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Mainstream, VOL L, No 1, December 24, 2011 (Annual 2011)

Indo - Pak Relationship and Urdu: Companions in a Paradoxical Syndrome

Tuesday 27 December 2011


The state of the Urdu language and its literature in India, which, in its existing form, cannot play any positive role in Indo-Pak relations, forms the theme of this paper. By analysing contemporary socio-political conditions, I will argue that any expectation from Urdu, particularly its literature in India, in the context of Indo-Pak relations would not be very sagacious. At the most it can only serve the purpose of socialites and frivolous academics who get grants from all possible sources on its behalf and enjoy them on their own. The thrust is on the analysis of the relationship between Urdu as a language and Muslim fundamentalist politics in India and, by corollary, Pakistan.

In the guise of modern Hindi or Hindustani, sectarian Hindu politics played a major role in shaping the character of modern Urdu in the backdrop of the late-nineteenth-century politics of Muslim separatism. The politics of Hindi in the nineteenth century and after partition are very different and are dealt with elsewhere. What is important here is that after independence, some other languages, particularly north Indian languages, were taken under the umbrella of modern Hindi as different dialects of the so-called Rashtriya Bhasha, which was declared the official language (Raj Bhasha) of the Indian Union by the Constitution. Following the commencement of the politics of remoulding modern Hindi, the proponents of the Muslim identity of Urdu got a new lease of life. Given the historical background, the relationship between Urdu and Muslim identity became part of the centuries-old agenda of pan-Islamism and ultimately led to Urdu becoming completely inseparable from Islam. The movement to make it a symbol of the Persian past in India, which had lost all its significance with the decline of the Mughal empire, became rapidly politicised.

In these changed circumstances, the Islamic genre of Urdu played a significant role in the expansion of pan-Islamism and in even helping the Muslim elite win over Muslim masses to the idea of a separate Pakistan and a divided India. One should view Iqbal’s famous verse in this perspective:

Ek hon Muslim Haram Ki Pasbani ke liye,
Neel ke sahil se lekar tabakhak-e Kashghar
[O Muslims, be unified for the fortification of the hurum (Makkah and Madinah)
From the banks of the Nile to the lands of Kashghar
The masses as well as the nobility responded to this call…]
Hai Tark-e Watan Sunnat-e Mehboob-e Ilahi,
Dey Too Bhi Nabuvat Ki Sadaqat Pe Gavahi
[Exodus is the ritual of Allah’s beloved Muhammad (PBUH)
(by doing so) You ought to also testify to the veracity of prophethood.]

The outcome was that the Muslims bade farewell to their native regions in India and marched towards the desolate land where they had to build a new, uniquely Muslim culture. According to these, especially north Indian, migrants, their identity was special because in its creation the culture of the entire Muslim world’s rich civilisation was melded. Moreover, sectarian Hindu politics too took a leaf out of the book of Muslim political behaviour. After independence, in the case of Urdu, the Congress also pursued the politics of the nineteenth-century Muslim separatism and assured the Muslims that in independent India they were free to incorporate Urdu in religious instruction. In addition, in this charitable act, they were assured, they would always find the Congress at the forefront. Following Centrist policies, the Indian National Congress not only removed Urdu from the school system to appease the Hindus, but also pulled up all those roots of Urdu that were even remotely secular. Thus, in twenty-first century India, Urdu is an exclusively Islamic language, an inevitable and unfortunate outcome of the policies of the Congress.

In terms of the politics of language, the second half of the twentieth century in India was not very different from the first, although its manifestations and consequences, in the post-partition scenario, were of another nature.

Until 1980, mainstream Muslim nobility in India, under the shadow of the Congress, stayed confined to the echelons of power and politically distant from the Muslim masses.

As a result of the government’s policy, this turned out to be the most decisive period in the expansion of Urdu in religious institutions. Under Congress patronage politicians like (the late) Maulana Asad Madni not merely stayed in command at the famous madrasa of Deoband, but also, at the command of their lords, arranged movements like the Mulk-o Millat Bachao Tehrik (Save the Land and Nation). On several occasions, Congress rulers unequivocally promised in public that the religious institutions of the Muslims would be protected. The promise was always kept and it was quite helpful for the Centrist politics of the Congress. Religious institutions (dini madaris) too stayed dedicated to their mission of expansion of Islam, and Urdu was the sole medium of instruction in these dini madaris. The Dini Talimi Council played a vital role in UP in establishing and nurturing dini madaris. Because of these movements, Muslim religious institutions and Urdu thrived in an organised way.

