Language and the Ethnic Divide in Pakistan

Since inception, Pakistan has faced issues in various ways. One of them is language. Pakistan has two official languages: Urdu and English. However, this has a severe problem attached to it.

Historically, When tensions with East Pakistan, modern day Bangladesh, were rising, one of the many reasons for conflict was the language issue. Now, at surface, it may seem that administrative differences led to escalation, however it can be argued that language might have sown the seeds of divide. When Jinnah was asked to include Bengali as one of the official languages of Pakistan, the request was denied. This might have well led into the Eastern wing believing they are being neglected. Eventually after severe conflicts, Bangladesh came into being in 1971.


Language carries with it an identity. Most ethnicities have their own language to communicate and represent their group. In Pakistan, these official languages are spoken by a certain amount of people and most, if not all documentation, is done in either Urdu or English. However, Pakistan is not as homogenous as it may seem. It is home to 4 provincial languages, Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi and Pashto, as well as bordering languages, such as Brohi, Seraiki, or even Hindko. But these are only the ones that are relatively heard of; the country harbors well over 50 languages spoken. To think such a diverse country has language issues is ironic.


The issue that occurs due to neglect of language is ethnic divide. Now, this may seem like a generalization, but this is true. Nevertheless, how does language lead to divide? The answer is not as simple, however I will explain it as much as possible.


One of the issues that arises from language is representation. If a certain ethnic group's language is disregarded, it leads to the impression that the group is being marginalized. Now, it is important to consider population size does not define marginalization; it occurs whenever a group is being targeted or ignored. When language is not factored, it results in a lack of political concern for an ethnicity, leading them to feel helpless.


Another issue that occurs is with education. Recently, Pakistan decided that a Single National Curriculum will be implemented, with the medium of instruction being the official languages. While it may seem like a beneficial, uniting move, it is in fact the opposite. What about children that cannot understand these languages? What happens to their education? Not only does this put other ethnic groups at a disadvantage, but it also forces them to learn another language, which may be difficult to do so.


However, there is hope. If teaching occurs in local, or even provincial languages with the option of studying in one of the official languages of Pakistan, perhaps it may lead to students gaining confidence in the system and learning to the best of their abilities. Presently, however, this is a tedious task that requires a lot of effort, and perhaps even then it may not be implemented completely. Lets see what the future holds.

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