COMMUNALISM IN THE BRITISH PUNJAB DURING 1937 TO 1939: FOCUS ON RELIGION AND LANGUAGE
Akhtar Hussain Sandhu
Associate Professor Govt. Islamia College, Civil Lines, Lahore, Pakistan.
María Isabel Maldonado García
Institute of Languages University of the Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan.
Punjabi, an Indo-European, Indo-Iranian and Indo-Aryan language, is written in the Gurmukhi and the Shahmukhi scripts. Traditionally, the Gurmukhi script is associated with the religious books of the Sikhs as the script seems to have derived from the Sharada script and was later on standardized by Guru Angad Dev in the 16th century. However, there are different theories as to how the proto-Gurmukhi script emerged. The word Gurmukhi means ‘from the mouth of the Guru.’ On the other hand, ‘Shahmukhi’ means ‘from King's mouth.’ The script is based on the Nastalique style of the Persian and Arabic script. Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims of the Punjab spoke Punjabi as a first language or mother tongue but they supported their traditional languages.
Lala Lajpat Rai, Punjabi leader of Arya Samaj, had not even learned the Hindi alphabets but he supported Hindi language. The Sikh cultural and religious identity was rooted in Punjabi, the Gurmukhi script. Hindus supported Hindi in the Devanagari script, while the Muslim connection and identity was based on Urdu in the Nastaliq script.
This difference on the scripts according to the religious affiliation of the speakers historically gave birth to the communal dispute as language became a base of communitarian identity. For example, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in 1860’s sensed communitarian bifurcation when Hindus suggested Hindi script instead of Urdu. In April 1882 Charles Aitchison, the Governor of Punjab, was petitioned by Guru Singh Baba from the Sikh National Association to make Punjabi written in Gurmukhi the medium of instruction for the Sikh community, to which the Governor replied that excluding the Sikh children from instruction in Urdu would place them at an extremely disadvantaged position with respect to their fellow countrymen as it would be impossible for them to continue their studies beyond
Communalism in the British Punjab During 1937 to 1939: Focus on 7 Religion and Language
elementary education to middle and high school. In this sense, the Sikhs never achieved their target. Sikhs with support from the Hindus maintained their demands for Gurmukhi or Punjabi scripts to be used schools and universities. , Sardar Jodh Singh stressed the learning of Ghurmuki by all Sikhs, at the Sikh Educational Conference that took place at Lyallpur. The Conference gave birth to several resolutions for introduction of Gurmukhi in the educational institutions.
During the years before the partition the script and language issues continued. The Sikhs who were against Quaid-i-Azam were relaxed when Nawab Khizer Tiwana, the last Punjab Premier, refused to pay allegiance to the Muslim League leader because this meant from a linguistic point of view that they were in a better position to claim their Gurmukhi rights apart from others. Other efforts in favor of the Gurmukhi script took place such as the meeting between Quaid-i-Azam and Kartar Singh, to which Quaid-i-Azam responded favorably as well as the meeting between the Akali leaders and Maharaja Kapurthala.