Urdu is a part of culture, not politics

Literary seminars and conferences are held to promote intellectual discussions about languages and literature. One of the aims is to stimulate interaction amongst the civil society, the intellectuals and the younger generation. When held in an educational institution, these conferences are meant to inculcate in the students a deeper sense of intellectual awareness about the social issues involved, the languages, cultures and literary trends.
These literary events are certainly not the platforms to advance a particular political line of thinking. The organisers, therefore, must be careful and vigilant not to invite political activists who are always in search of platforms to promote their agenda. The cultural and educational institutions must be free from the political and religious prejudices.
The Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages ( Academy ) in collaboration with the department of Urdu, held a two-day-long conference on the socio- cultural challenges faced by Urdu language ( and literature ) , at the University of Jammu, on 16 and 17 October.
Prof Qadoos Javed, a former professor of Urdu at the University of Kashmir, in his keynote address, touched upon the various important influences that impacted the journey of Urdu, especially after the partition of the British India. He very sagaciously advocated the adoption of the local Indian motifs, idioms, and words to make the language a meaningful vehicle for the people who live in the 21st century modern India.
” People must find the language capable of carrying their thoughts with ease of expression. Urdu is a very flexiblle language, which has always accepted words from other languages without hesitation. This has greatly enriched her vocabulary.
” Any efforts to deliberately put the words of Persian and Arabic in Urdu should be discouraged. Such moves shall take the language away from the local masses who will find it difficult to understand and use it in their day-to-day conversations. In such a scenario Urdu shall be restricted to literary pursuits and face the danger of becoming a language for the elite, fit only for their intellectual duscourses”, said the wise professor who is a sane voice of our intellectual platforms.”
Expressing his views about language, Khalid Hussain, a writer of international renown said that Urdu, like any other language, must move along with the modern times. Even those who love this language and speak it well, find it difficult to work around her Persian script.
” This is the era of internet. Youth finds it easy and comfortable to use roman script for expressing themselves in Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi. Digital modes are adopted to share poetry. It is the need of the times and languages will have to adopt or perish. You can’t force people to learn the Persian script to enjoy the beauty of Urdu poetry and prose. Millions of Indians read Urdu in Devnagri and there is nothing to mourn about it “, said this Sahitya Akademi Award winning short story writer from Jammu and Kashmir.
Addressing the gathering as a Guest of Honour, I recalled an Urdu literary conference held in New York, USA, in the year 2012 to mark the centennial celebrations of famed Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. It should be a matter of pride for the people of Jammu and Kashmir that Seema Anil Sehgal sang Faiz solo at the opening of the prestigious international conference.
Among others, this conference was attended, and addressed by world renowned Urdu scholar and critic Professor Gopi Chand Narang. Voices for adopting Roman script for Urdu were raised at this conference, keeping alive the currently used Persian script as well.
I apprised the scholars gathered in Long Island, New York, that crores of people read and write Urdu in Devnagri script in India. There were no religious overtones given by the scholars, mostly Muslims, to this real time situation and suggestion. Urdu scholars from India, Pakistan, Canada and the United States of America were participating in this conference.
I further added : lovers of Urdu should consider publishing simultaneously in Devnagri, and maybe, even in Roman script, in addition to the currently used Persian script. The sole purpose of a language is to communicate. Publishing in a script widely read, therefore, is of paramount importance to help writers and poets reach far and wide.
Taking the views of Professor Qadoos Javed and Khalid Hussain further, I cited the example of Nida Fazli, a famous Urdu poet of the Indian sub-continent.
Nida Fazli held master’s degrees in Hindi and Urdu and was equally at ease in both the languages. He is known for conveying profound thoughts in simple words, using the Indian idioms. He used to tell me how his books, printed in Persian script barely managed to touch sale figures of 500 whereas the same book printed in Devnagri script will easily sell over 15000 copies.
I also said that, perhaps, the Muslims of India have done greater harm to the cause of Urdu than her detractors, by suggesting ( read declaring ) it is a Muslim language, specific to the Muslim population. By doing so, they exclude all others who are not Muslims, but love the language.
Dr Syed Mohammed Anwar Alam ( known as Anwar Pasha), a former professor of Urdu from the JNU ( Jawaharlal Nehru University ) , New Delhi, was invited by the University to read a paper on the socio-cultural challenges faced by Urdu poetry. Deviating from the crux of his topic, Pasha gave an altogether different narrative to the discourse in the conference.
He, unfortunately, took the discussion out of context and declared : “Any one who dares suggest to Tamils or Bengalis to forego their scripts, would be beheaded then and there by them !”, thereby insinuating that the same fate would come to those who dare advise change the script of Urdu from the currently used Persian. This, apparently, was a mischievous statement aimed at fanning religious sentiments attached to the Persian script.
I think it was devious of him to inject the thought that the conference was advocating Persian script for Urdu should be discarded. This was a wicked statement, sacrilegious to intellectual integrity.
The fact is this : nobody said that Urduwalas should forego their Persian script ; neither Prof Qadoos nor Khalid or I. Even if such a suggestion be made, can we justify using such threatening language in an intellectual discussion ?
