I have come across many people who lament that the young generation of Pakhtoons is shifting its medium of communication from Pashto to Urdu. More or less the same situation prevails in other provinces of Pakistan.
I don’t think we need any thorough research to find out the reasons behind this phenomenon. The reasons are quite obvious. Pashto is looked down upon. Media does not portray it as something respectable. Pakhtoon character in any play on our public and private TV channels is there only to create some fun for the audience. Pakhtoon is almost always playing a servant (family servant or watchman) in a wealthy Pakistani family (portrayed as educated, civilized, using Urdu as its medium of communication). He is brave but dim-witted person who takes naswar. The other image of Pakhtoon that you would find in our media is a cruel man, who is more than ready to kill.
More importantly, Urdu and English bring money, power and authority. Pashto does not promise this. If you do not learn Urdu and English, you cannot get a respectable job. It has been our state policy from the very beginning to suppress our mother tongues. In 1948, some Bengali students were killed by Pakistani authorities who were protesting against the imposition of Urdu as national language and demanding respectable status for their own mother tongue. (That day, 21st February, is now celebrated world-wide as Mother Tongue Day.)
This game has created three classes:
- The lower class who speak their mother tongue
- The middle class who speak Urdu
- The elite class who speak English
This trend of shifting language is going on for quite some time now. Our elders react to this situation in the following ways:
- There are some who willfully encouraged their youngsters to change their language from Pashto to Urdu or English depending on their own financial status.
- There are others who lament this trend but do nothing about it except wailing.
- There is a third group that took to rebuking their youngsters for depending too much on foreign language for their (youngsters’) communication. They forced their youngsters to speak Pashto, which resulted in a kind of hatred for Pashto.
These youngsters, under the influence of our media, make fun of their own elders declaring them ignorant and illiterate, having no idea of the modern world and its demands. We may chaff our hands at this reaction of our young Pakhtoon, we may take him to task for this attitude, but that would not help us in the long run.
What to Do?
If we want to change this trend, we need to do two things:
- Resurrect the image of Pakhtoon in the mind of our younger generation.
- Make Pashto a financially viable language
Both these tasks are not easy to accomplish, but should not be considered impossible (where there is will, there is a way). Here I would discuss the first one only. The second one needs more reflection.
For the first one, we need to have positive presence in media. Ironically, the only Pashto channel available on cable television in Islamabad is AVT Khyber owned by a Punjabi businessman. We badly need to invest in media and have our own TV channels, films, magazines, websites and newspapers. Furthermore, we need to bridge the gap between Pakhtoon and other ethnic groups living in Pakistan.
As far as Pashto film industry is concerned, the less said, the better. It is not only performing badly, it is doing disservice to Pakhtoon culture. Badar Munir (and his successors like Jahangir Khan) cannot inspire Pakhtoon youth. Our young generation cannot associate themselves with the kind of hero our films give them. In fact, they are ashamed of those films and avoid talking about them. This cacuum is filled by Bollywood heros (though interestingly enough, Bollywood is being ruled by Khans, which speaks volumes about the talent Pakhtoons have).
We need to give them our own Khans, so that they do not have to look elsewhere. We need to produce films that portray our own aspirations. We need to produce films that touch our own social and political problems. If we do not act now, we will be held responsible for the death and decline of our language and culture by our next generations.