Q&A: Meet Zubair Torwali, Torwali language activist

Photo provided by Zubair Torwali

Following last year's successful social media campaign celebrating linguistic diversity online throughout Asia, the collaborative project is continuing in 2020. Every week a different language activist and advocate will be taking turns managing the @AsiaLangsOnline Twitter account to share their experiences, best practices, and lessons learned from their revitalization work promoting the use of their native languages with a special focus on the role of the internet. This campaign is a collaboration between Rising Voices, the Digital Empowerment Foundation, and the O Foundation.

Each week, the upcoming host will answer several questions about their background and will give a brief overview of their language. This Q&A is with Zubair Torwali (@zubairtorwali) who will provide a sneak preview of what he will be discussing during his week as host.

Rising Voices: Please tell us about yourself.

I am a researcher, author, activist, advocate for the minority languages of Pakistan based in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. Here I have been leading an organization, IBT (idara baraye taleem-o-taraqi i.e. institute for education and development, that works for the empowerment of the mountain communities of northern Pakistan through language and culture documentation, preservation, building literacies in these languages; producing and sharing knowledge among these communities.

I founded the organization, IBT, in 2007 along with other youth of the Torwali community. I have written two books in English, numerous research articles, and hundreds of media articles on language preservation, education, language and education policies, human rights and environmental issues; and on conflict and peace.

RV: What is the current status of your language on the internet and offline?

Our organization IBT has been implementing projects on the Torwali language since 2007. It has also established 4 MTB-MLE schools in Torwali where children get their early education in and through their language. In addition, IBT has published numerous books in and about Torwali which include dictionaries, folktales, folk poetry and daily conversation. IBT has also produced audio and video albums of Torwali music along with holding cultural events. Recently IBT has animated two of the Torwali folktales, too. We have also developed a Google keyboard for Torwali which is used on the Android cellphones.

One of IBT’s dictionary is now available online for students, too. We have also constantly been writing Torwali on social media. Currently we are also working on a Talking Torwali dictionary which will be available online.

There are numerous Facebook pages for the Torwali language where poets, writers and activists write share their work in Torwali.

RV: On what topics do you plan to focus during the week that you’ll manage the @AsiaLangsOnline Twitter account?

  • Literacies in endangered languages
  • Mother tongue based multilingual education
  • languages of northern Pakistan
  • community empowerment through language and identity promotion
  • multilingualism and co-existence
  • decolonizing cultures
  • academia and activism
  • oral histories
  • language policy
  • folklore and indigenous knowledge

RV: What are the main motivations for your digital activism for your language? What are your hopes and dreams for your language?

I want my language and work to be visible for international researchers and general audience. I am passionate about the development of the 25 mountain communities of Pakistan and want the world to know about these people and their languages. I anticipate growing interest of researchers, institutions and NGOs in the languages and development of these communities. I wish I could attract some of the international organizations towards these languages and the communities so as to ensure resources for these people.

I wish the UN recognize these communities as indigenous and consequently our government follow suit. I also envision my and the other endangered languages to be recognized by Pakistan and taught at the public schools.


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