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Hindi-Urdu controversy
By Jagjit Singh Jabewal

In its issue of November 1902, Saraswati, a monthly Hindi journal, printed photographs of two Indian women; one of a Muslim prostitute decked in all the finery of her profession and the other of a Hindu woman modestly clothed with a simple sari. The verses printed under respective photographs expressed that the modest Hindu woman and Muslim prostitute personifies Hindi and Urdu respectively. Hindi supporters generally alleged Urdu as a promoter of fraud, deceit, and several other social vices, where as Hindi is a source of enhancement of truth, honesty and other virtues. Urdu is a product of Indo-Persian linguistic synthesis. There is another explanation of Hindi-Urdu controversy that in 1837 East India company replaced Persian by Urdu as the counted language of lower counts while English introduced in government offices. At the same time the language policy adopted by the government in 1860 made an appreciable contribution to strengthen the controversy. On the one hand in government schools, there were both Hindi and Urdu as mediums of instruction and on the other hand only Urdu was recognized as medium for official purposes. Those who adopted Hindi as medium in schools faced difficulties in seeking government jobs and those already in service feed difficulty in handling official work. The clash of interest was inevitable and unfortunately took a communal form. In 1868 Babu Shiv Parshad, a prominent advocate of Hindi, accused the Muslim rulers of north India of forcing Hindus to learn Persian. He also denounced British policy to turn Hindus into semi-Muslims and to destroy the Hindu culture. He asked the government to replace Urdu by Hindi as court language. In the next three decades, Hindi-Urdu controversy in North India flared up and died down several times. Hunter commission was set up to review only the progress of education. Nevertheless Hindi and Urdu supporters approached the commission to promote their respective causes. The main issue was to select the language and script for courts and government offices. Hindi supporters argued that since majority of people understand Hindi, therefore adoption of Hindi in Dev Nagri script would make government work easy. While opposing Urdu they argued that Urdu script is of foreign origin and is replete with Arabic and Persian words which makes it un-understandable by common people. On the other hand protagonists of Urdu maintained that Urdu can be written faster than Hindi also. Hindi has improvised vocabulary specially for scientific and technical terms. Hindi-Urdu controversy reached new heights when government issued a proclamation in April 1900 to grant sanction of use to both Dev Nagri and Urdu scripts. Urdu supporters took out rallies and held protest meetings throughout north India. Hindi supporters flooded the Hindu press in support of Hindi. So tense did feelings became that language figures for 1901 census were vitiated. In actual practice Urdu remained dominant in most parts of North India till independence in 1947. q

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