Balochi, Urdu

مصور: مرد خان ممتاز │ ریگستان میں

Once in the Desert | Artist: Murad Khan Mumtaz

Most Baloch in Pakistan speak Urdu as well as Balochi, their mother tongue. This is in part because during the first half of the 20th century, both languages co-existed, maintaining a non-interfering friendship of sorts. In some of the earliest Baloch writings – from Faryad Balochistan and Shams Gardi to Mehrab Gardi – Urdu, not Balochi, was the chosen language of expression. Even Baloch nationalist organizations like Anumjan-e-Ittehad-e-Balochan, the Qallaat National Party and Baloch Haq Tawwar used Urdu in writing their political poetry, declamations, essays and letters.

However, this amiable relationship began to change after Partition when state leaders declared Pakistan one nation, and established Urdu as the national language, often by means of force. In the years that followed, Urdu not only undercut its position among Balochi writers, it pushed Balochi into a political and cultural corner.

A language, by its nature, is not limited to its functional purpose as a means of communication. In the case of Pakistan, the post-Partition language policy set out to suppress the cultural diversity of the country’s different regions, which state leaders regarded as a threat to the unity and integrity of the country. In response to the language policy, the Bengalis of former East Pakistan rejected the decision. This was followed, on March 20, 1972, by a statement from Maulvi Abdul Haq. In his statement, the maulvi opposed Bengali as a national language because it did not fulfill  the following criteria:

  1. Language should be local, not foreign.
  2. Language should not be limited to a specific faction or region.
  3. Language should be written, read, understood, and spoken in different parts of the country with a higher frequency compared to other languages.
  4. Language should bear the national cultural, social, and civil values.
  5. Language should have the capability to express all types of feelings and thoughts.
  6. Language can be the medium of education from basic to advanced level.
  7. Language should be flexible enough to cope with developing situations.

(My reply: Sir, you are wrong! There is only one condition for a national language, not seven, and that is that it should be the mother tongue of its people.)

Maulvi Abdul Haq did not stop here, but unabashedly continued:

“Bangla is deprived of the richness inherent to the national culture and values of Urdu. It is not just deprived, it is a Hindu language from head to toe. All the allusions, similes, metaphors, tales, and historical events have a Hindu soul. The whole language is full of fictions about gods, goddesses and idols. There is no presence of Islamic culture and values and, even if it is mentioned somewhere, it is disfigured. Urdu has a great treasure of Islamic religion and history. Bangla is fed by Sanskrit and is brought up in a Hindu environment. It does not have the substance of our culture and religious values.”

In his fatwa, he declared:

“Pakistan’s unity, stability and integrity is solely dependent on Urdu. Coupling any other language with Urdu is polytheism, because it will be contrary to the integrity of Pakistan.”

Later, there were forceful efforts to suppress Bengali language agitation. On February 21, 1953, the police opened fire on protestors in Dhaka University, and killed four students. Some argued that it was after this irredeemable loss that Bengali truly found its place as a national language.

Speakers of other Pakistani languages besides Urdu feel for the injustice, sufferings and screams of these heart-breaking movements. Pakistan’s leaders enforced a sort of language imperialism through the establishment of Urdu as a national language, at the cost of our mother tongues.

Yet, of course Urdu is not imperialistic in and of itself; the imperialism rather comes from those who employ it. Indeed, there were years when Urdu was quite anti-imperialistic. From approximately 1937 to 1947, Urdu writers such as Saadat Hasan Manto, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Krishan Chandar, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Habib Jalib produced great revolutionary works. Ultimately, these writers contributed tremendously towards freedom from the British.

Partition, however, changed things. While no language is inherently religious – not even Arabic or Hebrew – after Partition the Pakistani state declared Urdu as the language of Islam, and designated Hindi as well as the other Pakistani languages as those of idol worshipers. These politics were bound up in the ideologies of the two nation theory, which worked to make India and Pakistan as distinct as possible. For many years, Urdu was closely associated with the regressive and often feudal policies of the state. With no historical base in Pakistan, the cultural power of the language was weak. Writers such as Faiz, Gul Khan, Jalib and Sajjad Zaheer who were contributing to Urdu’s growth were put behind bars; those in power saw them as potential threats to the state. Even then, since the majority of Urdu speakers migrated from India, they could not come out of that pain of separation and nostalgia of their homeland, province and village. They were residing in Pakistan, but their thoughts remained in India. They considered their ethics and traditional dress superior, and the realities of Pakistan were not foremost in their mind. Urdu speakers construed the development of Pakistan’s other languages as akin to the funeral procession of their own, and cultivated hostility and contempt as a result.

