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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 14 New Delhi March 26, 2016

Damning Urdu

Monday 28 March 2016, by Mukul Dube

“The National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL), which operates under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, has introduced a form which requires authors of books NCPUL acquires annually to declare that the content will not be against the government or the country.” (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/urdu-writers-asked-to-declare-my-book-not-against-the-govt-nation/)

The same source reproduces the form, originally circulated in Urdu, thus: “I, son/daughter of ..., confirm that my book/magazine titled ..., which has been approved for bulk purchase by NCPUL’s monetary assistance scheme, does not contain anything against the policies of the government of India or the interest of the nation, does not cause disharmony of any sort between different classes of the country, and is not monetarily supported by any government or non-government institution.”

Urdu is one of the twentytwo “scheduled languages” of the country. It is the language of vastly more Indians than, for instance, Bodo or Santali or Sindhi. Historically, there is no doubt that it is an Indian language. Whenever people have suggested that it is a “foreign” language, I have responded with two questions. First, was Urdu born in Hindostan or in Arabia or Peru or China? Second, where except in the sub-continent is it spoken? I know it for a fact that, despite commonalities in semantics, no one in Jeddah or Tehran can follow sentences spoken in Urdu. This is because syntactically it is little different from Hindi, or from what is still called Hindustani, or from the Hindavi of Amir Khusro’s time.

To my knowledge, neither the Ministry of Human Resource Development nor any other arm of the government has imposed a similar condition on any of the other twentyone “scheduled languages”. Clearly, Urdu has been singled out because of its association with Islam. Going further, because Urdu is the official language of Pakistan, it is stupidly assumed to be the language of “pro-Pakistan” people in India. This stupidity is a fundamental part of the ideology of the Sangh Parivar, which now rules over India. And these worthies see Pakistan not as just a neighbour but as an “enemy nation”.

This explains the main clause of the declaration demanded, “does not contain anything against the interest of the nation”. It is assumed that those who write in Urdu, given that they are chiefly Muslims and given that Pakistan is an “Islamic republic”, are by definition (in the currently popular expression) “anti-national”: specifically, they are Pakistani spies or agents.

The fear of “anything against the policies of the government of India” is, in a democracy, laughable but also sinister. It takes away the right of free speech, one of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. It is the consideration which governed the actions of the sarkari censors during the Emergency of 1975-77, when fundamental rights were suspended.

But this leads also to the question: Are we a democracy any more?

The author is a writer, editor and photographer.

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