In the advocacy and promulgation of religion, the government (read the Congress), never created any hindrance. The Congress stayed in command of the Central Government until 1996, except for two brief periods—after the Emergency and in 1989, when the United Front Government under the command of V.P. Singh was in power. In this way until 1989, with the exception of a brief interlude, the Congress held power almost unbroken, especially in the north Indian provinces and at the Centre. The Congress returned to power in 2004 in the era of coalition politics under the umbrella of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), and, unchanged in character, once again in 2009.

FROM independence until 1989, Dr Abdul Jalil Faridi and Syed Shahabuddin were the only two names of note in the Muslim political scenario outside the Congress fold. Although they were not associated with the Congress in the real sense, in regard to Urdu their politics was along similar lines as that of the Congress. These two Muslim gentlemen of distinction always stayed in the forefront of Urdu politics, even though the political agenda of neither was confined exclusively to Urdu. Syed Shahabuddin is the creation of the post-Emergency, anti-Congress phenomenon which could not survive. For various reasons, the negative political fallout of this exceptionally ingenious Muslim politician is far more all-encompassing than that of Dr Faridi, even though Dr Faridi was much more openly separatist. The Congress always needed a few such politicians outside its fold for maintaining a balance in public politics.

To say that the divorcing of Urdu from the school system, especially in northern India, was the only reason behind the general ruin of Urdu in India would be a simplistic analysis of an extremely complex issue. Modern Urdu has always been at the centre-stage of an emotionally charged Muslim politics. Not even one per cent of Muslim children in India attend formal schools as opposed to almost 98 per cent of Muslim children aged 5 to 20 being educated in dini madaris through the medium of Urdu. In 2003, the number of children seeking education in such religious institutions was nearly fifty million, and there were half a million such institutions in the country. During the past six years, the numbers of students and madrasas would definitely have increased. To view the situation from the perspective of that one per cent of Muslim children who got the opportunity to go to school, the secular school curriculum, especially in north India, does not provide them any facilities whatsoever to study Urdu even as an elective subject.

For a number of socio-political reasons, the Urdu elite of India, post-partition, was thriving in the Urdu Departments of different universities and affiliated colleges. Every time the Muslim elite, at the behest of the government, initiated any movement for the revival of Urdu, it had to rely on the support of religious institutions for its success. Religious institutions needed Urdu and no one in civil society gave any thought to the outcome of the nexus between Urdu and Islam.

In 1985, Malik Zada Manzoor Ahmed, a professor of Urdu in Lucknow University, initiated one such movement, which saw widespread participation, including that of the Communists. However, its real author was the Rector of the Nadwat-ul ulema, the late Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, under whose leader-ship, on June 19, 1988, the Rabitah Committee arranged a very successful conference at the Ganga Ram Hall in Aminabad at Lucknow.1

In those days, the CPM was also trying to establish the Janwadi Lekhak Sangh as its literary platform. Professor Mohammad Hasan, who was an old CPI hand through the progressive writers’ association, and had recently shifted his allegiance to the CPI-M, had also invested in it. For the organisation of progressive writers, the wound of Professor Mohammad Hasan’s betrayal was still fresh. A multitude of devotees gathered in Lucknow in answer to Maulana Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi’s call for the protection of Urdu as an Islamic language. Not only were different representatives of the Urdu nobility and Muslim politics present but also the bigwigs of Communist politics such as the then General Secretary of the Communist Party of India, C. Rajeswara Rao, Professor Naeem Ahmed, associated with the Janwadi Laekhak Sangh as well as Aligarh University, Professor Mohammad Hasan of Jawaharlal Nehru University and Raj Bahadur Gaur, an important pillar of Communist politics in Hyderabad. In this assembly of devotees of paradox, Comrade Maulana Is’haq Sambhali was also present! And of course Syed Shahabuddin was also there. The late Maulana Sambhli stayed connected with the Jamiat-e Ulema-e Hind until his last breath, but this did not interfere with his being elected as a Member of Parliament on a Communist Party ticket. While inaugurating this conference, the late Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi highlighted the relationship between Urdu and Islam in no uncertain terms:

URDU is the only language that is the youngest and yet widely spoken. The example of the greatness of Urdu is that the best ever work on the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is in Urdu. Funds have been offered on several occasions, for the Arabic translation of Seeratun Nabi [a famous biography of Prophet Muhammad] by Allama Shibli (Nomani), but unfortunately, it could not be possible yet.