As the years of the new state of Pakistan passed, language politics grew increasingly violent. Under Zia-ul-Haq, the country lived under martial rule. Strict rules dictated the organizational, individual, educational and practical expression of ground realities in Urdu and other languages. Because of this reason, enslaving Urdu words such as mustaghees, daam iqbala, fidvi, baa adab, baamulahiza, and huzoor were necessarily inducted.

Whether Urdu is a state language, a national language, or a lingua franca, the fact remains: It continues today to act as the language of imperialism and of the elite. These elites rarely consider those less fortunate, even less so these unfortunates’ languages and cultures. These elites do not let their clean and zamzam language get polluted with Balochi, but for English, they twist their tongues, turn their lips round, conical and oval, and feel pride in tilting their faces and turbans.

Without an organic mixing of local words and idioms, we deprive Urdu of freshness and oxygen. We all let our kids play in the street for training. Urdu was to be taken to the street, but chauvinist intellectuals did not let it onto the street, did not let its shoes get dusty, did not let it tear its shirt, did not let it have scratches on its face. Their Urdu is afraid to expose its eyes, ears and nose. It is so sensitive about its piousness and virginity that it passes through our streets and bazaars as if in a white veil, with a bowed head and fast steps, while minions whisper warnings of parda karo, parda karo (cover yourself, cover yourself), hitting our people and making way. If languages were pure, then even Shakespeare would not be able to stop the death of civilizations.

Although Baloch speak Urdu, the language has not necessarily retained its purity since we inject it with our regional accents and conceptions. In these instances, “ne” is “nree”, “se” is “ze” and “z” is “ze”. The masculine and feminine concept of Urdu is also often confusing, since this does not exist in Balochi. Since 1947, we Baloch have been trying to fathom: In what way does a pencil have the physical or natural quality of being feminine, and how does a pen have the masculine? Even on gunpoint, a Baloch cannot pronounce “qaaf” from the depth of his navel. He cannot correctly read words like “ququnus”. He will never read “aqol” as “aqal”, will never say “nazam” as “nazm”. And he will never ever say “taokali” as “tawakkali”.

It is important to understand that most Baloch are not necessarily against Urdu. While there are indeed some who wish to stomp Urdu out under the dust of the feet of “Great Balochi”, it is necessary to see that this too is a non-democratic approach to the life of languages. Most Baloch are well-wishers of Urdu because in it, we have read Gorky and Gul Khan, Krishan and Kafka, Nazim and Neruda, Marx and Manto, Sahir and Sagan. Urdu introduced us with philosophy, history and sociology, and through this, we have understood right and left. So after Balochi, Urdu is dear to us; God forbid Urdu lose its height even one inch. However, Urdu should not stop our flight. It should develop a friendship with our local languages, because that’s where the beauty of all of us lies. Languages of beloveds want equal status as lovers.

It is also important to understand that exchange among languages does not mean the merging of languages. Urdu cannot become Balochi, and Balochi cannot become Urdu. There is the slogan: “One God, one prophet, one Quran, one uniform and one language.” While the first three things in this slogan are correct,  the remaining two are wrong.

Today, Urdu is a strong and healthy language in Pakistan. It does not need any nafaze Urdu tehreek or tafheeme Urdu tehreek. It does not even depend anymore on muqtadra. As such, it has the power to act democratically towards Pakistan’s local languages. Forcefully-snatched greatness just festers in minds and hearts.

However, as of yet, Urdu and those behind it have made little effort to act democratically. Educational syllabi fail on this front (our educational text was never educational—it was always political and still is) and the consequences have been relegated to future generations. The outdated syllabi are imperialistic, sectarian, militaristic and full of hatred-based politics. They deteriorate common interest, zeal and taste.

Television has been more helpful in breaking Urdu’s hegemony. This is perhaps because advertisers realized they had to sell their products in Lahore and Loralai, not in Delhi and Badaun. As a result, television channels have placed an emphasis on making Urdu a public, simple and comprehendible language. In talk shows, TV dramas, songs, comedy programs, Urdu is rapidly coming down to an earthly level, and making way for Punjabis and Pashtuns.

