Urdu: Caught in the crossfire of politics

It's time we realised that a language, like music, has no religion. You cannot earmark a language as the language of Hindus or Muslims

Sumit PaulUpdated: Friday, September 23, 2022, 04:30 PM IST
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Jud jaati hai zabaan jab qaum ke ahlaq se

Dekhne lagte hain log use nigaahe-shak se

- Taalib Lakhnavi

(When a language gets associated with the fabric of a community/ People start looking it through the prism of suspicion; Ahlaq: 'fabric' in Arabic.)

Recently, the Uttar Pradesh government suspended the joint director (health), Dr Tabassum Khan, who had issued an order directing all the chief medical officers (CMOs) to ensure that signboards/nameplates at all health facilities in the state were written in Urdu also.

That this unfortunate incident took place in a state of India that produced a glittering constellation of the finest Urdu poets is all the more ironic. Pandit Brijnarayan Sharma 'Chakbast', Dayashankar Naseem, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Krishna Bihari 'Noor', Aatish Lakhnavi, Jalil Manikpuri, Jigar Muradabadi, Asghar Gondvi, among others hailed from Uttar Pradesh. I deliberately mentioned Hindu names in the beginning to this never-ending list to drive home the point that all Urdu-knowing Hindus enriched a language that is now being viewed as the language of Muslims and has sadly become a victim of linguistic ghettoisation. What a pity, nay, shame! In earlier times, Hindus willingly learnt Urdu and wrote in this exquisite language. Furthermore, Urdu is the second official language of UP!

Urdu is the language of this sub-continent. The 'invaders' didn't bring it along from Central Asia or the Arab Peninsula. It developed on the soil of the sub-continent with a rich sprinkling of Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Khari Boli Hindi and Braj, to name but a few. Even Sanskrit made inroads into its corpus — for example, Ritu (season/s) became Rut and Yatn(a) became Jatan (efforts) in Urdu!

That this unfortunate incident took place coinciding with Hindi Divas (September 14) is proof that Hindi and Urdu are being seen as separate tongues, and a sinister effort is ongoing to bifurcate both, whereas Hindi and Urdu are contiguous languages abutting each other. Quite a few rabid right-wing Hindu broadsheets suggested that Hindi should be purged of Urdu words to make it Sanskritnishth (Sanskrit-based). Utter balderdash! Just because Urdu is based on Persian script (it's an abjad script derived from the modern Persian script) and is written from right to left, it has become a foreign language. If Urdu is an alien tongue and the language of hamlaavar (invaders), why do we still cling on to English? Is it not also the language of our erstwhile oppressors?

The problem lies somewhere else. Languages in India are at root ethno-communal issues and totems. Not just Urdu, even languages of South India are taboo to North and Central Indians. Ergo, promotion of any language is seen as an undesirable imposition, especially in these volatile times. South Indians will abhor Hindi. So it stands to reason that when there are so many differences and so much opposition regarding languages of ethnic origins within the country, the increasingly polarised 'new' India will look down upon Urdu as an outright foreign language of the Muslims.

Moreover, Urdu never got the kind of recognition it should have had. It may have been a link language prior to India's independence, but that exalted status and image got dented in 'free' India. Today, it's purely a language of the Muslims — that too, Muslims of humble background because the educated and elite Muslims send their wards to the so-called convents to learn and converse in fluent English. Urdu, therefore, has become the language of impoverished, madrasa-attending Muslims.

Nowadays, reading and writing in Urdu invites unnecessary attention from people around you. Yours truly signs in Persian. Now a couple of times the bank manager has asked me why do I sign in Urdu/Persian? Flabbergasted, I choose to keep mum because I know the situation is getting worse.

It's time we realised that a language, like music, has no religion. You cannot earmark a language as the language of Hindus or Muslims. Despite being a Muslim, Kazi Nazrul Islam wrote in Bangla and is regarded next to Tagore in profundity and popularity. The late Dr Gopichand Narang is regarded as arguably the greatest and most perceptive Urdu critic alongside Shamsur Rahman Faruqi. Sampooran Singh Kalra 'Gulzar' is a Sikh who's at home with Urdu. Munshi Premchand first wrote in Urdu and later started to write in Devanagari. He's considered as one of the greatest novelists and short story writers both by Hindi and Urdu critics. The list is endless. We're unnecessarily creating a rift and widening a chasm between Hindi and Urdu. Both the languages are but two sides of the same coin. Let us not succumb to the machinations of arbaab-e-siyasat (politicians). Their hobbyhorse is to divide and rule. To quote Urdu poet Jigar Muradabadi, “Un ka jo farz hai woh ahle-siyasat jaanein/Mera paighaam muhabbat hai jahan tak pahunche” (Let politicians indulge in what they're good at/ I'm a votary of love and I shall disseminate the message of love far and wide).

The writer is a regular contributor to the world’s premier publications and portals in several languages

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