‘British Raj promoted Urdu’

Published: April 12, 2012
85 per cent of books,
monographs and
pamphlets in north
western provinces
and Oudh in 1872
were published
in Urdu.

85 per cent of books, monographs and pamphlets in north western provinces and Oudh in 1872 were published in Urdu.


“The textbook tale that British colonial rule in the subcontinent harmed the development of Urdu is false,” Dr Tariq Rehman, Dean of School of Education at Beaconhouse National University, said in a lecture at the Forman Christian (FC) College University on Tuesday.

Delivering a lecture titled ‘From Hindi to Urdu: A Social Political History,’ organised by the History Society, Dr Rehman said, “In fact, Urdu was promoted more than any other language in the region during British rule.”

He said that the language became popular in the army (lashkar) under the name ‘Hindustani.’ He said that more than 85 per cent of books, monographs and pamphlets in the north western provinces and Oudh in 1872 (currently Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Punjab in India) were published in Urdu, despite the region having a Hindu majority. “Even the court language in the UP was Urdu,” he said.

“After Urdu became the court language, it also became the language of commerce,” he said. “People began to take up the language to improve their education and employment prospects.”

Dr Rehman said, “From a linguistic perspective, Urdu, Hindi or Urdu-Hindi, as some refer to it, are the same language.  Cinema is a good indicator. By 1948, more than 140 Urdu-Hindi films had been produced.”

“The divide between the two languages is political. Their supporters were divided over the issue of script,” he said. He said that despite years of an ‘apparent’ separation, spoken Hindi and Urdu remained the same language.

He said national languages were chosen by national elites with regard to political imperatives. “Urdu was chosen as the national language in Pakistan due to its association with the independence movement,” he said, “But resistance brewed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Bengal (now Bangladesh).”

He said that the Punjab had adopted Urdu, since the Punjabi elite had it used as a symbol of Pakistani nationalism to consolidate its control over the country.

He said Urdu which was the mother tongue of only the 7.6 per cent mohajirs in Pakistan’s population had become the second language of most Pakistanis.

“It goes without saying that languages evolve with time. Urdu spoken by Karachi’s mohajirs is different from Urdu spoken in India, for example, the word ‘chowrangi’, an area where four roads meet, is only used in Karachi,” he said.

With words such as ‘prem’ (love) being kept out of Urdu usage for their ‘Hindi’ roots, Rehman asked scholars to stop creating an arbitrary divide between the two languages.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (16)

  • NuPak
    Apr 12, 2012 - 9:57AM

    What is this scholar talking about? What is the goal here by calling two different languages as "same"? Who is most concerned here to promote Sanskrit in Pakistan? I hope no one is assuming that by calling a developed language by it's origins___ from many different countries will bring peace in our country.

    The language issues are not going to go away with 300+ Indian and 50+ Pak languages spoken in their respective countries. Besides. how will you remove Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and English words from Urdu? What are we trying to achieve here anyway?


  • Citizen of Pakistan
    Apr 12, 2012 - 12:10PM

    @NuPak: I thank you for expressing your dismay at this “scholar”.

    Both my parents are Punjabi but I speak in Urdu with them and my brothers because my parents are patriotic citizens of Pakistan and raised me as a Pakistani.

    I reject the notion that “the Punjabi elite had it used as a symbol of Pakistani nationalism to consolidate its control over the country.”

    I wonder if these elements in our society are on someones payroll or just plain simple stupid. In any case society’s patience with them is nearing the threshold beyond which they can face the heat.


  • Kashif
    Apr 12, 2012 - 1:58PM

    Every country has a national/official language. What’s next, are you going to ask India to remove Hindi as its national language too? Hindi is not written/spoken by most Indians yet it has a special status as union language, along with EnglishRecommend

  • Ameer
    Apr 12, 2012 - 2:04PM

    Dear @NuPak:
    So are you trying to say that the Pak elite are not trying to remove Hindi origin of Urdu..
    Let me give you some example:
    *“Ramadan Kareem” instead of “Ramzaan Mubarak”
    *“salaat” instead of “namaaz”
    *”Allah Hafiz” instead “Khuda Hafiz”.


  • Shobhan
    Apr 12, 2012 - 2:11PM

    Why dont you use Punjabi instead ? Citizen of Pakistan

    just like Sindhis , Pushtuns and Bengalis do in there mother tongue ?
    Or does speaking in Urdu makes you feel like you are a Turk or a Persian and makes the Sindhis and Pushtuns less Pakistani ?


