Bahauddin Zakariya Univeristy (BZU) in Multan is going to begin full-fledged MA Seraiki classes. This is good news. Seraiki is an ancient language with a prestigious intellectual history and a rich literature, especially poetry. As with most regional languages in Pakistan, we have not done full justice in nourishing this heritage.
There is also much resentment in the greater Seraik-speaking area (which includes Southern Punjab, and parts of upper Sindh and Eastern Baluchistan) and a sense of injustice about how this region and its heritage has been treated, especially by Lahore-centric Northern Punjab (by way of disclosure, I should say I myself am from Northern Punjab).
As such, the decision is not just appropriate but politically significant. According to a news story in The News (26 June, 2006), however, it could soon turn controversial.
Welcoming start of MA Seraiki classes at the Bahauddin Zakariya University, literary circles urged its vice chancellor to appoint a person fluent in spoken and written Seraiki with a grip on its literature as head of the department.
Reportedly, there are “speculations circling in [Multan] that a person who neither speaks, reads nor writes Seraiki is being made the head of the department.” In response, an open letter has been sent to the BZU vice chancellor Prof Dr Naseer Ahmed Khan. The letter’s tone signifies deep distrust and apprehension and does not have the sweetness one usually associates with the Seraiki language:
“Dear VC Sahib, Multan is not your birthplace nor you have spent a long time in this area. You have joined BZU as vice chancellor and will return back upon retirement. You know little about the language and culture of the Seraiki belt but you are respectable and most prestigious guest for the people of Multan. We have been expecting goodwill from you and the people of Multan believe that you will have to take up matters of the Seraiki department seriously and sympathetically… please give due respect to Seraiki language as your mother tongue because God has selected you for this great assignment. The Seraiki department should be set up without political prejudices and the people of Multan would remember the vice chancellor forever after his retirement.”
In the larger scheme of Pakistan’s politics, this is a minor issue that the powers that be will not pay attention to. That, however, will be a mistake.
If, in fact, someone who does not read or speak Seraiki is about to be installed as the head of department, then that is just plain wrong. But it would also signify one more act of disrespect and disregard against a community that already considers itself marginalized. It is the cumilation of things like this that breeds the situation we now see in Baluchistan. As a society, we ignore such things at our own peril.