The Hindi-Urdu question – by Dr Syed Mohammed Anwer

A language always has a place of birth, a nation to speak and no religion, but the Indian Subcontinent is perhaps the only exception where language has a religion too. Not only the language but its nomenclature, the script in which it is written has religious associations and connotations. Historically, the seeds of the Hindi-Urdu controversy were sown by our colonial masters to initiate the Hindu-Muslim divide, when the first Hindi prose book, Prem Sagar, by Lalu Lal Parshad was published under the patronage of John Borthwick Gilchrist (1759-1841) of Fort William Collage of Calcutta with the intent to promote Devanagari or Hindi script, in order to create, consciously or unconsciously, a divide amongst Hindus and Muslims. This partly helped the British to prolong their rule in the Indian Subcontinent for a century-and-a-half and ultimately culminated in its division.

But there is a positive potential latent in this so-called Hindi-Urdu controversy, which can be a helpful tool to bridge the “gap” between the people of the subcontinent, who are no less than one-fifth of humanity.

Call it Hindi or Urdu, undoubtedly it is one and the same language when spoken. Hindi or Urdu, in both of its forms and manifestations, is the lingua franca of India and Pakistan, respectively. The seed of contention—i.e., division of language on the basis of religion, which was sown by our colonial masters almost a century- and-a-half ago has grown into a big banyan tree, having many trunks, enough, offshoots, branches and leaves to accommodate quite a large number of living beings, and it is difficult to say whether it a one or more than one tree.

One side advances enough religious and political reasons favouring Hindi as the national language of India. Hindi, written in Devanagri script has historic, cultural and religious proximity with Hindus and the Hindu religion, easily accommodates more Sansikrit words, and therefore it has nothing to do with the Muslims of India. It is a mark of national identity of “Hindus.” Similarly, for equally religious and political reasons Urdu is said to be a hallmark of the identity of the Muslims of the subcontinent. It is written in Nastaliq script, and can accommodate more and more Arabic and Persian words. The script was “introduced” to write a pre-existent language by the Muslim rulers of the subcontinent and hence has nothing to do with the “Hindus” of the subcontinent.

It is simply incomprehensible to me why Hindi (which itself is a Persian word) is a Hindu language and Urdu (which is a Turkish word) is a Muslim language? How does the same sentence of “a language,” written in Devanagri become “Hindu” and when written in Nastaliq becomes “Muslim”? Then, by the same token, if the same sentence is written in Roman script, as it is in sms messages, does it become a Christian language?

One would see these two languages as altogether different, rather rival, languages unless and until he sees them without the blindfolds of religion and regional politics. No sooner does one pull off these blindfolds one realises that this is one unique language of the world which is written in two different scripts and hence has the capacity to accommodate as many words and phrases from the East and the West as possible. Simultaneously, it has the ability to absorb the wisdom of Sanskrit, the etymological intricacies of Arabic and the sweetness of Persian. In other words, as soon as we start viewing only half of its side, “Hindi” or “Urdu,” we deprive ourselves from thousands of words and phrases which have been assimilated by this great language over a long period of time from Sanskrit, Persian or Arabic.

If we exclusively consider its “Urdu” side we are deprived of a treasure trove of culturally rich and meaningful Sanskrit words and block our access to such a vast ocean of the words and meanings. Similarly, if we opt for its “Hindi” side we distant ourselves from the equally rich heritage of Arabic and Persian words.

Now one and-a-half-century since the first Hindi prose book Prem Sagar (1805) published by Daisy Rockwell & Co. for Fort William College, appeared in order to promote Devanagari or “Hindi” script, it has succeeded in opening a Pandora’s box of controversies, hatred and divide amongst the masses. In this consciously or unconsciously created divide amongst Hindu and Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent I see a ray of hope of peace emanating from this controversy because this language is the strongest, closest and most unbreakable bond amongst the people of the subcontinent.

In this age of information and communication technologies this dream can come true—rather, it is just a click away. Since the phonology of Hindi and Urdu is cent per cent the same, both can be transliterated (not translated) perfectly from one to other. If we are able to develop a free open-source software which can convert by one click all or anything written in Hindi into Urdu, and visa versa, then this simple IT tool or software will magically enhance the words of wisdom and knowledge manifold on either side of the Wagah boarder.

Once the masses of these two great countries will start realising and acknowledging this reality, it will automatically bring them nearer to each others hearts and minds. Bi-scripted websites will become a usual phenomenon. Writers and journalist will equally have readership on either side of the divide, people-to- people contact will be enhanced, communication amongst intelligentsia will be increased, communication “noise” will be eliminated and peace will have a greater chance to prevail.

Once we start adopting, using and embracing this wonderful language in such a manner then it will not only pave the way for peace in the region but will find its place amongst the official languages of the United Nations as a language spoken by 1.3 billion people of the world.

The only thing required is that we shed down our blindfolds of religious, political and historical biases.

The writer is a lawyer. Email: syedmanwer

Source: The News, May 17, 2010



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