Urdu in India: victim of Hindu nationalism & Muslim separatism - part ii

The really sad part of the story is that the Urdu Movement which was started by Zakir Hussain under the banner of Anjuman Taraqqi-e-Urdu Hind was soon fatigued and lost its way. The formal declaration of Urdu as the second official language of the state acclaimed as the ‘mantra’ for the revival of the Urdu has led it nowhere. Similarly, the system of appointing one token Urdu language teacher in every school or one Urdu translator and one Urdu typist in government offices at various levels may have produced job opportunities for some university as well as Madrasa graduates.

But Urdu’s status has shown lamentable decline in the number of standard books published, the circulation of newspapers and journals. Above all, the number of persons who can pronounce Urdu words correctly and read and write it is fast declining. Thus, the real objective of the Hindi movement to assimilate Urdu, to kill its individuality and uniqueness and its cultural ethos and to reduce it to a cultural fad, as a ‘shaili’ of Hindi, has succeeded. With less and less number of children learning Urdu and through Urdu, at least as a language, if not its literature, it is slated to disappear from the literary and cultural scene of the country. This would have happened much earlier but did not, for the joint contribution, ironically, of the theologians, the filmmakers & the institution of ‘Mushaira’.

It is worth recalling that Hindu communalism adopted the same tactics to defeat Punjabi. A Sikh-majority state was out of question. So the demand was transformed into one for a Punjabi state which was reduced to its present boundary, by the defection of the Punjabi-speaking Hindus to Hindi & the separation of Haryana and H.P. But Punjabi escaped the fate of Urdu because it continued to have a homeland while Urdu does not!

The process of steady substitution of Urdu by Hindi has finally reached the climax in UP. Urdu was first excluded from the realm of school education, then from administration, then from information and mass media. The former Prime Minister, once Chief Minister of UP, Charan Singh, joyfully and proudly claimed that UP has become a unilingual state. The only minority language worth the name was Urdu and now it has been reduced to an ethnic language to be spoken at home but not learnt in schools and colleges. In UP, its homeland, Urdu has steadily lost its traditional status as the language of urban culture to a point when Urdu is nowhere to be seen in government offices or work places or schools, despite the token gestures of making Urdu the second official language of the state to be used for specific purposes.

After Independence, Hindustani written in both Persian and Devnagri scripts was projected as the national language. In a second Partition, Hindi in Devnagari script was approved as the official language of the Union.

The Urdu-speaking community has over the years become insensitive to the near-fatal blows. May be it has been mesmerized by the time-tested anesthetic and soporific of lavish paeans and praise by politicians in power for its beauty, sweetness and contribution to the Freedom Movement, official patronage of Mushairas, literary awards and opening of Urdu Academies. Urdu intelligentsia has been purchased through opening of college and departments of Urdu in universities with their teachers participating in seminars and reaping occasional benefits. Such patronage does provide jobs and pleasures to a few but ignores the methodical and systematic agenda of annihilation. The Urdu speaking community has thus been kept by the political establishment in good humour by publicly acclaiming it and by allotting token time on radio and TV and placing government advertisements in Urdu press, not to mention, expanding the largely unwanted facilities for higher education in Urdu, producing unemployable graduates, honours graduates and holders of MA and PhD degrees.

Mistakes of Urdu Movement In retrospect, it appears that even the first organized effort to retrieve the position of Urdu by the Anjuman Taraqqi Urdu when it had submitted the well-known memorandum to the then President of the Republic was not well-drafted or well-advised. The Memorandum had laid stress on symbolic and token use of Urdu while in the changing educational context it was being slowly and steadily exiled from the educational institutions, depriving second, third, and later generations of Urdu-speaking families from learning Urdu and becoming readers of Urdu newspapers, periodicals and books. One wishes that the Anjuman had foreseen this scenario and demanded a well defined presence and place for Urdu in primary, upper primary & high schools and insisted on the fulfillment in letter and spirit of the safeguards for linguistic minorities in the Constitution. The last attempt was made by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the then Education Minister, by formulating the Three Language Formula in which the mother tongue was given the place of honour as the first language for every child but once he passed way, the anti-Urdu lobby took over in Hindi-speaking States and the fundamental & legitimate rights of the Urdu-speaking community succumbed to the Hindi crusade and the unchallengeable pressure of the state, surprisingly on financial grounds. The fatal blow to Urdu teaching was dealt by the Gujral Committee, which replaced Mother Tongue by the Principal Language of the state in the first slot of the Three Language Formula. Subsequently even the second slot provided for Mother Tongue was allotted to Sanskrit or an extra-regional language in the name of national integration. Therefore, Urdu despite its national spread now has little place in the Three Language Formula.

What mattered was the assertion of its minority status in all states of the country where, it was still understood by the common man. But the political shortsightedness of the Muslims kept them from raising this basic demand. The Urdu elite wanted some college departments to be opened, some more teachers to be appointed and their pay scale brought on par with others. So despite enabling legislation first in Bihar, then in UP & other states Urdu continues to decline, while political gestures continue to be made and promises and assurances continue to be given. After elections these promises and assurances are always forgotten and the Urdu speaking community itself has other more pressing priorities to attend to. So, the downslide continues. It never stops.

