While 21st February is commemorated across the world as International Mother Language Day since 1999 when it was recognized by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNSECO), it holds special significance for Pakistan. Not only is the nation home to several distinct regional languages and countless local sub-dialects, its history is directly responsible for the observance of this day.

The initiative to commemorate local languages comes from Bangladesh, whose independence movement was centered around the idea of language and its recognition as a key component of culture and identity. Half a century later the need for preservation of mother tongues is being felt across the world. In Pakistan, where provincial separation corresponds roughly with spoken language, this need is even greater.

The most widely spoken language – Punjabi - is not being taught to primary school students in Punjab. Instead Urdu is promoted as the national lingua franca and English as the international one. In and off itself this would not have been a problem if the province had a robust academic environment for the language and literature – films, drama and books – were being regularly produced in it. Unfortunately, this infrastructure does not exist and is not a focus for the government. The result is this; that Punjabi is considered almost a “rural” language, shunned in the cities, while its rich history of literature and art is being ignored.

If this is the treatment being meted out the most widely spoken language in the country, the situation for the other local languages – such as Saraiki, Balochi, Sindhi and many more – is far more dire.

Therefore, while it is encouraging seeing Minister for National History and Literary Heritage Shafqat Mahmood Speaking at the concluding ceremony of the fifth Pakistan Mother Languages Literature Festival and assuring that the government is doing everything to promote local languages, sans real action, this will remain all talk.