Saturday, June 18, 2011


By Joga Singh
The assertions made in "AT THE CROSSROADS OF LANGUAGE" by Geetanjali Bhagat and others (The Tribune, Chandigarh, Monday April 25, 2011, p. 9) are good evidence that many people even working in the field of English teaching are living in a mythical linguistic world. Since the issue is of paramount importance to society at large, these myths need to be revealed.

The honorable commentators make following assertions: i) that English "has become one of the most important skills for advancement"; ii) that "A major reason for the rural students not being able to speak well in the English language is their late exposure to the language...." and; iii) that "we should have a uniform system in which all children, rural and urban, must have access to education in English medium...."

Firstly, if English was to be so essential a skill for advancement, India, then, would have been a far more advanced country than countries like China, Korea and Japan, because our higher education has been largely in English since independence, but this has not been the case with any of the above countries, along with many others more advanced than India.

Secondly, almost all of the numerous studies carried out throughout the world on language learning amply demonstrate: i) that starting late is not a handicap, it is an advantage rather (see below); ii) that one learns a foreign language better if ones mother tongue was medium of instruction and the foreign language is taught as a subject and not as a medium of instruction, that too starting late (after about the age of ten). The following statement from 'The Improvement in the Quality of Mother Tongue - Based Literacy and Learning' (UNESCO, 2008) should be an eye opener (This study was funded by the World Bank and is based on investigations from twelve countries from all of the continents. The study includes India too):

"What seems to be standing in our way is a set of myths about language and learning, and these myths must be revealed as such to open people’s eyes. One such myth is that the best way to learn a second language is to use it as a medium of instruction. (In fact, it is often more effective to learn additional languages as subjects of study.) Another is that to learn a second language you must start as early as possible. (Starting early might help learners to have a nice accent, but otherwise the advantage goes to learners who have a well developed first language.) A third is that the home language gets in the way of learning a second language. (Building a strong foundation in the first language results in a better learning of additional languages.) Clearly these myths are more false than true, yet they guide the way policymakers tend to think about how speakers of other languages must learn dominant or official languages." (p. 12)

This UNESCO study is not an isolated one. The results of almost all of the studies on the issue, during the past 50 years at least, are very consistent.

Rural children lack in English not because of  a less and late exposure to English, this is because they are not being taught. There is no evidence that the present day English medium educated Indians are better at English than their earlier peers who didn't have English as medium of instruction and who were exposed to English in the sixth standard. Evidence is certainly available for the opposit.

Finally, I would request the learned commentators and the media too, very humbly, not to publicize myths in the name of learned opinions, and that too on issues of seminal importance such as language. The English medium education is not only ruining our education, it is also the biggest hindrance in acquiring an appreciable competence in the English language, lesser said the better about its other societal curses. Also add to this the findings of professional educationists and the agencies like UNESCO that education can be imparted successfully only through the medium of mother tongue. Furthermore, English as a medium of instruction is on the wane world over, except in the minds and regions of slavish (unpatriotic would be a better word) ex-colonial middle classes.

Joga Singh
Professor & Head
Department of Linguistics and Punjabi Lexicography, 
Punjabi University, Patiala; +91-99157-09582

