The occasion, when Urdu journalism celebrates 200 years of existence, seems to be perhaps the best opportunity to dispel some myths and misconceptions about Urdu. Urdu is a language that was born and flourished in India. However, sadly following in the footsteps of the colonial masters, the new rulers of India also delineated languages on the basis of religion. Although in reality no language needs a religion to flourish, religions need a language to flourish.
In the case of Urdu, nothing can be further from the truth. It was a language that was spoken by all strata of society, regardless of their religion. But pettiness has associated him with a particular community. Colonial masters assigned Hindi to Hindus and Urdu to Muslims, although both languages have a rich tradition of substantial contributions from both sides.
It would be pertinent to note that in Urdu literati consider Malik Ram as an authority on Ghalib and likewise Jagan Nath Azad on the life, philosophy and works of Muhammad Iqbal, the two great poets of Urdu. On the occasion of 200 years of Urdu journalism in India, let’s try to see how various Indians, whatever their religion, have enriched the language.
Urdu journalism, the language of millions of Muslim and non-Muslim Indians, has survived for two hundred years despite several obstacles. From the start, Urdu espoused nationalist sentiments among its readers and was thoroughly anti-colonial and anti-imperialist in its treatment of the government of the day.
From its inception in 1822, Urdu newspapers and journalists forged nationalist sentiments through their reporting and articles. Hindus and Muslims shared ownership and editorial responsibilities equally in the initial phase of Urdu journalism. Promoting Indian nationalist ideals and denying anti-colonialist narratives was the primary duty of Urdu journalists. As Persian newspapers in West Bengal were the forerunners of the Urdu press, a language patronized by the Mughal court and adopted by the country’s ruling elite, they focused on Urdu after colonial masters ignored Persian in benefit from English.
Pandit Harihar Dutta founded Jam-i-Jahan Numa, in 1822 in Kolkata (then Calcutta). He was the son of Pandit Tara Chand Dutta, a prominent Bengali journalist and one of the founders of the Bengali weekly Sambad Koumudi. The editor of this three-page weekly was Pandit Sadasukh Lal. It was the third language newspaper in India after English and Bengali, and was published until 1888.
After the unsuccessful revolt of 1857, Urdu journalism continued its nationalist fervor, as Urdu seemed to be the only language that could act as a bridge between the nationalist leaders of emerging political parties in India and the common reader. However, after 1857, the center of Urdu journalism shifted first to Lucknow and then to Delhi from Kolkata. Despite this, various Urdu journalism centers were present in almost every state of India like Hyderabad, Chennai, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Patna, Bhopal and Srinagar, some of the oldest current dailies were started from these cities.
From 1857, Urdu journalism entered a new era of development under the patronage of all communities in India. An example is Oudh Akhbar, which was published from Lucknow by Munshi Nawal Kishore, edited by Ratan Nath ‘Sarshar’.
Since the turn of the 20th century, politics and social reform have dominated Urdu journalism. Political and social reform movements started by the Congress, Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha, Arya Samaj, Khilafat Committee and Aligarh Movement exerted a profound influence on Urdu language newspapers and periodicals. All these movements started various Urdu newspapers to spread their thought among the masses.
In 1919, Mahashey Krishnan started Daily Pratap from Lahore. He vigorously supported Gandhi’s policies and the Indian National Congress. He was constantly harassed by the government and had to stop appearing several times. He had a great influence among the Urdu-reading Hindus of Punjab and Delhi. However, after independence it changed its tone and became pro-Hindu to a large extent.
In 1923 Swami Shraddhanand founded Daily Tej with Lala Deshbandhu Gupta as its editor. It had wide circulation in Rajasthan, UP and Delhi. It was also harassed by colonial masters and was also banned in a number of princely states. The same year, the Arya Samaj launched the Daily Milap, from Lahore. He was known for his powerful nationalist editorials. Later, Jawaharlal Nehru founded Qaumi Awaaz in 1945, which still survives today through web publishing.
After independence, with Hindi becoming the official state language, Urdu journalism suffered greatly. The result has been an erosion of its subscriber base and more or less nil state sponsorship for its growth. Although many organizations have been started both individually and by the government as well, to fuel the growth of Urdu journalism, very little has been achieved.
This could be due to the false impression conveyed by the ruling class that they cannot connect with their followers through the Urdu language newspapers, and also due to the self-destructive actions taken by the so-called Urdu lovers. This class flourished at the expense of Urdu and wanted everyone to support Urdu, but they themselves in their personal lives paid little attention to its growth.
Ambala’s Punjab Kesari newspaper group started Hind Samachar in 1948. During this phase, it was one of the highest circulation Urdu newspapers in the country. Its current president, VK Chopra, reportedly said that his newspaper was losing a reader every day, but he didn’t have the heart to close it, which showed his love and commitment to Urdu.
In 1992, Urdu journalism received a boost with the launch of UNI-Urdu, the world’s first Urdu language news agency. As now computerization had made initial inroads into the realm of publishing. This service has helped many older newspapers grow with more content available and has also helped many new and smaller newspapers start publishing.
At present, the two largest multi-edition Urdu newspaper groups, are Rashtriya Sahara and Roznama Inquilab and ETV-Bharat, a 24-hour Urdu television channel, Zee Salaam and Network 18 Urdu, belong all to non-Muslim groups, which again cements the central argument that Urdu is not a language of Indian Muslims but a language of Indians. Muslims were burdened with the weight of Urdu as a Muslim language by ultra-nationalist forces after independence, an anomaly that has not been established so far.
Contrary to popular perception, Urdu is not the language of Muslims. It was the language of the soldier and flourished during the Mughal period, assimilating words from Persian and local languages. The purpose was to facilitate communication between soldiers who were once Arab, Turkish and local. Later, Urdu became the language of the literati and the masses, assimilating local Persian, Arabic and Turkish influence over nearly 900 years.
After 70 years of fraternal treatment of Urdu, it would be better if we could recognize it as the language of India and all communities try to work for its improvement and give it the recognition and honor that he rightly deserves. (IANS)