Urdu newspapers are bens of liacoght
By Firoz Bakht Ahmed
It has often been noted that the contemporary scholars, intellectuals, politicians and even journalists while discussing the destiny of Urdu in India often underestimate the language’s uniquely secular character as well as the historical aspect.
Who can deny that Urdu was the cherished language of almost all communities in India and even in the decades after the partition, it remained the lingua franca of Indians. It was Urdu only that gave the call Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamarey dil mein hai (Ram Prasad Bismil) or Sare jahan se achha Hindostan hamara (Iqbal) to name a few. Urdu journalism was the basic media that used to regulate the struggle for independence. Usually the English press looks down upon Urdu, fed as it is with distorted facts that stand to be corrected. The already beleaguered and victimised Urdu has few friends. Such anti-Urdu articles have harped on traditional arguments but failed to guide or point to a strategy of Urdu’s uplift.
Urdu had been the most prominent language of India until the late sixties and umpteen publishing houses of the language in the country were manned by non-Muslims. Some of the greatest Urdu litterateurs have been Hindus like Firaq Gorakhpuri, Krishan Chander, Jagan Nath Azad, Tilok Chand Mehroom, Fikr Taunsvi, Rajinder Singh Bedi and Prof. Gopi Chand Narang etc. But political hawks have slotted Urdu as a Muslim language (as if languages have to follow religions). By the ever power-hungry political hawks, the Indian majority community has been misled into believing that Urdu is an alien language, that it had been the language of foreign invaders.
Urdu is a language of composite culture and it belongs as much to a Hindu as to a Sikh or a Christian. Similarly, Sanskrit and Hindi are not the languages belonging to Hindus. They are dear to Muslims as they might be to a person of any community. In fact, Urdu happens to be the language of heart as expressed by a friend of mine, Mr. B.D. Sharma, a senior B.S.F. official. His love for the language was so great that he learnt it without the help of any Maulvi Saab to the extent that he can read and follow the couplets of Ghalib. How happy and elated he felt the other day at Ghalib’s haveli in Gali Qasimjan. It was some thing that proved that Urdu is really the language of the heart. Sharmaji commented that it was extremely easy to learn Urdu—and he was bang on target with this comment.
Urdu was created in the army barracks of the Mughals. Urdu means lashkar (a conglomeration of people from various backgrounds). As Hindi today is a bridge between Hindus and Hindi-knowing Muslims, similar was the case between Urdu-knowing Hinuds and Muslims. Urdu is spoken in the two houses of the Indian Parliament as one often comes across the couplets of Ghalib, Mir, Iqbal and Faiz being quoted. Most of the Hindi films would be impoverished if there were no Urdu.
If at all there should be a language of Muslims, it is not Urdu but Arabic. Even at the school level under the trilingual formula, Urdu is taught in many institutions. Urdu press is also accused of yellow journalism. To some extent it is true of the fringe dailies as they want to sell by sensationalising issues. Press being the Fourth Estate, Urdu newspapers occupy a pivotal position. It was keeping this thing in view that Rashtriya Sahara Urdu daily was launched from Lucknow, Delhi and Gorakhpur a couple of years ago. The newspaper is the first coloured Urdu daily from Delhi and Lucknow disseminating news and views throughout the country and abroad. This daily can match any English newspaper in all aspects of journalism.
A rosy beginning of Urdu journalism was made with the post-independence beginning of the Nai Duniya Urdu weekly. It was with this weekly that investigative journalism began in Urdu. In fact, during the post-partition phase, it was Nai Duniya only that started demolishing the idea of Pakistan as the el dorado. It was owing to the articles in this weekly that the new leadership amongst Muslims like Arif Mohammed Khan, Obaidullah Khan Azmi, Rasheed Masood, Salman Khursheed, Ghulam Nabi Azad etc. came to the fore. It’s a different issue as to how much they were able to deliver.
Nai Duniya changed the idiom of Urdu journalism that till believed in scholastic language and Persianized Urdu. The weekly spoke the language of the layman. Frankly enough it was with this weekly only that emphasis on education was laid as a continuous series of articles on Urdu medium schools, madrasahs and universities got published. According to Nai Duniya, the Muslim community is showing the zest of the neo convert and has launched a jehad against ignorance and illiteracy. The paper also believes that the transformation of India’s Muslims since Babri Masjid demolition has been astonishing, a phenomenon worthy of being called taleemi inquelab (educational renaissance). It is based entirely on education. Believes Shahid Siddiqui, editor of Nayi Dunya that no other community is investing so much in the idea of education, nor glorifying so much the achievements of its children who are topping in school and college exams.
These winning children get more space in the Urdu newspapers than film stars do! Besides, what is more surprising is the study of Shahid that there are more anti-Pakistan letters to the editor in the Urdu papers than in their English or Hindi counterparts. The newspaper was in fact a trend-setter in this regard as other prestigious dailies in the South, West and even East like Siasat, Inquelab, Salar, Urdu Times, Munsif, Rehnuma-e-Deccan, Awam, Azad Hind, Akhbar-e-Mashriq etc. picked on the indispensable aspect of education. Some of the best Urdu editors are—Zahid Ali Khan (Siasat), M. W. Haq (Akhbar-e-Mashriq), Ahmed Saeed Malihabadi (Azad Hind), Dr. Aziz Burney (Rashtriya Sahara), Shahid Siddiqui (Nai Duniya weekly/ Awam daily), Mohan Chiraghi (Qaumi Awaz), Fuzail Jaffrey (Inquelab), Mir Badriuddin Ali (Salar), M. Afzal (Akhbar-e-Nau) etc. They can match any English paper editor as far as knowledge and information news sense are concerned.
A Hindu communalist and a Muslim communalist are joined together in their hatred of newspapers like the Rashtriya Sahara (Urdu), Salar or Nai Duniya. Even Pakistan’s animosity against some Urdu newspapers speaks volumes when extracts of the Indian Urdu dailies are occasionally printed with comments containing lampoon in their dailies like Dawn, The Nation, Jung, Nawa-i-Waqt, Awaz etc. Besides, many Indian governments and even the state governments are critical of the Urdu newspapers’ policy of calling a spade a spade, no matter who the ruler is. That speaks for their credibility.
Dilip Raote once commented in The Times of India ("Why I read Urdu papers": August 1, 1999) that many Urdu newspapers through their enlightened journalism have silenced the strident fringe elements always indulging in rabble-rousing. He praised the policy of many Urdu papers asking to emulate the Christian community’s convent schools. There are more human-interest stories in Urdu newspapers today, opines Raote. Siddiqui asserts that Muslims have to rise above their past and open their minds to modernisation and change to help their community educationally, socially and economically.