This book explore language politics in India since Partition with specific reference to Urdu. It argues how the once-secular Urdu language has now been relegated to only Muslim and confined within the realm of madrasa. looking forward to its integration into the mainstream-educational curriculum as a Modern Indian Language, the book provides workable solution for the same. It aims at restoring Urdu’s rightful place alongside other regional language and disseminating education to all section of the Indian population, including Muslims. This is a timely intervention in the wake of the Right to Education Act, 2010.
Ather Farouqui is a freelance writer with a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
In twenty-first century India, all nations of political life are changing due to social compulsions and rapid changes in international polity. Indian socio-political and culture life is in an advanced phase of transformation, and most of the socio-political issues of the past are irrelevant today. New realities need a fresh orientation to keep up with the times. In its effort to become a part of the global village, India seeks to rid itself of residual colonial influences in order to keep its indigenous cultural heritage intact. It is true that the colonial legacy had a negative impact on Indian identity, and that our cultural past had turned into a complex phenomenon. But it is counter-productive to abuse and blame our past every now and then. It is also ironic that after fifty-eight years of Independence, our academia has not yet succeeded in getting over the colonial mindset to analyses issue related to the emerging realities of India.
Urdu is an issue that has been completely mishandled in free India by politicians across the board, the Muslim elite, and all concerned sections who dealt with the issue either at the social level or as an academic pursuit. Most of them still handles the issue in the same fashion as dealt by the colonial rulers. For a long time the academic discourse regarding Urdu—and other north-Indian language too—remained the same, that is, oversimplified, colonial and, of course, without depth. In this oversimplified analyses Urdu has always been projected as the language of the Partition of India and the formation of Pakistan. In other words, it lost its primary relevance as a language of common Indian civic space. Urdu also suffer from being stereotyped as the mellifluous language of art and literature while Muslim are often caricatured in Bombay films. In the context of Urdu—and Muslim too—the usage of the word ‘culture’ is also problematic, as it has increasingly come to denote the world of qawwalis, mushairas, and mujras. So, in free India, Urdu has never been recognized as a functional language. This has, of course, saved the government much expenditure.
If one believes the writings of contemporary academia regarding Urdu- speaking Muslim, it would appear that have nothing to do with contemporary life; they think of themselves as an aristocratic class of erstehile absentee zamindars. All these nations, of course, are far from reality. It is obvious that the government does not want to do anything to help the language flourish, so It has very enthusiastically supported all populist suggestions in the name of literary or cultural promotion through marginal organization such as Urdu academies, though it was clear that Urdu would not survive until it became an integral part of the school system. This is not possible unless the state apparatus takes a policy decision to include Urdu in the curriculum. After Independence the state did nothing for the inclusion of Urdu in school system of education. It was a convenient situation from the administrative point of view too. Consequently, Urdu remained marginalized and confined as a language of literary expression and did not get its share in the national wealth, nor contributed to social life. In general, the government has never allocated sufficient funds for education and the gross domestic product (GDP) has remained too low to even aspire towards the achievement of the National Literacy Mission’s goal. It is not Urdu alone; the fact is that the government has remained indifferent to all the major Indian regional language as far as their individual progress is concerned. It has not made adequate arrangements for the teaching of regional Indian language in schools. Had it done so’ it would have proved to be an instrument for the multi-dimensional growth of Indian language and a boost for social transformation.
Instead, the state chose to project English-medium education as a symbol of excellence. In doing so, it evaded the responsibility of making all Indian language or at least the language that were including in the Eight Schedule as part of the education as per the constitutional guarantee. That was possible only if the perception of excellence had been associated with Indian languages instead of English. But the fact remains that the state has treated the issue of all Indian languages in the shabbiest manner. It has deliberately avoided making them a part of the education system. Thus these language have not survived the competition with English education.