In 1988, the Babri mosque movement was at its peak, and Hindu-Muslim riots were erupting with alarming frequency in different parts of the country against the backdrop of the inhuman incidents of Maliyana and Hashimpura of district Meerut in UP. The future seemed no less dangerous. The Congress desperately needed the movement of the Urdu Rabitah Committee to maintain a political balance in this situation. The movement achieved exactly what was intended, that is, publicly strengthening the image of Urdu as an Islamic language.

In 1989, the Congress lost power both in Uttar Pradesh and at the Centre. Consequently, the movement of the Rabitah Committee also ended forthwith. It might be appropriate to mention here that Maulana Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi was one of those directly involved in the bargain with the government in the Shah Bano case. The deal was that Parliament would pass a new legislation against the ruling of the Supreme Court but that the infuriated Hindus would be given permission to demolish the Babri mosque and build the Ram temple as a sop. It is another matter that the Congress sowed the seeds and BJP harvested the crop. The comments of Mahfuz-ur Rahman, who is a close watcher of Muslim politics, and former editor of the fortnightly of the Jam’at-e-Islami Hind Dawat (Urdu), are important documentary evidence in this regard:

“Before the opening of the Babri mosque, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi forewarned Ali Mian of the coming events in a special meeting. Whatever happened he was aware of all that to some extent. For him unlocking of Babri mosque was not an astonishing event. In addition, this foresight into the coming events and the incidents prevented him from taking any step with regard to the Babri mosque.”2

He goes on to say:

“If Muslims themselves take the issue of the Babri mosque as the basis for the separation or the alliance with political parties, then how can those people be considered wrong who have made Ram and the birth place of Ram, an instrument for the attainment of their political ends. These people are doing the same thing that the people of Muslim Personal Law Board are about to do.”3

It is also important to mention in this regard that in the history of post-partition Muslim India, reliable information about Urdu politics is hard to come by. In general, whatever has been written about Muslims in India is either the work of prejudiced Hindus or else the naïve solutions and analyses of Muslim sympathisers who know little about the complex Muslim question in India. After partition, the deepest of the wounds of the Muslims that were exploited by Urdu newspapers and magazines was that of the gradual decline of Urdu as a mainstream language.

However, even the files of the Urdu newspapers and magazines are nowhere to be found. Some of the newspapers have closed down; their offices have long been sold, making it impossible to access them.

In 1983, Syed Shahabuddin started the publication of the monthly Muslim India in both Urdu and English. The Urdu edition was scrapped after some time but the English monthly continued to be published unbroken for twenty years until 2002 and then, after a break of three years, was restarted to finally close it down in December 2009. Certainly, Urdu was the most prominent and constant cause in Muslim India.

LET us now take a look at that profile of Urdu which has been created by the teachers of Urdu Departments in universities and affiliated colleges and which can technically be termed the manifestation of Urdu politics outside the religious frame. As a matter of fact, this politics has had little resonance among the general Muslim public. The appointments of these teachers were the outcome of the government policy, which, from primary until intermediate, especially in north India, divorced Urdu from the formal, secular education system. Nevertheless, at the degree level people were given the opportunity of studying Urdu, regardless of the fact that they had never studied Urdu at school. The majority among these were either first-generation learners or else those Hindus who had been compelled to study Urdu before partition. Most of these non-Muslim scholars of Urdu were lower class non-Sikh Hindus belonging to Muslim-majority areas that later got included in Pakistan.

Economically, the majority of these Urdu-speaking Hindus had no connection with the erstwhile ruling class. In independent India, both the Hindu and Muslim elite gave priority to English. Therefore, at university and college levels, with the exception of a few, all those associated with Urdu teaching were those who had entered the field of education for the first time. In 1993, Shamsur Rahman Faruqi labelled these Urdu teachers fourth-generation illiterates.

Post-1980s, degree holders from dini madaris, the Islamic religious institutions, were declared eligible for university teaching in Urdu and Arabic. This gave Urdu teaching in universities an Islamic profile. With the Islamisation of the university teachers occurred the Islamisation of the political front of Urdu in free India. With students from religious institutions monopolising all those avenues, from Urdu institutions to Urdu newspapers, which had even the remotest connection with Urdu literature, the situation became worse.

Generally, at university level, students from religious institutions were eligible for BA degrees in Urdu, Arabic and Islamic studies or for direct admission to Masters in Urdu or Arabic. Most of these students from religious institutions, who then studied in these universities or affiliated colleges and later entered the field of education, were first-generation learners, and their next generation never considered taking up an Urdu-related career. The children of the majority did not study Urdu even as a language, behind which there are sociological reasons. The teachers of Urdu attained degrees and employment only by virtue of political affiliations not excellence in grades, nor were they politically trained. Therefore, for the majority, the importance of Urdu in terms of Indo-Pak relations is limited to enjoying literary seminars in Pakistan.