Friday, June 17, 2011

‘Mohali Spirit’ Decoded

By Birinder Pal Singh

The Foreign Secretary talked of the ‘Mohali Spirit’ which is supposed to usher India and Pakistan into a new era of friendship and peace. It was for this reason that the chief executives of the two governments were accosted by the ruling party high command of the host nation. It is a political gimmick on the part of both governments. I wonder how a match generating so much heat and pressure could lead us to think of peace, leave aside realising it on ground. The symbolism all around is suggestive of negative consequences.
            Was there any one from the Indian side who supported the Pakistani flag or symbol on her face or body like it was done for our team. How could one do that? If someone dared, s/he would be branded a traitor and an anti-national. No Indian could shout in favour of the Pakistani team for the same reason. Reading into the highly charged emotions, I remarked to my young nephew, a cricket enthusiast, ‘We should let the guests score victory.’ ‘What are you saying uncle? Why should we?’
Games and sports are very essential and had traversed a long distance in human history. These had ever been there since times immemorial. It is not only a human trait but animals too play, and not only their young ones but adults as well. For them it is amusement, not politics. For us it is more of latter and mostly always that. In the Cricket World Cup finals and semi-finals we were sport(ing) diplomacy, alleviating differences with our neighbours in the west and the south. If the Prime Ministers were together at Mohali, the two Presidents were present at Mumbai.
After victory at both places, peoples’ reaction was different. Very sensibly indeed for which Punjabis deserve a pat on their back, there was no untoward incident or even innuendo of hatred towards the visiting team despite the fact that there were serious apprehensions. But the burning of Ravana after the finals at Mumbai remains unpardonable. One could understand burning the effigy of a player playing foul but why Ravana? Even Rama did not kill him but only redeemed him. 
 (Photo: Reuters)
 This was the reaction of Mumbaikars after the victory. What they might have done following defeat is any body’s guess? If one looks beneath the sporting event, it is not difficult to comprehend. So much is at stake during the match that victory and defeat become a matter of life and death for the players. Harbhajan Singh remarked at Mohali: ‘There was lot of pressure on us. It is double when we play with Pakistan.’ What is this ‘double’ pressure if not pressure of politics of the nation and the economics of the match. Gautam Gambhir too announced dedicating victory at Mumbai to the victims of 26/11, something akin to Indian 9/11.
It is not the question of politics only but violence reflected in every aspect of the game. Besides the players wearing war like body armour, gestures of the players are blatantly violent whenever a crucial wicket falls. Harbhajan Singh at Mohali was noticeable when he bowled out Afridi. It was a close long shot. The Punjabi pop provided a ‘suitable’ background. Besides others, one number played refers to picking up guns and rifles for taking possession of a territory – chak lo bandukan raflan kabza laina ’ai. I was wondering the fate of ‘Mohali spirit’. Could it remotely suggest peace and amity between two teams and their nations? It appeared like a war on the play ground.
What about the advertisement posters? Does one depicted here invoke sentiments of peace and harmony? It seems Dhoni, the captain (read India) is in flames of passion (read anger) to score victory over the other team (read adversary). He might well be saying: ‘I’ll **** you bastard.’ What about the policeman? Is he suggestive of teaching those a lesson who may become instrumental in Dhoni’s  (read India’s) defeat. Why the players of a nation, its heroes and others need heavy police protection? May be because, it is less of a game and more of politics and economics.
So much money has gone into cricket that it has become a lucrative industry for capital investment. Earlier when Bollywood cinema multiplied capital, smugglers invested in it and now it seems is the turn of cricket. Industrialists’ presence and enthusiasm for such matches is understandable. Teams and players are betted and millions roll into this trade. Bollywood actors with surplus money too invest in this game and own IPL teams, hence spectators to these matches. Commentators have always highlighted their ‘presence amidst spectators’. It enhances the status of ordinary citizens and the pride of the game in the eyes of a commoner.
The political elite and the sport stars are no private individuals in a public arena. They ought to restraint their behaviour in public domain. Unlike Manmohan Singh, Sonia was manifestly exhilarated at the victory. The television camera did not miss the moment focussing on her as also the commentator recording: ‘Sonia ji bachae ki tareh khush hain.’ Dhoni too went for hair-cutting fulfilling the blessings of a goddess. Harbhajan too attributed victory to the blessings of religious babas. In our country where tempers run high in the name of religion, the public personalities must practice and display sthitaprajna as advised by Gita and sahaj as prescribed in Guru Granth.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Husain: Brush with Bigotry

By Badri Raina

First things first, O departed
emperor of zest and  bare-footed laughter:
it was not the brainless bigots
who exiled you, but we
who claim patent on sanity.
Unlike your so resplendent going,
we have been dead several times over
from fear, trembling, and sensible doing.
Thus, knowing better, it was foolish
of you to be disappointed with us.
But now that we are safe from you,
‘civil society’ will surely shout
for a monument  where our wares
we may profitably pursue.

