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Published in the 1-15 Apr 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Islamisation of Urdu

After Partition, the setback to Urdu was primarily because of Islamisation of Urdu in two ways. One as Majid Hussain points out by Urdu newspapers confining themselves to news about Muslims to the exclusion of the rest of the country.

Second and this may appear to be basphemy. If every famous literary fiction and verse book in Urdu could have its Devnagiri reprint for sale (Government can be approached for subsidising this project,), the language will revive with a script that will safeguard its pronunciation forever.

Persian script is like Chinese. One knowing Persian in India cannot converse with an Iranian but both can understand each other on paper as in north and south China. This is because Persian script has only five maatraas, zabar, zayr, paish, tashdeed, sakin and ma'quoof. They are most inadequate for purity of pronunciation. Add to it the pride of the scholars. 

' Kasar-e-shaan hai zayr-o-zabar kaa istaymaal: 
Zuroorat hai nehee(n), zubaa(n) kaa bhee ho istaymaal

The proof of the popularity of Urdu in North India is in the sale of Urdu verse in Hindi script. The cinema sustained interest in Urdu but I do not know of late what the position is because I have no longer the capacity to hear. 

I cannot understand why every Urdu Dictionary should have on its Title Page Ba-isma-i-Allaah Rahmanir Rahim." Qur'an S. 1:1 is for eligious books. Since when has a lughat become a religious book? 

It is the way Urdu is being treated by Muslims that makes it a monopoly for Muslims to be avoided by many Hindus. 

Just because fanatic Hindi walas call Urdu a Muslims' language the fanatic in Muslims make it so. 

Just think and read the ghazal at to wake up.

Prakash Narain, USA

Editor: ...let me react with a few observations:

  • Which Urdu newspaper confines itself to only Muslim news? I have been reading Urdu newspapers for the last 45 years but I fail to remember one single newspaper which fits your description. Yes, they also print Muslim news for two simple reasons: the so-called 'mainstream' media ignores Muslim news and practically most of their readers happen to be Muslims.

  • To say that Persian script is Chinese is an insult to one of the most beautiful scripts in the world. Simply because one does not know something does not turn that thing into a monster or nonentity.

  • It is ridiculous to say that an Indian knowing Persian cannot converse with an Iranian. They will understand each other but will not enjoy the discourse since one is using a modern language and the other is employing the old language used in Gulistaan and Boostaan. Why talk of Persian, even an Englishman or an American will need a translator with many Indians speaking English in our own country.

  • Use of Devnagri or Roman scripts for Urdu may be a service for those who do not know Urdu and want to enjoy poems and songs but if Urdu script is totally changed it will kill the beautiful language that we know, rather used to know until recently. What is happening today is that because of the influence of Hindi even Muslims in north India now have difficulty in pronouncing sheen, qaaf, zoy and the like. Such a language will be rootless and will evolve within decades into some kind of Pidgin. Moreover, the great and rich heritage which Urdu enjoys in the shape of hundreds of thousands of printed books and manuscripts in libraries and museums will in no time be relegated to the dustbin of history. Turks have experienced it already. Their similar rich heritage is an enigma to the new generations since Kemal Ataturk abruptly changed the script.

  • India's struggle for liberation from the colonial yoke was fought in Urdu; "Inqilab zindabad" was the slogan which electrified the masses, but alas some bigots looked at it as a "Muslim language" and despite the fact that it was defeated in the Constituent Assembly by one single vote, and that too of a well-meaning Muslim lady (Begum Aizaz Rasool), justice demanded that it should have been made the second language out of consideration for such a massive support but Congress leaders forgot their solemn pledges before Independence that the official language of India will be Hindustani written in both Devnagri and Persian scripts. Who, then, made it the language of Muslims?

  • Which Urdu dictionary starts with Bismillahir-rahmanir-rahim? It may be the choice of a certain publisher, and in any way, Bismillah, that is 'In the name of God, the most compassionate, the most merciful' is not something to be ashamed of. It is for every believer, Hindu, Muslim, Christian...

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