The Sargodha division is the heartland of Punjabi literature and culture. It gave us not only two of our much-loved classical Punjabi poets, Peelo and Hafiz Barkhurdar Ranjha but volumes of amazing folklore as well as poetic genres. Government College Sargodha, now University of Sargodha (UOS), has a long association with Punjabi language —- Punjabi has been taught here since early 1970s. However, the vice chancellor of UOS has recently decided to close Punjabi department. He has already gotten approval from the university syndicate to merge the Punjabi, Persian and Arabic departments into the Urdu department under the Department of Urdu and Oriental Languages.
As an alumnus of UOS, I was shocked to hear this news. This is not the first time Punjabi as a language is being targeted by local academia, but never before has it been threatened with extermination. The first blow suffered by Punjabi as a subject at this campus was when Government College Sargodha became University of Sargodha and the intermediate and undergraduate sections seized to exist. On the other hand, GC Lahore and GC Faisalabad rightly kept their intermediate and undergraduate studies in-house even after being chartered as Universities and Punjabi is still a part of those campuses.
This attitude towards mother tongues, literature, and heritage has sunk so deep in our academia that decision makers in our institutes, in spite of their foreign academic exposures and trainings, are turning into authoritarian pro-colonialist officers rather than pro-people educators.
After this disheartening news, protests were lodged across many cities of the Punjab by Punjabi activists and consequently a delegation of Punjabi scholars lead by Parveen Malik, the secretary of the Pakistan Punjabi Adabi Board met UOS’s vice chancellor.
They were told that MA Punjabi classes will be offered under the new Urdu and Oriental Languages department until the next meeting of the syndicate to be held by April, next year. Only then can a proposal be made to reverse this decision. The delegation was also informed that the university is interested to initiate a proposal for establishing a new department named Pakistan Institute of Punjab Studies, that still needs to go through a long bureaucratic approval process.
Time will tell what happens next but after unanimously initiating and closing a running department, it will be a huge question mark on the new VC’s commitment and leadership to live up to this promise and only time will tell how true that commitment is.
Punjabi is a condemned language as far as educational institutes of Punjab are concerned and this prejudice is not limited to Sargodha University only. One of the reasons behind the disdain for Punjabi lies in the misguided approach of university administrators who ridiculously expect that Punjabi and other national languages will bring them as many number of students and as much financial earnings as medical or engineering sections do. It’s equally alarming that these administrators feel justified in punishing these languages and departments for their lack of ‘selling capabilities’ and financial turnovers.
Public funded universities and its ‘officers’ need to understand that they are not there to run business empires. They are there not only to plead the case of these endangered languages and cultures but they also have a responsibility to put together our broken society which has been eaten by extremism, hatred, and intolerance.
Our young generation is in dire need of all-inclusive cultural and literary texts which invoke humanity, inclusivity, civility, and a compassionate value system. And what better source than Punjabi classics and folklore? We have been busy creating easily employable human machines to serve our ‘business stakeholders’ and look where we have arrived in that mechanical pursuit.
It’s ironic that while private institutes like Lahore University of Management Sciences, Lahore Grammar School, and University of Culture and Arts, Lahore (soon to open) has started offering Punjabi, our public Universities are determined to exterminate it. All over the world, native languages are protected and funded by state where universities and colleges are encouraged to give special grants and scholarships to attract students so they can keep their languages alive. While here in Punjab, existing working structures of Punjabi are being dismantled.
There is an urgent need to confront the bigger question across all public institutes of how to educate our educators so they can challenge their own self-hate and pro-colonial syndrome against Punjabi. Our false sense of shame and the low status associated with Punjabi needs to be confronted at all levels from streets to schools and those who earn their living by their association with Punjabi language need to lead this struggle at home as well as at educational campuses.
As far as UOS is concerned, my relationship with this institute goes back to my father’s student years here. After I completed my intermediate education from the then Government College Sargodha, this was the very campus where my ‘Punjabi rootedness’ was nurtured. I was a science student but it was due to accessibility of late Professor Riaz Ahmad Shaad and his beloved language Punjabi that a new world of self-assurance and self-belief to rural students like me was opened. Our much loved co-curricular activities helped us win literary honours as well as academic excellence.
However, since it became a university, its literary aesthetics and cultural space has eroded gradually and the entire institute is slowly being converted into business blocks of concrete. It is a test of the new university administration to save the Punjabi department and to reclaim the glory of the once esteemed Government College Sargodha as a cultural and literary centre of not only Sargodha-Khushab region but of the entire Punjab.
The recently appointed UOS administration needs to understand that it took this institute 88 long years to arrive where it is now. It was first established as De’Montmorency College at Shahpur Saddar by Geoffrey Fitzhervey de Montmorency (then Governor of Colonial Punjab) in 1929. It was later shifted to Sargodha city and became Government College Sargodha. GC Sargodha was once the centre of literary and cultural activities and Maula Baksh Auditorium, an open-air theatre surrounded by tall, thick trees was one of the most sought after places of this campus, open to poetry readings and declamation contests.
However, during my last visit to the university, Maula Baksh auditorium appeared as a lifeless, ghost-infested place. I felt robbed and mugged. I never saw any institute wasting its most august space so disdainfully. I grieved in verse.
Let me conclude my piece with this lament that signifies an entire educational degradation of openness and accessibility that needs urgent attention. This is how the poem ends: “Maula Baksh Auditorium Khaali Pia ay/ Government College Sargodha hunn University of Sargodha ay /Tay Ohnaa groundaaN wich/ Jithay assiN khull turday haasay / Ohnaa wich entry tay paabandi ay/ Gate tay Santree khalotay henn / Tay maindi shanakht karaoN aala koi nahi” (Maula Baksh auditorium stands empty/ Govt. College Sargodha has transmuted into University of Sargodha / We are barred from entering college lawns, where we used to walk freely/ They have posted armed guards on the entry gates/ And no one is willing to recognise us)