Articles / Essays

A Food for Serious Thoughts on the Issues of Indigenous Languages Orthographies of Gilgit-baltistan Region: Some Observations and Experiences for Productive Solutions

June 9, 2018

by Fazal Amin Beg

The disputed legal status of Gilgit-Baltistan Region provides opportunities in the form of blessings for indigenous communities of the region provided the Members of Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly seriously ponder over with all benign intents and high thoughts and realize their power productively and positively for the sake of indigenous communities rights (also including languages) and interests for the long run in regional context, being a very crucial crossroad between central and South Asia and China.
This small piece aims at sensitizing and awaring the indigenous language communities of Gillgit-Baltistan Region on their language rights, where abruptly a policy dilemma emerged on the social radar of WakhiPamiri language as well as Balti, Khowar and Burushaski. D̃umaaki is not yet included within the arena. More focus will be made on Wakhi language as like Baltit, it is also an international language spoken in more than five countries. But the issue will not go beyond its political boundaries and is more and highly concerned and concentrated within Pakistan but rather Gilgit-Baltistan Region. All the serious readers (researchers, scholars, development professionals, youth, university and college students and well educated people within civil society organizations) are requested to kindly spare little time out of their crucial engagements for this important piece and go line by line and beyond the lines to better understand the points of discussions and questions raised so to open the readers mind who could then explore for the answers from various relevant and genuine sources by themselves.
It was back in November and December 2014, when a regional conference on the preservation, documentation and promotion of indigenous languages of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral Region was initiated for the first time by Karakoram International University (KIU) and other related partners in collaboration with the British Council, Islamabad within KIU’s main campus inGiglit as well as in Skardu. Many local contributors (which also included indigenous researchers and scholars in addition with some poets of the local llanguages including S̃hina, balti, Burushaski, Wakhi, Khowar and D̃umaaki). The former Vice Chancellor of KIU, Professor Dr. Muhammad Asif Khan, was compassionately observing the progress and was the Chief Guest in an event, too. Professor Dr. Livia Holden was the then Dean of the faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and Mr. Sajid Ali Turi as Head of the Department of Modern Languages. I was one of the speakers to present one of my papers Focused on the state of wakhi language in relation with other indigenous languages of the region from historical to contemporary contexts. I had also recommended Jami Sakhi for a purpose who could come up with his paper on role of media and Wakhi language (in Radio Pakistan, Gilgit). Enormous and impressive recommendations gathered out of the conference at both Gilgit and Skardu. One of those recommendations was curriculum development and introduction of mother tongue literarcy in schools.
In 2017, the local government also organized a national conference on indigenous languages of Gilgit-baltistan Region and many related researchers and scholars from different universities (such as language academies) and research institutes were convened in KIU. Although, the indigenous researchers and contributors had also been invited, no one of them was given chance intentionally to either speak or present their papers, as I had participated in the conference with some solid findings.
From here onward, out of the recommendations, a committee was reportedly formed for the indigenous languages of Gilgit-Baltistan and different members were chosen from each language communities. forWakhi language, Jami Sakhi is said to have been chosen to be a representative. He thus has agreed with the public servants (on what ground, he and the related public servants) know better, as Saboor (a rep of the related department informed us in a meeting on January 28, 2018 in Aliabad. Questions arise that on what ground Jami Sakhi was chosen in the committee? Did the public servants consult any related civil society organizations like Wakhi Tajik Cultural Association (WTCA)? or any other CSOs? If yes, what they could be? If not consulted, what were the reasons? Well, no problem at all (let’s consider him as our rep) whatsoever reason there may be, after participation in the meetings of the committee on regional languages, why didn’t Jami Sakhi updated the related CSOs or stakeholders for such a long time of almost a year until Saboor disclosed it at the end of January 2018? Why didn’t Jami Sakhi demanded from the related public sector committee on the regional languages that he would defer the matter for a limited time so to consult his communities of both districts (Hunza and Ghizer and will get back to them in accordance with the community’s recommendations on the orthography)? Why didn’t Jami Sakhi, like the reps from balti language and one from Burushaski language, politely excuse from the committee and leave them if he was forced to agree with their decision?
