Whose Urdu is it anyway?

Urdu has an identity crisis in India -is it an Indian language or just a Muslim language? Liberals will claim that it is a secular language and list names of non-Muslim writers and poets who are still counted among the legends of Urdu. But if it is a secular language and belongs as much to non-Muslims as Muslims of India then “where are the non-Muslim writers, poets, and intellectuals who love Urdu language and literature and have made teaching Urdu a mission of their lives?” asks Arif Iqbal, editor of Urdu Book Review in the Apri-June 2011 issue of the magazine.

Urdu bazar sign

Urdu Bazar Road sign in Delhi, but where is Urdu? [Photo: TwoCircles.net]

But then is it right to say Urdu is a Muslim language? Iqbal asks how many Darul Ulooms have separate departments of Urdu established? and “what are their contributions in collecting and protecting Urdu’s knowledge capital?”

We have been busy discussing in futile debates like what should be Urdu’s script or whether this language should be linked to employment.

There haven been some sensible suggestions e.g. instead of asking for Urdu-medium schools rather ask Urdu to be made an elective subject in school, colleges, and universities. But then Arif Iqbal asks “who will start this struggle?”

Read more about Arif Iqbal and Urdu Book Review here.

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Kashif-ul-huda is the editor of TwoCircles.net. Follow him on twitter.

6 thoughts on “Whose Urdu is it anyway?”

  1. Where are the contemporary Muslim writers, poets, and intellectuals who love Hindi / Marathi/ Gujarati language and literature and have made teaching those languages a mission of their lives ? Separatism breeds reactive separatism.

  2. It was somewhwere around 1980, when Urdu was declared second official language in Bihar. The decision appeared more a political one to so many people incuding me, a young sensitive student activist based in Ranchi. It was then, when I was introduced to this excellent language & tradition. One of my senior friend advised me that I should first try to know Urdu before opposing it. The idea worked. With his help, I could get the feal of this great language & everything changed after that. “Main to murid ho gaya is tradition ka”. Though my knowledge is very limited to simply reading the pinted letters, still I am proud of what ever I have experienced. Urdu is not only a language, leave aside question of belonging to any particular community, it represents our composite culture, the entire tehzib of our undivided India. This can lose its shine for a while, but it will remain alive for ever. Language is a medium of expression & should not be judged by its ability of earning jobs or votes. Rather we should concentrate more on spreading this language by using modern techniques of remote learning.

  3. One keeps hearing that Urdu is not a Muslim language, but an Indian language. Probably true, but in that case, why do Urdu programmes on TV usually begin with ‘As Salaam Alaikum’ and end with ‘Khuda Hafiz’ or ‘Allah Hafiz’ ? Surely secular alternatives like ‘Aadab’ and ‘Al vidah’ are available?

    ETV Urdu is an example. In their talk shows, it is emphasised that Urdu is an Indian language, but many of the other programmes are Islam based. In the music request programme, the anchor greets callers with ‘As Salaam Alaikum’ straight away, assuming that all callers will be Muslim.

  4. There is no question about deciding the script to write Urdu. It has the Urdu script and the communalists make budgetory allotment to do the needful of decimating Urdu by publishing and making available sub-standard books. One may visit the many libraries with government institutes and realise how عثمان is written as اسمان. Here Mr DG Agarwal has teeth to say how many are there in other languages for awards? This is straight from the horses mouth situation. Communalists of all hue in India think that Muslims are a monolith and so is Urdu, but they forget that Kashif caste doubt about Urdu being Muslims as well. To the communalists, even sight of Urdu is offensive while they talk about minority rights in so called Islamic countries forgetting conviniently, ala selective amnesia that mere statute do nothing. India is a classic example of double standards in words and deeds.

  5. For kind attention of D G Agarwal, I would like to say that abundant information is available on this matter in almost all Indian languages. Muslim intellectuals in Bengali, Gujrati, Malayalam, Hindi, Kannada, English, Oriya, Punjabi, Rajasthani, Sanskirit, e.t.c can be easily found.
    Even Wikipedia is enough to have a glimpse.

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