The government drew sharp criticism from various quarters last month for its neglect of Urdu. Some legislators also agitated the issue on the floor of the house. Unfortunately, this language has been connected to Islam and Muslims. This, perhaps, is the reason behind Urdu’s slow but sure demise in the state.
It may be true that most Urdu-knowing people are Muslim. But not all Muslims know Urdu. Muslims love Urdu not because it is a divine language, but for a different reason. Most Muslims in this part of the world do not know Arabic. For easy and effective understanding by commoners, religious literature has been produced in bulk in Urdu. It is, therefore, a mere medium of acquiring knowledge about their religion. The sooner Muslims understand this, the quicker their problems would get solved.
Muslims have been exploited to the hilt by politicians in the name of preserving and promoting Urdu in India. There are only three issues for Indian Muslims – the Aligarh Muslim University, the Muslim Personal Law and Urdu. And the government ensures that they (Muslims) remain obsessed with the three. Muslim Personal Law, for the information of Muslims, is a divine law, and Allah has promised to protect and preserve it. And, it can be best preserved by observance. How many Muslims perform marriages strictly in accordance with the divine law?
So far as the Aligarh Muslim University is concerned, it has now grown in shape and size. It was only a school when Sir Syed Ahmad Khan founded it. Protecting, preserving and extending patronage to the university is a compulsion for `secular’ India. It would be suicidal for any Indian government to change its name. The Muslims, therefore, need not worry.
Yes, Urdu will lose its sheen if Muslims connect it to Islam. As mentioned above, it is and should remain a medium of acquiring religious knowledge. They must bear in mind that there are millions of non-Muslims who speak this language, especially in North India.
The government has set up Urdu academies in many States where Muslims are in sufficient number, to satisfy `the demands of Muslims’. This is how they get exploited. They do demand Urdu academies for preserving and promoting the language, but fail to send their children to school.
The Urdu language has played a vital role in Jammu and Kashmir’s politics. The Lahore-based Urdu press ignited the spark around 1930. People rose in revolt against Dogra rule. Then came a time when newspapers started coming out from Jammu and Srinagar. All of them were in Urdu. Prominent among them were Javed, Hamdard and Al Barq. Urdu thus became the language of the freedom movement. It was spoken by Chowdhury Abbas and Prem Nath Bazaz with ease. Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and Raghunath Vaishnavi spoke it fluently. Pitamber Nath Fani and Sardar Budh Singh understood it properly. Allah Rakha Sagar and Jagan Nath Sathu could write it efficiently. The leadership reached the masses through Urdu. Nobody ever connected it with Islam and Muslims.
Remarkably, Dogra rulers never perceived Urdu in religious connotations. Instead, they made it their official language. A thorough study of the state’s diverse cultures, religions, languages, history, geography and other dynamics forces one to appreciate their wisdom.
The autocrats could have easily made Dogri the official language of the state, but they understood that Urdu alone could hold Jammu and Kashmir together. Urdu is spoken in Kashmir and Jammu. It is understood in Ladakh as well. People living in areas now under the administrative control of Pakistan also understand and speak Urdu. This is the common factor in a heterogeneous state.
Promoting Urdu, therefore, is a political compulsion for all those who want to see the state united. Strong voices demanding its division have been heard at various places recently. The minister of housing and urban development, who hails from Ladakh, rightly said that the National Conference did not do anything to promote Urdu. He said this while responding to a fellow legislator’s remarks two years ago on the floor of the house.
Much damage has already been done to the state’s unity, during the past two years in particular. A strong binding factor, therefore, is desperately needed to defeat the nefarious designs of unscrupulous elements bent upon deepening rifts between its various regions. What can be the binding force? The people of the state profess different faiths, have different cultures, speak different languages and have different lifestyles. But Urdu is common. It is truly `secular.’ Save Urdu for holding the state together, and promote Urdu for bridging gulfs between its various regions.