Dr.Zakir Husain & Urdu

Article for Favour of Publication on 8th February 2003
Sent to HT on 3.2.2003, final corrections made by SK on 2.2.2003
By: Salman Khurshid

(Late President of India, Dr. Zakir Husain is known as the Father of Basic Education. This is a tribute to his memory on his 106th birth anniversary that falls on 8th February. Salman Khurshid, former minister and senior advocate in the Supreme Court, is the grandson of Dr. Zakir Husain.)

Dr. Zakir Husain, the third President of India was an eminent educationist and is acknowledged as œthe father of basic education for his outstanding contribution to education. Soon after graduation he became deeply involved in the cause of education for all and worked relentlessly for it. He belonged to the nationalist school of thought and under the influence of Gandhiji he came close to the Indian National Congress. He, however, avoided participation in active politics because of academic pursuits. He helped found Jamia Millia Islamia (now a central university) as a nationalist institution in contrast to the educational and political ideology of the contemporary Aligarh movement. Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) had supported the British and later became a stronghold of the Muslim league. Jinnah once described the AMU as a safe arsenal of Muslim League (reported in Warood-e Masood, an autobiography of Prof. Masood Husain Khan). After the independence of India and the creation of Pakistan AMU was inevitably to suffer for the association with the Pakistan movement. However, Dr. Zakir Husain™s timely intervention rescued it form the indifference of the extremist lobby of the ruling Congress. He handled the transition dexterously as the vice-chancellor of AMU for a considerable period. He served as the Governor of Bihar before being elected to the office of the Vice-President and then the President of India. But his contribution to the famous Wardha Education Scheme of the Indian National Congress in pre-partition days remains a milestone of historical significance.

To the discerning the most remarkable achievement of Dr. Zakir Husain was the Urdu Movement, which he launched in 1952, aiming to secure safeguards for Urdu language as a Regional Language under Article 347 of the Constitution of India. We all know that Urdu is not only the most outstanding feature of the composite culture of India, but also the most cherished past of Indian Muslim culture. But the language became a political victim of communal hatred being unfairly held responsible for the partition of India. Urdu was labeled as a language of Muslims and suffered discrimination by the majority as well as the State machinery. Urdu which came into existence as a result of assimilation of two cultures”one of native Indians and the other of the Mughel court”became a powerful medium of communication by the beginning of the 17th century. Urdu classical literature of great quality and quantity was produced during that century. Gradually it spread not only all over northern India but also to the Deccan (South), where it flourished because of sufis and state patronage. During the 18th and early 19th century Urdu produced its finest literature in prose as well as poetry. However, during the latter half of the 19th century it met with a stern opposition from the revivalist Hindu lobby which, desperately seeking social and political primacy in the name of ancient Aryan culture, launched the Hindi movement ” a movement for a language free from the vocabulary of alien origin, particularly Arabic and Persian, and embellished with Sanskrit words, reflecting thus the ancient Aryan culture and its so-called Hindu ethos. Hence, Hindi was modified by replacing the words of Perso-Arabic origin by Sanskrit words without changing the grammatical structure of Khari Boli Urdu. Obsessively laden with Sanskrit words, this Hindi is merely an early twentieth century phenomenon. After the partition these chauvinists convinced the ruling elite to include Sanskrit as a modern Indian language in the Three-Language Formula adopted by state governments throughout the northern India. Consequently Urdu was wiped out from all the institutions of secular education, having been replaced by Sanskrit. As a consequence, there are virtually no Urdu medium primary schools throughout Uttar Pradesh.

But Hindu revivalism alone is not the cause of the rise of Hindi chauvinism. In the twentieth century, political developments had played their own role. Muslim league, a political party of the right-wing Muslims played the separatist and communal card (communal card was played by others too) which helped the chauvinist Hindus intensify their propaganda war against Urdu. Urdu was charged of being a foreign language because its roots were connected to Persian words. Because of being a language spoken mainly by Muslims and representing their cultural ethos, it was later on held responsible for the partition of the country. Thus, Urdu was made to pay for being the language of Muslims. It was denied a recognized link with any particular region of the country while all the other languages were recognized as languages of a particular region. The whole of North India (U.P., Bihar, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana, etc.) where Urdu was born and flourished, was declared an exclusive Hindi belt and Hindi was practically imposed upon all the people as their œmother tongue. The independence of the country brought in its trail the doom of Urdu, and within a little while Urdu was knocked out of every educational institution from U.P. without a second thought. It is an irony that Urdu appears in the columns of eighth schedule of the Constitution of India as a national language along with 18 others but without any region of belonging™ it remains a soul without a body.