  • A J Khan
    Apr 12, 2012 - 2:15PM

    There are certain wrong impressions created with URDU. Urdu is not essential with Pakistanism. Urdu is just a language spoken by the people of UP, CP etc and those immigrants who came from India to Pakistan.
    The cult which is being created with Urdu and its divinity propagated by urdu speaking people is love that they have with their language and that is all.
    For us it is just one language spoken and understood in Pakistan


  • Syed
    Apr 12, 2012 - 5:28PM

    @ Ameer

    1- Ramadan Kareem is a noun while Ramadan Mubarak is a wish.
    2- The word “salat” in Pakistan exclusively refers to Vegetable Salad and not the Arabic Word Salat. I have never met , seen or even heard of someone using it in that perspective.
    3- “Khuda Hafiz” is not Hindi in origin, its Persian, and its still used in Iran today.

    By the way Hindi language itself is mixture of Sanskrit and Urdu. Theres difference between Hindi and Sanskrit you need to know. Urdu language was never derived from Hindi, as per my knowledge, it was Sankskrit, not Hindi. The main contributors of Urdu language were, Farsi, Turkish, Arabic , Sanskrit and to very little extent English.


  • Jawad Jutt
    Apr 12, 2012 - 5:49PM

    @Citizen of Pakistan Dear just tell me how Pakistaniat is connected with Urdu?. I speak Punjabi. Does that make me a Lesser Pakistani???. Also in Punjab except elite of Punjab no one else have abandoned Punjabi language and they still speak Punjabis and dont feel ashamed like you have commented. Also i think Urdu Divinity Propagation must be ended and Local languages like Pushto, Punjabi, Balochi and Sindhi must be declared national languages just like Urdu as Urdu is just a language like any other language and you will not go to paradise by speaking Urdu.


  • Shobhan
    Apr 12, 2012 - 6:34PM

    Very well said Jawad Jutt. I cant understand whats with this urdu obsession of Most Punjabis . Yes it should be respected and used as 1st Language but not at the cost of ignoring your own mother tongue, a trait only common among Punjabis .
    It seems Like the Typical cases feel mighty superior by using Urdu instead of Punjabi, fake pride I must say .


  • Simon Khan
    Apr 13, 2012 - 3:15AM

    Don’t forget There are 200,000 Urdu speakers in Bangladesh


  • Jamil Rajput
    Apr 13, 2012 - 3:22AM

    I could not comprehend what citizen of Pakistan have stated. He said that he is patriotic so he speak urdu while his parents speak punjabi. What a pity that one peculiar language speaker is considered more pakistani than others. I live in Europe and here no one despises any language and culture and we should do the same in Pakistan as well. The need of hour is to make constitutional amendment like India to declare our country a multi lingual nation like India and we should safeguard our local languages and traditions. Jawad jutt point is absolutely valid and i agree with him.


  • NuPak
    Apr 13, 2012 - 11:06PM

    After all: The country is not running on City Language, it never did!
    Fact: Governmental language only serves to "Oil" the large machine of Trade & Law.
    Bottom line: If I am in business I will speak any language to promote my business
    In the end: Who cares__ who did what? when? to "whom?" in history! .

  • Ali Tanoli
    Apr 14, 2012 - 12:30AM

    Thats why british made english to official lang of raj professor sahab. if they promoted urdu hahahahah


  • Ali Tanoli
    Apr 14, 2012 - 12:45AM

    no wonder pro tariq was in fcc so how can he condenm english raj.


  • Arijit Sharma
    Apr 14, 2012 - 1:29AM

    @Ali Tanoli: ” … no wonder pro tariq was in fcc so how can he condenm english raj.

    You would rather hang on to your cherished belief that the British favoured Hindi rather than hear the truth about the patronage that Urdu received from the British ?Recommend

  • arslan asghar
    Apr 14, 2012 - 3:19PM

    @Jawad Jutt:
    my motherr tongue is punjabi and i speak punjabi but i respect urdu more than any other language after arabic. urdu in subcontinent was a symbol for muslims while punjabi or any other language was’nt. It is symbol of islam in india. It reminds Indians of Islamic dominance. Any thing which other religions hate because of its connection with Islam will give you SAWAAB INSHALLAH and you will go to paradize because you like that language not because its your mother tongue but because of its connection with Islam.


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