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

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 18 16:18:25 UTC 2013


I'm not sure if this message went out earlier, so I'm resending it.


Forwarded From:  <ather.farouqui at anjumantaraqqiurduhind.org>
Date: Mon, Jan 14, 2013 at 3:41 AM

Re:  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
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 contributions.

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

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