Most of them have probably never given a thought to the role of Urdu in Indo-Pak relations or, if so, only to the extent that Urdu is the language of Muslims in India as well as Pakistan. They have neither the intellect nor the competence to play any role in bettering the complex Indo-Pak relationship. Any model or pattern of education which does not have an Islamic character is anathema to them. Their political sensibilities are low and they do not have the depth to relate to life and literature. For a majority of these Urdu teachers, the issue of Indo-Pak relations and the literary heritage of Urdu is nothing but the ‘beautiful wait’ of Urdu poetry. However, considering the importance of the military in Pakistan, there can be no more befitting metaphor for the Islamic genre in Urdu literature, which could suit the plans of the populist and Centrist rulers of Pakistan. Besides Urdu, there is literature in other languages which can play an important role in the joint cultural heritage of India and Pakistan. However, these Urdu teachers, who are the sole contractors of any activity in the name of Urdu, cannot think of promoting this.

The majority of Urdu lecturers in India are ignorant of Hindi literature because of their narrow thinking, despite the fact that most of them are proficient in Hindi. Owing to their communal outlook, these university teachers of Urdu are equally ignorant about secular Urdu literature.

There are two major reasons behind this ignorance: first, the entire educational process in the dini madaris is dedicated to religious learning and, second, the only reason they studied Urdu or Urdu literature was to learn a language that could help them in Islamic studies. Since most of the Urdu teachers of university Departments are products of dini madaris, their perspective is mostly communal and archaic. For the alumni of dini madaris, Urdu literature is largely synonymous with profanity. Despite receiving big salaries in the name of Urdu, their hatred for the secular literary genre of Urdu is deeply ingrained. In sum, they do not have any interest in any activity other than the expansion of Islam; therefore, the Urdu Departments of universities have turned into arenas of politics of Muslim fanaticism and mediocrity.

The level of political and social awareness of these Urdu lecturers is so low that when they are asked why their own children do not study Urdu in school as one of the optional languages, they have no coherent answer. For them studying Urdu has no end other than obtaining a BA or MA degree in Urdu literature.

Most of them are so ignorant that they do not even know that up to the tenth grade in some States of India, particularly north India, it is compulsory for every student to study three languages. However, if their children happen to be studying in an English-medium school and instead of German, French or Sanskrit, study Urdu as an elective subject, these children won’t end up as Urdu professors like their wretched fathers.

Thus I am of the opinion that contemporary Urdu as it survives in India can further complicate Indo-Pak relations rather than bettering them. The reason is that almost all of its traditions have been superimposed by Islamic fundamentalism and the contemporary Muslim identity.

THE traditions of Urdu in Pakistan, about which one can be optimistic, are not the core subject of this article, mainly because my focus is on India. Nevertheless, in the broader perspective it would be futile to hope to reach any conclusion unless the condition of Urdu in Pakistan is taken into consideration. Therefore, I intend to highlight some of its trends—especially Pakistani progressive writing in Urdu, as the desire for better relations between India and Pakistan has long been centred on that school of thought.

In Pakistan, the majority of Urdu writers and poets—including the so-called progressive and Communist writers—have been friends of the establishment from the very beginning. Moreover, the political conditions that prevail in Pakistan, make hatred of India an essential survival mechanism. In Pakistan, the alleged supporters of democracy, political parties like the ‘People’s Party’—which has been home for Pakistani Communist and progressive writers for three decades—are as fascist, non-democratic and anti-India as has been the military rule. The two most prominent examples of Pakistani Communist and progressive writers are Sibtay Hasan and Ahmed Faraz. I have not included the name of Intizar Husain who is by nature an opportunist.

A study of their writings forces me to the conclusion that, at the behest of Pakistani leaders, Urdu literature has been repeatedly molested by them. From Sibtay Hasan to Ahmed Faraz, all these writers have been engaged in this principled exploitation with the same devotion. This has further aggravated Indo-Pak relations, for the reason that the Pakistani Communist or progressive writers have desired Indo-Pak friendship as much as Jinnah did a united India! A few Indians are of the firm opinion that Jinnah was not a separatist and that his Muslim politics was different from that of other backward-looking autocratic Muslim leaders because he consumed alcohol and pork! In the same vein, Urdu critics have come to the conclusion that writers and poets in Pakistan, especially progressive Urdu scholars, have a great interest in better relations between India and Pakistan. To bolster this specious argument, Urdu critics cite Intizar Hussain, who is a disciple of Mohammad Hasan Askari, an atavistic Islamist, and Ahmed Faraz among the progressives—who belonged to the camp of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Here it would be appropriate to remind all those who have short memories of the undemocratic, rather fascist, attitude of Bhutto at the time of the establishment of Bangladesh, when he pronounced ‘idhar hum udhar tum’ (our ways are separate, we live in West Pakistan and you in the East). Moreover, even those with short memories would remember the widely publicised comment of this propagator of Islamic socialism that ‘the day the Chinese urinated from the top of the Himalayas all India would be flushed out’.