Why zafarWaqarTaj and Saboor or others are so in hurry to impose their opinions and decisions for Arabicized writing system on the language communities against their will and choices? Are the public sector employees supposed to facilitate the indigenous communities (as part of UN’s charters and conventions) or are they to influence the language communities for their intents? y portraying themselves as some kind of masters instead of servants of the public?
When for over seventy years, no concrete policies of the public sector departments of education, health, agriculture, livestock, forest, and so on in Gilgit-Baltistan Region are not formulated , how come policies of a novice initiative (even not yet effectively conceptualized and get aside its realization) where few public servants try to fool the indigenous language communities of the region by alarming and terrifying them of the government policies towards Arabicization of the sensistive issue of the people and their fate connected with their respective languages?
When the public servants are demanded to share the government policies on orthography, they are handicapped and play various tactics of divide and rule. For how long such tactics could be tolerated? Where are the sources of the policies of the government? Does it lie within the public servants or within the public representatives, community organizations and other stakeholders of the respective languages?
Where does GBLA stand contextually on the subject matter? The language policies are mandatory on GBLA members. Where are they in such subtle period of the indigenous language communities, where the upcoming generations will assess their prudent or foolish decisions made today for them and will come up with rewards or punishments? Where are the supposedly opposition parties and their supporters within different language communities to look at the matter and raise their genuine voices?Where does the Supreme Appellate Court stand to raise its just voice for such injustices by taking legal actions as per its authorities? Apart from the sociall media, where we could see the role of electronic and print media within and out of GB on the grave issues? Where the related civil society organizations on the indigenous languages of Gilgit-Baltistan to come up with htier strong voices and nullify such dark policies and decisions by the related public servants? Where are activists of Human rights functioning in the region who are so submissive to raise tthier voices along with the indigenous communities of Gilgit-Baltistan?
How come Forum for Language Initiative(based in Islamabad), formerly known as Frontier Language Institute (FLI), which was based in Peshawar, become proactive in intervening among the Wakhi community of Hunza and arrogantly neglects the local CSOs to be included if it had to conduct workshop on linguistics and Wakhi orthography? Who were behind FLI on the mmission? What were the motives behind? If IPPAC (Initiative for Pamiri arts and Culture as a Business firm (for-profit company), what were its motives despite the fact very few like me could know IPPAC in the area? Who were then behind IPPAC to encourage such For-Profit companies to enter among the indigenous communities and divide them by forming different structures?
What kind of special need or fear was felt in the workshop of FLI and IPPAC and the participants were asked to form an ad hoc committee on the third day (November 4, 2017) against Wakhi Tajik Cultural Association or shortly known as WTCA (formed in 1991 and functional in the region in one way or the other as representative organization of the Wakhicommunities in Pakistan)? Okay, doesn’t matter, let’s take it for granted for a while, when an ad hoc committee was formed along with an advisory committee, why the advisory committee was not consulted and the ad hoc committee members moved straight to meet the above public servants to deal with the issues of orthography despite the fact the ad hoc committee under Wa’iz Nasir Karim was supposed to set the venues for the next meetings and convene those who did not attend the Passu workshop in November 2017?
Another important point: are some of the poets and three writers (apart from their educational and other qualifications) master of granting for an orthographic decision at all? Are there other stakeholders from different segments of the society, too? If yes, who are they and why didn’t consult? Next, why the three day workshop report was not made public at least in a limited circle by FLI and IPPAC or the ad hoc committee despite the fact strong emphasis was made by some educated and professional people to circulate the report and let the people know about the important progress on orthography and the workshop?
