the Partition of India, Urdu enjoyed tremendous cultural prestige among
educated North Indian Muslims and Hindus, as well as among the more conscientious
British administrators. Urdu was also the first literary language for many of
those who also wrote in Hindi. For instance, Upendranath Ashk and Munshi
Premchand were famous Urdu authors before they even began to write in Hindi.
order to fully grasp the state of the Urdu language in the post-Independence
period, an examination of the roots of the language is required. The Urdu
language within India has faced many turbulent times, pressure brought upon by
the Indian government, Hindi chauvinists and sometimes the ineffectiveness of
Urdu literary education. In 1947, when Pakistan gained its Independence from
British rule, a great shift was made in the maintenance of the Urdu language in
India. Many of the experts on the Urdu language may argue that within India,
during the time period immediately following Independence, the maintenance of
the Urdu language has been a difficult task in many respects. Many
organisations and individuals with and without the support of the Indian
government have worked to preserve the Urdu language and ensure its education
to younger generations. However, there are many roadblocks to progress.
Following a brief description of the historical climate and context in which
the Urdu language thrives, a close examination of some of the key issues
affecting the modern use of Urdu will be undertaken.
Urdu writers of the 19th century, the most renowned was Asadullah Khan Ghalib
(1797-1869) whose poetry is described by Muhammad Sadiq in his book A History
of Urdu Literature as a visionary who “broke away from the past both in thought
and style — he stands at the threshold of the modern world”. Another famous
literary figure is Muhammad Iqbal (1878-1938), one of the most influential and
controversial Urdu poets of the early 20th century. In the field of the short
story, one of the most powerful modern Urdu writers was S.H. Manto (1912-55).
Although since the agony of the Partition of India in 1947, Urdu has become
more and more restricted to use in Pakistan and among Indian Muslims, it is
still the primary literary language for many Hindus and Sikhs in India.
early years of Independence, in the area which one might call the heartland of
Urdu, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the state governments of these areas were
working to discontinue the use of Urdu. The somewhat twisted interpretation of
the three-language formula, devised by the Government of India, was the device
by which the state governments attacked Urdu. The three-language formula
recommended that in every state three languages should be taught in schools:
the language of the state, another modern Indian language and one other
language. In Uttar Pradesh, the language of Urdu should have been chosen as one
of the three languages, as it was the language of most inhabitants after Hindi.
The state government of Uttar Pradesh and some other Hindi-Urdu speaking states
chose Sanskrit as the modern language, and so the Urdu language, which was
taught in schools before Independence, was discontinued.
Indira Gandhi’s time onwards, the Government of India has had its own political
reasons for supporting Urdu literature. During her time a committee was set up
in 1972 headed by I.K. Gujral to consider how the cause of Urdu could be
advanced. Due to vigorous opposition the report was sidelined. Later, in 1990,
Ali Sardar Jafari investigated the committee reports, and they found that 95
per cent of the recommendations made by the Gujral committee report had not
been adopted. However, in 1989, the state government of Bihar, and shortly
after, Uttar Pradesh, recognised on paper Urdu as an official language of their
states. Warsi in his paper History and Prospects of Urdu print media made an
observation that: “In the early stages of the post-Independence period, the
Urdu print media was mainly being affected by the tragedy of Partition.
Consequently, the Urdu press suffered the most. However, the Urdu media is
still struggling for its survival in different Indian cities”.
of the Urdu speakers in India, who are not limited to the Muslim community, do
not know the Urdu written script, and giving these people access to Urdu
literary works in roman Urdu and in the Devnagari script would further the
cause of Urdu. Tariq Mansoor, vice-chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University,
once very rightly said that “knowledge of many languages is the doorway to
succeed and expand the horizon of wisdom”.
the great scholars when it comes to Urdu literature, Gopi Chand Narang, was
quoted as saying that, “Urdu is not the language of Muslims. If at all there is
any language of Muslims, it should be Arabic. Urdu belongs to the composite
culture of India. Hindi and Urdu are supplementary and complementary. They are
like sisters strengthening each other”. This viewpoint, which was taken up by
scholars, must also be adopted by the organisations created to preserve Urdu —
they should focus their resources and attention to the accurate writing of Urdu
classics and translation into the Devnagari script. Mr Narang feels that the
politicisation of the Urdu cause has caused harm to the language, which should
function as a bridge between the Hindu and Muslim subcultures within India. If
government and state funding went into the production of texts of important and
popular Urdu authors in the Devnagari script the reading of Urdu literature
would grow tremendously. Although many scripts have been reproduced in the
Devnagari script, major organisations have not yet made it their own duty to
help publish such works. The translation of classical Urdu texts into English is
another venture, which has been undertaken, but still needs to be done on a
Urdu language has seen many shifts in support throughout its long history, as
the times change the people led by their government fall in and out of favour
of certain languages. The National Council for Promotion of Urdu language has
taken the initiative in bringing out publications in/about Urdu language and
literature. However, within India, the use of the Urdu language is a cause for
which many people and organisations have been working to uphold — these efforts
are not without their flaws. It is the mix of these efforts along with popular
interest developed by films and ongoing research which will ensure that
classical Urdu texts will be preserved and promoted.
Original Headline: Urdu has a
glorious past, but will its future too be bright?
The Asian Age