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A Sense of alienation
By Qamar Ashraf

Urdu continues to be the link language of everyday communication as before and to say this language is dying is a false propaganda created by its opponents. Particularly it has maintained its status as the language of home and social interaction. After the Bollywood industry, the recent jump of TV channels have given an added fillip to Urdu. While, on the other hand, the assault on the language by the governments and so-called well-wishers, since Independence, continued and to an extent they succeeded in abolishing its script from several Urdu speaking states. And the possibility of its removal cannot be denied if this apathy is not brought into control now. So the need to set up bodies to preserve, protect and promote the language, particularly its script, is being felt.

While, dissatisfaction with government-sponsored organisations is justified, setting up of independent bodies to defend Urdu and assert and campaign for its rights is a welcome development. But the fact is that neither the government-sponsored organisations nor the self-claimed protectors of Urdu and its well-wishers have been able to reach near to the expected marks.

Ralph Russell, a lecturer in Urdu at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London says, ‘Urdu is dominant in north India and people are more comfortable in Urdu than in other language’. Later he argues that the language north Indians use is mostly Urdu but it is called Hindi. For example in a Hindi learning book, Teach Yourself Hindi (1989), on a page of vocabulary provided at the end of the book, in 73 entries more than 55 words are Urdu but the book is called to be provided for Hindi learners. ‘The same is the case with immensely popular Hindi films which could equally accurately be called Urdu films’ adds Russell. He is of the view that 80 percent of north Indians use 80 percent Urdu in normal communication. It has been felt that in electronic media Urdu is growing and holding its importance in every so-called Hindi news and programmes.

Above all, the injustice is that those who use this language predominantly, disown it giving the tag of Hindi. For example, Bollywood industry where 95 percent of the words used are Urdu, but the movies are called Hindi film. Most of the movies the industry produces are of Urdu scripts, songs and dialogues but the whole industry has got the tag of Hindi film. Particularly old movies are so enriched with this language that actors and actress were provided training for the language. They were taught to deliver dialogues in Urdu accent and even taught to learn Urdu script. But the irony is that those Urdu dominated movies are also labelled as Hindi films. Then most of the progrmmes on small screen like news, serials, documentaries remain in Urdu but they get the tag of Hindi. A thorough observation reveals that Urdu occupies prominent place in so-called Hindi news. Likewise, at the end of every news the anchors say aakhir mein khas khas khabrein ek bar phir. Besides most of the words except pradhan mantri, videsh mantri or to name such posts, remain Urdu whereas the newsreader before and after the news say Hindi Samachar. Years back, when Star TV launched a new channel, Star Gold, with a view to showing old Bollywood movies, it again prepared a mindless promotion— Purani Hindi filmon ka behtareen channel or the like, while the movies that the channel shows are completely Urdu dominated.

Moreover, the mockery is that poets like Shakeel Badayuni, Sahir Ludhyanwi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shahreyar known as Urdu poets but when their poetry is used in movies, their poetry gets the tag of Hindi gana. On radio, often the announcer says ab aap Hindi gana suniye or Hindi gano ka programme. Furthermore, the hoardings on the road crossings and instructions at railway stations and bus stands make use of Urdu words rather liberally. One comes across Sheetal Jal changed to thanda paani, Mutralaye changed to peshab ghar to make it intelligible to the general public. At many places in New Delhi Railway station one comes across instructions like: yeh aam rasta nahin hai.

Causes attributed to the decline of the script are many apart from the government’s step motherly attitude since Independence. One of them is the proponents of Urdu, themselves. They focus almost exclusively on the injustice done to Urdu. They too often call upon somebody else, such as the government, to do something instead of doing it themselves. In an article in the Economic and Political Weekly Athar Faruqui writes that it is unfortunate that few of the so-called Urdu teachers in UP cannot read even books in Urdu script meant for primary classes.

Obviously, there are some spheres in which nothing very substantial can be done by individuals or small-scale voluntary organisations. There are bodies established in the states and on all India level to promote the cause of Urdu. The basic thing that needs to be achieved for the promotion and preservation of Urdu is considerable increase in the number of people who have a command over it, not simply Urdu colloquial speech, but the Urdu which enables one to read and appreciate Urdu literature. Anyone who is concerned with increasing the number of people who are competent in Urdu can do something practical for the language. Of course the help of masses is necessary.

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