[lg policy] Fwd: URDULIST: Fwd: Resurgent Urdu and the Emergence of an Inclusive Discourse

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 11 17:24:50 UTC 2013

 Fwd: Resurgent Urdu and the Emergence of an Inclusive Discourse

Forwarded From: <ather.farouqui at anjumantaraqqiurduhind.org>
Date: Thu, Jan 10, 2013 at 4:50 AM

Resurgent Urdu and the Emergence of an Inclusive Discourse

Dear Friends,

I am writing this note as the General Secretary of the Anjuman Taraqqi Urdu
(Hind) to all allies who can help rescue Urdu from the grave quagmire it is
currently confined in, branded as a ‘Muslim language’, ‘language of
terrorists’, ‘synonymous with Pakistan’, etc., Urdu’s glorious reign seems
a thing of the past. Urdu, unlike the current misnomer, is a secular
language and boasts a literature that has been enriched by literary greats
from the Muslim community and people from other faiths as well,
notwithstanding the fact that Urdu was used by missionary forces among
Muslims. Missionaries, of course, no matter which faith they ascribe to,
use all resources at their mercy for proselytization; so also in the case
of Urdu and Muslims. The interesting thing is that when Urdu was the
predominant language in undivided India, anti-Urdu forces, some of whom
later campaigned for Hindi nationalism, used the Urdu script to oppose Urdu
and promote that particular brand of Hindi. Another fascinating fact is
that Urdu was the major language of Christian missionaries in north India
in pre-independence days and it still serves the same purpose for
Pakistan’s Christian missionaries; even to this day, one can easily find
Urdu versions of the Bible in India circulated free of cost in Muslim
dominated areas. Relating to the history of Urdu, it is quite intriguing
and contrary to the common belief propagated by Hindi chauvinists that as
far as the name—Urdu—is concerned, the same language was earlier known
variably as ‘Hindi’, ‘Hindwi’, ‘Rekhta’, etc. And most interestingly, the
term Urdu was used at last in the chronological order and the evolution of
a language with the same grammar and culture which ultimately met the
tragic end of being dissected into two, mainly on the basis of the script.
Now both languages supposedly represent Hindu and Muslim cultures and, in
most cases, atavistic trends of both religions instead of being perceived
as part of a composite culture which was nurtured by the language before
its forced division.

Before going any further, I wish to make it clear that I am making this
appeal from the platform of the Anjuman Taraqqi Urdu (Hind), which has
always enjoyed the status of a nationalist organization by every secular
definition of the term ‘nationalist’. Among its office-bearers,
non-Muslims, particularly Hindu litterateurs, have at all times enjoyed
pride of place. Urdu, of course, has its linguistic roots in the Indo-Aryan
family of languages (precisely khari boli, though it has been impacted
enormously by Persian on a literary level) and it has had enormous
influence on various cultures on both sides of the Vindhyas.

As I have said, the Anjuman Taraqqi Urdu (Hind) has from its inception,
been dominated by non-Muslims, particularly Hindu litterateurs, and even in
our time until a few years back, household names that define our composite
culture such as Jagan Nath Azad and Pandit Anand Narain Mulla have been
closely associated with it. Let me illustrate this with the help of an
amusing anecdote. During a return trip from Pakistan, Sardar Jafri and
Jagan Nath Azad were travelling by Pakistan Airlines, on board which in
those days liquor was prohibited for Muslims. Jafri Sahib tried to take
advantage of the presence of Jagan Nath Azad and asked him to extend the
request for whisky. Azad did his bidding but got a flat refusal. Azad
argued that he was a Hindu and so entitled to liquor. At this, the cabin
crew member politely informed him that he was aware that the esteemed
passenger’s name was Jagan Nath Azad, but because of his Urdu poetry,
Pakistan considered him an honorary Pakistani!  Of course, this was during
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s premiership before he turned populist and tried to
make an Islamic bloc quite unsuccessfully. Anand Narain Mulla’s intimate
attachment to Urdu is evidenced from his remark that he could forsake his
religion but not his language Urdu. Of course, those were different days
but I have recounted these tales to bring home the point that Urdu was the
most secular language of India, for the simple reason that its real growth
took place after Persian vanished from the Mughal durbar following the
death of Aurangzeb in 1707. Being the language of the masses, Urdu was very
prominent during the freedom struggle, with the slogan ‘Inquilab Zindabad’
providing an idiom to the bid for independence.

It is true that liberalization has overhauled the entire social fabric of
India, with indelible impacts on the linguistic landscape of the country.
This has been good in a way, for politics in the name of Urdu and Hindi has
come to an end, but at the same time it is even more tragic that both
languages are directly linked with the fascist agenda of atavistic forces,
and this is far more dangerous than the preceding trend of language
politics. Of course, technology has played a decisive role, particularly in
the case of Urdu, where the issue of script has become oversensitive and
has been fully exploited by politicians. Now, with the revolution of
internet technology anyone can learn the Urdu script and, as a result, a
new version of Urdu has emerged. This is a welcome development.

As the new General Secretary of the Anjuman, I have come to realize that
while fortunately the organization is completely free from the impact of
Islamophobia, there is a need to draw this old nationalist organization
with secular ethos into the civic space where the new generation, not
exposed to the partition, is open to all languages. In fact, a large number
of non-Muslim youth have been drawn towards Urdu, not in the original
Arabic-Persian script, but in a format more attuned to present times. This
change has disarmed the protagonists of so-called Hindi, who have given a
bad name to what was the national language for all these years.

Through this note, I invite your suggestions for various measures via which
Urdu literature can better enrich national life. I also want to associate
as many people as possible, mainly non-Muslims, with the Anjuman as I
firmly believe that people from outside the community who love Urdu
literature do not have any vested interest and can further its cause more
objectively. So please do contact us with your suggestions and

With regards and best wishes for 2013.

Yours sincerely,
Ather Farouqui

Ather Farouqui
General Secretary,
Anjuman Taraqqi Urdu (Hind)
Urdu Ghar, Urdu Ghar Marg,
212, Rouse Avenue,
New Delhi 110002
Phone: 0091-11-2323-7210
Fax: 0091-11-2323-6299


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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