“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his mother language that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela

The age of globalisation has seen thousands of people emigrate to other countries in search of better employment and educational opportunities. Sometimes people migrate in order to escape conflicts at home and to find safer and more stable living conditions abroad. This movement from one place to another affects peoples’ mother tongue.

Language is not simply an assortment of words but an entity that connects an individual to his family, identity, culture, music, beliefs and wisdom. It is the carrier of history, traditions, customs and folklore from one generation to another. Without language, no culture can sustain its existence. Our language is actually our identity.

The mother language plays a crucial role in shaping an individual’s personality as well as his or her psychological development, thoughts and emotions. Our childhood is the most important stage of our lives and children can comprehend concepts and skills that are taught to them in their mother tongue quite fast.

Many psychologists believe that a strong bond between a child and his or her parents (especially the mother) is established through exhibition of love, compassion, body language and verbal communication; language.

According to education specialist, Hurisa Guvercin, “When a person speaks his mother tongue, a direct connection is established between heart, brain and tongue. Our personality, character, modesty, shyness, defects, skills, and all other hidden characteristics become truly revealed through the mother tongue because the sound of the mother tongue in the ear and its meaning in the heart give us trust and confidence”.

Unesco Director General Irina Bokova believes that, “mother languages in a multilingual world are essential components of quality education, which in itself is the foundation for empowering women, men and their societies”.

There is no harm in learning another language for it opens up new windows of opportunities and helps us understand life better. A new language gives us a new worldview and makes us more aware of the cultures, lifestyles, customs and beliefs of other people.

The 200 million people in Pakistan speak 72 different provincial and regional tongues, including the official languages, Urdu and English. According to the Parliamentary Paper 2014, 10 out of these 72 languages are either “in trouble” or “near extinction”. The provincial languages of Pakistan are spoken and used in the four provinces – Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. However, these languages, with the exception of Sindhi, have no official status in Pakistan.

Since the most crucial factor is the attitude of those who speak a particular language, it is essential that the state creates a social and political environment that encourages multilingualism and respect for minority languages. It should enact laws that recognise and protect minority languages, encourage an education system that promotes mother-tongue instruction and create creative collaboration between community members and linguists to develop a writing system and introduce formal instruction in these languages.

Lok Virsa’s stance in terms of mother languages is very clear. It considers all the languages spoken in Pakistan as national languages. For the last two years, Lok Virsa has been actively promoting cultural diversity and celebrating mother languages.

To commemorate the UN’s Mother Language Day, a two-day festival titled ‘Our Languages – Our Identity’ will be held in Islamabad on February 18 and 19, 2017. The event will provide a unique opportunity to experience Pakistan’s linguistic and cultural diversity: more than 150 writers, poets and cultural activists will represent Pakistan’s mother languages. This will be followed by a musical evening and poetic night where sessions and mushairas will be held in various national languages.

The aim of the festival is to promote Pakistan’s linguistic and cultural diversity as an instrument of social harmony, peace and tolerance. It also aims to enlighten the new generation of Pakistan by showcasing a wide range of literary works in these languages.

In addition, Lok Virsa has been organising summer camps for children over the last two years to familiarise them with different regional languages and give them an idea about today’s multicultural world with pluralistic identities. Lok Virsa, through regional exhibitions, also promotes the music of regional languages.

It is time all regional languages are given the status of national languages which will bring their speakers from the fringes to the mainstream. If we want to empower our people, we need to give them the opportunity to communicate in their mother language so that they do not feel disenfranchised.

The writer is the media adviser of Lok Virsa.

Goodbye winters..!! Folks here comes spring again with colors, hopes and joy. This colorful season brings lovers together makes trees greener and flowers sprout. People of this land have a royal way of welcoming all forms of weather in great spirits with a jubilant persona. However, the way in which spring season is celebrated is a self-evident exception for spring marks break from the intellectual sorrows of December, frostbite of January and usher in the arid arena of Baisakhi by passing through the old-school verandas of blooming flowers in March. I celebrated it with my people under the bright sky at Lok Virsa with dance, music, food and colorful kites. On 26th of February Lok Virsa celebrated Basant with full zeal and zest to welcome spring in Islamabad. And the lucky ones who made it to Lok Virsa dressed in yellow attire, chunri, gajray and the irresistible beat of dhol and chimta played by the celebrated artists of Jhang.
To top it all a song competition was arranged bringing singers both armature and professionals from across Punjab to present their original songsand special bhangra. To encourage the singers Lok Virsa announced cash prizes for the top three winners of this competition. A variety of different stalls were arranged for people like traditional food, traditional dresses, flowers and jewelry charmed the participants and crowds were seen on the stall of kites. Thankfully, the management of Lok Virsa made security a priority and made this colorful festival safer for people.

