Former Vice-president Hamid Ansari, in a speech just after his retirement, commented that nowadays, Urdu is associated with Muslims which is what has caused its reduced usage. Surely, the undertones of his statement should be seen in the context of present day political landscape.
However, when I read this report, I was reminded of my first year in college in Patna when I attended 18th Chandrashekhar Memorial Lecture as an audience. It was our first semester and all the NSS (National Service Scheme) students – of which I was a part – were mandated by the professor in-charge to go and listen to the lecture. A famous Dastango (storyteller) had come to deliver the lecture, though i don’t remember the name. The topic was about language, in quest of language for society, or something in similar spirit, don’t quite exactly remember that either. The speaker declared at the onset of his address with vigour that presently,our society is suffering from acute linguistic crisis and people, special the youth doesn’t know what their language is. He further added that successive governments have ignored Urdu to favour Hindi since independence. Audience must have been left amused by these thoughts. Further, suggesting solutions, he claimed that only Urdu or Hindustani were the answer to these (perceived) problems. He also talked about the Ganga-Jamuni heritage and secular credentials of the language. It was 2013 and intense campaign for 2014 elections had polarized the atmosphere. Surely, audience, including we students, had strong opinions and comments to make. After the lecture, a charged discussion ensued with some sharp questions coming to the speaker. An elderly person, who was someone important as he was being treated very respectfully by everyone, went to the dais and refuted the speaker’s argument saying that society has no need to adopt urdu or Hindustani as it has already knit a language for itself. And he drew wide support from audience for that.
I have narrated this incident as it quite successfully covers the arguments given by most people who mourn the downfall of urdu as well as the first-hand reaction they get. Also, it touches upon some present-day challenges and historical questions looming over the language debates in today’s India.
This is first introductory post in a series of a few blog-posts in which I will discuss and comment upon the language issues centered over northern parts of our country such as the circumstances in which Urdu developed, Hindi versus Urdu debate, secular credentials of languages, etc.