Am I A ‘Ganwaar’ If I Speak Punjabi?


Punjabi is the most widely spoken language across Pakistan. In Pakistan Punjabi is spoken by some 70 million speakers, mostly in Punjab province. According to the 1998 Census, 87% of the total population of Lahore speaks a dialect of Punjabi and 68% of the population of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, speaks Punjabi. There are also important overseas communities of Punjabi speakers, particularly in Canada and the United Kingdom, where in the early 21st century they respectively constituted the third and fourth largest linguistic groups in the national populations, as well as in several parts of the United States. However, from what I have seen, most of the people in Punjab, especially those living in the urban centers, do not encourage their children to speak in their mother tongue – Punjabi. More over in Punjab, Pakistan the Urdu is given the status of official language instead of Punjabi.

But kids will be kids and they will always find a way to learn new things. So, these children tend to pick up the language from their parents and other people around since ironically, the adults speak in Punjabi among themselves. And by listening to and mimicking these adults, children add Punjabi to their linguistic skill set. And surprisingly the adults are ready to speak in Punjabi among themselves but they can’t tolerate their children speaking in Punjabi!

Since it is a process of informal learning, children learn Punjabi quite effortlessly. Such is the beauty of the mother tongue.

Incidentally, in an average Pakistani school a child generally learns two new languages, that is, English and Urdu, and the teaching of all other subjects is also via the medium of Urdu or English. And since recitation of the Quran and saying prayers is also part of the curriculum in the Pakistani society, whether at school, a madrassah or at home, almost all children end up learning Arabic as well.

In this way, a child in Punjab starts to learn almost three languages between the young ages of three and five years. If our elitist English medium schools can make French, Japanese and Chinese language a part of their course curriculum then there is nothing bad to teach Punjabi also, with the fact that 70.0% of the people of Pakistan speak Punjabi as either their first or second language and for some as their third language.

If we can teach Hen as Poule (French language), then we should feel no shame while teaching it as Kukri (Punjabi) in our schools.

It not only ends here, in all elitist English medium schools there are policies forbidding students from speaking Punjabi. Even the teacher and the classmates embrace the students about their mother tongue by calling him paendu (village yokel), jahil (illiterate) and ganwaar (uncivilized).

This is why parents try their best to refrain from speaking in Punjabi with their kids. And frankly, one cannot blame the parents since the harsh reality is that when a three-year-old is enrolled in school and begins to speak in Punjabi with the other students and teachers, they label the child as ‘illiterate’. Needless to say, this can be quite disturbing for young minds and naturally, the parents want to prevent this from happening. Hence, the mother tongue is ignored and sacrificed.

However, this line of argument assumes that it is common knowledge that in real life knowing Punjabi is not of any use while learning Urdu and English are more important for education and a career. And when I look at it practically, I realize that this line of thinking is not entirely wrong. After all, one has to get a job. And hence, once again, Punjabi is ushered out of the door.

Since the British rule in subcontinent Punjabi is facing this kind of discrimination. Urdu was somewhat obtusely assumed to be language of Muslims, while Hindi was supposed to be spoken by Hindus and Punjabi by Sikhs. Punjabi language was related only to Sikh community although there was a large number of Muslim Punjabi speakers.

Today, one observes the abundant and regular usage of Punjabi everywhere in Indian Punjab, signage on highways, in schools, colleges, universities and in public offices. And this is why the Chief Minister of Pakistani Punjab, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, delivered a speech in Punjabi while visiting the Indian counterpart to win the hearts of his hosts.

However, I am afraid that I have rarely heard him or any other leader delivering a speech in Punjabi in Gujranwala, Faisalabad or any other city in Pakistani Punjab. And on the other hand the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, delivered his speech in his National language Hindi in last UN Convention in which all heads of states were present without considering that whether the world would remark him as Jahil or Ganwaar. Not only that, he has delivered most of his speeches in Hindi.

This is what I call the inferiority complex of us Punjabi people in Pakistan. It is obvious that Punjabis in Pakistan live in some kind of confusion. The bitter truth is that we have gradually destroyed our own language since we never owned it with pride and confidence.

You would not find any sign boards in Punjabi in Punjab, except perhaps the Billay di Hatti shops (Iqbal’s shop) in various cities.

The way I see it, the future of Punjabi in Pakistan is quite dark.

And yet, a strange contradiction to this phenomenon of our self-denial is the popularization of the language without Punjabis even intending it through the televised musical program, Coke Studio – Pakistan.

I am sure you have heard numerous kalaams of Baba Bulleh Shah or Sultan Bahoo being performed by the participants on countless episodes of Coke Studio. It is becoming quite a fashion to be associated with the music of these Sufi poets from Punjab. People have come to love and share this music by whatever means are available to them. And in doing so, they feel liberated at projecting the secular and moderate culture of Punjab.

Many people were introduced to the poetry of Baba Bulleh Shah and other Punjabi Sufi saints through Coke Studio. I find it quite ironic that while we discourage the promotion of this language through schools and at home, we are grateful to this corporate giant for introducing Punjabi to the world.

Such contradictory behavior is frankly quite baffling.

However, I do see a ray of hope and at times from completely unexpected quarters. Whenever I see people speaking in Punjabi, especially our elite class and highly educated community, it brings me immense pleasure. It always gives me a feeling that Punjabis have not completely given up their mother language – at least not yet.

Source: The Express Tribune Blogs. You can read the original article here.

Sharing is caring !Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on TumblrPrint this pageEmail this to someone


  1. zainab

    February 4, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    an article worth reading. enjoyed alot .. keep it up maleeha!!