Special bhangra was arranged by Lok Virsa

An eighty years old but young at heart Wazeer Begum joined us to celebrate the festival of colors. “I love this festival and I cannot thank Lok Virsa enough for arranging this event. I am enjoying dhol and bhangra here.”

Women are busy at Chunri stall… because Lok Virsa knows that nothing charms women like shopping.

Celebration of spring is meaningless without flowers, Lok Virsa arranged special gajra stall for women.

Dr Fouzia Saeed is busy with her friends at Chunri stall…. Yes you can’t stop women from shopping.

We can’t keep calm we are ready for Bhangra….. Fazal Jatt is warming up audience with his magnificent performance.

Ballay Ballay way gudday nu charha mundya..….Niazi Boys are performing with Chimta…..

Ayesha, one of the song competitors is restlessly waiting for the results.

Finally the wait is over……Executive Director Lok Virsa Dr Fouzia Saeed is felicitating the top three winners of Basant Song Competition.

This colorful festival ended with the short speech of Dr Fouzia Saeed in which she thanked the singers, dancers and participants for gracing the occasion, adding “I am glad to see that people came here with families and friends and celebrated this festival with the Lok Virsa family. Today the real purpose of this event materialized”. Further she said that “Lok Virsa will keep on providing creative space to talented people from every artistic field”.

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” (Ludwig Wittgenstein).

Languages are the best medium of expression and to express is the most beautiful face of the universe. A child starts picking up the words even before his birth and the first sentence he utters to seek the attention of his loved ones always remains very near to his heart. Mother languages are the true asserts of any community. Melina marchetta beautifully depicted “Because without our language, we have lost ourselves. Who are we without our words?”

Lok Virsa always take big steps to promote languages, cultures and art. A Two-day festival was organized on 18th and 19th February 2017 named as “Mother languages and literary festival” and the purpose was to promote the regional languages of Pakistan, to celebrate Pakistan’s linguistic and cultural diversity and to encourage reading in other languages. The festival was hosted by the Indus Cultural Forum, Lok Virsa and Strengthening Participatory Organization (SPO) with support from the Foundation Society Institute (Fosi), Sindh Government’s Department for Culture, Tourism and Heritage and the Society for Alternate Media and Research.

The festival was organized in connection with UNESCO’s International Mother Languages Day, which is observed on Feb 21 every year.

Over 150 writers, intellectuals, critics, poets and artists from across Pakistan who write in over 15 languages have participated in the festival to discuss the diversity of languages in Pakistan from a historical perspective and the challenges they are facing.

Various topics related to language, literature and culture, book launching, poetry recitals, musical events, screenings, performances, book stalls, food courts, cultural exhibitions and mobile libraries were the part of festival. Books in Sindhi, Balochi, Pashtu, Brahvi, Seriaki, Punjabi and other languages and their Urdu and English translations were also exhibited.

Lok Virsa Executive Director Fouzia Saeed said that “The festival is one of her organization’s signature events and provide a platform to the people to interact with writers from various languages. Our national heritage is in mother tongue. If we fail to protect the languages spoken in Pakistan, our heritage will evaporate along with the languages,”

She also said. “People should have knowledge about mother languages. A person can learn seven to eight languages easily. So many languages should be taught to people, and they should speak many languages.”
Fosi representative Nargis Sultana said “recognizing the importance of various languages is vital for empowering communities and reducing discrimination. The festival will help to establish connections between language policy and planning and better learning outcomes via indigenous languages”.

Important topics discussed in session at the festival were:
• Protection and promotion of ignored languages of Pakistan.
• Treatment and representation of women in mother languages and literature.
• Launching of new novels in mother languages.
• People’s history in mother languages.
• Role of mother language in promoting critical thinking.
• Launching of new poetry books in mother languages.
• Resistance literature.
• Market economy of languages in Pakistan.
• Short stories in mother languages.
• Multi-lingual mushaira of women poets.
• Languages and technology.
• Cinema in mother languages.
• Indus valley evolution of languages and culture.
• Impact of media on mother languages.
• Nazam in mother languages.
• Language policy and planning- south Asian experience.
• Selected readings from mother languages.
• Novel in mother languages.
• One message many voices.
• Obituaries.

The most liked session was the mushaira in mother languages in which all the female poets and the way they presented their thoughts was adorable. W.H Auden once said “A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language”. Regional poets proved that when love and feelings are expressed in the language you belongs to, the effect multiplies itself.

