“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.