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Bangla in Arabic script

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THE creation of Pakistan was in a good number of ways the emergence of a dilemma, Syed Badrul Ahsan writes in The Daily Star.

There was, in the first place, the very modus vivendi on which the state had come into being. Carved out of India as a separate homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent, the new state nevertheless was politically undermined by the fact that a very large number of Muslims, higher than the total population of Pakistan, stayed back in India.

In the second, of course, came the trauma of those who moved to Pakistan and of the tens of thousands of Hindus and Sikhs who made their way out of their ancestral homes in the newly carved country to independent India. Murder and mayhem compounded the issue.

In the aftermath of partition, the matter of what language Pakistan would adopt as its lingua franca gathered increasing importance.

There were those who suggested that with the new country comprising five provinces — East Bengal, Punjab, Sind, Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier Province — each of which had its own language, it made sense for Urdu to be adopted as a language that would bring the country together. Apart from this line of reasoning, there was the conviction, rather misplaced in many, that Urdu was the language of the Muslims and since Pakistan had been created as a homeland for Muslims, it was only natural that Urdu be spoken across the country.

Neither of the two arguments was acceptable to the Bangalees, who were beginning to see in the Urdu question a clear move aimed at doing away with their cultural heritage, indeed the very secular nature of their societal existence.

What was even more alarming was the suggestion by non-Bangalee scholars as well as politicians that the Arabic script be employed in writing Bangla. It was a well-calculated move, one that sought to bring into Bangla elements of Islam through a replacement of its Sanskrit roots which diehard Pakistanis saw as being symbolic of Hinduism. Predictably, the Bangalee elite were ready to send such a thought packing.

The early signs of a crisis over the language Pakistanis would speak at the state level loomed.


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