Dr. Zakir Husain decided to launch a movement for the survival of Urdu in 1952. The basic demand was to secure a place for Urdu in the educational curriculum for those Muslims who claimed Urdu as their mother tongue and who consciously chose to stay back in India instead of migrating to Pakistan. The most important and honest demand he made was that Urdu should also be allotted a region of its own in Northern India. A memorandum to this effect was given to the then President of India, and it bore signatures of more than two and a half million people, apparently the Urdu speaking citizens. No other movement for any Indian language has surpassed the enormity and grandeur of this movement.

Measures to revive Urdu culture in north India can take up the spirit of that movement as its theme and aim to provide a feasible strategy for inclusion of Urdu language in the educational set-up of 21st century India and give it a place in the syllabi at every level up to graduation. All citizens of India who wish to see Muslims firmly in the common civic space of secular India should extend their support for Urdu™s revival. Though the task may seem difficult in view of Hindu and Muslim fundamentalism, it is not impossible. Hindu fundamentalism is a passing phase thanks to the increasing awakening of the downtrodden sections of Hindu society itself. The movement for social justice has matured to a decisive phase and its foremost target is Hindu fundamentalism.

The intellectual history of Muslims and the impact of partition upon the Muslim politics as indeed the endeavours of Dr. Zakir Husain and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad to keep Muslims in the national mainstream require some effort to understand. The published texts of books and articles of Dr. Zakir Husain published by the Publications Division are useful materials. Theoretical frameworks can be conceived with the help of that material. But an intention of cultural assimilation minus the oversimplified interpretations of Muslim leadership in post-partition India is needed. Unfortunately these valuable documents have been treated as mere routine publications. The status of Urdu language, Urdu education after independence, and its impact on socio-political life of Indian Muslims are very important for our understanding of contemporary India. Some eminent educationaists hold the view that after the suspension of Urdu from formal educational institutions, Muslims sensed so great a threat to their culture (in the Hindi education system) that they altogether decided to abandon formal education through the so-called secular educational institutions. They resorted to getting education at home or at Maktabs (religious learning centres at local mosques) and devoted their energies to earning a living from handicrafts. This resulted in the disappearance of the middle class of the Muslim community and expansion of the artisan class.

Muslims strove relentlessly for the survival of their culture and language through Dini Madaris (religious educational institutions for advanced studies) that Muslim preferred for the sake of Urdu. The impact of this trend can be assessed from the fact that even today 99% of the students getting their education in secular, modern institutions, including universities, get part time Urdu education and rituals at these institutions during their childhood. They go to madaris not only for religious education but also to associate with their culture and language. Unfortunately this attitude on the part of Muslims has heightened fundamentalist tendencies and made them drift away from the mainstream education. But one should not forget the circumstances just after the independence that caused this alienation. While keeping in mind these historical facts one cannot usefully analyze the political and social status of Urdu and the dilapidated state of Urdu education.

We need to propose a feasible strategy for Udru education in the regions where Urdu speaking masses constitute a major or substantial part of the population. The Constitution of India gives its citizens the right to get education through the medium of their mother tongue. But the Muslims of India were denied this right since their region was declared a œHindi belt, making it virtually compulsory for all to get their education through Hindi medium. This insensitivity of our policymakers may well result in linguistic insurgency and the Muslims will to opt for English medium as and when their conditions allow them to access it. Choosing Hindi as the medium of education will become a remote option for them. It was due to such an aggressive attitude of Hindi chauvinists that Sir Syed Ahmad Khan had supported English medium at AMO College and English still remains the medium of education at AMU. Of course, Hindi is one of our national languages but its forcible imposition on any community will lead its protagonists to a point of no-return in opposition of Hindi, similar to the one reached in 1960s”at a time when Murli Manohar Joshi and Mulayam Singh Yadav were sharing the same platform of language chauvinism. Our honest goal should be to highlight these historical blunders and rectify them by ensuring that Urdu is duly included in the syllabi of secular education. Urdu speaking Muslims will then enjoy their constitutional right to education through the medium of their mother tongue and indeed become supportive of the growth of Hindi as well.

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