Lahore boasts a noticeable population of Sikhs, yet the city is without a single school where Gurmukhi script is taught. Places like PILAC are trying to fill the vacuum by offering crash courses
Lahore, the capital city of Punjab and home to Punjabi language, art and culture, is scrambling to have what would be its first Gurmukhi teaching school.
In the absence of such a school, lovers of the language, especially the Sikh community, remain deprived of their basic right to learn to read and write their mother tongue in their preferred script. For them, it’s also a religious concern because their holy books are all written in Gurmukhi script.
Gurmukhi is currently taught at only a few schools in the country — one in Nankana Sahib, two in Peshawar, and one at Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal. There is no such facility in Lahore yet, despite the city having a noticeable population of Sikhs.
PML-N MPA Sardar Ramesh Singh Arora says, “Revival of Gurmukhi is the need of the hour. It’s a language of the Punjab, the motherland of Punjabi folklore.”
Punjabi language has two scripts. One is Shahmukhi, which is derived from Persian, and widely taught/studied — in Lahore and other parts of the Punjab in Pakistan. The second, Gurmukhi, is influenced by Persian and Sanskrit, and officially recognised in Indian Punjab.
The way the language is spoken, is very similar and Punjabi-speaking people in Pakistan and India have no difficulty communicating orally. However, when it comes to reading and writing, both are completely different.
There’s a long-standing demand for a Gurmukhi school. Former president of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC), and the present chairman of Baba Guru Nanak Welfare Society, Sardar Bishen Singh, recalls meeting Salmaan Taseer, the then governor, in 2010, and pleadings with him to seek land for the purpose.”
There’s a long-standing demand for a Gurmukhi school. Former president of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC), and the present chairman of Baba Guru Nanak Welfare Society, Sardar Bishen Singh recalls how he met Salmaan Taseer, the then governor, in 2010, and pleaded with him to seek land for the purpose.”
According to Singh, as Sikh community is largely based in Model Town, the PSGPC proposed a piece of land in the area. More recently, the committee made a formal request to the late Naeem Ul Haq, then special assistant to PM on political affairs, and later to Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, the federal minister for religious affairs and inter-faith harmony. “We are waiting for a favourable response,” he says, adding that the PSGPC has formed a four-member committee to come up with a formal proposal for the project.
Traditionally, Gurmukhi has had 35 alphabets. Modern Gurmukhi has 36 consonants (vianjan), nine vowel symbols (l ga m tr ), two symbols for nasal sounds (bind and ipp ), and one symbol which duplicates the sound of consonant (addak).
The language was partly developed from the Lhanda script, and standardised by Guru Angad. The Guru Granth Sahib is traditionally written in this script.
The Gurmukhi script thrived under Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule in the Punjab. However, it never had the status of the official script. In order to promote it, several institutions in Lahore offer Gurmukhi courses. These include, Punjab Institute of Language Art and Culture (PILAC), Government College University (GCU), University of the Punjab (PU), and Lahore College for Women University (LCWU). The universities have integrated Gurmukhi teaching in their language classes of Punjabi at masters’ and MPhil levels.
PILAC director Muhammad Asim Chaudhry tells TNS about a three-month certification course that has been offered at the institute since 2009. “Usually, a batch of at least 20 students is given 24 classes over a period of three months. So far, five batches have completed the course.”
He shares an interesting observation: “Out of the 100-odd people who studied Gurmukhi [at the PILAC], none was a Sikh.”
Replying to a query, he says that a new certification course offers both Shahmukhi and Gurmukhi teaching to give a comprehensive preview and understanding of Punjabi language and its scripts. “Our seven saintly poets which include Baba Farid and Shah Hussain, used Shahmukhi. Only Baba Guru Nanak Sahib used Gurmukhi.”
For comparison’s sake, he also says that whereas efforts are on to promote Gurmukhi in Lahore and other parts of the Punjab, “Shahmukhi is not taught in the Indian Punjab.
Prof Dr Nabeela Rehman the chairperson of Department of Punjabi at PU, says that since 2002 Gurmukhi has been part of post-graduate degree programmes at the university. “Nations excel when knowledge is imparted in native languages. I’ve always advocated making Punjabi [written in both Shahmuki and Gurmukhi scripts] as the medium of instruction.”
According to the 1981 census, Punjabi (including Seraiki, Hindko and other variations) is “commonly spoken in household” by 60.43 percent of Pakistanis, followed by Pashto for 13.14 percent, Sindhi for 11.77 percent, Urdu for 7.60 percent and Balochi for 3.02 percent.
Kalyan Singh an assistant professor at GCU, has written Gurmukhi Ustad to be taught in language classes. He insists that the Punjab badly needs a Gurmukhi school: “Our children are Punjabi-speaking. Our rich culture and heritage have deep roots in the Punjabi language. Our classical literature is in Punjabi. Without introducing Gurmukhi at the school level, we cannot expect our kids to outsmart others.”