Because of communal politics and the fear psychosis of Partition, the Urdu elite has led to the further marginalization of the language. In the backdrop of the Partition, the common Urdu speaker came to be seen as a hostile outsider, and Urdu and Muslim became synonymous with one another. To overcome this phenomenon, many Urdu speakers began to channel all their resource and stamina to preserve Urdu through religious institution, which they though would safeguard Urdu. This proved counter-productive and only gave a boost to thee madrasa phenomenon. Ather farouqui very aptly feels that one of the consequence of this situation—considerably strengthened after Independence on account of the official neglect of Urdu—has been that the community has been caught up in the morass of backwardness, peripheral to the modernization the country and the world have witnessed over the years.
It is true that as a part of the Muslim religious community, one of the most backward in economic terms, Urdu-speaking people could not afford to establish their own institutions of modem education as parallel systems of education. So most children within the Urdu- speaking community landed up in madrasas. As per the government nearly half a million full-time madrasas are operating throughout the country with an enrolment of at least 50 million full-time students, to impart religious education. The part-time madrasas, popularly known as maktabs, to which students go for necessary religious education only, are not included in this data. The exact number of children attending such maktabs too is not known. But these students attend schools providing modem education.' I quote Arjumand Ara on Urdu and madrasas, that perhaps best explains the dichotomy of the phenomenon:
This book is an attempt to examine all aspects of the problem of Urdu and its survival as a functional language in the common civic space. These aspects have often figured in political discourse and form a continuing feature of the north-Indian political landscape in independent India, and thus a part of contemporary history. Having had a glorious past, Urdu has now virtually become pre-eminently the language of those Indians who profess Islam and features in their nostalgia about the past. Once it shared a common space with other communities, particularly Hindus and Sikhs. But Hindu and Sikh Indians have consciously abandoned it in free India and their children do not learn it any more.
It is possible to have more than one view about the future of Urdu as a functional language in India. My view is that Urdu, the mother tongue of more than 60 million Indians (as per the 2001 census), can and will survive in India as a functional language only if it is taught in the educational curriculum as a Modem Indian Language. (This view has persistently been endorsed by several writers included in this book.) But, in fact, due to the persistent denial of a place in secular education in the so-called Hindi belt of north India, where a majority of the Urdu-speaking people live, Urdu has become largely confined to Muslim minority educational institutions and madrasas which mostly accommodate backward and poor Muslims. Thus it has survived only among the lower strata of the Muslim community. For this association with the Muslim community, Urdu suffered the ire of the Hindu majority after the Partition of the subcontinent. The state took cognizance of the mood of the majority and eliminated it from school education without the slightest compunction.' Urdu was not recognized as a language of any state in its homeland-the so- called Hindi belt-during the reorganization of states on '1 linguistic basis. Ironically, it was the official language of Jammu and Kashmir where nobody claims Urdu to be their mother tongue. Thus, due to denial of state support, or rather the denial of the constitutional rights of the Urdu-speaking community, religious aspects define the horizons of Urdu.
Since it is no longer a profitable proposition to learn Urdu, the Muslim elite of north India have altogether abandoned the language. For fear of being accused of having any allegiance with Pakistan (whose national language is Urdu), they had already severed emotional ties with the language. The expanding Muslim middle class is also abandoning it with every forward step on the path of social mobility. To some extent, therefore, the preservation of Urdu is linked with the economic condition of the backward sections of the Muslim community. The role of the Muslim political leaders associated with secular parties is also ambivalent for political reasons as they dare not question the common perception that Urdu is the language of the separatist forces that created Pakistan.
There is no doubt that Urdu, as the repository of the religious heritage of Muslim Indians, is a significant element in the religious identity of Muslims in the Indian subcontinent. Also, it still remains their lingua franca. Because of this, Urdu has survived its state- sponsored throttling and elimination from the state school system. This has also saved Urdu from being denigrated as a 'dead language' or being bracketed with 'formerly dominant languages', to use the term coined by Theodore P. Wright Jr.
