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Published in the 1-15 May 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

The great Urdu fraud - i

By Athar Farouqui <>

The Milli Gazette Online

New Delhi: The NCPUL (National Council for the Promotion of Urdu Language) is an autonomous organization created by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development for the promotion of Urdu. It is the born-again version of the Bureau for the Promotion of the Urdu Language which had come into existence after the scrapping of the Taraqqi-e Urdu Board. Both these organizations were known for their unique incompetence. Their ineptitude led to their dissolution and the creation of a new organization. The NCPUL was created as an advisory body to the government for the promotion of Urdu. The ex-officio chairman of the NCPUL is the Union Minister for Human Resource Development who, like an absentee landlord, exercises his powers and privileges through a Vice-Chairman, appointed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. The Vice-Chairman together with a council of members, again appointed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, oversees the functioning of the NCPUL. The full-time administrative head of the NCPUL is the director who together with a hierarchy of junior officials carries out the day-to-day functioning of its various activities within the framework of an annually approved budget. The present director, Hamidullah Bhat, a favourite of Murli Manohar Joshi (former Union Minister of HRD), has been implementing the RSS agenda of the outgoing BJP-led NDA government. Joshi's great achievement in the eyes of the Sangh Parivar is the saffronisation of education through the rewriting of history, glorification of ancient Hindu culture and civilisation, promotion of Hinduism (as per RSS definition) in the name of value education, introduction of Sanskrit from the primary level and slow but steady assimilation of Urdu into Hindi. In not too distant past, Joshi was one of the main architect of the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir movement and was present at the demolition of the Babri Masjid for which act of bravado he figures among the accused in the criminal cases, charged with conspiracy and collusion. 

One of the major activities of the NCPUL is to receive, examine, evaluate and sanction the execution of academic research projects relating to Urdu submitted either by individuals, groups of individuals or institutions. The NCPUL also generates its own research proposals and takes decisions with the help of various committees set up by it from among its members to allocate these projects to individuals or groups of individuals for execution after examining thoroughly their academic credentials and competence.

A Major project
At a meeting of the Academic Panel (Project Academies) held on August 25, 1998, it was decided that 'an extensive project' covering the entire country should be undertaken to study the following:

  1. 1. The structure of the Urdu language spoken and written across the country.

  2. The attitudinal behaviour of the speakers of Urdu towards their language and other languages of India.

  3. The study of the use of Urdu in various media forms.

  4. The study of the use of written Urdu in creative writings.

  5. The study of the use of Urdu in non-creative writings, such as court proceedings, ledger, accounts etc. 

  6. The study of written Urdu in formal and informal writings.


It is evident that a project of such enormous scope could not possibly be completed in the foreseeable future. But not content with this, the scope of the project was twice enlarged even further.

A meeting of 'The Sub-Group of the Programme Committee of the Project' held on 19 February 1999 decided that the project team should compile:

  • A comprehensive bibliography of all the published research work conducted in the field of Urdu linguistics and language in India;

  • A comprehensive bibliography of all the published research work conducted in the field of Urdu linguistics and language abroad;

  • A comprehensive bibliography of all the non-published research work conducted in the field of Urdu linguistics and language in India;

  • A comprehensive bibliography of all the non-published research work conducted in the field of Urdulinguistics and language abroad;

The same committee, at the same meeting "felt that enquiry about the general status of Urdu education in the areas of investigation should also be conducted. This in return implied reviewing the language used in textbooks of all subjects written in Urdu...The Project should also critically analyse the constitutional and legal framework for the promotion of Urdu and the major initiatives by the Government agencies during the last 50 years...The project will also cover the role of voluntary organizations in the respective areas and the contribution of the state Urdu academies, university departments, voluntary organizations and other institutions".

