State Control and its Impact on
Language in Balochistan
The purpose of the present article will be to present certain aspects of the sociolinguistic situation among one of the least studied ethnic groups in the Middle East, the Baloch, who inhabit the south-eastern corner of the Iranian linguistic area. It is an area where the dominance of the state is relatively recent, and where modern society with a monetary economy, a settled lifestyle, mass education, state administration etc. is just being established.
It is particularly interesting to study language-related decisions of the state, and the implementation of these decisions in a region like Balochistan, where until recently there were no such phenomena as e.g. language planning, education, mass media, newspapers or administrative language. However, in Iran the Persian language and in Pakistan Urdu and English have started to play a constantly growing role in Balochistan, something which is by many Baloch felt as a threat to both their language and their distinct ethnic identity. It must be stressed that modernity is not regarded as negative, but the Baloch intellectuals face the dilemma of how to retain their ethnic and linguistic diversity at the same time as they seek active participation in an increasingly globalised world.
The Historical Background
The border between Iran and Pakistan, which cuts through the traditional land of the Baloch, has since the time of its demarcation in the late nineteenth century been constantly questioned and frequently ignored by the Baloch living on both sides of it. It is called the Goldsmid line, and was drawn by a border commission headed by the British general Goldsmid, which also held representatives from Tehran and the Balochi Khanate of Kalat (see below) (Breseeg 2001: 133-134, Hosseinbor 2000: 73-80). However, it has had a considerable impact on linguistic issues, and it is therefore interesting to study the position of Balochi on both sides of this border.
There is very little known about the early history of the Baloch, but two main theories prevail as to when they arrived in their present habitat, which includes south-eastern Iran, south-western Pakistan and southern Afghanistan. The ‘native theory’ argues that the core of the Baloch settled in Balochistan and mixed with other local peoples as early as 2000 years ago, as a continued movement of the Aryan tribes that had already invaded the Iranian plateau from the north. The ‘migration theory’, supported by the indigenous epic tradition as related in the epic poetry on genealogies and the wanderings of the Baloch tribes, suggests that the Baloch arrived in Balochistan from the north-west considerably more recently, some time around the tenth century A.D.
In fact, the ballads suggest a Semitic origin for the Baloch and a close relation to the prophet Muhammed. This could, however, be seen as a pseudo-historic way of legitimising the Baloch as good and orthodox Muslims. Other origins, such as Turkic or Indian, have also been suggested for the Baloch (Dames 1904: 7). It may well be that the Baloch earlier in their history were ‘a series of tribal communities not sharing any feelings of common ethnicity’ (Spooner 1989: 607), and that even though linguistic evidence suggests the likelihood that at least a core group were of Indo-European origin who had migrated from the north-west, ‘Arab groups could have found their way into the heterogeneous tribal population that eventually assimilated Baluch identity east of Kerman’ (Spooner 1989: 609). Arab historians from the ninth and tenth centuries A.D. associate them with the area between Kerman, Khorasan, Sistan and Makran (Spooner 1989: 606). It is also possible that they assimilated a major part of the local inhabitants in Balochistan when they settled there.
It is not possible to talk about ‘a Baloch race’ (cf. Dames 1904) in order to distinguish them from neighbouring peoples, but there are other factors which bind them together and separate them from others in the region. Anthony D. Smith (1986: 21) finds that the term ethnos ‘would appear to be more suited to cultural rather than biological or kinship differences’. Among such cultural differences, he enumerates ‘a collective name’, ‘a common myth of descent’, ‘a shared history’, ‘a distinctive shared culture’, ‘an association with a specific territory’ and ‘a sense of solidarity’ as crucial components of ethnic affiliation (Smith 1986: 22-31). All these factors are applicable in the case of the Baloch. Among the components of a shared culture, those of language and religion are particularly important, and the Balochi language as well as the Sunni creed are distinguishing factors in relation to neighbouring ethnic groups.
It is important to be able to distinguish the ‘self-group’ from other surrounding ethnic groups. In fact, it is only in an interactive relation to other groups that are perceived as different that a delimitation of the ‘own-group’ versus the others becomes meaningful (see e.g. Eriksen 1993). In Iran the Sunni creed is crucial in that respect, since the Balochi language is closely related to Persian and is normally in the official discourse described as a ‘dialect’ (guyeš) of the Persian language (zabān), whereas the majority in Iran, contrary to most Baloch, profess Shi’a Islam. In Pakistan, on the other hand, the language, which is not closely related to Sindhi, Lahnda, Punjabi, Urdu or other Indian languages and very distinct from the eastern Iranian language Pashto, is more crucial, since the majority of the Muslims in Pakistan, including a vast majority of the Baloch, profess Sunni Islam.
The traditional socio-economic systems in Balochistan divide the land into a northern part and a southern part. In the north, pastoral nomadism has been the predominant lifestyle, whereas in the south agriculture, with few landowners and landless workers or slaves, has been more common. The tribal structure has, however, historically been a uniting factor among free-born Baloch in all Balochistan, and it has been easy for originally non-Baloch tribes and clans to associate with and incorporate themselves into the Balochi tribal system. Nowadays the de-tribalisation process is strong, especially in those parts of Balochistan where the traditional economy is based on settled agriculture rather than on pastoral nomadism. Tribal loyalties are also often felt to hamper a strong nationalist movement, and many intellectual Baloch nowadays try to propagate the replacement of tribal (sub-national) loyalties with loyalty to the entire Balochi ethnie (see Smith 1986: 21).
In the seventeenth century the Baloch allied themselves with another tribal people, the Brahuis, against other forces in the region, and this Balochi-Brahui Khanate, with its centre in Kalat (in present-day Pakistan) continued to exist until 1947. It was especially powerful during the second half of the eighteenth century, under Nasir Khan I, who ‘was the only khan who successfully transcended tribal loyalties’ (Spooner 1989: 611), but it was later weakened and incorporated into the British administration in 1839. The language of administration in Kalat was from the beginning Persian (Baloch 1987: 120), but English later replaced Persian for official purposes.
In the nineteenth century the Qajar shahs, ruling from Tehran, made several attempts to subdue the western parts of Balochistan. Likewise, British India had intentions of expanding westwards in Balochistan. This is the background of the Goldsmid border commission, and the demarcation that resulted from it divided most of the Balochi mainland between British India and Iran. Even so, the Qajars never succeeded in establishing their power in Balochistan, and it was only in 1928 that the newly established Pahlavi monarchy was successful in imposing direct control over the province.