September really was a month that united many Punjabis – the subject ‘One Nation, one language’. The controversy first started when Union Home Minister Amit Shah pushed the agenda. Gurdas Maan also got involved, that was the catalyst for the subject to come to the fore.
Journalist and writer for the Citizen India, RAJEEV KHANNA ventured to the recent ‘Mela Ghadari Babeyan Da’ to seek opinion on the matter. The overall attitude of the people at the mela – Punjab is talking tough on language.
The scenario could be best gauged at the ‘Mela Ghadari Babeyan Da’, a unique annual event held in Jalandhar to mark the Ghadar Movement were progressive groups thousands of students, farmers, people’s organizations and cultural activists gather to express themselves on various historical and contemporary issues.
This time the overt theme was of mother tongue Punjabi, with the issue being played to the hilt at the events that began on November 1 and ended in the early hours of Saturday. The artists and students used the folk idiom to send across a message on the day that also marked the reorganization of Punjab and Haryana.
The traditional ‘Jaago’ that is normally sung by members of the bride’s family on the occasion of marriages has attained a symbolic relevance in Punjab over the decades as it is seen as a tool to wake up society to current developments. The ‘Jaago’ at the Mela saw people taking the round of the Desh Bhagat Yaadgar Hall premises singing political slogans in the traditional, focusing on the need to protect and promote the mother tongue Punjabi. The participants held aloft banners and placards expressing their sentiment.
One also came across youth wearing slogans on their shirts about the issue. There were girls wearing the slogan ‘Sikh lo bhawein boliyan hazaar, Par Maa boli na karo visaar’ (You may and should learn a thousand languages but should not give up your mother tongue).
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Then there was another slogan that read ‘Maa boli zindabad, Bhashai daaba murdabad’ (Long live mother tongue, down with suppression in the name of language).
It was then left to one of the most popular folk singers of resistance Jagseer Jeeda from Malwa region of the state to put the stage on fire as he started his performance with the song ‘Bol Punjabi shera, bol Punjabi ve’ (Come on, the Lions of Punjab; Express yourselves in Punjabi).
In yet another song of his, he talked about the dual character of the people promoting Hindutva ideology in the 1960s asking the rural folk in Punjabi to enlist their mother tongue as Hindi.
Jeeda also made use of another traditional song of ‘Jugni’ that is often used to talk about prevailing scenarios in the society. He spoke of the Jugni of Delhi that often orchestrates riots, turns a blind eye to lynchings and the plunder of natural wealth.
“We are carrying out a drive to make the people aware about the designs to impose Hindi on them. We are not against Hindi as a language but we oppose the move of its imposition and thereby giving secondary status to the other languages. India is a diverse country and that diversity of cultures, languages and other aspects have to be preserved. This theory of ‘One nation, one language’ is dictatorial,” Gurman, a research scholar at Guru Nanak Dev University at Amritsar, said. Along with his friends he had put up a stall named ‘Maa Moli Chetna Manch’ at the event. He said that the progressive organizations in the state will be holding a convention on the issue in Bathinda on November 10 where people from Haryana and Rajasthan too will be coming.
“There is a move to project several languages like Bhojpuri, Haryanvi and Rajasthani languages as sublanguages of Hindi which was never true. It again points to a sinister design,” he added.
The issue of Punjabi language has been a very touchy one in Punjab. It had flared up recently in the state when a professor had used the occasion of ‘Hindi Diwas’ to say that they should just wait for two years to see the ‘real power of Hindi’. This had led to an outburst that saw common people and intellectuals rising as one. The masses and intellectuals both in Punjab and even those among the Punjabi diaspora had not even spared popular folk singer Gurdas Mann for allegedly going soft on the issue.
These days one can see Punjabis using all sorts of medium to express their sentiments on the issue. They are going to the extent of getting Punjabi Gurumukhi alphabets painted on their cars with slogans promoting their mother tongue.
‘Mela Ghadari Babeyan Da’ is a unique event where one can come across the common people from remote corners of the state and even outside as they descend with their families. One can see the enthusiasm among many semi-literate parents as they visit one bookstall after the other encouraging their accompanying children to read and purchase books. Those who are fond of books throng to purchase the best of literature that is made available to them in translated Punjabi versions. Over the last few years, the participation of publishers promoting Dalit and Islamic literature has gone up.
“Our motive of coming here is to help remove the misunderstandings and misconceptions about Islam. We bring them books in their mother tongue for easy understanding,” Sadiq Ali Dhillon, a publisher from Malerkotla told this reporter.
The film screenings and cultural performances are very popular as they talk about the issues on the ground. This year there were plays about Udham Singh and also those taking on the regime at the centre for its acts. One could hear strains of songs like one that spoke, “Now we will have green chillies as cannon fodder and lemons as bullets on the border very soon.” The singer was taking a jibe at the ‘Shastra Pujan’ of newly acquired Rafale jets in France.
The visitors to the event including some NRIs were of the opinion that such events are the need of the hour. Not to be forgotten, another aspect of the event is that the visitors are offered free meals by the organizers for the days the event is on and the ingredients including Ghee come from donations by the masses and even institutions like the Gurudwaras.