Hamidullah Bhat had yet more to say: "A survey of the state of the Urdu education system throughout India will be carried out in the second and major part of the project, which of course is of vital importance to the Urdu-speaking people. The basic aim of this survey will be to collect reliable data and prepare an official document on the state of Urdu education as well as to study and analyze the sociopolitical and psycho-educational situation and the problems of Urdu-speaking linguistic minority. One important aspect of the second part will deal with the problems of Urdu teaching and learning." 

Bhat went on to state that the proposed survey, the flagship-as it were of the project, would provide answers to the following crucial questions relating to Urdu in India: 

  1.  How many schools (from primary to secondary level) of secular education with modern curriculum exist across the country that teach using Urdu as the medium of education or teach Urdu as an optional subject? 

  2. How many students are enrolled in both categories in these schools? 

  3. What is the proportion of dropouts in both categories?

  4. How many Urdu teachers are available/regularly employed in both categories? 

  5. How many of the above are trained and equipped for teaching Urdu in both the categories?


  6. Which institutions provided training facilities for Urdu teachers?

  7. Are Urdu textbooks in various subjects available for students?

  8. How many of the above textbooks are original works and how many are translations? 

  9. What is the syllabus for teaching in both categories?

  10. What associated and supplementary material is available to students for reference and further study in both categories?

  11. Has there been any academic audit of the difficulty level of the textbooks whether in translation or original?

  12. How many pupils come from madrasas or go back to madrasas in the evening for religious education? 

  13. What kind of problems do Urdu medium (wherever it is available) students face at university level?

Then on 19th August 1999, came another development. Dr. L.M.Singhvi, Member of Parliament wrote a letter to Mr. M.K. Kaw, Secretary, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, drawing his attention to a speech delivered by Mr. Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah, former Chief Justice of India and the then President of National Human Rights Commission at a function organized by the Linguistic Minority Guild wherein he had expressed a desire that a survey be conducted concentrating among others on-


  1. The study of Urdu as a medium of Instruction and as an optional subject with details of the number of schools in every state, strength of students and the number of students who opted for Urdu as a optional subject or as a medium of instruction.

  2. Problems of teachers training and syllabus...the translation of syllabus into Urdu from English ...(and) the quality of translation... 

  3. Numbers of those who drop out in both the streams…


In order to lend weight to his suggestions, Dr. Singhvi wrote that he was making this suggestion 'as a constructive contribution to the important issues of evolving a fair and honourable approach to Urdu as one of the Indian languages in our national life'. 

While thanking Dr. Singhvi for his suggestions and informing him that they were 'initiating suitable action', the Secretary, Mr. Kaw, sent the letter to the NCPUL which decided immediate to broadbase its project by incorporating the suggestions made by Dr. Singhvi and also conduct a workshop on November12-14th, 1999 'to devise an appropriate format for this survey'. In fact, the NCPUL suggested that the [then] Secretary Education, Mr. Kaw, himself inaugurate the workshop.

The Project team
So much for the scope of the project. What steps were taken to launch it? The same meeting of the Academic Panel that formulated the project, that of the 25th August 1998 included four members who had nothing to do with Urdu and who were scholars of Hindi. These were Professor V.R.Jaganathan, Professor M.G. Chaturvedi, Professor Anvita Abbi and Dr. Sushila Thomas. 

Once the decision was taken to undertake this huge exercise, a logical next step should have been to organize a workshop or a seminar of a group of renowned Urdu scholars to work out the modalities of executing the project. But this was not done. 

The next step was to decide what body should take up the project. The Academic Panel decided to entrust it to one of its members, Professor Anvita Abbi, who CANNOT READ and WRITE the Urdu script and has never done any work in the field of Urdu.

On the 23rd December, within four weeks, Professor Abbi had accepted the post. Such haste is most unusual. Normal procedure would have been to prepare the minutes of the meeting in which it was decided to offer the post to Professor Abbi, circulate them to all members to be confirmed, and then duly sign them. In this case it is not even certain whether such minutes were even prepared. 