The problems of the Urdu language are closely linked with the problems of Muslims because Urdu has come to be associated mainly with Muslims ever since the Hindu revivalist movement of the late nineteenth century. This period saw the demarcation of two separate cultures on a religious basis. The divide further deepened with the Partition of the Indian subcontinent along religious lines. Since Independence, the Muslim community has faced double jeopardy in linguistic terms. Its language-language is critical for sustaining the vitality of a community-has been facing an eclipse. Opportunities for learning Urdu are available only in madrasas. As a consequence, some Muslims have been patronizing madrasas as a means of preserving their language. Second, since the Urdu language is the repository of their religious literature, Muslims fear that with the decline of Urdu their religious heritage might be lost.
I submit that it is also possibly because of the hostility of Hindu revivalists against Urdu and the resultant discrimination against it particularly in north India that Urdu has now become largely a medium of religious instruction. The syllabus taught in the madrasa is essentially exclusivist. This can give an impetus to fundamentalist tendencies among the students. In the madrasas, they hardly have any access to modem secular education. Lack of knowledge about things other than the religious isolates them in a plural and multi religious society like ours. Sometimes they speak an outdated, eve fanatical, language. Hardliness exploit this situation to justify their campaign against Muslims.
One of the consequences of this state of affairs=-considerably accentuated after Independence because of the official neglect of Urdu-has been that the Muslim community has been sucked into the morass of backwardness, traditionalism, and religiosity. it has remained stagnant and become peripheral to the process of modernization that the country and the world have witnessed over the years.
This situation is unlikely to change unless education in Urdu is integrated with secular education. If Urdu is introduced in mainstream educational institutions, a majority of Muslim parents will send their children to these schools rather than to madrasas. Such move will create conditions for broadening the outlook of the student and promoting a democratic and secular perspective. In order to counter the backward-looking and narrow outlook of the vast majority of Muslim Indians, the government would be well advised to give Urdu its due place in the school curriculum. Such an initiative can well become the most important step towards the promotion of liberal and modem world view among India's largest minority. This was the raison d' etre behind requesting distinguished scholars an, public figures to contribute to this endeavour by focusing on a evaluation of public policies and the social, educational, and politic" situation of Urdu; assessing the facilities available for teaching in Urdu; and evolving suitable strategies for introducing Urdu into mainstream secular education, thereby promoting a modem an, secular frame of mind among Muslims.
This volume is divided into four sections. The articles of the firs Contextualizing Urdu’, situate Urdu in the backdrop of contemporary history. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Barbara Metcalf, Yogendra Singh, and Theodore P. Wright, Jr, have attempted to locate Urdu's present status in the social, historical, and political context. Salman Khurshid's preface dwells upon the ghettoization of Urdu and, as a consequence, its acquiring a religion-based identity. He sees the solution in Urdu's inclusion in the secular education curriculum. He emphasizes that the survival of Urdu is, in fact, essential for the survival of secular values in India.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta's paper is something of an interloper in this volume. Unlike the other articles, it does not delve into the historical and practical difficulties facing Urdu, but raises questions about the place of languages in general, and Urdu in particular. The paper also tries to connect the fate of Urdu to certain issues in political theory.
Barbara Metcalf analyses the historical context of Urdu to under- line the particular burden that Partition placed on what had come to be seen as a 'Muslim' language as well as a language whose speakers, after 1947, did not represent a geographically concentrated population. Even so, constitutional guarantees should have assured the teaching of Urdu to those claiming it to be their mother tongue. She suggests three strategies that could enhance the teaching of Urdu and its place in the larger society. First, its instruction could be integrated explicitly with instruction in Hindi, with the Urdu script and vocabulary being made available as an option for all students. Second, instead of labeling Urdu negatively as a Pakistani language, policymakers and writers should simultaneously claim Urdu, whose origins are wholly within the current boundaries of India, and recognize all the advantages of embracing it as a transnational language. Finally, writers and publishers should enlarge the circles of those who know Urdu literature by furthering publication in Nagar including bilingual publications that would simultaneously provide texts in the Urdu and Nagari scripts. Only such steps will help ensure the language a larger place in Indian society.
