Why Persian & Arabic have been dropped?

The UPSC has dropped Arabic and Persian languages from the list of permitted languages for public service exams while almost dead or limited-use languages are kept on the list. Persian is very important for India as it was the official language for almost seven centuries and all our official and private records of the pre-1857 period are in Persian. Arabic, on the other hand, is the official language of 23 countries in the Middle East and North Africa with which India has strong commercial and cultural relations.

If Arabic and Persian languages have been dropped, why didn’t the same fate befall Sanskrit, Pali (the language of the scriptures of Buddhism) and Prakrit (the ancient language of Jainism)? Are these languages functional? Does UPSC have any idea that Indian history of last 1200 years is mostly in Persian and Arabic, predominantly in Persian, because of Mughals (1526-1857).

Muhammad Bin Qasim invaded Sindh in 712 AD and since then, the Sub-continent witnessed Islamic supremacy and their linguistic influence as Persian, Arabic and even Turkish (though for a very brief period because Turkish-speaking Khiljis didn’t last long to let their language make its presence felt on the psyche of the people of the Sub-continent). All the officers of the East India Company learnt Persian and interacted with the Mughals in their language. Sir Thomas Roe, the English emissary who met Mughal emperor Jahangir to get the permission for business in the undivided India, already knew Persian and Arabic. Hasan Askari, the legendary authority on Mughals at Patna University, wrote that Jahangir was spellbound by Sir Thomas’ fluent Persian without any English accent. India’s past, post-Sanskrit era, is in Persian. Even the associated history of India (in the context of Marathas) cannot be fully fathomed without the sound knowledge of Persian. Shivaji and other Marathas corresponded either in modi script or Persian, mainly in the latter. All great Indian historians till 1955 were Persian- and Arabic-knowing scholars. Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Dr Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, Ishwari Prasad, Sacchidanand Sinha, Setu Madhav Pagdi, Sardesai among others knew Persian like native speakers.

The earliest Sufis, who came to India, were Arabic-speaking and wrote their spiritual treatises in Arabic. They were followed by Persian-speaking mystics from Iran and Afghanistan. To understand their philosophical screeds, one must know Arabic and Persian. Yet, these languages have been dropped from the list of UPSC’s list of “standard” languages. There’s indeed a bias that cannot be gainsaid and is very obvious.

Soon Urdu too will be declared as a language of Muslims to be left to meet the same dismal fate.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 January 2014 on page no. 2

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