Why Devnagari for Urdu?

I read in Hindi and Urdu newspapers that a few days back, one rabid Hindu politician, who’s a part-time poet as well, stated in Sagar (MP) that “Urdu should be written in Devnagari script as there’s no difference between Hindi and Urdu.” Well, while he’s right that there’s not much difference between Hindi and Urdu (syntax and structure wise), writing Urdu in Devnagari is not at all justified. Why should Urdu resort to Devnagari? Is the present Persian script inadequate to express its phonetic sounds and inflexions?

I’m equally at home with Devnagari and Persian scripts but seldom do I read Urdu poetry in the former script. I find it insulting to Urdu-Persian tradition and also an assault on the dignity of Urdu language. A script is the essence of a language. It lends an independent status and stature to it. If a language can express itself so convincingly through its existing script, why should there be a need to opt for a script (read Devnagari) which often fails to capture the certain consonants of Urdu, Persian and Arabic? Just because Urdu (Persian, because Urdu’s script’s based on Persian) is written from right to left doesn’t make it a pariah language. Only in India, you come across certificate course/s in Urdu through Hindi script. Kashmir University had this course and perhaps Delhi University also offered this rank stupid certificate course. How can one learn or even understand Urdu without knowing its cursive Persian script?

When I look for books for my friends, who ain’t familiar with Urdu script, I find it very difficult to lay my hands on Urdu books written in Hindi script. Though Sahir Ludhianavi’s friend Prakash Pandit, Nooh Narvi and Sajan Peshawari tried to popularise Urdu poetry among non-Muslims (nowadays, even Muslims don’t know how to read and write Urdu script!!! They’re so anglicised) by bringing out collections of Urdu poets in Devnagari. I’m afraid, there’re so many errors in these collections that I’d prefer readers to refrain from them.

Raghupati Sahay ‘Firaq’ Gorakhpuri’s entire oeuvre is not available in Hindi script. Even his ‘Gul-e-naghma’, published by Sahitya Academy is rife with mistakes. Hasrat Mohani’s complete works can never be found in Hindi. One more problem that often crops up is that of the inadequate knowledge of ‘experts’ who transliterate (called lipyantaran in Hindi) from Urdu to Hindi and vice versa.

Many a time, such people who transliterate from Urdu script to Hindi or Devnagari can read Urdu script but find it difficult to write flawless Urdu. Their knowledge of both the languages is often wanting. Urdu is a language with dots (nuqta) and fricative sounds, which cannot be transferred with the same precision and accuracy to Hindi.

Apart from all these technical difficulties, there’s a politics of language. The fallacy of Urdu being a specific community’s language has always made its distinct script as something of an anomaly, an aberration in India, where almost all languages are written from left to right.

Language doesn’t belong to a particular community or religion. Most of the scholars of Urdu, Persian, Arabic and Turkish at European varsities are Christians. Even in India, Premchand, Ratan Nath ‘Sarshar’, Sampooran Singh ‘Gulzar’, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Krishn Chander, ‘Firaq’, Dr Gopichand Narang, to name but a few, have been Hindus and Sikhs.

So why this morbid insistence on changing Urdu’s existing script to an incomplete script like Devnagari, that originated from Sanskrit, which stubborn and neo-Hindus erroneously think to be the world’s oldest language and above any linguistic reproach.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 September 2011 on page no. 2

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