Other forms of media, too, are helping the cause of minority languages. Radio is popular with a wide range of people in Pakistan, but especially youth. Increasingly, Urdu radio broadcasts add in words and metaphors from local languages. In addition, Urdu’s masculine and feminine components are increasingly she-male, and local cadences more and more frequently slip in.  This is partially due to the fact that in more recent times, there has been a shift in government structure away from dictatorship and towards democracy. This has not only paved way for more humane government policies, but has started to affect attitudes as well. In particular, the younger generation of Urdu speakers has become fairly progressive, and open to language coexistence. Moreover, these youth are also becoming less tolerant of Urdu’s feudalistic and archaic expressions, as they are less and less likely to understand these terms.

The shifting nature of language in Pakistan does not exist only on the basis of wishes or ordinances, but on the world’s larger social condition as well. Capitalism and its accompanying multi-nationalist companies, as well as new technologies such as mobile text, Facebook, and Twitter have also remade and rearranged language in their own ways: Some words lost their beaks, while others lost their tails. This mixture of alphabets and signs has begun to erode languages’ rules and regulations, its grammar and sophistications. In the end, only the fittest of language forms survive. And most likely, the fittest will be those which are flexible enough to absorb science and technology, and embrace regional unity and cooperation in the spirit of the common man.

Whatever the new era will bring, surely one thing will be the defeat of the chauvinism of languages. It will be the defeat of all those who wanted to make language an ivory tower of superiority, sanctity, spiritualism and purity. We welcome the defeat. Long live the democratic relationships among languages.

Shah Muhammad Marri is a writer and poet who lives in Quetta, Balochistan. He is also the founder and editor of the magazine, Sangat.

Some additional comments on other languages–and their relationship to Balochi.

More than 3 million Baloch, from the peaks of Pawad Koh to the Mozang of Lahore, use Punjabi as their mother tongue. The loss of Punjabi, our most spoken national mother tongue, remains similarly sidelined. There seems to be no intention within Balochistan to ensure the social or cultural survival of Punjabi–there is little reference to a proud or emotional relationship with Punjabi.

This language produced generations after generations of rich and prosperous poets like Baba Fareed Ganj Shakkar, Guru Nanak, Shah Husain, Waris Shah, Khuwaja Ghulam Fareed, Sultan Bahu, Miyan Mohammad Baksh, Amrita Preetam, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Habeeb Jalib and the great intellectuals like C R Aslam, Afzal Tauseef, Ahmad Saleem. Balochi language has had strong links to Punjabi. In fact, before Pakistan’s creation, the relationship between the two languages was based on an equality that was both friendly and fruitful. Under the umbrella of the “one unit system” established by Ayub Khan, Punjabi became superior–and not just in terms of language.

From peon to commissioner, employees were sent from Punjab to Balochistan. Lords and officers, instead of farmers and shepherds, spoke Punjabi and the result was a set of words that did not reflect friendship or camaraderie. Punjabi’s accent and words stank of imperialism and of military takeovers.
Today, the media’s comedy programs means that the language is once again developing a new form and style.

Over time, Punjabi’s have been made to believe that their own language is both wild and illiterate. Instead of promoting the wise and revolutionary classics–something we would all like to see–they have eschewed it for the sake of Urdu, the language they now speak to their children. The message of a Punjabi intellectual to other Punjabis on Facebook illustrates this point very well:

“Hey! Speak Urdu! The mother tongue of the Punjabi middle class.”

Afzal Tauseef once told a beautiful story. She went to meet Akbar Bugti along with all her books. Akbar Khan returned all her Urdu books but kept her Punjabi book to read. Afzal Tauseef asked if he reads Punjabi? He replied, “Yes, because I am not a Punjabi.”

It is a strange phenomenon. Punjabi is the only language among all the spoken languages of Pakistan, which faces a cold shoulder from its own intellectuals, bureaucrats and policy-making organizations. This is not considered a language that is worthy of speaking by those who are respectable–it is not even worthy of becoming a language in which we educate our children, or employ officially. Punjab is known as a well-developed province, but the fact is that those who live there cannot even read or write their own mother tongue. Despite being enriched with universities with all sorts of departments–including Urdu and Persian–they do not have a single Department of Punjabi to speak of.