Soon after accepting the post Professor Abbi asked for a grant to cover various expenses. One was to cover the costs of a workshop/seminar she proposed to convene. She did not say who she proposed to participate in this seminar. Then she wanted money to cover 'travel by coordinator (University of Delhi, Jamia Millia and Indira Gandhi National Open University) for consultations'. Why could such consultations not take place within the proposed seminar's expenses? Thirdly money was needed to pay for 'Two visits by external coonrdinator of 3 days duration each (from Aligarh including TA and DA)." Rs. 4000 were asked for this. Who was this external coordinator? How and by whom had he or she been appointed? No information on these points was made available. 

On the 19th February 1999 a meeting of the Sub Group of the Programme Committee of the Project appointed Principal Investigators, namely Professor RS Gupta, Dr. Ayesha Kidwai-both from JNU-and Dr. Imtiaz Hasnain from Aligarh Muslim University. None of these can read and write Urdu.

Then plans were made to appoint Project Assistants. Only four posts were advertised, and yet six were appointed at a meeting held on 9th August 1999. Dr. Hamidullah Bhat as member of the selection committee signed the minutes of the meeting. However it appears that he did not ever read the bio-data of the candidates, because four days later Dr. Hamidullah Bhat wrote a note to Professor Gopi Chand Narang---a member of NCPUL who eventually became the Vice-chairman of the NCPUL---,: "It transpires from the bio-data of Sl. No. 2 to 4 that they do not possess the sufficient knowledge of Urdu. Under the circumstances the whole exercise needs a relook." Professor Gopi Chand Narang wrote back, "I agree." 

The logical next step would have been to revoke the appointment of these incompetent people. But this was not done. On the contrary, on the 23rd August the appointments were approved by a committee. The same meeting expressed its 'general satisfaction that the above project has started well' and also 'approved' 'the appointment of the Research Assistant/Technical Assistant as recommended by the Selection committee' and decided that 'Professor Anvita Abbi may proceed with the appointment'.

How people who had been appointed as Project Assistants had been transformed into Research Assistants/ Technical Assistants was not explained. 

In the same month of August 1999 a decision was taken to do what ought to have been done at the very outset and on the 27th the Director addressed a letter to scholars across the country inviting them to a workshop in the last week of October "in order to develop the broad guidelines of this project". Interestingly, the expense involved was to be met by the NCPUL and not from the project funds, paying the TA/DA expenses of the participants and an honorarium of Rs. 1,000 to each participant who contributed a paper. An indication of what the response of Professor Abbi would be had already been provided when on the 5th October she had declined to attend a meeting arranged by the NCPUL with principals of Urdu medium schools in Delhi. She now refused to commit herself to participating in the national seminar, and when Dr. Hamidullah Bhat called a meeting in this connection on the 26th of October 1999 she instructed her assistants not to attend. 

Financing the project
Very shortly after accepting the post as coordinator of the project Professor Abbi asked for Rs. 15,000 to pay for the vaguely defined activities already described. The request was made and sanctioned and the cheque prepared and handed to her personally all on the same day. This prompt action was described as "setting the ball rolling" in her favour. 

The project team then submitted a budget estimating that expenditure for the first year would be Rs. 223, 000. This was at once accepted and a sum of Rs. 100,000 under the non-recurring head was also released immediately. 

According to the proposal submitted by Professor Abbi and accepted by the NCPUL, the project was to be supervised jointly by JNU and Aligarh Muslim University, and a written agreement to this effect was to be prepared. However, before this had been done, on March 8, 1999, Professor Abbi asked for the release of the entire of Rs. 2,23,000 earmarked for the non-recurring grant to buy equipment that included Dictaphone tape recorders (6), VCR, computers (3), laserjet printers (2), scanjet, UPS (2) and special software. Since the financial year ends on 31 March, these purchases needed to be made at once.

On 31st March, 1999-the last day of the financial year-the NCPUL released Rs.1,00,000, sending the cheque personally to Dr. Abbi although it was made out to the Registrar, JNU. The Accounts Officer certified that 'the sanction is being issued in conformity with the rules and procedures as approved by the Ministry of Finance'.

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