Urdu Journalism And Indian Nationalism

The occasion, when Urdu journalism is celebrating 200 years of its existence, seems to be perhaps the best opportunity to clear some myths and misconceptions about Urdu. Urdu is a language, which was born and flourished in India. However, unfortunately following in the footsteps of the colonial masters, the new rulers of India too, demarcated languages on the basis of religion. Though in reality no language needs any religion to flourish but religions need a language to flourish.

Urdu, as a language, was patronised by all sections of the society, irrespective of their religion. But petty mindedness clubbed it together with a particular community. The colonial masters ascribed Hindi to Hindus and Urdu to Muslims, though both languages possess a rich tradition of substantial contributions from both sides.

It would be pertinent to note that in Urdu litterateurs consider Malik Ram to be an authority on Ghalib and similarly Jagan Nath Azad on the life, philosophy and works of Muhammad Iqbal, the two great poets of Urdu. Let’s try to see how various Indians irrespective of their religion, enriched the language.

Right from the beginning Urdu espoused nationalist sentiments amongst its readers and was completely anti-colonial and anti-imperialist in its treatment of the government of the day.

From its infancy in 1822, Urdu newspapers and journalists forged nationalist sentiments through their reporting and articles. Hindus and Muslims shared the ownership and editorial responsibilities equally in the initial phase of the Urdu journalism. Promoting Indian nationalist ideals and negating anti-colonialist narratives was the foremost duty of the Urdu journalists. As the Persian newspapers of West Bengal were forerunners of the Urdu press, a language, which was patronised by the Mughal court and adopted by the ruling elite of the country, they focused on Urdu after the colonial masters ignored Persian in favour of English.

Pandit Harihar Dutta founded Jam-i-Jahan Numa, in 1822 in Kolkata (then Calcutta). His father, Pandit Tara Chand Dutta, was an eminent Bengali journalist and one of the founders of Bengali weekly Sambad Koumudi. Editor of this three page weekly paper was Pandit Sadasukh Lal. It was the third language newspaper in India after English and Bengali, and was published till 1888.

After the unsuccessful revolt of 1857, Urdu journalism continued with its nationalistic fervour, as Urdu seemed to be the only language, which could play the role of a bridge between the nationalist leaders of emerging political parties in India and the common reader. However, after 1857, the centre of Urdu journalism shifted first to Lucknow and then Delhi from Kolkata. In spit of this various centres of Urdu journalism were present in almost all states of India, like Hyderabad, Madras, Bangalore, Mumbai, Patna, Bhopal and Srinagar, some of the current oldest dailies were started from these cities.

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From 1857 onwards, Urdu journalism entered a new era of development under the patronage of all communities of India. An example is Oudh Akhbar, which was published from Lucknow by Munshi Nawal Kishore, under the editorship of Ratan Nath ‘Sarshar’.

From the beginning of the 20th century, politics and social reforms dominated Urdu journalism. The political and social-reform movements launched by the Congress, the Muslim League, the Hindu Mahasabha, the Arya Samaj, the Khilafat Committee and the Aligarh Movement, exercised profound influence on Urdu language newspapers and periodicals. All these movements started various Urdu newspapers to propagate their thinking amongst the masses.

In 1919, Mahashey Krishnan started Daily Pratap from Lahore. It vigorously supported Gandhi’s policies and the Indian National Congress. It faced continuous government harassment and had to cease publication several times. It had great influence among the Urdu reading Hindus of Punjab and Delhi. However, after independence it changed tone and become pro-Hindu to a large extent.

In 1923, Swami Shraddhanand founded Daily Tej with Lala Deshbandhu Gupta as its editor. It had a wide circulation in Rajasthan, U.P. and Delhi. It too faced harassment by the colonial masters and was banned too in a number of princely states. In the same year, the Arya Samaj started Daily Milap, from Lahore. It was known for its powerful nationalistic editorials. Later, Jawaharlal Nehru founded Qaumi Awaaz in 1945, which survives even today through a web edition.

After Independence, with Hindi becoming the official state language, Urdu journalism suffered a lot. It resulted in its subscriber base being eroded and the state patronage more or less nil for its growth. Though many organisations were floated both individually and by government too, to fuel the growth of Urdu journalism, yet very little was achieved.