How I wish Professor Mohammed Reyaz, head of the department of Urdu, University of Jammu, the respected host, had intervened then and there to chasten Pasha, the erring guest from the JNU.
Such unwarranted and malicious connotations should not be given to an honest and pure intellectual discourse. It is a strict no-no in a temple of higher learning like a university. Moreover, in no uncertain terms, it is unacceptable and unbecoming behaviour coming from a former teacher of a university.
I am reminded of a very pragmatic couplet by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, roughly translated here for those uninitiated in Urdu poetry :
Vo baat sare fasane mein jiska zikr na tha /
vo baat unko bahut na gawar guzari hai //
( That which I never even mentioned
That has been found disagreeable by him ! )
Proceedings of the conference were being video graphed. If so desired, the exact context and reference can be accessed by the University authorities who had hosted Anwar Pasha. They need decide afresh whether we should invite such irresponsible guests to the conferences. Remember, we have young minds of impressionable age amongst the audience.
I am so glad to mention that the audience, especially the students, kept their counsel and were not provoked. Nor was the conference unduly disturbed. Such commendable maturity of the youth automatically frustrates the dirty designs of a few.
Anwar Pasha came after 11 am and by 5 pm, he took a flight back to Delhi, without properly reading his paper and after unfolding a sordid enactment at the conference. Thousands of rupees were spent from the public funds for such a perfunctory and malicious presence.
In addition, Pasha also played a victim card and claimed that, unlike Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, Bengali or other Indian languages, Urdu has no official protection or status in India. Will somebody educate Anwar Pasha that Urdu is one of the 22 languages given “recognition, status and official encouragement” under the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India ? This was another ploy to provoke the audience !
Kudos to the Academy for holding such a conference in the university, the home to students and scholars. I am glad that Dr
Shahnawaz, the cultural officer of the Academy was successful to bring an admirable congeniality to the conference through his apt, honest and fair interjections and timely interventions wherever required. He displayed sagacity by expressing his disagreement with the stand taken by Anwar Pasha.
Poetic recitations by Sohail Siddiqui and Gaurav Kumar were endearing ; so were by Aseer Kishtwari, Rajkumar Chandan, Pritpal Singh Betab and Abdul Jagil.
On a personal note I don’t agree that Urdu has suffered a decline in India after the partition. I think Urdu has spread her wings through Devnagri and, to certain extent, through Roman script. We use Urdu in our conversations every now and then ; only we do not know we are speaking Urdu. But, undoubtedly, the Persian script adopted by Urdu is losing her popularity.
There is a steady decline in the number of those who can read or write the language in Persian script, in India. Since this script is not known to very many Indians, there is also a steady decline in the number of readers of Urdu newspapers, journals and books.
Let us not mix the language with the script. To a large extent, these are two different issues. The decline is restricted to Urdu script, not the language herself. Urdu as a language is very popular in India. It is well spoken and largely understood, especially in northern parts of India. Nearer home, Dogri is no more written in her original Takari script. It is progressing and propagating well through the use of Devnagri script.
The problem starts when we start using highly Persianised version of the language. What we speak as Hindi is in fact largely Urdu, unless it is chaste Sanskritised Hindi.
A large amount of vocabulary is common to Urdu and Hindi. Most of the times, it becomes difficult to differentiate one language from the other. Urdu is very much an Indian language. She herself is a mixture of several Indian languages like Khari Boli, Awadhi, and Punjabi, with a smattering of Arabic and Persian.
” What we speak as Urdu, contains a large chunk from Punjabi language ! Urdu contains at least fifty percent words from Punjabi in her vocabulary”, asserts Khalid Hussain.
“Punjabi itself is written in two scripts. In Pakistan, it is written in the Persian script called Shahmukhi whereas in India, we write it in the native Gurmukhi”, he further informs.
If Punjabi, a much older language as compared to Urdu, has survived in two scripts ( namely, Persian Shahmukhi and Indian Gurmukhi scripts ), what danger will ever come to Urdu if it is written in Persian, Devnagri and even in Roman scripts ?
Do you know that majority of population in Pakistan speaks Punjabi language, and not Urdu !
Less than 2 crore people speak Urdu in Pakistan, and, over 8 crore Pakistanis speak Punjabi.
But, Pakistan does not claim Punjabi is a Muslim language or that it is a Punjabi nation. Only 3.3 crore people speak Punjabi in India whereas nearly 7 crore speak Urdu.
Sikhs don’t give a religious colour to Punjabi, and nor do Pakistanis claim it is an Islamic ( read Muslim ) language. So, what makes Indian Muslims claim Urdu is a language of the Muslims ?
Please read these short foregoing paragraphs and absorb their enormous significance. I insist.
Dear readers, the message is clear : languages are a part of culture, not politics. Let us not give religious outfits to our languages. Let them remain means of communication and vehicles for our thoughts in literature.
To conclude, I celebrate Urdu language in the words of poet ‘Dagh’ Dehalvi, roughly translated for those who are not conversant with Urdu poetry :
urdu hai jis ka naam hamin jante hain ‘dagh’ /
hindostan mein dhoom hamari zaban ki hai //
( ‘Dagh’ knows it well enough, how
Entire India sings praises of Urdu ! )