Along with this an international award winning documentary on the life of Sanam Marvi was shown for the first time in Pakistan. Sanam Marvi was present among us and her magical performance was really a source of comfort for the tensed souls. Audience enjoyed Dhamal, bhangra and regional dances. Lok virsa is a trend setter in discovering the hidden talent from under privileged areas. We are proud to be the only institution having the cultural representation of all provinces and areas of Pakistan.

Aristotle, the Greek philosopher writes “Man is a social animal. He who lives without society is either a beast or God”

Life is all about happiness and as human beings social interaction with our fellow beings not only brings happiness but help us grow our capacity to learn language, familiarize with cultures, enquire and think, play and work.

We are dependent on social heritage and as Professor Park says, “Man is not born human but to be made human”. Thus our social heritage that is a mixture of customs, traditions, morals, attitudes, festivals, folklore, beliefs and ideals not only make us who we are but bound us to pass it on from one generation to another.

Festivals have both social and economic angles. In the chaotic and stressful planet we inhibit where happiness is overshadowed by negativity and insecurities, the need was felt for something that could bring some positivity and celebrations. Thus the birth of festivals happened giving us opportunity to forget all our worries and celebrate the positive side of life even if for few days.

Festivals act like stress releaser and help us to balance our emotions. More positivity naturally lowers negativity. It also provide an opportunity to reduce friction bringing together and bind estranged friends and relatives in a bond of love.

Nothing brings people together like festivals. It plays a pivotal role in nation building bringing people from every religious economic and social background together. If we look at the fascinating journey of human evolution, we understand that human beings do not invent or create something unless it is required. There is no written history that when exactly festival celebrations started but in Ancient Greece and Rome, festivals were celebrated linked with religion, social organization and political processes.

Agriculture has significantly contributed to the tradition of festival celebration in addition to religions, folklore and traditions. It is such a vital resource that many festivals across the planet are associated with harvest time. Religious festivals like Christmas, Rosh Hashanah, Diwali, and Eid have gathered cultural significance too over the centuries. Events of historical significance, such as important military victories or other nation-building events generally called Victory Day also provide the impetus for a festival. An early example is the festival established by Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Rameses III celebrating his victory over the Libyans.

Festivals contributing greatly to a sense of belonging for religious, social, or geographical groups, contributing to social cohesiveness. Festivals that focus on cultural or ethnic topics also seek to inform community members of their traditions; the involvement of elders sharing stories and experience provides a means for unity among families.

On the economic front Festivals provides stimulus to economic activities. It provides employment opportunities to people and reportedly Basant was banned back in 2005, around 150,000 people in Lahore and 180,000 people in Gujranwala and Kasur had lost their jobs due to the ban on kite flying. Recent ban on Valentine Day also deprived many from earning by selling flowers, gifts and balloons.

Festivals have historically been a great source of entertainment especially before the advent of mass-produced entertainment. Entertainment is important as it brings people together and is a good way for the entire family to bond. It diverts people’s attention from their demanding lives and amuses them in their leisure time.
In the backdrop of recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan, it becomes all the more important to revive and celebrate the many festivals that are either banned by the government or ignored by the society at large as being unsacred. Pakistan is home to dozens of having different festivals. To provide an enabling environment to them to celebrate their festivals would certainly bring all communities together, familiarizing with each other customs and traditions and thus helping in nation building in true sense.

It was heartening how members from civil society defied terrorists and celebrated the festival of Dhmal at the Mazaar of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. Launching and closing the two-day mother languages festival at Lok Virsa Islamabad with Dhmal by the delegates and participants was indeed a fitting response to the obscurantist mindset of the terrorists. One delegate rightly said ‘our response to the terrorists is Dhamal’.

Lok Virsa is the only institution of Pakistan that has been very active over the last couple of years in reviving and celebrating cultural and religious festivals. Lok virsa proudly owns and promotes all cultures under one roof. After successfully holding two-day long mother languages festival, this week we will be celebrating Basant with a variety of programs such as Basant song competition, food stalls, chunri stalls, dhol bhangra and kite making by master artisans. Next month Lok Virsa will be celebrating the festival of Nowroz presenting food, local dances, music and folk performances of Gilgit- Baltistan. We will also be celebrating festivals of Holi, Diwali, Christmas in addition to Rabab and Saroz festivals. Such festivals bring us together in a bond of love irrespective of color, creed, race and religion.

We believe that Life is a gift that needs to be celebrated and so are the festivals.

The writer is media adviser of Lok Virsa and can be reached at