This might have been due to the wrong impression carried by the ruling class that they can’t connect with their supporters through Urdu newspapers, and also due to the self-detrimental actions taken by the so-called Urdu lovers too. This class prospered at the cost of Urdu and wanted every one to support Urdu, but they themselves in their personal life paid little heed to its growth.

The Punjab Kesari Group of Newspapers of Ambala started Hind Samachar in 1948. During this phase it used to be one of the highest circulated Urdu newspapers of the country. It’s current Chairman VK Chopra was once quoted as saying that his newspaper loses one reader every day, but he doesn’t have the heart to close it down, which showed his love and commitment to Urdu.

In 1992, the Urdu journalism received a shot in the arm with the launch of UNI-Urdu, the first wire agency in Urdu in the world. As by now the computerisation had made initial forays in publication field. This service helped many old newspapers to grow with more content being available and also helped many new and small newspapers to start publication.

At present the two largest multi-edition Urdu newspaper groups, are Rashtriya Sahara and Roznama Inquilab and ETV-Bharat a 24-hour Urdu TV channel, Zee Salaam and Network 18 Urdu, are all owned by non-Muslim groups, which again cements the central argument that Urdu is not a language of Indian Muslims but it is a language of Indians. The Muslims were burdened with the weight of Urdu as being a Muslim language, by the ultra nationalist forces after Independence, an anomaly, which has not been set right till now.

Contrary to popular perception, Urdu is not the language of Muslims. It was the soldier’s language and flourished during the Mughal period, assimilating words from Persian and local languages. The purpose was to make communication easy among soldiers who used to be Arab, Turk and locals. Later, Urdu became the language of the literate and masses, both, assimilating local Persian, Arabic, and Turkic influence over the course of almost 900 years.

After 70 years of a step-brotherly treatment being meted out to Urdu, it would be better if we could recognise it as the language of India and all communities try to work for its betterment and giving it the recognition and honour which it rightly deserves.

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He writes on issues related to Muslims, education, geopolitics and interfaith)

Religious or Linguistic Sensitivities

‘People Getting Too Touchy About Religious, Linguistic Identities’

Ravisher Singh, 24, an education consultant from Jalandhar wonders why people are on a short fuse about their religious or linguistic sensitivities as seen in Fabindia episode lately

I live in Jalandhar and among all Indian states, Urdu words are perhaps used the most either in UP or Punjab. Even for the rest of the country, Urdu and Farsi words have seeped so much into our vocabulary that we unknowingly use them. So it feels sad to see people getting all riled up over the usage of the beautiful language as was seen in the outrage over the recent Fabindia ad.

In the past few years, there has been an increase in people feeling outraged about what they perceive to be either direct or indirect attack on their religion. We see many a follower of Hinduism taking umbrage to how it is being represented be it then the recent Ceat Tyres ad or some other controversies in which people believe Hinduism was targeted.

Be it Hindus, Muslims, Christians or Sikhs or followers of any other faith, I feel people should do research into the matter/controversy before jumping in with anger. Our generation is all about social media and any outrage gets amplified and spreads really quickly, but we need to take a pause and assess how we really feel about it.

Ravisher feels social media users must avoid knee-jerk reactions

On the other hand there have been oversights in cases of brands. And say even in the non-advertising world, in cases like making a cartoon of Prophet Muhammad when even drawing his image isn’t allowed, one cannot say that followers of Islam shouldn’t feel offended. It depends from case to case and people shouldn’t give knee-jerk reactions.

Even if people are individually intelligent, the collective IQ is questionable. It does not take much time for a group to turn into a mob. The crowd is often led by a person who is intelligent himself and who understands how the idea of nationalism works.

Let us for a second imagine that a brand has some ulterior motive in using a definite script or promoting a hidden agenda. Should our reaction be how we reacted to Fabindia ad, threatening or terrorising them? Not only Fab India, many other brands also have found themselves at the receiving end of public outrage. Some of them give in so easily and don’t stand their ground. There was this outrage over the Myntra logo. People only see what they want to see, and ignore other important things.

