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Published Date: Jul 1, 1999

The Language of Employment: The Case of Pakistan (R-23)

Tariq Rahman, SDPI


One cannot find employment in a modern state without being able to read, write and speak (in that order) a certain, standardized, written language.  In short, to be part of the salariat in Pakistan one must know a certain language the characteristics of which will be investigated in this paper.  First, however, let us look at the concept of the ‘salariat’ introduced by Hamza Alvi, the Pakistani sociologist, about which more will follow.  This concept is very useful for understanding the overall dynamism of South Asian politics and will be used in this paper to understand the relationship between the way language is related to employment and power.  The rise of the Hindu and Muslim identities in pre-partition India, the demand and struggle for Pakistan and finally the gory drama of the partition itself is traceable to the struggle of the Hindu and Muslim salariats for jobs and power during British rule and later.  Similarly the attention-grabbing language riots – such as the firing on the pro-Bengali students of Dacca University on 21 February 1952 and the horrible Sindhi-Mohajir riots in January 1971 and July 1972 – are also consequences of salariat politics.  Less dramatic phenomena which are traceable to ethnic politics i.e the struggle for power between salaraits are : the resistance to the building of the Kalabagh Dam by Sindh, N.W.F.P and Balochistan; the demand of the Pashto-speaking people to call their province Pakhtunkhwa instead of the N.W.F.P and the alliance of political parties to make all the provinces of Pakistan autonomous states and turn the federation into a confederation (News 03 October 1998).  Let us then take Hamza Alavi’s definition of the salariat as a starting point and then go on to see which language, or languages, does the salariat pursue and for what reasons.