ISSN 2330-717X

Status Of Urdu In The Land Of Its Birth


By Syed Shahabuddin

The 2011 census results in India have not been published yet. In census 2001, Urdu was declared as their mother tongue by nearly 52 million people, over 5 percent of national population. Urdu ranked 6 in the list of national languages. It is a major language in six states namely Uttar Pradesh (UP), Bihar, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Jharkhand for a cumulative total 85.6 percent of Urdu population. In the Hindi belt Urdu is also widely spoken, in the other states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi and Utrakhand, unlike other national language. Its disadvantages are not having a home state in which it forms a majority. Nevertheless it has been designated as the second official language in several states like UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh (some districts only) apart from several smaller states. However, this status is largely a formality as far as official and educational use of Urdu is concerned. Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the only state which recognizes Urdu as official language has a very minor Urdu population. Largely Urdu shares territorial space with Hindi.

In other national institutions like the Parliament a member may speak in Urdu but Urdu transcripts are not generally available. Surprisingly, while a member of Parliament may take his oath in Urdu, he cannot do so in UP and other state legislatures.
The highest judiciaries like the Supreme Court or High Court do not officially recognize Urdu.

The electoral rolls are available in Urdu for polling centers with 20 percent Urdu electors.

The electronic media, including the national channels Doordarshan (DD) and Akashwani (AIR), have occasional programs in Urdu, though daily news bulletin are regularly issued while every other national language has a 24 hours program on the national channel and in the home state. The persistent demand of the Urdu speaking population to allot broadcasting time in AIR and DD in proportion to its population in the listening area has never been accepted. The recent welcome change is that the language of electronic media has begun to use Urdu more liberally because common listener understands Urdu words better and rejects total Sanskritization.

When independence came and constitution was being drafted, the Congress parliamentary party discarded the Gandhian formula by one vote and the Constitution Assemblies adopted Hindi as the national language in 1949 by a voice vote and as the link language. Constitution recognized Urdu a schedule language along with 14 others and appointed a National Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities who surveys the status of Urdu in all states with little response. On partition, Urdu was declared as the national language of Pakistan though it was spoken by only 5 percent of its population. As a result of migration, on the Indian side the Hindu community, including Urdu and Punjabi speaking refugees from Pakistan steadily dissociated themselves from Urdu.
The result is that Urdu has become synonymous with Muslims though it is not the mother tongue of all Muslims but almost all Indians who declare it as mother tongue are Muslims. Among the major states AP and Karnataka top in the list with 94.3 and 84.6 percent of Muslim as Urdu speaking. In UP only 43.3 percent Muslims have so declared, even lower than Jharkhand. This epitomizes the tragedy of Urdu after independence.

However, Urdu survives because some devotees of Urdu continue not only to express themselves in their mother tongue but wage struggle for securing its due place under the Constitution.

In order to appease the Urdu speaking population, particularly to secure their votes at election time, central and state governments have taken various steps to promote Urdu. Urdu academies have been founded in several states. Increasing number of colleges and universities have Urdu departments. Urdu receives official grants for mushairas, seminars and publications of books, but all this can hardly compensate for massive exile of Urdu from schools. But films and electronic media, mushairas and Qawwalies are turning Urdu into a language of culture. But the younger generation is losing touch with its mother tongue primarily because the constitutional provisions of providing primary instruction through the medium of mother tongue have been largely ignored even in UP which has practically no government school teaching Urdu. But Urdu is taught in private schools and madrasas. Secondly, the central order introducing the three-language formula, which provided for mother tongue as the first language, has been deliberately undermined.

The mass popularity of spoken Urdu should not therefore deceive the Urdu lovers nor should speeches by public figures praising Urdu for sweetness and beauty and contribution to freedom movement nor mushairas and seminars nor the output of half baked PhDs which all critics agree have poor standard meant primarily for jobs in schools and colleges or in government offices as translators and clerks.

In a nutshell, Urdu is gaining ground as a spoken language but losing it as medium of creative expression. Urdu community should not live in the world of illusions. India is not likely to produce great poet like Mir, Ghalib, Iqbal and Faiz.

On independence Urdu migrated to Pakistan and crossed the seven seas to find bases in the Gulf, UK and the US where some universities are offering courses for their diplomats. It may be said that Urdu has spread horizontally but lost in its land of birth.

The writer is a senior Indian diplomat, prominent Muslim politician and eminent columnist.

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5 thoughts on “Status Of Urdu In The Land Of Its Birth

  • July 13, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    The land of Birth also has gone to Pakistan. Hence, Urdu is declared as national language there. While all Muslims do not have urdu as mother tongue, it is a fact that all urdu Mother tongue persons are Muslims. Hence, it is a language of one religion. Sanskrit is extinct in its land/slowly becoming extinct. You people need to come to the mainstream, as Hindus in Pak. have come ( they speak urdu/ Sindhi & Not Hindi/ sanskrit) . India, after partition, is no more the mother land of URDU.

  • July 13, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    Has not Syed Shahabuddin resigned from the Indian foreign service?
    It is the studied opinion of the linguists that Urdu is a style of Hindi. Its grammar is Hindi grammar and all of its verbs are from Hindi.By using foreign words from Arabia, Persia / Iran, Turkey it becomes Urdu. More such words are used more Urdu it becomes. Also it uses the foreign Arabic script which is incomprehensible to the Indians.Also that script is not as phonetic and complete like Hindi’s Devnagari script. Ismat Chugtai had suggested adoption of Devnagari for Urdu. Some some Urdu magazines have done just that.

  • July 13, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    I had Urdu as my regional language till the 8th class (1047), found it, and still find it a gracefull language with beutifull poetry. This, although I cnanot read Urdu any more. All of us love Gazals, most noth Indians like to attend Mushairas.

    We tend, unfortunately to corelate language to religon, which is a pity. Just as the Moslems relate themselves to Urdu (because it origuinated during Muslim rule) also Hindus who for genereations had spoken Punjabi at home (and mostly still do so) officially designated Hindi as their mother tongue just because Punjabi is “associated” with Sikhs.

    Languas is a living entity and we – followers of all religions in our country; shoulf follow the dictum “live and let live”

    We should lok at the attributes of a language !

  • July 17, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Urdu is fast disseapearing even as a spoken language in India due to the fact that there is little difference in spoken Urdu and Hindi and that Hinglish is becoming fashinable, which tends to replace the common spoken urdu words with English words. It should be noted that the Hindi meadia is keeping Urdu alive using the Nagari script. About 70% of Hindi newspaper’s language can be easily understood by a Urdu speaker. It is unfortunate that Urdu adopted the Persian script. Had it adopted either Nagari or Roman it would have been more popular and easily read. Perso/Arabic script is not suitable for Indian languages and hard to learn. It is the script that is killing Urdu. To rescue it Urduwallas have to bring about changes to the script.

  • July 21, 2012 at 8:38 am

    urdu is killing Punjabi language in pakistan,is n’t?


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