A language, any language, is not simply sounds and script characters which represent thoughts. A language is the soul of the people. It is the vehicle which connects their past to their present, their present to their dreams. It is the means by which one generation leaves its legacy for the next. In my view the single most significant event in human development is the evolution of languages. It was this process that enabled human beings to preserve their thoughts, teach others, learn from history and talk to generations yet unborn. Language is the elixir of eternal life. Or as close to it as we are likely to come.
Among the many strange developments in our country is a resurgence of hostility against poor Urdu, which is wrongfully alleged to be the language of Muslims. And since Muslims are people non-grata their language is language non-grata. No matter that it has nothing to do with Muslims in the first place. It is seen as that and so it must become unseen. There is a long history to all this and for those who are interested in it, please read this excellent article:
While I lament the completely undeserved hostility to Urdu, which is in the nature of cutting your nose to spite your face; I must say that nobody and no government can kill a language that people want to use. The very birth and rise of Urdu is testimony to that. Farsi was the official language of the time. Yet Urdu eventually supplanted it without any official support, simply because the people wanted to speak it, wrote in it, transacted business in it and so on. When you read the history of the development of Urdu literature and poetry you can’t help being struck by the enormous vitality of the language, its ease of expression, it beauty of turn of phrase, which thanks mainly to the fact that it was understood by the masses, gradually and then rapidly supplanted Farsi. English was repressed in South Africa during the rule of Afrikaners and Afrikaans was strongly propagated to the extent that even today most South African people speak Afrikaans. Yet we know that Afrikaans is dying and will die, and English is alive and well and growing.
The same is true of English in this country which has seen its share of hostility yet all the Hindutva and other chauvinists, send their children to English medium schools for one reason only; because without it they will not have access to the global culture. Languages must cater to the aspirations of people. What happened with Urdu as well as with almost every other Indian language, is that they didn’t keep up with scientific development. Indeed, Urdu has some of the most beautiful poetry, especially love poetry in existence. As an Urdu speaker, I can’t tell you how it has the power to move me to tears. English poetry on the other hand leaves me cold. There is no other word to describe that. However, when I need to work, think, write my thoughts to an audience that spans borders, it is English that enables me to do so. When I am explaining any concept in science, psychology, sociology or politics, it is English that has the words to describe precisely what I need to say. With Urdu (or Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu) I find myself translating the English to create cumbersome and ungainly expressions that make little sense.
Call it my lack of expertise in the Indian languages compared to my mastery of English, the fact remains that this is my experience. Talk to a million others like me and you will find that there are rather a lot of us around. Take that forward and ask how many like me are likely to teach Urdu to our children and you have the perfect diagnosis of the fatal ailment that besets Urdu. I was teaching a leadership course to a group of senior Muslim scholars in Urdu, simultaneously translating my material from English to Urdu when I realized, very painfully, this fact, that Urdu simply doesn’t have the words to translate the concepts I was talking about. I did my best and by explaining where I would have used a single word, I managed to do my job, but the fact was clear; Urdu no longer speaks to the modern person. It is like Arabic in a way that has more than twenty words for horse and camel, but not a single one for DNA, corpuscle, neuron or clavicle. Ask yourself, which is more important?
There are many Indian languages which have died over the years, not because someone actively prohibited them, punished those who spoke them and burnt all their literature and poetry, but simply because the people who spoke them, chose not to do so any more. Not a single one of them was spoken by Muslims. Not a single one of them was the target of any Governmental hostility. Yet they all died. Languages die because they no longer have words to express what people want to say. This doesn’t happen overnight but is a gradual process, where they fall into disuse. This is what is happening to Urdu. It simply doesn’t have the words to cater to our modern world or way of life. The world today has little value for the arts, for sublime thoughts or lofty ideals. It speaks in the language of the present, material, prosaic but real.
Gul o Bulbul kay fasanay hain bahut khoob magar
(Stories of the flower and Bulbul are beautiful but)
Roti tho kamana hi paday ga is mehfil kay baad
(I still have to earn my bread after this gathering)
This is the harsh reality of our life today. No matter how brutal or crass that sounds, language must be utilitarian first. Urdu seems to have lost that race. Incidentally I wrote that couplet just now to illustrate the dilemma of Urdu.