Before proceeding further, I would like to draw your attention to the eye-opening ideas of Syed Sibtay Hasan, the author of Moosa say Marx tak, which he wrote during the reign of the so-called martyr of the nation— Zia-ul Haq—and because of which he was considered the guru of Pakistani Communists at that time. During the golden jubilee celebrations of the Progressive Writers’ Association, at a function in London, he displayed a very peculiar attitude, as can be seen from the following excerpt from a travelogue, written by fellow traveller, pro-gressive critic Syed Mohammad Aqeel, a retired Professor of Urdu at Allahabad University:

“On August the 4th, 1985 at 12.30 pm, the sixth meeting commenced. In the panel of judges were included: Professor Ameen Mughal (Pakistan), Prof Shakeel-ur Rahman (India), Sadeeq-ur Rahman Qidwai (India), and Raza Humdani (Pakistan). Among the speakers were: Syed Sibtay Hasan (Pakistan), Kartar Singh Duggal (India), Prof Namvar Singh (India), Dr Sheen Akhtar (India), Prof Zahida Zaidi (India), Fakhr Zaman (Pakistan), Saeed Anjum (Norway), and Mahmood-ul Hassan (India). In this meeting, the article of Dr Sheen Akhtar caused great commotion. He quoted that: In Asian countries, especially the ones under military rule, the voice of writers has been suppressed. Moreover, writers have failed in fulfilling their duty. Syed Sibtay Hasan found the statement highly offensive. He objected on the points that, firstly, why any particular country was pointed out in such a degrading manner? Secondly, that this remark was intended only in the direction of Pakistan. In addition, he emphasised that the people of India do not have any right to criticise us. Probably, Saeed Anjum (Norway) supported the ideas of Sheen Akhtar and at that, Syed Sibtay Hasan left his place, walked up to the stage and said that ‘say it in Pakistan and you will know’, and the argument got quite heated. Such a stance and that too, from a Marxist like Sibtay Hasan, did not seem much civil. Moreover, Safdar Mir and Abdullah Malik along with other Pakistani writers protested on the issue. Naturally, how could anyone be restrained from saying any thing in such a chaotic situation? Therefore, someone even commented that Sibtay Hasan deliberately provoked the issue, in order to flatter his government so that he may keep getting all those favours, which he has been enjoying in Pakistan. I do not know how much truth is there in this accusation. Nevertheless, Sibtay Hasan was never like this. We all respected and acknowledged him as an ardent Marxist but if it really is the case then in whom can one trust?

“But the question is: why do people have such suspicions about Sibtay Hasan? Why do they consider him a government agent? This attitude of Sibtay Hasan was indeed very bizarre. When the broad spectrum of world literature is being analysed, why not talk about Pakistan? In addition, if Indian writers are not eligible to comment on writers and literature of Pakistan, then how could it be fair to protest on the literature of any other country? In yesterday’s meeting, one Pakistani declared that the research and the compilation of the literature should be done in the way Syed Sibtay Hasan does in Pakistan; which implies that instead of analysing contemporary literature, writers should focus on the heritage of the past. He further added that books like Mazi kay Mazar (Shrines of the Past) and Moosa say Marx tak (From Moosa [Moses] to Marx) allegedly enlighten people and improve the understanding of their cultural roots and traditions. Transitory literature holds no such value; the right scenario of literature is that which Sibtay Hassan is presenting.

“I felt that the rage in the speeches of Pakistani writers is a part of that protest, which is silently gaining strength in Pakistan. The meek whispers of that are reaching us, through symbolic short stories and ghazals. The best instance of that is the short story Konpal (Flower Bud) by Anwar Sajjad. Mazi kay Mazar (Shrines of the Past) undoubtedly is an important scholarly and literary work but it is by no means, the voice of the time. The kind of passivity it encloses is the outcome of the repression of the revolutions and the restraints over the freedom of speech. Sibtay Hasan was an idealist Marxist writer, perhaps the constraints of circumstances has overburdened him. In any case, one has to survive and in those very circumstances which enslaves one from all four sides.”4

Pakistani Urdu writers, thus, are even more tainted by their ties to the establishment than their Indian counterparts. In this context, let me quote the famous ironic comment about Pakistani poet Iftikhar Arif who has always been with the establishment irrespective of whether it is civil or military. For this reason this joke is popular in literary circles: ‘Every one praises only his boss but Iftikhar Arif adulates everyone’s superior.’