Yogendra Singh sees Urdu as a very vital part of the Muslim Identity. In his discussion, he raises the issues of identity and legitimacy and Urdu's relationship with the Muslim community in India in terms of policy implication. He feels that the cultural identity of the community has evolved 'in a direction which is more in consonance with norms of a cultural pluralism, liberal democracy, and social and economic modernization.' There are, however, still some pockets of 'segmentary ethnicization' of the community. But these arise because the state's economic and educational policies have either not been 'fairly implemented', or have not been evolved in an 'equitable manner' to deal with Muslim backwardness in our society.
Theodore P. Wright, [r, places the case of Urdu in the context of formerly dominant languages of the world that survived or perished in the wake of historical and political processes such as group status reversal from conquest or revolution. His attempt to compare the cases of many such languages of ancient and medieval Europe (Norman French) and Asia (Manchu) to the colonial languages of Africa and Latin America, each in its unique circumstances, is both instructive and provocative. His theoretical framework is comparative politics rather than linguistics.
The second section, 'Urdu and Identity Politics', has four articles on different aspects of Muslim religious and cultural identity. Arjumand Ara's exclusive essay analyses the role of madrasas in the making of the Muslim identity. She sees these seminaries as an offshoot of the erstwhile feudal society, which Muslims, because of their educational and economic backwardness, refused to discard when India marched forward to evolve into a modern capitalist democracy. She advocates the provision of a progressive, modern, and alternative education system which can provide a promising future for the younger generations and curb the menace of growing educational backwardness among Muslims.
Amina Yaqtn studies the problem of the communalization and disintegration of Urdu in literature. One of the reasons for this state of affairs is the non-availability of Urdu education in secular educational institutions in India. Yaqin studies in this context Anita Desai's In Custody, an Indian English novel about Urdu. But, unfortunately, the novel itself projects the Urdu-speaking community in a poor light and runs the risk of becoming something like a caricature of an ageing Urdu poet who is supposed to represent the Indian Urdu-speaking community. The so called 'elite' who write about Urdu seem to regard language as something anachronistic. While Desai's picture is not a realistic representation of the community, our 'elite' seem precisely to be drawing upon such representations of Urdu while forming their views and opinions. Bombay films, too, have tended to project only the stereotypes of the Urdu-speaking community. This article helps us understand how this community is seen by other language groups, especially those who are economically and politically more powerful than most of the Urdu-speaking community in India.
Kelly Pemberton and Daniela Bredi ponder over the destiny of Urdu through the questions of language, community, identity, and power.
While maintaining Urdu's continued vitality as a link among various communities in India, Pemberton advocates the reconceptualization of Urdu as a language and as a marker of identity. She contends that this should occur on two fronts and at the level of both state and grassroots institutions: definition, through which some measure of standardization can be achieved, and ideologically, by which the meanings of Urdu could be shifted away from association with a particular community or interest group and expanded to reflect the widespread influence Urdu has upon the literary and cultural landscape of India.
The third section of the book, 'Civic Space, Education, and Urdu', comprises a wide range of issues. I survey the sorry state of Urdu education in major representative states of India. Syed Shahabuddin deals with the hard reality faced by Urdu in today's socio-political map of India. He surveys the relationship of Muslims with Urdu, Muslim educational Institutions, the government's role, the problem of shrinking academic space for Urdu, publication of Urdu books in the context of falling demand, and the role of the Urdu-speaking elite. He tries to offer a solution by addressing all these problems at different levels. His solution demands nothing drastic but only an honest application of the existing constitutional guarantees and government policies at the ground level.