Today Urdu is dying in India, mainly because traditionally Urdu speaking people, Muslims and Hindus, have stopped speaking it. This is the inconvenient truth that those who complain about the impending death of Urdu choose not to face. Ask how many of those who talk of the need to protect Urdu, subscribe to Urdu newspapers? Ask how many children in their homes can read or write Urdu? Ask how many can quote, or even read or memorize Urdu poetry? I am not talking about Islam at all. The language of Islam is Arabic. Not Urdu. I am talking about Urdu literature and poetry; how many can read it, understand it or quote it? The answer is clear and visible before our eyes. But we like to blame the Government when we must look at ourselves first. The fact that Urdu is not the medium of instruction in schools or that it is not an ‘official’ language, is neither here nor there. Urdu’s history is witness that it was not the medium of instruction in schools nor was it the official language yet it supplanted Farsi which was both. It did that without governmental support and despite governmental neglect. It did that for one reason only; because people decided they wanted to use Urdu and not Farsi.
Languages die, not because of the aggression of enemies but the neglect of friends. Aggression may actually help a language which will go underground and remain alive and gain strength thanks to the dangers it faces above ground. This is how Arabic remained alive and well and was taught in secret to Muslim children to enable them to read the Qur’an during the more than eighty years of brutal repression of Islam and all its symbols in erstwhile Soviet Russia. Soviet Russia then became erstwhile. Not Islam or Arabic or the Qur’an.
The situation is not hopeless. Far from it. But the solution doesn’t lie in the hands of the Government. It lies in the hands of people. Our hands. The hands of those who claim to love Urdu. Start speaking it yourself. Subscribe to Urdu newspapers. Teach Urdu to your children at home, if schools don’t teach it. Listen to Urdu poetry and support Urdu poets. Read Urdu books and write in Urdu. No power on earth can stop you from doing any of this. You don’t need any money or time or resources to do any of these. Just the will to get up and do something instead of complaining and blaming the Government. This Government has much it must be held accountable for. But neglect of Urdu is the responsibility of Urdu speaking people. Not the Government.
Yes, the Government of India must support Urdu because it is a truly Indian language. It was born in India, is spoken my millions in India and is a part of the history of India. But before that, Urdu speaking people must support it. If people do it, what the Government does or doesn’t do, will not matter. If people don’t support it, no Government can keep any language alive. Sanskrit is the example to illustrate that. Politicians taking oaths of office in Sanskrit proves nothing. Ask how many speak Sanskrit at home or read Sanskrit papers. Much like Usha Utup singing Hindi songs.
In the drama called India we are about to open a new scene. Actually, a new episode of an old story – the so-called Babari Masjid dispute. The attempt by the spin doctors is to make it sound like the usual, ‘We Hindus are being reasonable, peaceful, non-violent and accommodative as usual. You Muslims really must get your act together and stop being a hindrance to development, fulfillment of Hindu aspirations and general goodness all around. You need to accept that you guys in 2017 are responsible for what your ancestors did in 1600.’
‘But they were not our ancestors.’
‘Ah! Who cares? A mere matter of detail, which spoils the story line.’
‘But how can I be responsible for something that allegedly happened (no evidence that it did – temple destruction and masjid construction on top of it) 400 years ago, when by the Law of the Land, I am not even held responsible for a crime committed by my biological, genetically verified father?’
‘There you go again. Facts, evidence, proof. We are talking mythology, belief, faith. Agh! Can never have a rational conversation with a Muslim. In any case this is one of the several things wrong with the Law of our Land. Anyway, why don’t you be reasonable and see it our way. We want the land. We helped you by removing the mosque. All that remains is for you to be reasonable and let go. What’s so difficult about that?’
