A private school’s notification went viral on social media for dubbing Punjabi a “foul language” not to be spoken by students. This sparked a debate that was a long time coming.

Punjabi is the mother tongue of well over 120 million people across Pakistan yet its steady decline points towards an ignorance of a rich Punjabi heritage. Some of the richest poetical traditions – the Sufi and romantic – of the subcontinent are to be found in Punjabi. The immortal Punjabi love epic Hir-Ranjha is the culmination of what Matthew Arnold called "high seriousness".

The school in question, Beaconhouse School System, has apologised for the mistake, saying that it was an error in grammar and writing by the Principal of the branch where that notification originated. This is probably the truth, but what must be stressed is that in our effort to give our children elite education and teach them English, local languages must not be seen as inferior, and they are. Pakistan has a diversity of regional languages but such a poor system of education that these languages are dying out. It is not just the regional languages that are at risk, but even our national language, Urdu. In the vacuum have emerged private schools that are structured towards the elites, often obsessed with the desire for a “westernised” life and its trappings. 

The sad fact is that Pakistani Punjabis do have a dismissive and derogatory attitude towards their own language. In many urban families, parents discourage and often rebuke their children if they speak Punjabi because speaking the language is considered a mark of crudeness. The problem extends on a larger scale. In Punjab Assembly, a member cannot speak Punjabi without the speaker’s permission. We contribute towards the demise of our language by encouraging this bias and this must stop at every level – from the households to the government – if we are to preserve our rich cultural heritage.