Editorial: Imposing Arabic language on Baloch children

With a longstanding demand of Baloch and Pashtun nationalists over the past many years in Balochistan concerning the introduction of mother tongues (Balochi, Pashtu and Bravi) as the medium of instruction at the educational institutions, the government of Balochistan stunned everyone on Friday with its ridiculous decision to introduce Arabic language from class one to class tenth all over the province.

Balochistan is the only province in the country where a Baloch child cannot read or write Balochi because (s)he is not taught Balochi at school level either as a medium of instruction or a language. Same is the case of the Pashtun children or the Bravi speaker Balochs who are denied the opportunity to learn their mother tongues at school level. This is the government-backed cultural genocide of different nationalities living in Balochistan, to say the least.

Over the years, the society in Balochistan has been silently questioning the logic behind the forceful imposition of Urdu, which is the mother tongue of barely 1% of the total population of the province, as a medium of instruction. The Balochs and Pashtuns have always seen this with resentment as Urdu was taught to them on gunpoint at the cost of surrendering their own mother tongues. Likewise, they would not complain so passionately if some room was left for their mother tongues at the schools. What is most disturbing is the fact that currently Balochi or Pashtu are not taught at any level inside the schools of Balochistan. On the top of it, Arabic was forcefully imposed on the students during General Zia-ul-Haq’s process of Islamization inside the educational institutions. Children were forced to learn an extra language, along with Urdu and English, at middle level starting from class six up till eight. That was three-year unnecessary learning of Arabic which has now been extend to ten years of learning.

Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani’s most surprising decision since assuming the office comes in the wake of a boycott call given by the Baloch Students’ Organization (BSO-Azad) of Pakistan Studies text books. Hundreds of text books of Pakistan Studies were torched all over Balochistan the other day by the activists of the organization. The BSO and Baloch intellectuals maintain that the Pakistan Studies subject does not utter a single word about Baloch history and historic figures. The text books taught at schools and colleges glorify wars, invasions and conversions. They forcefully impose an Islamic and Pakistani identity on the students and keep them in complete darkness about their own history, culture and heroes. The history taught at schools seems more like a script of a play which very tactically excludes diversity, secularism and multiculturalism.

The text books taught at schools make kids believe that their history begins with the arrival of Arab invader (whom the books identify as a great Muslim conqueror) Mohammad bin Qasim in 712 AD in Sindh. Before his arrival, the indoctrination goes on, there was darkness, ignorance and no civilization. In the words of Hussain Haqqani, Pakistani ambassador to the United States, this is the Nasim Ejazi (an Urdu novelist who glorifies Muslim invasions and ridicules non-Muslims) interpretation of history.

BSO’s rebellion against the text books is an extraordinary development in the history of nationalistic politics in Pakistan. Baloch students have done what Sindhi and Pashtun nationalists have not been able to do over the years in spite of living under a similar distortion of their history and civilization. This clearly manifests the very high level of political consciousness that exists among the Balochs. The BSO revolt is in fact the outburst of anger and dissatisfaction of the past six decades. The Baloch kids have always wondered why they were not introduced with their own heroes like Chakar Khan Rind, Gul Khan Naseer, Syed Zahoor Shah Hashmi or Atta Shahd. The Pak Studies books hardly mention a sentence about Mir Yousaf Aziz Magsi, Mir Abdul Aziz Kurd, Mir Ghose Baksh Bizeno, Prince Abdul Karim or any other Baloch leader. It is this reason that they have finally and angrily decided to boycott the Pakistan Studies text books.

Amid the BSO boycott, the decision to impose Arabic language at all schools and colleges needs to be reviewed. How could a handful of politicians take such a decision within a few minutes without holding broad-based consultation with educationists, intellectuals and scholars of Balochistan? This is clearly a politically motivated decision of the government of Balochistan to please some Arab sheikdoms. Learning Arabic language in the contemporary world is totally meaningless for the Baloch kids or the children of any other non-Arab nation. Arabic does not hold any significance in today’s world where English-speaking countries like the US dominate all technological advancements. While teaching English at primary level makes sense, Arabic even does not merit a second thought as a more pressing issue right now is the induction of mother tongues at schools and colleges.

Every time one questions the significance of learning Arabic, we are told by the supporters of the language that it will help us in the Life Hereafter!

The Baloch Students Organization, the Balochi Academy, the Bravi Academy and the Pashtu Academy and all nationalist parties should take immediate notice of the government decision and protest against it as stridently as possible. Indigenous cultures should not be blackmailed on the name of religion. Learning Arabic does not in any way translate into making people better Muslims. A Baloch or a Pashutun will remain a “good Muslim” even without obtaining a degree in Arabic. The official decision that paves the way for Arab cultural imperialism on Baloch and Pashtun society should be resisted tooth and nail until the government of Balochistan withdraws its decision. In addition, concerted efforts should be made by the local populations to force the government to introduce mother tongues at schools. Otherwise, these local languages will perish in the fast changing world.