Counter-Productive Strategies of Urdu Movement A self-defeating counter-productive strategy on the part of the Urdu-speaking community has been the propagation of another myth that Urdu is not the language of the Muslims alone but of many non-Muslims. No language has a religion. So, no language is the monopoly of a religious group, a caste or a tribe. A language belongs to anyone who chooses to own it and to learn it and use it. This was a fact in preindependent India. But in India today Urdu is the de facto language of those Muslim Indians who declare it as their mother tongue, only just over 50% of them, apart from a handful of non-Muslims who declare Urdu as their mother tongue. Some of them see a balance of benefit by this expression of loyalty. But they do not teach Urdu to their children! This situation has resulted in successive governments, central and state, reducing the space for promotion of Urdu.

Political parties in their manifestos and the governments in their progress reports always make promises about Urdu, not surprisingly as proposals for what they plan to do for Muslims and not as what they propose for reviving a slowly dying language. In any case, a promise is a promise and is beneficial as far as it goes but it makes Urdu promotion a communal issue and thus keeps away the Hindu society from supporting the cause of Urdu. Urdu-speaking community, in my view, should, therefore, change its strategy and courageously take full responsibility for the realization of its constitutional rights as the language of the Urdu speaking minority at every level.

As for the unrealistic sub-conscious desire of the Urdu speaking community to seek parity with Hindi, is echoed even today. Whatever it’s past history and howsoever great its contribution to Indian culture, Urdu is today no more than a minority language. In coming to terms with this reality, Urdu has lost another 25 years.

Possibility of Joint Action In States With Minority Language Urdu has pockets in the homeland of nearly all major languages like Bengali, Oriya, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi and Punjabi. So has every major language in other state, outside it base. Urdu should strive jointly with them in any state for realizing the rights of all minority languages in the state. For itself Urdu should not demand any thing more than Hindi in the Hindi-minority states just as it should not accept any things less than another minority language status for itself in Hindi majority states.   Urdu As Means Of Livelihood
The third strategic mistake is to raise the slogan of making Urdu the vehicle for raising the economic status of Muslims and the means to earn livelihood. Urdu speaking community should realize that when the entire national or state economy has taken to Hindi or English, Urdu can never secure a substantial place in public or private employment or in accounting or in business transactions. Today, though sale deeds and other documents still use Urdu in the form of old terminologies, hardly any document is registered in UP or Bihar, if written in Urdu script. With falling demand, Urdu calligraphers or document writers are closing shop. Urdu can be preserved, only in the sector of self-employment where the small entrepreneur or his Munshi is free to write the accounts in Urdu. But even they have to be translated to English or Hindi for the outsiders and for filing the government forms.

In the process of raising the slogan of ‘second official language’ and ‘language of economy and employment’ Urdu has lost its constitutional place in education as the Mother Tongue. Today Urdu speaking youth cannot read Urdu or even correspond with their families. They do not know Urdu and the parents do not know Hindi! What is worse is that having fallen under the spell of Hindi, they cannot even pronounce Urdu words properly. This is why the Urdu speaking population cannot submit petitions to the Government in Urdu or demand a reply in Urdu. They cannot read the Acts, the rules & regulations and the notifications or advertisements, if, at all, issued in Urdu. They cannot follow Government orders and circulars and bid for tenders even if issued in Urdu. They cannot identify a roadsign or read a name plate of officers or the office board or the bus routes. The result is that all these so called facilities and concessions though provided, sometimes, are useless and meaningless.

 The position of Urdu in the legislature and judiciary is much worse and in the executive it has become out of bounds. A legislator may speak in Urdu but he cannot declare that he is speaking in Urdu or demand a type-script in Urdu. The judicial process from the lowest level to the High Courts in the Hindi-speaking states uses Hindi as the medium and it is purging Urdu from legal vocabulary.

The Urdu-speaking community sometimes feels proud of Urdu’s expansion horizontally across the seven seas. But it forgets that in its homeland its children are not learning Urdu except for a few who go to Madrasas.

What is, therefore, important is that the Urdu-speaking community should unburden itself of its past fixations and demand its rights as a linguistic minority, as endorsed in the Constitution and international law, to transmit its Mother Tongue to its children to a level of proficiency which can support a meaningful rapport with the family & access to its classic & contemporary literature. That is the way Urdu will survive.

However, there are some signs of revival. Many young people wish to learn Urdu, particularly high schools students. Urdu Movement should demand facilities for teaching Urdu as additional language in all schools, government or private. Urdu poets particularly Ghalib & Faiz are very popular. Urdu poetry should be published in Hindi script. Novels and collection of short stories in Urdu should be translated into other Indian languages. Urdu calligraphy is being promoted systematically. A Urdu University has been established but it is yet to introduce even undergraduate courses in all arts subjects because of shortage of text books. This shortage must be met by translation of standard books. Indira Gandhi Open University is offering several courses in Urdu. The Open School is admitting Urdu-knowing graduates of Madarsas. The Government is considering drafting a road map for the promotion of Urdu.

But the Urdu Movement must insist that the state first establish Urdu-medium government primary schools in all Urdu-speaking areas, and introduce Urdu in all secondary schools, government or private & facilitate mid-term transfer from Madarsas to mainstream schools and to universities. This is the way Urdu can reach the Generation Next, not by lapping up tributes to the glory of Urdu or crying over its neglect.

Concluded   Part 1 is here