A three-day International Conference on Peace and Punjabi, organised at Lahore by World Punjabi Congress, was a big step in the right direction as Pakistan finally issued visas to participants from India.
A 20-member strong delegation (which included 6 women) from India came to Lahore to participate in the 24th conference which was held from February 1 to 3 after a pause of five years. Although efforts were made from both sides by peacenik and writers, it could not be held either in India or Pakistan.
The conference was declared open by Prof Dr Hassan Amir Shah, Vice-Chancellor of Government College University. The panelists of the inaugural session included Fakhar Zaman (Chairman of WPC), Dr Deepak Mahan, Chairperson of Indian Chapter of WPC, Dr Hassan Shah, VC GCU, Dr Nizam ud Din, former VC University of Gujrat and Chairman HEC, Tariq Masud, former Punjab minister for education and Prof Dr Vinita.
Fakhar Zaman, in his keynote address, said the first International Punjabi Conference was held in Lahore in 1986. They had held conferences all over the world, including India, US, UK, Canada, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, France and Japan.
He said the basic aim of this conference was promotion of peace and getting legitimate status for Punjabi. Saying it is very difficult to hold a conference due to paucity of funds, he appealed to the participants to donate money to share the financial burden.
Professor Dr Hassan Shah said they have established a full-fledged department of Punjabi at GCU and they are now offering M.Phil and PhD in Punjabi. He offered WPC to jointly hold International Conference in future to share the financial and administrative expenses of WPC.
Dr Shah stated mother tongue Punjabi has not been given its legitimate status. “Although there was a Punjabi Majlis at GC, it was only taught at BA level. The missing link was teaching of Punjabi at school level. Punjabi should be part of curriculum at school level.”
Sehajpreet Singh Manghat from University of Ludhiana, India, stated that in the present milieu the message of love and peace was very important and it was the duty of intellectuals of both countries to spread this message. He said it was his lifelong desire to come to Lahore and after having lunch here go back the same evening to Ludhiana. “The relations between India and Pakistan should be like US and Canada.”
Dr Deepak Manmohan, Chairperson Indian Chapter of WPC, who is also heading Baba Farid Chair at Punjabi University Patiala, said in the past more than 200 delegates participated in World Punjabi Conferences both in India and Pakistan. He said religion and politics exploited people while literature and writers promoted peace. “Punjabi Sufi poets gave a message of love and peace. Baba Guru Nanak also preached love and peace.” He stated unfortunately globalisation and science did not serve humanity well. He paid rich tributes to the contribution of late Professor SS Noor for the promotion of peace and Punjabi.
Quoting Kabir’s Qudrat Kay Sub Banday, Prof Dr Vinita stated Punjabi Sufi poets gave the message of love and peace. She said big powers and governments on both sides sacrificed peace and promoted hatred and war. “We are burning in the fire of hatred.”
She said both India and Pakistan must recognize geographical facts. “We have composite culture. At the time of partition, Amrita Pritum, in her famous poem, did not seek help from governments rather she called Sufi poet Waris Shah for help.” She said 2019, being 550th birth year of Guru Nanak, was special for Sikhs.
Imran Masud, former Punjab minister for education and VC of South Asia University, stated former Punjab chief minister and present Speaker of Punjab Assembly Ch. Pervaiz Elahi promoted the cause of peace and Punjabi. “He established Punjab Institute of Language and Culture (PILAC) at Lahore which is playing a very important and productive role for the promotion of Punjabi art and culture.”
He said it was the idea of their government to establish International Guru Nanak University. “We are also working for the establishment of Gandhara University.” He praised the opening of Kartarpur corridor. He stated that Lahore Museum is one of the best museums in the world but unfortunately “we have kept most precious artifacts of Buddha in store.”
Professor Dr Nizam-ud-Din, former Vice-Chancellor of University of Gujrat, said although he was Urdu speaking, he did organise a World Punjabi Conference at University of Gujrat. He supported the idea of jointly holding Punjabi conference with universities.
Many eyebrows were raised when he remarked “unfortunately Punjabi scholars have not produced material in which serious and higher research and teaching could be done.” He stated that translations play a very important role, adding in Iran more than a thousand books are being translated. “Same is the case of Turkey and Korea.”
Dr Ejaz Anwar (Nana) said performing and fine arts can play a very important role in the promotion of peace. Dr Gurbhajan Gill Singh said 25 thousand books have been printed in Punjabi. Suggesting that WPC should be turned into an institution, he said “such peace conferences have positive influence in India.” He said both India and Pakistan give city-specific visas. Being a Sikh, he cannot visit Nankana Sahib because he has no visa.
Journalist Mudassar Butt told the conference the government has reduced quota of advertisements of Punjabi newspapers.
Professor Dr. Khalid Ashraf from India stated that peace would benefit marginalised and disadvantaged sections of society in both countries.
Khalid Hussain from Jammu, who brought sweets and distributed at border, said the people of Jammu used to visit Sialkot daily in connection with business and jobs. He said Jammu and Sialkot have same language.
Pakistani and Indian poets recited their poetry while some participants also sang poetry of great Punjabi Sufi poets. A documentary on Bulleh Shah was also shown.
Fakhar Zaman, in his concluding remarks, asked the Indian chapter to hold next convention of International Punjab Congress in India by the end of 2019. He said it was a history-making conference and this will lead to peaceful relations between the two countries.
He reiterated his stand about Punjabi puritans and called them ‘linguist terrorists’. He declared there is only one Punjabi. He said bureaucracy does not want peace between India and Pakistan. He also appreciated the opening of Kartarpur corridor. Declaring that even a bigger conference will be held in Lahore again in February 2020, he hoped the first Punjabi University would start functioning in Lahore soon.
A Punjabi university should be established in Lahore; the flag-lowering ceremony at Wahga border by both countries with unwanted gesticulation should end and be replaced by peaceful messages; Punjabi should be the language of education at primary level; visas between Pakistan and India be liberalized and multiple visas should be issued; those Indians and Pakistanis who were born before partition should get visas at borders; all spoken languages in Pakistan are national languages of Pakistan; the members of Punjab Assembly should address the assembly sessions in Punjabi; opening of Kartarpur corridor is welcomed and there should be more exchanges between writers, artists, sportspersons and businessmen; at the 550th birthday of Guru Nanak an international moot should be held at Nankana Sahib.
The conference paid compliments to Fakhar Zaman, late Dr. Satindar Singh Noor and Dr Deepak Manmohan for contentiously working for the promotion of Punjabi language and culture since 1986. A special note of appreciation was given to Dr Sughra Sadaf for arranging a mega cultural programme at PILAC.
Some books were also launched at the conference that provided an opportunity to the participants to discuss and present their ideas and recite their Punjabi poetry. Some participants were also given medals.
The Pakistani administration, by granting special permission to the Indian delegation to visit Nankana Sahib, won their hearts. Deputy Commissioner Nankana said they have already acquired some land for International Guru Nanak University. A function was also arranged at Guru Nanak Government Girls College for the Indian guests.
The conference provided a rare opportunity to Punjabi scholars and intellectuals to meet and discuss the promotion of Punjabi and peace.