STANDARD Mandarin is the official as well as the most widely spoken language of China. ‘Mandarin’ is also the term used for a Chinese bureaucrat, thus underscoring the importance of knowing the native language if one happens to be a government functionary.
With this fact in mind can one imagine becoming a Chinese mandarin without the ability to read, write or speak Mandarin? Similarly, can we imagine anybody without any knowledge of the English language appearing for and passing the entrance exam for the United States elite civil service?
These scenarios are not that far-fetched when one considers that someone without the ability to read, write, theoretically speak, or even understand Urdu, the national language of the country, can enter the elite civil service of Pakistan. The CSS exam, which recruits the top civil servants, has English as the pivotal criterion for selection. A candidate who does not even know the Urdu alphabet can pass the CSS exam with flying colours as there are no compulsory papers that are to be attempted in the language.
Urdu and English should both be official languages.
As far as the interview goes, the inferiority complex that emulates our masters of yesteryear is so deeply entrenched that the inability to fluently converse in English is discrediting, but the inability to converse in Urdu is an advantage of sorts.
Under such circumstances the cabinet’s decision on May 14, this year that Urdu would be the official language as per Article 251 of the Constitution like so many other decisions is an attempt to appear politically correct and nothing else.
The federal government also issued notices to the heads of various government departments to suggest ways to implement Urdu as the official language. Had I been heading a department, my response would be that a country where the calibre of an officer is judged by his drafting ability in English rather than the ingenuity of his ideas or integrity of his character has a long way to go before it can take up such fanciful pursuits.
A time frame of 15 years provided by the Constitution to implement Urdu as the official language lapsed long ago. English continues to be spoken in an official capacity despite the fact that many among even government servants find it difficult to express themselves in it.
One comes across many instances in government offices where the content of a presentation is clouded by the nervousness of the presenter who has to stick to a foreign language. Many times pertinent suggestions are blocked by the awkwardness associated with interjecting Urdu in the highly formal official setting.
For diplomats such a prerequisite is understandable but what about administrative jobs? The assistant commissioner who has to interact with the hawkers encroaching roadsides or the policeman who has to control protesting masses does not require such proficiency. In fact, they must be well versed in Urdu as well as regional languages to do their job better. Sadly, such considerations have never been part of the selection or training of civil servants.
A typical chore at most government offices is referred to as draft for approval (DFA in official parlance) where a junior officer puts up the DFA of a senior officer who like a meticulous English teacher makes some changes to the structure of sentences to make it more smart — the content is hardly noticed; the language never goes unnoticed.
If the cabinet is serious about implementing its decision, for a start we can adopt both English and Urdu as official languages. Neighbouring India has both Hindi and English as official languages.
Secondly, the lower staff should be appreciated for the use of Urdu rather than being looked down upon.
Thirdly, it is disappointing that recent changes in the CSS exam syllabus continue to discriminate against Urdu.
The CSS exam should have at least an Urdu essay paper, which should hold the same significance as English essays — failing the essay part means failure in the exam no matter how high one scores in the rest of it.
Lastly, it is a shout out to officers to own their national language and start noting on files in Urdu; if a head of the department starts this practice the lower ranks would go out of their way to follow.
However, I am afraid that years of efforts to emulate the ‘gora sahib’ of yesteryear has left us like those caged birds who have forgotten to fly.
There is hardly a Daagh in our ranks who can proudly say “Urdu hai jiska naam humhin jaantay hai Daagh/ Saray jahan mein dhoom hamari zubaan ke hai”. (It is Daagh who knows the one they call Urdu/ it is his language that echoes around the world.)
The writer is a former civil servant.
A Lost Cause | Syed Saadat
Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2015