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Narrow interpretations of one’s faith leads to fanaticism. I am a follower of Sikhism and I am also a man of logic, which is why blind faith in traditions isn’t my preferred thing. I would rather test a thing or act from all angles before putting my faith in it. The advertising world also needs to take care. We are being bombarded with ads on every platform in every inch of space available, some outrage is bound to be there given the quantity of adverts a person has to watch in a single day.

One should take proper time and analyse a raging issue before expressing one’s opinion. Instead of feeling outraged, it is advisable to understand the issue at hand and look for a solution instead of generating conflict.

Festive Clothing Line

‘We Know Fabindia Is Not The Target, Muslim Community Is’

TK Rajalakshmi, a Delhi-based senior journalist, finds targeting of a festive clothing line for its Urdu title regressive. But she also feels Fabindia should have fought back the bullies

It is evident that the intention of the BJP MP, Tejasvi Surya, who targeted Fabindia for their clothing line ‘Jashn-e-Riwaaz’, was communal in nature. People are not dumb; they understand which community is being targeted when you accuse an ad of ‘defacing’ Diwali because it uses an Urdu title. (It is another matter that part of the title was itself not spelled correctly by both the MP and Fabindia) The media is replete with similar instances in the country nowadays targeting the minority community, either in direct or indirect forms.

Hindustani is an amalgamation of Hindi and Urdu and spoken in many parts of India. The Urdu vocabulary reflects in a lot of Hindustani words that we use in our daily interactions, like zindagi, darwaza, tareef, rang etc. One good example is halwa, part and parcel of Hindu religious rituals and festival food, which is of central Asian origin. Does that mean we boycott it too till we find a new indigenous term for halwa. That way even Hind and thus Hindu too are Persian words. Why can’t we see that it is all about amalgamation of culture or languages over the centuries, and how it has evolved over time?

Urdu itself is part of the two dozen recognised official languages in the country. It is spoken in many states as well. Does that have no sanctity? All languages enrich communication and widen forms of expression and thought. To associate a language with a particular religion and therefore damn it, is unthinkable in the 21st century.

I also found it bewildering on the part of Fabindia to withdraw the ad and issue a clarification that ‘Jashn-e-Riwaaz’ was not its Diwali collection. They should have filed a case of criminal intimidation against the MP. There is a rule of law in the country. In fact the state government or the courts should have taken suo moto cognizance on the issue against the MP. By not doing so, anyone can in the name of majoritarian culture bully others on the flimsiest of grounds while the rest watch on.

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Fabindia is a fairly big brand with retail chains around the country. They should have stood their ground. I doubt if the controversy would have hit their popularity or profits. But by withdrawing their ad instead of fighting back it may well have an adverse impact. What kind of a message are they giving to their patrons and their suppliers, some of whom may belong to the minority community, by succumbing to the pressure?

This whole thing of what is indigenous and what is not is a bogus argument. Many festivals in India are celebrated by all. That’s part of our syncretic culture. Rather than being proud of the rich diversity of language, religion, attire etc, there are people who want to impose a bland homogeneity on us.

Does the MP himself not wear western clothes or Kurta? If he wants to be purely indigenous, he should wear only what people wore in ancient India and abandon all modern apparel, accoutrements technology including use of the smart phone. Will he?

Of course, such attacks are motivated. People are not fools, everybody knows who is targeted in such attacks. Be it the recent Fabindia ad now or the popular jewelry label Tanishq earlier (for showing an inter-faith marriage) last year. The greatest Urdu poet-lyricists of our country from Ghalib to Sahir, Firaq or Kaifi Azmi have given such great verses and songs. Are they not part of our heritage? Or should we boycott them too? Honestly, this has gone too far.

I don’t understand why other apparel brands did not come together and speak up against such bullying. Today it is Fabindia, tomorrow it will be one of them. It’s leading from one level to the other all because you want to target a particular community and constantly make them feel like secondary citizens. Where is all this going to lead us?

In his address to the nation on achieving the 100-crore vaccination mark against Covid-19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Indians to encourage ‘Made in India’ products. Fab India products are sourced from all local manufactures in the country. They have a significant role to play in popularising block prints etc in cities and they have played some role to popularise rural artisanwork and craft. The ruling political class should look inwards when some of it leaders make such clarion calls that willy nilly might affect those concerns. People from all walks of life ought to speak up against this.

As Told To Mamta Sharma