Indeed, what is so difficult? Being Muslim and addicted to facts, let me state what I know about the so-called Babari Masjid dispute. I am not going to write about its history. Those who want to know can ask Google. Here are some links which make interesting reading:
Our story begins in September and ends in October, 1990. The famous Rath Yatra of L. K. Advani, which was intended to make him the Prime Minister of India, but which gave us someone much more powerful, N. D. Modi. Not quite what Mr. Advani would have wished, but it is all about the plans of men and mice etc. Advaniji’s Rath with a Toyota soul, made a Yatra culminating at Ayodhya at the Babari Masjid accompanied by the freed souls of uncounted innocents. It was also accompanied by souls still chained to their mortal existence in bodies of Kar Sevaks, infused with boiling emotion, boundless enthusiasm, enormous energy and murder in the heart. A very powerful combination that is guaranteed to propel any politician to the top. You may object to the fact that it did the job but on the wrong person. Advaniji will no doubt agree with you. But I say to you that reality is what counts, not what you intended to do. Masjid came down, BJP went up and the rest is history.
Then stepped in the spin doctors who have been doing their best to cast a fog over the facts and put Indian Muslims again in a spot, not of their own making. But those who define the language, own the debate. In the language of the spin doctors of the BJP, Muslims are always cast as the villain and, so it shall remain until Muslims decide to break out of the cycle and write their own definitions. Let me therefore define what the problem is:
- It is not a dispute between Hindus and Muslims.
- It is a case where a protected property belonging to Muslims which the State was responsible to protect was destroyed and the State failed in its duty to protect it.
- The Supreme Court is now supposed to examine what happened and pass judgement based on the Law of the Land.
- Public opinion has no place in the equation and can’t affect the ruling of the Supreme Court, one way or another because Court rulings are according to the Law of the Land and not according to whatever may be popular or acceptable to the public.
- There’s no question of mediation by anyone (SS Ravi Shankar is trying to get into the act) as there’s no dispute to mediate. But that is why they say, ‘You can never keep a godman down.’ ‘Not godman but good man’, you remind me. I say to you, ‘All godmen are good men in our modern mythology.’ Same difference.
- The Court is expected to interpret the Law and the Executive is expected to implement and if necessary, enforce it.
- QED, as we were taught to say in school and were told that it meant, Quite Easily Done. I am not sure if that is the right meaning, but in this case, it may not prove to be quite so easy.
I am all in favor of standing by a decision of the Supreme Court which is made on the basis of the Law of the Land. After all, that is what Rule of Law is supposed to mean, right? That is what differentiates civilization from barbarism.
We should know. After all we have been civilized for the past 5000 years. Or so we claim.
Gauri Lankesh was executed. What else do you call a bullet in the forehead? We know why. The question to those who did it and those with whose support they did it is, ‘Now what?’
The problem with using ‘ultimate’ strategies is that when they fail, you have nothing left. Ultimate strategies also indicate another fatal flaw, that you are desperate. Nothing is working. So, you try the last weapon in your arsenal, the most powerful which came with a warranty to destroy all in its path. You fire it. You wait. The explosion fades. The smoke blows away. The dust settles. But just as you are about to heave a sigh of relief, you hear a voice, then another, then another; just like the one you tried to silence. And you stand there, smoking gun in hand, empty magazine, wondering, ‘Now what?’
Sad to say this is not new. According to CPJ 41 journalists have been killed in India since 1992. https://cpj.org/asia/india/ As a culture we are not tolerant and benevolent as our PR likes to portray us, but are highly intolerant and vicious and brook no dissent to the dominant narrative.
Hegel said, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” If only we read and try to learn from history. But then those who killed Gauri and those who are engaged in manufacturing fake news or earning their living as internet trolls can hardly be blamed for reading.
History is replete with incidents of attempts to muzzle the voices of truth and justice. Anyone who reads history can only come to one simple conclusion, that ideas must be responded to by ideas. Arguments must be met with counter arguments based on facts and logic. Not by shouting, screaming, accusations, threats or bullets. But as I quoted Hegel, ‘We learn from history that we do not learn from history.’ That is why another quote which is attributed to so many people that I place it before you, crediting all those who may have said it, ‘Nations that don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.’