In the case of Pashto, the matter is different. In Pakistan, Pashto has the same status as Balochi but in its neighboring country of Afghanistan it enjoys a status equal to that of Persian (Balochi could not enjoy an equal status to Persian in Afghanistan, after the short-lived revolution of Noor Muhammad Taraki). Pashto and Balochi have always enjoyed friendly relations with one another, and both languages include the others metaphors and proverbs. Language and culture become more enriched between immediate neighbors. Throughout the history of the Baloch, there have indeed been periods of both war and peace between Baloch tribes and Pashtun tribes–but they have happened under rules or codes, and both cultures and languages have been exchanged peacefully.


Persian is not only the language of those who lord over the Iranian Baloch. It was the state and official language of the Khans of Qallat from the beginning till 1948 in Pakistani Balochistan as well. Along with Persian, Arabic was also taught in mosques. This exchange has only increased in our current times–particularly among the Balochi of Afghanistan and Iran. With Persian remaining a dominant language in education, media and travel, its use has flourished–according to research carried out by Karina Jahani, the relationship between Balochi and Persian goes back 2000 years.

Within Iran, where many Baloch continue to live, languages other than Persian remain suppressed–the state believes they are harmful. Even though they have read Saadi, Rumi and Hafiz for centuries, and despite the official position of Persian in the courts of the Khans of Qallat, half of the Balochistan feels that Persian has gripped their language by the throat. Persian is now met with the same suspicion that many express when they think of SAVAK (the Organization for Intelligence and National Security–the security institution that served the Shah of Iran). As a result, two languages that had once shared a friendship are now split. Once their origin, words, grammar, sweetness and impact were shared–today, a sectarian state has become a cruel enemy of the brotherhood and friendship that they once shared.


Unlike Balochi, Sindhi is not a derived or imported language. It emerged and developed from the languages of the Indic group–Sanskrit–all of which remain alive within Pakistan today despite the ups and downs that they have faced. Today, Sindhi is being moulded into our contemporary times.

In the early 1970s, Sindhi received the same status that Urdu holds within in educational and governmental offices. There are many publications in Sindhi, but dominating media outlets controlled by the likes of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) have collectively limited them to celebrations of Ajrak day and Topi day. Except for some subtle differences in the shape, words and sentences of the two languages, Balochi and Sindhi are almost completely similar. Shah Latif has used a lot of Balochi words in his poetry. And there many elements of Sindhi which Mast Twakali used to beautify his poetry. Populations are so intermingled that Baloch and Sindhis speak one others languages fluently. Sindhi is among one of the mother tongues that the majority of Baloch people speak.


The second major language of the Baloch tribe is Brahui. Many Rakhshani Balochi speakers also speak Brahui–both languages can be called mother tongues among them. In fact, many tribes in Sindh and Putt Feeder use both of these languages as mother languages. Researchers have tried to include Brahui with Drawrri. But the presence of certain words, and the absence of masculine and feminine, means that Brahui cannot really be considered part of Drawarri. That is why they see it closer to Balochi.

There are a lot of similarities between Balochi and Brahui. These languages have a long and beautiful history of exchanging words, proverbs and poetry. Tribal politics has meant that these languages are so close that they are almost experienced as one–something that we should be careful about. We must combat the wish and effort to merge Brahui with Balochi–iIn the same way we must discourage the language chauvinism of Brahui.


The language we know as jadgali, yadgaali or yagdaal is actually Siraiki–the language normally associated with southern Punjabis. Somewhere, I have read that in Balochi jagdaal means “farmer”. Both languages have intermingled, and increased one another sweetness. Almost every Baloch of Dera Ghazi Khan, Ismaeel Khan, Raajan Poor and Osta Mohammad speaks Siraiki as his mother tongue. It is amazing that an many words and idioms are used in the same manner not only in these both languages but in Sindhi as well (like ubha, adda, aalus, aanoo, bholoo, berri, paarat, paarr, paahoo, jatt, jhaati, jerra, chitti, dullo, darwoh, dugg, saang, sindhoo, sanj, korrki, gullar, gulla, luth, luj, baha, bewass, poorhiya, pur aaf, phurri, teater, chonch, daniha, gas, muddy).

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