Christina Oesterheld surveys the situation of Urdu education in India in the light of the provisions of the Indian Constitution, the Kripalani Committee Report, and articles and newspaper reports on Urdu education in selected states of the Indian Union, supplemented by her own observations during numerous visits to India between 1983 and 2001. Summing up recommendations which have been put forward by Indian scholars over the last decades, she also suggests possible measures for reviving Urdu as a functional language. She briefly touches upon the questions of Urdu versus English as a medium of instruction and of improving the quality of Urdu education.
Kerrin Grafin Schwerin puts forth an educationist's view while deliberating on basic education. and the Urdu medium in the light of the Wardha Scheme of Education or Nai Talim of 1937, which was drafted under the chairmanship of Dr Zakir Husain, the third President of India. While discussing the role of Urdu as a mother tongue under this scheme, she concludes that 'Urdu which is the lingua franca of Indians and Pakistanis outside India and Pakistan, will not disappear from the language map of the world, because it is valued by people as a literature and a language.'
Hasan Abdullah raises several questions while surveying the present state of Urdu in India. He ponders over the relation of Urdu with different segments of society, growth of different languages, and the place of Urdu, its significance as a modem language, the role of the Urdu-knowing elite and Indian intelligentsia, and the social, economic, and educational background of Urdu-knowing people. He offers useful suggestions for answering the important questions that arise.
J.5. Gandhi's article concerns the diminishing centrality of the Urdu language in our life since the Partition of India in 1947. His is a personal, yet poignant, narrative of his life experiences, which takes us through a wide range of personal recollections and encounters, ending indeed on a sad note that a very potent source of unifying people from across community divides, is being lost sight of. He believes Urdu has fallen victim not only to wrongdoings on policy fronts but also to communalizing and bracketing the issue with a specific community. By way of a corrective, a thorough contemporary re-assessment of the political, social, and intellectual scenario is needed to save this powerful but dying legacy.
The fourth and final section, 'Minority Language and Community-Legal Concerns', is written by legal experts. Fali S. Nariman comments on the education for religious and linguistic minorities within the constitutional and legal framework. He then goes on to suggest ways to improve the relations between majority and minority groups/communities. He warns that 'language must never be confused with religion. Languages, as Dr Samuel Johnson once said, are the pedigree of a nation. Hindi, Urdu, and the languages in the Eighth Schedule are the pedigree of the people of Hindustan.' Soli J. Sorabjee also talks about the status of minorities, their religion, their educational institutions, their language, and their culture.
Citing the example of Albania, he points towards an event where a court verdict commenting on minorities emphasized that 'there would be no true equality between a majority and a minority if the latter were deprived of its own institutions and were consequently compelled to renounce that which constitutes the very essence of its being a minority ... that in addition to equality in law there must be equality in fact which may involve the necessity of different treatment in order to attain a result which establishes an equilibrium.'
Yogesh Tyagi’s article is a commentary on legal aspects of minorities in India. His focus is on the 'concept of minority languages; the domestic law basis of obligations in respect of minority languages; the international legal framework with regard to minority languages; and an international approach towards the promotion of regional minority languages in general and Urdu in particular.' He recommends establishing a nationwide database on linguistic minorities in order to enhance the effectiveness of efforts to promote and protect minority languages.
Let me now come back to the vital question of the mother tongue. According to the Constitution of India, primary education should be given in the mother tongue (Article 350-A), and, as government policy, the Three Language Formula should be implemented from Class VI onwards. Accordingly, the mother tongue should be taught as a first and compulsory language (even if the medium of instruction is the same). In the north-Indian states, Hindi is the medium of instruction from Classes I to XII. From Class I onwards, Hindi is also taught as the first language. This is a gross violation of the letter and spirit of the Three Language Formula. By this act, Hindi has been imposed on non-Hindi speaking people in place of their mother tongue. Urdu is not included even as a third language in the category of a Modem Indian Language. Instead, Sanskrit is claimed to be a Modem Indian Language and is thus invariably taught in this category. Sanskrit is also taught as a compulsory component of the Hindi syllabus from Classes VI to XII. In a nutshell, in Uttar Pradesh (UP), an Urdu-speaking student has no chance to learn his mother tongue while he compulsorily learns Hindi and Sanskrit.