When Wakhi language Forumm was formed on December 2, 2017 in Aliabad, in the management, three members were from Ishkoman valley. Besides, a technical committee was also formed, in which were almost ten persons and we were supposed to have meetings and workshops on the orthographic decision. Two of the technical members (embedded in Latino-greek) and headed by an Arabicized master were also within the management team?. To what extent it could justify that no one was from Anglicized? Why were the technical and consultation meetings and workshops not held and why in haphazard two members from Arabicized and two from Latino-greek participate in the workshop organized in KIU from December 28-30, 2017 and why did the Anglicized members (representing the huge majority of Wakhi) were sidelined? Why the Primer was finalized in this workshop by coming up with both Arabicized to its right and Latino-greek to its left, which was finally rejected by the related public servants and who retained the arabicized? Why there is a hypocrisy about Anglicized (English based) writing system by both Arabicized and Latino-Greek proponents despite the fact they proudly read , write and speak in English and recommend it for their children in schools but ignorAnglidized for Wakhi to their children and coming generations?
There is no doubt and we love Qur’an to be leanred in Arabic and Urdu language in Urdu, but to point out that Is Arabicized writing system as a sign for being Muslims If so, Indonesia is the larget Muslim population, Malaysia is a forward looking country, Turkey is another example in addition with the central Asian States, and many others, but they don’t have Arabicized script/orthography. Are they not then Muslims? Or do they not understand well Quran and Quranic teachings? No, ney not so. Then why few of the conservatives think on such lines?
Is there any one who could confidently argue that Farsi had an Arabic orthography? No, never. Farsi, like other Arayan languages, had a system of writing that was from the left to right and in contrast to Arabic. Over a thousand years, such religious and fanatic extremeists of today decided for changing Persian orthography from its original writing system to Arabicized and lost its original identity within the Aryan families of languages. English is an Aryan language within the Germanic branch of Indo-European languages and the languages like Wakhi and other Pomiri languages, Khowar, S̃hina and D̃umaaki are within their original root if even these languages (apart from Wakhi) were Anglicized as Anglicization of orthography doesn’t require any special software or font to run effectively in computers. In the same manner, Burushaski (a language isolate like basque) and other related languages could also be easily Anglicized in addition with balti, although balti has its own unique context having Agay script already in vogue for centuries.
With regard to Burushaski language, it was amazing to note that a huge contribution on the literature has been made by AllamaNaseeruddinNaseerHunza, although there is no denial of other highly important contributors like Wa’izGhulamuddin and others. But it was interesting to note while discussing with IzharHunzai son of AllamaNaseerHunzai that his father’s contrib. ution is, of course, above all, but Izhar terms his father’s great contribution as a classical period and he looks forward in the centuries ahead. Izhar Ali thus, like Brigadier Hisamullah Beg, is highly optimistic to adopt and follow the Anglicized orthography for Burushaski if it has to survive in the future along with English and it will also unify all language communities together in linguistic terms as a great standar. Here is a serious point of deliberation for other language communities of Gilgit-Baltistan Region, as all of them are novice when will be introduced in schools, to the children who will foster their mother tongue along with their schooling in English. This also holds true, of course, for Wakhi, for which majority of Wakhi community members within Pakistan have been advocating for and huge literatures have also been developed.

Note: The author of this piece on sensitization of rights on indigenous languages has diverse academic background having his Master’s in Persian language and Literature; M. Phil in Central Asian, Chinese and Russian Studies with specialization in socio-cultural anthropology; PhD coursework in Asian studies, specifically in archeology, comparative world religions; study of a dozen languages at varying scales within Indo-European languages families in addition to basics of Arabic and Turkic and Burushaski); conducted over three decades 40 fieldwork around different themes within applied side of development, socio-cultural and legal anthropology and languages in the northern Pakistan, southwestern China, northeastern Afghanistan and southeastern Tajikistan in addition with his voluntary services to some civil society organizations of the region.

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