O Alexander of the art world,
like him you passed in exile
with work in hand;
like him, in genius and in folly,
you were always grand.
He soaked Grecian nectars
at Aristotle’s feet;
you became the best of Hindus
from lifelong love of the street.
Those that made Socrates choose
hemlock were not Greek;
those that lost you home
were not Hindus.
Thus, on your flying horse
the Greeks called Pegasus
you soar,  but with eye still
on the wicked world,
that, with brush still in hand,
you wish to paint some more.

We hear you laugh, O bearded
Betaal of wise innoncence,
and we say, do not mourn, but
paint all you can from gut to gut.
The truth of Husain’s exile
deserves nothing but.

 June9, 2011

Friday, June 10, 2011

Pakistan's `Enlightenment' Martyrs

By Beena Sarwar

09 June, 2011


The murder of professor Saba Dashtiyari in Quetta last week, coming on the heels the killing of investigative journalist Saleem Shehzad, is yet another sign of an ongoing `genocide' of progressive Pakistani intellectuals and activists. `Genocide' generally means the deliberate destruction of an ethnic group or tribe. In this context, it applies to the tribe of Pakistanis who have publicly proclaimed or implicitly practiced the enlightenment agenda of freedom of conscience. They may have very different, even opposing, political views but they are people who are engaged knowingly or unknowingly with spreading `enlightenment' values.

Out to undermine or eliminate members of this tribe is the `establishment' – defined here as the sections of state long engaged in establishing Pakistan's "Islamic" identity and determining the "national interest". They decide who is a patriot or a Muslim.
Most of those killed in mysterious circumstances over the years were critics of this `establishment'. Are their murders, often at the hands of "unknown assailants" or dubious organisations, mere coincidence?
Let's list some of them (a complete list is not possible here), starting with the outspoken Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, murdered by an official bodyguard. Contrary to standard operating procedures, the other guards did not open fire on the assailant – who had been assigned to this duty despite his "extremist views" due to which the Special Branch had earlier dismissed him.

Barely two months later, two human rights defenders were gunned down – Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti in Islamabad, and Naeem Sabir, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan coordinator in Khuzdar, Balochistan.

The assassins "may perhaps belong to different groups", said the HRCP, but the murders were `the work of militants out to eliminate anyone who raises his voice against persecution of the vulnerable people". Naeem Sabir, associated with HRCP since 1997, had been targeted off and on "by minions of the state" for "his truthful coverage of human rights abuses". A shadowy group calling itself the `Baloch Musala Defai Tanzeem' (Armed Baloch Defence Committee) claimed responsibility.

Saba Dashtiyari was not exposing human rights abuses but he was doing something more dangerous – opening young minds to progressive thought. Although he received his basic education in the slums of Lyari he shared a wealth of knowledge, running "kind of a (liberal) university within the (strictly controlled) university,” writes his former student Malik Siraj Akbar.

The disparate group of students around him often comprised "progressive and liberals"; they clutched books by "free thinkers like Bertrand Russell, Russian fiction by Leo Tolstoy or Maxim Gorky", or Syed Sibte Hasan and Dr. Mubarak Ali. Their discussions ranged "from politics, religion, revolutions, nationalism to taboos like sex and homosexuality…" He contributed his salary "to impart cultural awareness and secular education". The State, on the other hand, is "constructing more and more religious schools to counter the liberal nationalist movement" which only accelerates the process of right-wing radicalization (Obituary: The Martyred Professor, June 2, 2011, The Baloch Hal).

