Paper presented in the Seminar on
organised by Rajiv Gandhi Foundation
on 10-11 May 2003

The Idea of India needs reconsideration in one respect” i.e., the preservation and development of Indian languages. This should not be confined to the communal and narrow idea of monolingualism pushed by a lobby of reactionary northern Indian politicians during the latter part of the nineteenth century. The RSS also harped on that tune. Their terminology is no different from that of the British who in pursuit of their policy of divide and rule, gave weightage to some languages while deliberately neglecting some others. For divisive purposes they categorized them into languages of literature, dialects and the languages of folk literature. Needless to say that emergence of Urdu and Hindi as conflicting linguistic identities and as the only languages of north India is the handiwork of British policy; this situation is now being supported by the RSS and their ilk.

The Idea of India from the standpoint of language must recognize the equal rights of all languages. The practice of describing any language as mere "dialect" or a "style" of another language must stop. It is worth noting that ultraconservatives succeeded in having Article 351 of Indian Constitution declare "Hindustani", which was at one stage supposed to be the national language of free India and perhaps the only solution to the negative politics in the name of the languages, as a mere dialect of Hindi. Awadhi, Braj, Maithili, Magahi and many other languages, despite having independent and rich literary traditions, were also declared dialects of Hindi.

In the idea of a new India, all the languages must be accorded equal status and importance. It will provide opportunities to all the languages to grow as the mother tongues of their speakers by making provisions for their teaching in school curriculum. For this the 8th Schedule of the Constitution would need to be redrafted to include all languages.

This paper advocates the adoption of a progressive policy towards all Indian languages and negation of the colonial mindset. I have focussed on Urdu which is claimed by fundamentalists and obscurantists as the language of the Muslim religious community, just as Hindi is assumed to be the language of Hindus alone. Without going into how one can pull Urdu out of the clutches of fundamentalist Muslim leadership, we have to note that even if Urdu is spoken by a section of Muslims or even confined to them, that does not undermine its importance as a major Indian language. The language has to be saved from extinction through its teaching in schools for students who declare it their mother tongue. For Urdu speakers opportunities need to be provided in the state education system consonant with the curricula, and facilities available to speakers of other languages.

It seems that the RSS cloud over free India discourages us speaking about the Hindustani of Gandhiji. Gandhi's assassination was also in a sense the stifling of the language-debate. Inevitably we have succumbed to the agenda of a single "national language". We need to seriously assess the role of all the Indian languages in building future India, if we are sincere about making ourselves prosperous, plural and tolerant society. Despite the commercial value and excellence associated with English education, Government school education will continue to be provided in local languages and majority of our school going children will go through this system. Hence it is an imperative that we enrich and empower Indian languages medium schools.

Educational problems of Muslims are obviously very complex. Our policy makers have not given enough serious thought to them. To begin with we have to address the following:

In general Muslims are economically backward and do not have resources to send their wards to expensive English medium private schools. Despite general acceptability of the excellence and commercial value of English medium education, the State cannot for constitutional and political reasons transform the state education system into an English-medium one. State Governments provide education in their respective regional languages, hence adequate facilities for teaching their own language are assured. Unfortunately Urdu does not have that benefit.

Urdu, as cultural heritage, is part of Indian Muslim sensibility. It is also coincidentally the medium of religious education. In all the north Indian states the prevailing education system has forced Muslims to abandon the language of their cultural identity. As a result people who want to learn Urdu need either to make their own private arrangements or seek admission in madrasas basically set up to impart religious education. Part-time arrangements are not a feasible proposition in general because of the poor economic condition of an average Urdu-speaking person. However, one can hope that the 86th Constitutional Amendment that provides a fundamental right to education up to the age of 14 years will facilitate Urdu education as well for Urdu speaking children.

