Decolonising Mother Tongues: Reading Punjabi Poetry 

“…a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.” Minute on Education (1835) by Thomas Babington Macaulay


“If you know all the languages of the world but not your mother tongue, that is enslavement. Knowing your mother tongue and all other languages too is empowerment.” Lecture, University of Cape Town (2008) by Ngugi wa Thiong’o.


As we come to an understanding of how the colonial project - intent on dominating us by creating a sense of shame and inferiority about our cultures, our languages, our literatures - has led us to dismiss and erase these within ourselves, it can be with a sense of solace and relief that we turn towards these again; to learn, to understand, to value what we have been told is worthless.

However, while this process is an important form of resistance, is this the safe space, the utopia that we yearn for? Aren’t we reproducing white supremacy once more when we engage with these uncritically – through performative nostalgia and celebration? Are our cultures, languages, literatures immune from oppressive structures and hierarchies?


In order to decolonise with integrity we need to keep our eyes open also to the classism, casteism, colourism, patriarchy and homophobia of the literatures we inherit from our ancestors.


This session, facilitated by Kavita Bhanot, with Sara Kazmi and Rupinder Kaur, is a practical workshop which includes performance, collaborative critical translation and guided discussion around the popular Punjabi poetry of Shiv Kumar Batalvi and Amrita Pritam.


Some understanding of Punjabi will be required for this session.

A Multilingual Slanguages Intervention: supported by Professor Rajinder Dudrah at Birmingham City University, who is leading the Slanguages research project as part of Creative Multilingualism –