Against this backdrop, the question of the constitutional rights of Urdu under Article 350-A of the Constitution, including Urdu at the primary level, along with other languages, as a medium of education and at secondary level as the first language for those who claim Urdu to be their mother tongue, is not Simply one of the survival of a language. It is a question of the survival of the rights of minorities-- including Muslims.
It is an established fact that despite all constitutional guarantees against discrimination, Urdu has been very systematically eliminated from the curriculum of mainstream secular educational institutions. Academically, it is possible to devise a formula to introduce Urdu in school education, but these all fail when it comes to implementation.
Hence, I feel that the survival of Urdu is a political question and demands political will and strategy to address it. The government and its educational agencies were, and are, responsible for devising new policies that have systematically neglected Urdu. The reasons are obvious. The Constitution of India defines India as a secular state but the ground reality is that the decision-making people are not always secular. This snag prevents the uniform growth of all peoples, cultures, and languages. Urdu is just one example of victimization.
As a student exploring the dynamics of a language, I do not see, as indeed no one ought to, the role of a living language like Urdu in isolation. The role of Urdu in education should be analyses in the context of the facilities provided by the secondary and senior- secondary examination boards. Of course, the socio-economic perspective of the people who want their children to take Urdu as an optional subject has also to be taken into account.
It would be useful to consider why Urdu is not offered/ opted for as a language if a child has to learn three languages under the straightjacket of the state-imposed Three Language Formula. In any case, it seems obvious that in India, learning Urdu would be more beneficial than any European language (except English). Especially in north India, learning Urdu is useful as any other Indian language unless, of course, the student intends to take up a career in a particular region. At an early age, a child does not have enough information to decide on a career. Therefore, to ask her or him to learn a foreign language, such as French, German, or Spanish, or, as the third language, Sanskrit, Assamese, or Malayalam, is to impose an extra burden. The child could decide whether to learn a foreign language, a regional Indian language, or a classical language upon completing school education. Even for English-medium students whose mother tongue is Hindi (or any other Indian language, particularly in the northern belt), Urdu may be a useful option. From Class VI onwards, English being the first langu.ige of such schools, Hindi can be taught as the second language and Urdu as the third language. I believe that these questions need a fresh approach with the advent of the new era of Information Technology. This is particularly important at a time when culture and identity are being given great emphasis.
The articles included in this volume are unique in that they do not play to the gallery nor subscribe to any current misconceptions of Urdu. Coordinating with the writers for the last several years has made it possible to collect articles on all possible aspects, including the Urdu-Hindi controversy, the historical background, and the political undercurrent of the past and the present. In a developing society like India, it often happens that many problems need a new approach and all discourses tend to become dated with the march of time. Studies on Urdu belong to this genre as Urdu is facing a unique and unprecedented situation in the history of languages, which nullifies many fondly held and otherwise academically competent theories.
I hope that this volume will help in securing for Urdu-I must repeat-its rightful place as a functional language in the common civic space of our multilingual, multicultural, and multireligious society.
At this juncture, I must first thank all the contributors. I am sure that in writing the articles for this volume all of them have put in tremendous effort. Some of the valued authors have taken nearly two years to write their contributions, and some of them took even longer, simply because no academic writing on this theme was available. Till 1990 there was only one book-a part of which dealt with the language issue in north India, published in 1974--in circulation and that too was written by an American professor who never revised the book.
I hope the present volume will also be of help as a guideline for research synopses in the days to come for scholars who are interested in the theme. If that happens, I shall be a happy man.
My sincere-in the true spirit of the word-thanks to all those with whom I interacted at the Oxford University Press, especially to Manzar Khan, Managing Director, for his interest and exceptional generosity. I extend my gratitude with the help of an Urdu verse- jo kuchh kahun to tera husn ho gaya mehdood—whatever I could say could not adequately describe your beauty.
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