PAKISTAN as an Islamic state is part of the Muslim ummah and in its Islamic folds there are a few so-called balanced minds in exactly the same way that the RSS has moderate individuals like Atal Behari Vajpayee who were presented very prudently in the broader interests of fascism. Yet, once the BJP came to power, the pogrom of Gujarat 2002 took place.

An Islamic society like that of Pakistan is ideologically opposed to the concept of democracy such as that in India. Therefore, the ideological clash of Pakistan with a democratic and pluralistic society like India is inevitable.

In fact it is not possible to find any such democracy in the Islamic world, because Islam doesn’t encompass the concept of modern democracy. How can an antiquated religious ideology, in which it is incumbent on the ruler to be an Amir-ul-Momimeen be in congruence with a democracy like that in India, where, because of Hindu majority, the very question of an Amir-ul Momineen—necessarily a Muslim—does not arise? The word momin means a pious Muslim and Amir-ul Momineen stands for the leader of pious Muslims.

In the foreseeable future, Urdu in India, owing to its Islamic associations, will remain an important feature of the pan-Islamic identity. In addition, those who cannot adjust within the broader Islamic fold will be marginalized in the world of Urdu literature. The declining number of Hindu writers of Urdu in India is noticeable. The reason for this is that these Hindu writers, in a democratic environment, are not ready to be part of the Islamic agenda.

Pakistani society cannot, at any level, be compared with the Indian democratic society which has, during the last sixty years, under pressure of social and religious diversity, under-gone political and economic transformation. Where economic concerns are determined by political agenda, the decisive role of economic trends in politics can be troublesome for all those who rail against Marxist philosophy. That is why people with a superficial knowledge of Marxism conveniently interpret the present liberalisation in India as a defeat for Marxism. This is obviously not so. However, this is not the place for a discussion on Indian economic liberalisation, its model and those natural conflicts that are unavoidable due to the many reasons that have destabilised the economic liberation of India. However, as far as conflict in terms of ideologies is concerned, it is the first step towards the validation of ideas, as conflict paves the way for a series of arguments and discussions and ultimately separates a scientific idea from a religious belief.

Since the majority of Indian and Pakistani Urdu writers are ignorant of all those stimulants that can play a major role in the betterment of relations between two highly sensitive countries like India and Pakistan, I do not harbour any false optimism. Most writers, of both the countries, are oblivious of the fact that diplomacy has changed its guise from traditional to economic and is tailored by the Chambers of Commerce all around the world. In today’s Saudi Arabia, FDI (foreign direct investment) is the strongest weapon in diplomacy as well as politics. The representation of women in Islamic dresses in its Chamber of Commerce is the sign of a slow but sure changing of its politics. If these women in Islamic attire, by delivering speeches at different international forums, protect the political interests of Saudi Arabia with regard to Muslim sentiment on the one hand, they assist in translating into reality the basic purpose of developing a conducive environment for FDI in the economy of Saudi Arabia by helping the Saudi Government create a balance between international pressure and local sentiment on the other.

It appears that the majority of Indo-Pak Urdu writers are like the Bollywood movies of the sixties, in which the viewer was given the impression of the songs being shot in Switzerland or Paris, though they were in reality shot in a studio in Bombay. In those times, even the names of these countries were enough to impress our colonised minds.

I do not intend to enter into a debate here about where the responsibility of the writer starts or whether he has any social responsibility. I will only state that Urdu writers who believe in the writer’s social responsibility consider their duty as being done by delivering speeches at state-funded seminars followed by lavish dinners. In the famous words of Italian thinker Gramsci, these men of words can be termed as ‘inorganic intellectuals’.

Radical Indian Urdu writers, by attending peace marches or by their presence as delegates at seminars in Pakistan consider themselves as having discharged their duties. In 2006, a large number of Left-wing Urdu activists and writers went in a delegation to Pakistan. The trip was sponsored by the Government of Pakistan and the delegates were the personal guests of then President and Chief of Army Staff General Parvez Musharraf, and strict security measures were taken for the protection of these ladies and gentlemen. This should be enough to gauge their level of commitment and their radical politics. It would also not be difficult to estimate to what extent this delegation was able to convince the policymakers of both countries, especially Pakistan, of the importance of public-friendly and democratic policies.