Prof. Dashtiyari had lately become "a staunch backer of the Baloch armed resistance for national liberation" (`The Baloch Noam Chomsky Is Dead', The Baloch Hal, Jun 2, 2011). Although he himself had not taken up arms, his views were anathema to the `establishment' as defined above.

In April last year, another professor at the University of Balochistan, Nazima Talib was murdered – the first time a woman was target-killed in the province. The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) said it had killed her in response to the security forces' killing of "two Baloch women in Quetta and Pasni and torture of women political workers in Mand and Tump".

Security forces routinely pick up Baloch youth for questioning. Far too often, mutilated bodies are found in what Amnesty International has termed as "kill and dump" operations. Since July 2010, the rights body has documented "the disappearances and killing of at least 100 activists, journalists, lawyers and teachers in Balochistan, with victims' relatives often blaming the security and intelligence services".

One can empathise with the anger of the Baloch. But revenge killings cannot be justified or condoned. When victims become oppressors, it becomes even harder to emerge from the downward spiral.

The murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti in Gen. Musharraf's military operation of August 2006 contributed to this downward spiral, sparking off a wave of target killings of non-Balochis, particularly educationists and civil servants. Those killed since include Balochistan Education Minister Shafique Ahmed and Hamid Mehmood, Secretary Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education.

Although shadowy groups with long names sometimes claim responsibility, it is usually "unidentified assailants" behind the murders, like those who gunned down former senator Habib Jalib of Balochistan National Party (BNP-Mengal) last July.

Journalists remain vulnerable, walking a tightrope between the military and the militants, as Saleem Shehzad did. At least half-a-dozen Baloch journalists have been target-killed over the past nine months alone: Rehmatullah Shaeen, Ejaz Raisani, Lala Hameed Hayatan, Ilyas Nazar, Mohammad Khan Sasoil, Siddiq Eido and Abdus Rind. These murders have neither been investigated, nor has the mainstream media taken any notice of them.

Many compare the situation to 1971. Just before Bangladesh's liberation (albeit with foreign intervention), extremists trying to kill progressive ideas in the new country massacred progressive intellectuals. Is a similar mindset at work in what's left of Pakistan? Extremists know they cannot win the argument so they silence the voices that make the argument.

It is ironic that Musharraf's fake `moderate enlightenment' led to an escalation of violence against those who are genuinely enlightenment partisans from all shades of political opinion. This is not just a series of "incidents" but a tacitly agreed upon plan operating under a culture of impunity for both the state and the insurgents, fostered, it must be noted, by non-elected arms of the state. All demands for accountability, and for these acts to be tried and punished as criminal offences have so far come to naught.
There are signs of hope in the unprecedented number of people speaking out, in the Supreme Court's seeking of the past three-year record of targeted killings in Balochistan, and in the Aghaz Huqooq-i-Balochistan ("the Beginning of Rights of Balochistan") introduced by the government in November 2009. It is essential to build on these moves and urgently address Balochistan's long-standing grievances about economic and political disenfranchisement, and human rights abuses.

As mentioned above, the genocide of Pakistan's progressives is not limited to Balochistan. "Since the start of Taliban and fanatics insurgency in Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa, a planned holocaust of the enlightened and educated people is underway," noted the Communist Party of Pakistan after educationist Latifullah Khan was murdered in Dir, Khyber PakhtoonKhwa in November 2010.

Terming it a `rampant `intellecticide', the CPP urged the international community to take note "as not a day passes without the target killing or kidnapping of a university professor, chancellor, doctor, enlightened teacher or a leftist, democratic, progressive political worker."

Saba Dashtiyari is the latest in a long line of such `enlightenment martyrs' in Pakistan. They include those fighting the land mafia – like Nisar Baloch (of Gutter Bagheecha fame, Karachi), and the fisherfolk Haji Ghani and Abu Bakar who spearheaded a movement against the destruction of the mangrove forests along the coast.

Let this blood not have been spilt in vain.

The writer is a journalist working with the Jang Group