    • Maleeha Aslam

      February 5, 2015 at 4:52 pm

      thank you Zainab! your feed back values a lot to me. keep giving your feedback

  2. hira

    February 4, 2015 at 4:36 pm


    • Maleeha Aslam

      February 5, 2015 at 4:54 pm

      Thank you so much Hira. Say tuned to int3ger for more articles

  3. muhammad

    February 4, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    oohh.. its amazing. loved it keep it upp

    • Maleeha Aslam

      February 5, 2015 at 4:56 pm

      thank you Muhammad. Stay tuned to int3ger for more articles.

  4. furqan

    February 4, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    such a great effort.. Punjabi ROCKSS 😀 😀

    • Maleeha Aslam

      February 5, 2015 at 4:58 pm

      thank you furqan. yes!! PUNJABII ROCKS 😀 😀 😀
      stay tuned to int3ger for more articles!

  5. Aqsa Khan

    February 4, 2015 at 4:57 pm


    • Maleeha Aslam

      February 5, 2015 at 4:59 pm

      thank you very much Aqsa

  6. Maham Shah

    February 4, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    Punjabi always gives one an ‘at home’, being spoken mostly at informal gatherings. So it has one of its kind of advantage. Still it should not be discourged so.
    Good work. Well done (y)

    • Maleeha Aslam

      February 5, 2015 at 5:01 pm

      thank you Maham Shah. you have always supported me :)
      your feed back values a lot to me

  7. Maham Shah

    February 4, 2015 at 5:34 pm


  8. muneeb

    February 4, 2015 at 6:09 pm

    Those two political points.. Awsum .. Keep it up Maleeha

    • Maleeha Aslam

      February 5, 2015 at 5:02 pm

      that’s a sad truth muneed.. well thank you . stay tuned to int3ger for more writings.

  9. shoaib ch.

    February 4, 2015 at 6:30 pm

    Quite a positive approach! Good attepmt.

    • Maleeha Aslam

      February 5, 2015 at 5:03 pm

      thank you shoaib! stay tuned to int3ger for more writings

  10. amna khan

    February 5, 2015 at 6:38 am

    Awsome writing punajabi supporter!!
    Keep it up and best of luck for future!

    • Maleeha Aslam

      February 5, 2015 at 5:04 pm

      not particularly punjabi, but i”m supporter of Pakistan! thank you Amna Khan.
      stay tuned to int3ger for more writings

  11. ayesha

    February 5, 2015 at 7:18 am

    so maleeha is rocking on her way .. Very well written and informative article!

    • Maleeha Aslam

      February 5, 2015 at 5:05 pm

      Thank you Ayesha. Stay tune to int3ger for more articles.

  12. annayah ameen

    February 5, 2015 at 7:21 am

    truly is a well written piece of work!

    • Maleeha Aslam

      February 5, 2015 at 5:07 pm

      thank you Annayah. stay tuned to int3ger for more articles

  13. fatima maalik

    February 5, 2015 at 7:30 am

    i am unable to understand that why we Pakistani’s do such type of discrimination with our culture, our traditions and especially our languages. we are ready to speak in r.i.p English but we feel shame in speaking perfect punjabi or urdu.

    • Maleeha Aslam

      February 5, 2015 at 5:08 pm

      a simple reason i.e we Pakistani lack confidence

  14. hishaam rizvi

    February 5, 2015 at 8:18 am

    Very intresting.

    • Maleeha Aslam

      February 5, 2015 at 5:09 pm

      thank you Hishaam. stay tuned to int3ger for more articles

  15. Sana Ahmad

    February 5, 2015 at 9:14 am

    nice….a positive thinking…keep it up Maleeha .May Allah bless u..:)

    • Maleeha Aslam

      February 5, 2015 at 5:10 pm

      Thank you sana. stay tuned to int3ger for more articles

  16. Rabeel

    February 5, 2015 at 10:48 am

    Maleeha, I have become your fan! your writings too good!!

    • Maleeha Aslam

      February 5, 2015 at 5:11 pm

      thank you so much rabeel. stay tuned to int3ger for more articles

  17. Hassan

    February 5, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    A few people think about these type of topics. You are a blessed one Maleeha.feel proud and keep it up.

    • Maleeha Aslam

      February 5, 2015 at 5:12 pm

      thank you so much Hassan. stay tuned to int3ger for more articles

  18. attiya

    February 5, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    great work maleeha…(Y)

    • Maleeha Aslam

      February 5, 2015 at 5:13 pm

      Thank you Attiya :)

  19. Aleena Nadeem

    February 5, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    Really its amazing….maleeha u rockss……:-)

    • Maleeha Aslam

      February 5, 2015 at 5:13 pm

      thank you aleena :) stay tuned to int3ger for more articles

  20. Manal Zafar

    February 5, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    good effort in promoting this positive approach, its amazing,, May ALLAH bless u a lot.

    • Maleeha Aslam

      February 5, 2015 at 5:15 pm

      thank you so much Manal. you guyz have always supported me thats why i’m here. thank you so much

  21. mahnoor amin

    February 5, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    (y) .. indeed one of your best writing :)

    • Maleeha Aslam

      February 5, 2015 at 5:16 pm

      Thank you Mahnoor! Stay tuned to Int3ger for more writings

  22. Sunny

    February 5, 2015 at 7:03 pm

    really nyce…and agree with you ….this inferiority complex is growing in our society….and enjoyed this especially some punjabi words…like kukri
    I appreciate you for this great work …keep on doing Maleeha

    • Maleeha Aslam

      February 6, 2015 at 3:40 pm

      Thank you shahid. Stay tuned to int3ger for more articles!

  23. Kiran Nasir

    February 5, 2015 at 8:09 pm

    Yayyy!!! Maleeehaa you rocked this one! Such a great article

    • Maleeha Aslam

      February 6, 2015 at 3:43 pm

      Thank you soo much kiran. Your feedback is very important for me!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>