THE debates in Urdu literature about the social responsibility of writers mostly took place at a time when the memories of our colonial past had not faded and most Indians believed the Prime Minister of India to be a representative of Queen Victoria. Even then the few Urdu writers who knew English were borrowing themes from English literature or English translations of French and other literature and were circuitously presenting certain ideas in Urdu. The objective was to prove, at the command of their American lords, that is, the CIA, that it is useless to expect social responsibility from writers. Needless to say, most of their readers were ignorant teachers of Urdu Departments of universities or affiliated colleges.

In the post-partition political scenario of India, a majority of those Urdu writers who liked to be known as supporters of the secular politics of Urdu were not of the calibre to help in bridging the divide between India and Pakistan. They did not participate in any kind of social movement, even in times of the worst catas-trophe, let alone help build the relationship between India and Pakistan. So much so that Indian Urdu writers did not show any activism even after the disgraceful episode of Gujarat 2002. They only signed the appeals issued by writers of other languages. Later, they accepted awards from the Gujarat Government.

India and Pakistan are obviously two different states with two different political cultures and religious ideologies. Even Indian Islam is different from its Pakistani version. If political cultures are affected by social and religious elements—which they definitely are—then the present political culture of Pakistan epitomises all the negativity of Islamic extremism and separatism, which in the last three decades of the twentieth century, on the basis of oil money, gave life not only to the extremist Wahabi model of Islam, but also provoked strong religious reaction against it. Shorn of rhetoric, the reality is that at the time of partition, Muslim migrants to Pakistan were not forced to leave their homeland. They left of their own free will in quest of an Islamic state. The social and political downfall of Pakistan is not at all a surprise. Pakistan came into being in the name of Islam and, by incorporating religion into politics, banished democracy in any real sense and surrendered itself to clerics.

Like many Muslim countries, the clerics in Pakistan, by exploiting the faith, have created a volatile state characterised by sectarian conflicts, absence of tolerance, religious extremism, terrorism, and violation of women’s rights. Hence it is not surprising that news about Pakistan centres on these issues alone and nothing else.

Although Pakistan is one of the modern countries of the democratic era in terms of the date of its creation, it bears all the hallmarks of a state of the dark ages. Out of this very peculiarity, it gave birth to a similar Islamic state, Bangladesh, which in religious behaviour is following in the footsteps of Pakistan—indeed the descendent outdoes the ancestor.

As has already been mentioned, the analysis in this paper is limited to the performance of those Indian Urdu writers from whom a constructive role in the development of Indo-Pak relations could be expected. However, as I have also mentioned, the majority of the Pakistani Urdu writers, who are the trustees of the Islamic tradition of Urdu, are servants of the Pakistani establishment. However, since my theme is not Pakistan-centric, I have refrained from a detailed discussion or analysis of those statements which Urdu writers of Pakistan, in their anti-India sentiments, keep on making. Except Faiz Ahmed Faiz, almost every Pakistani Urdu writer worth the mention has issued statements against India on one occasion or another. On certain occasions, such as at the time of the creation of Bangladesh, Urdu writers of Pakistan poured out venom against India as a nation. In the list of such ardent critics of India, the names of well-known progressive poets like Ahmed Faraz figure prominently.

In this article, I have also particularly avoided discussing the role of Urdu in suppressing and obliterating other languages in Pakistan. Since it was not possible to completely disregard all these issues, I have tried to stay as succinct as possible.

THE conclusion I have reached is that Indian Urdu writers cannot play any kind of role in the betterment of relations between India and Pakistan. In my view, a majority of these writers have the same conservative Muslim mentality as Pakistani writers. In India, the major preoccupation of Urdu writers is converting others to their variety of Islam. If there are expectations from Hindu writers of promoting friendly relations between India and Pakistan, then these expectations should be built on the existing status of India as a secular state. However, despite all its limitations, India has remained a secular state, and Urdu, which has evolved into a trustee of Islamic culture in India, has no place in this scenario. Pakistan, with its Islamic structure, has joined the terrorist Islamic bloc. The kind of conviction that is required to oppose this appears to be lacking in almost all, including progressive, Indian Urdu writers. There is a famous quote by Nehru: ‘Secular is a person out of whom, even if scratched in a closed room, does not emerge a religious fool.’ Among the prominent Urdu writers of India, including progressive writers, it would be very difficult to find a single person who is not a religious fool.

