may be used for official purposes until arrangements are made for its replacement by Urdu’. The heads of the departments have been informed that working papers for cabinet meetings will be prepared in Urdu and all its proceeding and minutes will also be in the national language. Moreover, the bureaucracy has been asked to write notes and orders on official files in Urdu, instead of English, with all the ministries been directed to correspond with each other and with other departments in the national language.

This decision to convert the whole Pakistani system, into Urdu, one that is been done in the name of ‘nationalism’ is quite problematic, given that this language is no more spoken than one can say, English is. If only about 7.8 percent of the people actually speak Urdu as their mother tongue, is it really advisable, to rashly implement such a change, one that really is only entrenched in an idealistic scenario of uniformity in Pakistan?

Urdu was introduced as a vehicular language, when the British were trying to implement a subsequent ban on Persian in the subcontinent. The decision to make the language change was to introduce a universal language throughout the British Raj, in order to minimise the influence of all the invading empires that came before them. Why is it that we are so bent on institutionalising a language, one that was forced upon us then, and try to again dominate the masses of our country by it? If one can see English as a language that is alien to the majority of people, then Urdu, a language that is mainly spoken by elite and a vast part of urban Sindh, has the same repercussions.

Pakistan has always been, and still is today, a country that has a plethora of regional languages, where Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto and Balochi are only the dominant ones that can be found. Looking at an obvious diversity regarding languages, Urdu can simply not become that all-encompassing layer, that the government themselves have chosen to promote as what Pakistani’s should speak. What we must understand is that a nation’s sense of identity does not branch out from a language spoken by a few; it comes from peoples’ welfare, education, and access to equal opportunities, despite there being a difference in its people.