In the post-Partition India, Urdu's fate was virtually sealed with its ouster from the secular education curriculum. Unfortunately madrasas remained the only places where Urdu was available and they became repositories of Urdu. But madrasa education is intimately associated with religious identity. These madrasas impart education primarily in Urdu medium. To an extent they represent those who emphasize a separate religious identity. A large number of students come from a very poor economic background and cannot afford education elsewhere. madrasas depend entirely on donations by the Muslim community, and students do not have to pay for their education. Religion is definitely an important part of their life but madrasa education is not necessarily their conscious free choice. Only a few of them take up higher education in the madrasa system as a career. The question remains: how do we improve the poor students' economic condition and social status to provide access to institutions of modern life? For this, teaching of contemporary subjects as well as technical education should become a compulsory part of curriculum of madrasa system. But the authorities of the madrasa system have to be convinced. Government interference, even in an ˜advisory capacity' in the name of introduction of modern secular subjects could prove counter productive. However, non-governmental organizations working among Muslims and local educated people can play a significant role in inducing madrasa managements to introduce subjects aimed at job-skills and enhancing the earning capacity of students. In view of very disappointing results of the Madrasa Modernization Scheme it should be substituted with something more reasonable and effective. Regretfully in the present political atmosphere of raging controversies about school curricula, people feel that the ruling BJP government's interest in Urdu and the madrasas must be with an intention of eventually harming them.

Despite the constitutional affirmation of the status of Urdu as a national language, efforts have been made to drive it out from the social sphere by atavists. Earlier they could have been dismissed as an aberration but now these forces are in power. After independence, as consequence of the Partition, Urdu was undermined by the decision for its exclusion from the educational curriculum. Much water has flown down the Jamuna river since then. Remarkable efforts such as by left-wing intellectuals like Danial Latifi at the end of the last century, have made a beginning but the agenda for Urdu's revival remains ineffective.

Over a period, Muslims have realized that the revival of Urdu education in the secular curriculum is imperative because the isolationist madrasa education has been woefully inadequate to ensure social status and economic growth. In the entire Uttar Pradesh where at least twenty million Urdu speaking people reside, there are hardly any Urdu medium primary schools. This is, despite the constitutional directive (under Article 350-A) for education in the mother tongue. Even more surprisingly, the north Indian states, particularly UP, do not have provision for Urdu even as an elective subject, and offer Sanskrit as a MODERN INDIAN LANGUAGE making it compulsory up to the 12th standard under the Three Language Formula.

So what can be done for Urdu medium education for those who claim Urdu as their language and want to teach it to their children? A simple formulation is that in Government schools situated in Urdu speaking localities, Urdu should be the medium of education up to the 5th class. Hindi should be introduced from class III and English from class VI so that the students can easily switch to Hindi medium schools at secondary level and learn English steadily. In the northern parts of India, at present Hindi is exclusively the medium of education and Sanskrit is taught from class III upwards as a MODERN Indian language, (English is introduced from class VI); From class VI a combined course of Hindi and Sanskrit is taught up to class XII. In a nutshell, out of 300 marks for languages, 134 go to Sanskrit, 66 to Hindi and 100 to English. Urdu gets nothing! This situation must change and that may not be possible unless there is a strong political will backed by a mass movement.

This grating injustice suffered by Urdu speaking people has also posed a threat to the very survival of their language. The community has therefore begun to equate the survival of Urdu and revival of Urdu education with the wellbeing of Muslims as a political, cultural and religious entity. A debate on this issue has begun. It remains to be seen whether this will lead to a real political awakening. Political will and educational empowerment is desperately needed to revive this language and in turn for the language to bolster social empowerment.

The eventual solution to the diverse problems of Muslims will be found in political power augmented by the community's will to organize itself and harness that political power. For the present we are focussing on the educational problems of Muslims which need urgent political intervention.

(2) Urdu language remains the most important dimension of Muslim sensibility. According to the census figures of 1991 India has 4.3 crores (43.3 million) Urdu speakers”despite the view that census records of north Indian states may have recorded Hindi as mother-tongue of many Urdu speaking people. These 43.3 million people can have a substantive role in political developments in the days to come. Technically speaking, Urdu is the mother tongue of most of the north Indian Muslims. It is the language which fulfils religious needs. Besides Arabic it has the largest number of books on religion. Naturally many Muslims of the Hindi belt consider Urdu as a part of their religious and cultural identity.

