Raza Gillani is a familiar name in the Lahori activist circle. Recently, he uploaded a Facebook status which took the Debating Community by storm. Being a debater himself, he highlighted the discrimination that his former team mates and juniors now face, as compared to when he was still a student.
Raza believes that the debating fraternity is an “elitist swamp”.
Although a variety of people face discomfort, no one has ever underlined this issue. He stated that a debater has always been more important than the debate itself, and this ideology needs to be modified. Ironically, we do the same things which we speak against as we have no idea what to do with what we speak. People believe that issues in our society can only be eradicated if we speak up against them but unless what we speak on a podium actually resonates in places where it holds meaning, it won’t bring about change.
Raza stated that people have started focusing so much on winning trophies that they have overlooked the fact that winning was never the point.
Gillani mentions that it was a recent LACAS Burki English Debate competition that influenced him to be vocal about the issues staining the Debate Community in Pakistan. He wrote how his juniors were discredited and given bad critiques on the basis of their fluency of language and structure, which deeply demoralized the participants. However, the debaters we contacted for opinions regarding this issue stated that even though they agree with the elitism and bias against certain speakers, in English tournaments it is fair on the judges’ end to down mark speakers whose command of the English language isn’t particularly strong.
Not only this, Gillani talked about the increasing void between Urdu and English-speaking debaters. He highlighted how English debate competitions and speakers are prioritized over those who speak Urdu. Having over ten major languages in Pakistan, respectable institutions only opt to debate in a language which is spoken by the West aka the “higher civilization”. However, to learn how to speak fluent English in an ‘accepted’ accent, one must attend a good English medium school whose fees are also higher than those schools who choose to teach in Urdu, our native language. Thus, only the well-off tend to access this privilege.
Gillani voiced his discontent over the Debating Society of Pakistan’s attitude and how it has been unsuccessful in reaching out to public speakers who wish to debate in a language other than English.
The competition they hosted in Sindh was also organized in English, thus fueling Gillanis anger as he suggested that they should think about renaming themselves as the “Debating Society of English Pakistanis”. He believes that they only cooperate with those from a respectable and higher English background and its about time this discrimination comes to an end. After this post went viral, the President of the DSP, Mrs. Aisha Amir Ahmed reached out to Mr Gillani and reassured him that she had issued a notice to two members of the DSP Executive Committee who would take his opinion into account.
However, Gillani was not satisfied with this response. He thought that the DSP has had the resources to rectify this issue in the past however they lacked the will to do it.
He stressed upon the fact that at last years Nationals, the English announcements took place outside, with very grand arrangements where as the Urdu tournaments were hosted inside in small rooms. Then at LUMS, the Urdu tournament was scheduled to begin at 9am however it was postponed to 4pm as none of the ushers were present and everyone was occupied as they were listening to the English Masters Round.
The former President of the LUMS debating team also responded to Gillanis concerns and said:
Raza appreciated the fact that atleast some institution admitted their mistake and was willing to work on it in the future. We reached out to last year’s Nationals host, Beaconhouse Defence Campus to inquire about these grievances. A representative of the management clarified that this was not in regard to what language the debate was conduvted in but the number of participants instead. English speakers were comparatively in a larger amount than Urdu speakers and hence needed to be accommodated in a larger space. The management further clarified that after the elimination rounds, the finals for both Urdu and English were held on the same stage with equal respect and regard for each.
To further get perspective on this issue, we reached out to certain urdu speakers who wish to remain anonymous. They informed us that the elitism, discrimination and bias against urdu debaters does infact exist in the circuit. We hope that in the future, the DSP takes into account the issues which have been voiced and highlighted by Mr. Raza Gillani and that this discrimination comes to end.