The Punjabi Urdu controversy in Pakistan

Markandey Katju

Markandey Katju

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About 40% Pakistanis speak Punjabi as their first language, whereas only about 7% Pakistanis speak Urdu as their first language.

Some time back a demand was raised in Pakistan that Punjabi language should be made the medium of Instruction in educational institutions from primary to post graduate level, replacing Urdu and English. A demand was even made that Punjabi should be made Pakistan’s national language, replacing Urdu.

I am not going into these controversies. But the impression sought to be created, even if by insinuation, that Urdu is some kind of foreign oppressor of Punjabis, in my opinion is wholly misplaced and untrue, and betrays a lack of knowledge of the true nature, origin and development of Urdu.

I have explained about Urdu in my articles and video talk given below, so I am not repeating their contents.

ਗੁਰਨਾਮ punjabiPunjabis are rightly proud of their language. About 40% Pakistanis speak it as their first language, whereas only about 7% Pakistanis speak Urdu as their first language (though the vast majority of Pakistanis can understand and speak it as their second language).

Nevertheless, the fact remains that

(1) Punjabi is only a regional language confined to Punjab, whereas Urdu is a language spread all over the Indian subcontinent,

(2) Urdu is much more sophisticated and elegant than Punjabi,

(3) It covers a much wider canvass in themes, ideas and emotions than the latter, and its poetry is by far much more developed.

By saying this I am not denigrating Punjabi. I hold all languages and even their dialects, in equal respect. But I am only stating the truth.

Punjabis have made the greatest contribution to Urdu literature in the 20th century among all people in India and Pakistan, of which they can be proud, e.g. the works of Faiz, Iqbal, Manto, Sahir Ludhianvi, Krishen Chander, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Ibne Insha, Habib Jalib, Gulzar, Hafeez Jalandhari, Amrita Pritam, etc.

Even great Hindi writers like Munshi Premchand had an Urdu background.

Also Read: Urdu poetry and the transitional era

I submit that Punjabis should not regard Urdu as a rival or foreign oppressor, but rather as a benevolent elder brother who would be happy if his younger brother grows and flourishes.


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Markandey Katju

Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India.

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