The purpose of all such attempts at intimidation, be it the tirade against Hamid Ansari or Amir Khan or the final step of the murder of Gauri Lankesh, is to create such an atmosphere of fear that people will censor themselves. Make such an example of those who refuse to be intimidated that the rest of them will learn a lesson. What those who propound that theory fail to ask is the final question, ‘What lesson will they learn?’
Take the situation today in this country. We had a nation which was quoted in the world in terms of its economic growth and its glowing future. Admitted we had our flaws, don’t we all? But we could stand in the middle of the chowraha (traffic intersection) and criticize the government without any fear of reprisal. Our Prime Minister was a scholar in his own right, an economist, a teacher and a man respected worldwide. Yet we could call him Maun Mohan Singh referring to his famous refusal to speak on different occasions without the fear of his devotees jumping down our throats. Freedom was the key word in our country, including the freedom to urinate in public, but that is another matter. Today that is the only freedom that seems to have remained if I am to go by a video that someone sent me of someone relieving himself in the Delhi Metro. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m244-kV_h8A
Today however, we have a situation where a young boy is murdered in a train filled by people including police officers and when the crime is sought to be investigated, there are no witnesses.
We have the father of an Air Force Officer, murdered on suspicion that he had beef in his fridge. We have a man slaughtered in broad daylight for transporting a cow for his dairy business when he had all the relevant permissions to do so. We even have officials of one state (Tamilnadu) officially deputed to transport cattle, assaulted and injured for doing their duty. We have a young man in Pune, lynched because he was wearing a cap. The instances of public lynching by what are called Cow Vigilantes are so many now that listing them is not possible here. The instances of online intimidation and abuse are myriad and instantaneous. What is remarkable and should be remarked on is not the incidents but the fact that they all go unpunished. No government can prevent crime totally. But any government worth the name must investigate it and bring the culprits to book. That is what a government is for. It is for governing. Not to dictate what people must eat, how they must dress, what they must and must not speak, who or what they should worship, but to govern the country in a way that citizens are safe. The government is not responsible for the incident but for what happens or fails to happen thereafter. That is what a government exists for. When crime goes unpunished, it spawns more crime. But of course, if the definition of crime is changed, then a crime is no longer a crime and the government is free from blame.
Safety and terror are both buzzwords today which are guaranteed to get attention. The problem is that today safety seems to be guaranteed for those who spread terror. While those who are being terrorized are not even allowed the freedom to mention it, no matter how mildly. Ask Hamid Ansari.
Will the murderers of Gauri Lankesh be apprehended and hanged? Will the murderers of Akhlaaq, Hafiz Junaid, Mohsin Sadiq Shaikh and dozens of others be similarly brought to book? Will I stop asking stupid questions?
When this government came to power in 2014, it did that on the promise of economic development. As the country with the largest number of people in abject poverty in the world, it is economic development that we need like a blood transfusion. That is why we elected this government. But what did we get instead?
Demonetization which destroyed thousands of livelihoods, impoverished those living on the brink, sank SME’s which are the backbone of society, wiped out the savings of the poor and did nothing to the black money and terror funding that it allegedly was aimed at. Anyone who knows anything about economics could have predicted this and many did. But this ‘surgical strike’ (not my coinage) on the economy was done with such swiftness that predictions had no meaning. Then came the implementation of GST. Another body blow to the economy that took down those left standing after demonetization. An initiative with noble intentions but the way it was done was to create confusion and despair albeit giving rise to a completely new multi-crore business of GST Advisors.
What we were promised was development, Sab ka Saath Sab ka Vikas. What we got instead was apartheid, oppression and for those who dared to raise their voice, intimidation and murder. What we were promised was Ache Din. What we are now promised is New India. What we were promised was elimination of black money, bringing back money from Swiss bank accounts and depositing money into the accounts of all Indians. What we are now promised is Cashless India. What we were promised was development for all Indians. What we are now promised is….
Well, as Hegel said, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” My question to myself and you is, “Do you want to prove him right or wrong?”