Urdu, a language of the elite and the masses alike, a language that was once shaped by the poets and the peasants has now been alienated in its own homeland. Urdu now witnesses a sudden disavowal of a shared history and is pushed to the margins so much so that the language needs to prove its Indian-ness to be accepted. This time it is an advertisement which has led Urdu to face the wrath of hate, bigotry and ignorance.
Jin shahron MEIN goonji thi Ghalib ki nava barson
Un shahron mein aaj Urdu be-naam-o nashaan thahri
Aazaadi-e kaamil ka ailaan hua jis din
Ma’atoob zabaan thahri, ghaddar zabaan thahrI
(The same cities where once Ghalib’s voice resounded
Have now disavowed Urdu, made it homeless
The day that announced the arrival of freedom
Also declared Urdu a cursed and treacherous language)Sahir Ludhianvi
Urdu, the very own language of India, has become homeless in its birthplace itself. The recent row over FabIndia‘s ad that used ‘jashn-e-riwaz‘ (literally means celebration of traditions) for its Diwali collection led FabIndia to withdraw the ad.
The use of Urdu, ‘a Muslim language‘ to describe Diwali, ‘a Hindu festival‘, led Twitter users to call it an ‘anti-Hindu’ ad. The antagonism against Urdu also led the BJP leader Tejasvi Surya to call it an alien language and pointed out the use of Urdu, to describe Diwali, as a step towards ‘abrahmanisation of Hinduism‘. However, the ill-intentioned and ill-informed leader sadly didn’t have the right knowledge to understand the Indian-ness of the Urdu language. He would be surprised and even saddened to know that even his mother tongue Kannada has words of Persian influence and therefore is very similar to Urdu.
Urdu, also known as – Hindavi, Zaban-e-Dehli, Dehlavi, Dakkani, Rekhta – was born in Delhi and Lucknow. It developed further as those who spoke Persian, Turkish, Dari and Pashto interacted with speakers of Braj, Mewati, Haryanvi, Punjabi, Rohilkhandi, Bundelkhandi, and other indigenous languages.
This mixed language travelled out of Delhi with the movement of people as a result of the expanding sultanate. The language of Delhi reached Maharashtra and mixed with Marathi when Mohammad Bin Tughlaq shifted his capital along with the entire population of Delhi to Daulatabad.
It reached Telangana when the Qutubshahi kings and the rulers of Bijapur made it their official language. It was in Daulatabad, Gulbarga, Golkonda, Bijapur and their surrounding regions that Hindavi mixed with Marathi, Kannada and Telugu and their sister languages – eventually identified as Dakkani.
In the 18th century, Dakkani travelled back to Delhi to evolve into Rekhta to become the language of poetry, while Hindi became the language of prose. However, Hindi was also written in the Persian script, just as Punjabi. A great example is therefore Padmawat of Malik Mohammad Jaisi, which was written in Awadhi language but the script remained Persian.
The creation of two separate scripts (Devanagari and Persian) for the same language and instructing employees to use a particular script was part of the British’s divisive scheme. This policy was first put in place at Fort Williams College, Calcutta in the early 19th century. It was this scheme that created the fertile ground on which hate and bigotry against Urdu took their roots and birthed the strange idea of equating Urdu with Muslims.
Therefore Urdu, the language of Delhi, bifurcated into Hindi and Urdu. Thanks to the British instigation and the short-sightedness of petty politicians that Urdu was banished from the city itself after independence.
When the majority equates Urdu with Muslims, I say we both face the same fate in today’s India. Be it Muslims or the Urdu language, we both have become passengers of a ‘second class bogie‘. Where Muslims have to prove their patriotism, Urdu also has to prove its Indian-ness. Be it Muslims or the Urdu language, we have both become an alien in our homeland. Therefore, the state of Urdu can be aptly described by the following lines from an unpublished nazm of Rashid Banarasi:
Bahut samhje the ham is daur ki firqa-parasti ko
Zubaan bhi aaj shaikh-o-barhaman hai ham nahin samjhe
Agar Urdu pe bhi ilzaam hai baahar se aane ka
To phir hinduustaan kis ka vatan hai ham nahin samjhe
Sadaf Jawed is a PhD scholar pursuing Modern Indian History from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Farzan Ghani
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.