A contempt petition was filed by former justice Jawwad S Khawaja, against the non-implementation of the Supreme Court’s judgment regarding adoption of Urdu as the country’s official language. On September 8, Khawaja had ordered the centre and provinces to take measures for declaring Urdu as national language in view of Article 251 of the Constitution. Despite passage of three months since the announcement of this landmark judgment, no practical steps have been taken for adoption of Urdu.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan had ordered the current Nawaz government to immediately adopt Urdu as the official language of Pakistan and the Federal government departments to translate all their policies and rules in Urdu. Conceptually, this is a praiseworthy change, and would allow us to reclaim a language that we have put aside for decades. However, this at this point in time, the implementation of such a large reform, as well as the short deadline of 90 days, was never practical or smart.

Urdu is the first language of about only 8% of Pakistanis. The largest spoken language of Pakistan is perhaps Punjabi which is also the mother tongue of 45% population living in Pakistan. Making Urdu the official language, perhaps then makes sense only if we want a uniform medium of instruction, and because the constitution says so. Its implementation is an issue of principle and pride, rather than of practical application. English is the primary language of science and technology. If we adopt Urdu as an official language, we have to translate everything in Urdu.

The education system can barely cope with the reforms demanded by conservative religious leaders. A complete change in language and terminology will completely erode already weak structures of teaching and administration.

If the government is serious about this, then the bitter pill must be swallowed, and reform must be carried out swiftly, and with force. That is the only way to bring Urdu back. The government does not seem inclined to do this, and as time has passed, the decision of the Court, though earnest and well intended, seems only to be the whim of a single man.