The constraints of Indian democracy after partition made Urdu literature subservient to the political slogan of Ganga-Jamuna culture. Writers like Josh Maleehabadi were crudely presented as Urdu poster-boys on the national scene by the Indian establishment. Obviously nothing worked; soon Josh migrated towards the land of God—Pakistan. The other Muslim propagators of the Ganga-Jamuna culture slogan, such as Saghar Nizami, took refuge in the corridors of the Government of India. Moreover, the slogans of composite culture were completely silenced after 1980 when, as a consequence of a series of incidents of sectarian violence, Hindus and Muslims started to live in separate areas of concentration in almost every city, big and small.

The other reason for Urdu being over-whelmingly limited to Muslims is that the political establishment after independence recognised Urdu as representing the culture of Indian Muslims, despite being aware of the fact that in the changed scenario, the hostility of the Hindu public to this language was imminent. In other words, after partition, the Indian political machinery exhibited Urdu as the religious language of Muslims to hostile Hindus in exactly the same way as a lamb is thrown in front of a hungry lion. The Muslim associations of Urdu and Hindu hostility further divided Indian society on a linguistic basis which, by reason of the cataclysmic events surrounding its independence, was already more rigidly divided than any other society.

For better relations between India and Pakistan, it is more important that the Urdu-speaking Muslims of India be included among the beneficiaries of India’s knowledge system, cultural heritage and economic wherewithal. To ensure this, the government has to take special measures. People for whom the topmost priority is the survival, protection and strengthening of civil society, have to take the initiative in such a way that the Urdu-speaking Muslim community of India may itself begin to contribute to civil society; and after being benefited by the institutions of civil society it may rid itself of the scourge of linguistic fascism and religious extremism. The fulfilment of this dream is possible only with the politics of development amongst Muslims towards which no practical step has yet been taken.

As far as Urdu is concerned, other than discussions in Urdu about terrorism and extremism, no practical initiative can be expected from any Urdu writer. The cancer of inaction has malignantly spread in the complete body of the so-called literary society of Urdu in India. Moreover, for this holy purpose, government funding, from the provincial government to the Union of India, is readily and abundantly available. However, the question that arises here is: in what way and how should this tumour be treated, since its treatment has now become unavoidable? It is also certain that the cure comes at great cost and might require drastic measures including amputation. Nevertheless, if by taking these measures, society at large can be saved then it would still be an enormous service to civil society. Such a large population of Muslims of the subcontinent is living in India that it can play a vital role in human progress. Yet it is a regrettable fact that under the present national and international conditions, it has transformed into a Muslim sectarian political front and is a passionate supporter of every kind of international Muslim terrorism. This enmity towards the politics of progress is unfathomable. If we could deal with this Urdu sectarianism, then we might avoid the lurking dangers and might be able to save a large population from turning into another Islamic bomb like Pakistan or Bangladesh.

The day the Urdu-speaking people of India will turn into supporters of progressive politics, the blooming tree of conflict between India and Pakistan would wither away. All who claim to be in favour of better relations between both the countries must do just one thing, and that is to give open support to the politics of the progressive forces. The greatest danger on this path is from the populist approach, which has been working as an essential component of automatic resistance. The day the Indian Urdu-speaking society takes a step towards practical contribution to the politics of development, relations between India and Pakistan would automatically get better. However, will it ever happen? At least I am clueless about this.

[An abridged version of a paper presented by the author on the occasion of 150 years’ celebrations at Mumbai University.]


1. “Congress ko Aakhri Warning (Last Warning to Congress)”, Akhbar-e Nau (Urdu Weekly, New Delhi), July 1-7, 1988.

2. Mahfuz-ur Rahman, “Muslim qayadat ka naya chehra (New face of Muslim leadership)” in Mazhab, Musalman aur Secularism, Ashfaq Mohammad Khan, (ed.) (New Delhi: distributor Maktaba Jamia, 1994), p. 189.

3. Ibid., p. 193.

4. Syed Mohammad Aqeel, London-o-London (1987), pp. 42-43; publisher not known.

The author is a pioneer scholar in the field of Urdu language and its education and has for long been arguing that instead of modernising dini madrasas, the government should provide Urdu education as part of the secular curriculum of school education. He has written his M.Phil and Ph.D dissertations from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His recent book, Muslims and Media Images, (OUP 2009) presents a frank and no-holds-barred discussion on an important theme that has become a victim of oversimplification. The paperback edition (2010) of the author’s book, Redefining Urdu Politics in India, with a new Introduction argues how the once-secular Urdu language has now been relegated to only Muslims and confined within the realm of madrasas. It is a timely intervention in the wake of the Right to Education Act, 2010. He can be contacted at e-mail:

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