Due to its association with Muslim identity, Urdu has incurred the distaste of majoritarian communalists although they had themselves learnt the language in undivided India. A campaign to undermine Urdu has been a prominent part of the policies of such groups. Political parties have repeatedly failed Urdu due to their fear of losing popular support.

In fairness, since Partition our intelligentsia has been overtly sympathetic towards Urdu, but somewhat ineffectively. Yet few intellectuals have supported the cause of Urdu through their writings. One can hardly find any academic writing in the field of social sciences focusing on the problems of Urdu. Research scholars pay scant attention to its problems. As a result we have no academic inputs for policy planning. The government policy concentrates only on Urdu literature and culture”promoting mushairas, fiction and criticism etc. Government assignments for Urdu textbooks are routinely given to Urdu poets, litterateurs and so-called literary critics. Nobody”including Urduwallahs”have spoken against this shortsighted treatment meted out to the education of a language. Urdu is either unavailable or else captive of mediocre syllabus”thus compelling low-income group Urdu speakers to put their children through alternative Hindi medium education.

It is deplorable that Urdu medium school education is not available in the north Indian region where a majority of Urdu speaking people live. In States like Maharashtra where it is provided, the standard of the books is low in comparison to those of the regional languages. Serious thought has not been given to re-evaluating these substandard books which include NCERT books. The trend of assigning the projects for preparing the syllabus for Urdu medium students to poets and critics was established by NCERT. Although our academia has a great command of history, and in shaping sensibilities of citizens have promptly reacted against saffornization, yet it is sad that they remain ignorant of the problems faced by Urdu speaking people. The result of leaving the future of Urdu education entirely to poets and writers is an esoteric and impractical syllabi up to the university level.

Our aim here is threefold” to undertake a realistic reappraisal of Urdu language in the formal system of education in contemporary India; to address the issue of representation of Urdu and the community of its speakers; and to explore the possibility of Urdu as a first and compulsory language for Urdu speakers under the three language formula. Urdu has been deprived of its rightful place in the curriculum of secular education. Our conviction is that Urdu cannot survive as a language of cultural expression unless it is included as a subject in the curriculum from the primary to the secondary level.

As a language of cultural heritage, Urdu can be an optional subject for students studying in English or a regional medium. In those parts of northern India where Urdu speaking people are in substantial number, Urdu can be offered as a medium of instruction at primary level”up to the age of 14 years. Afterwards, students can learn it as a first, second or third language up to the 12th standard, depending upon the available system and their informed preferences.

We should of course teach foreign languages at least after class X. For that purpose we must have more advanced systems. For those who wish to opt for a European language, a combined course with English could be introduced. The advanced Course of Hindi and Sanskrit must be provided as an option for those who want to continue the study of Hindi and Sanskrit at the senior secondary level. To sum up, I would recommend that Public Schools and Missionary Schools providing education through English medium, should think seriously about offering to their students several Indian languages as optional subjects.

With these observations I emphasize:

1. Inclusion of Urdu in the secular curriculum from the primary level up to the age of 14 years as a medium of instruction for those who declare Urdu as their mother tongue. Primary Urdu medium school must be provided in localities that meet the national norm of 300 Urdu speakers.

2. From VI to XII standard, under Three-Language Formula, Urdu must be taught as a first language (exclusively the mother tongue) to Urdu speaking children.

3. Hindi may be introduced as Principal [compulsory] State Language from class IV and English as the third language from class VI to XII.

4. From class VI onwards Hindi should be available as the medium of instruction in North India in Government run schools as well as in the schools which receive Grant-in-Aid from the Government. In these schools Urdu should be included as First and Compulsory Language along with Hindi as Second compulsory language and English as Third Language. From class VIII there should be a composite course of Hindi and Sanskrit. Wherever the people declaring Urdu as their Mother Tongue comprise 300 homes in one or more than one locality, Urdu medium primary schools should be established.

Unless Urdu is included in the school curriculum no amount of effort for its revival will succeed. Survival of Urdu will bolster the survival of our secular values and democratic tradition. If secular values are at stake, the future of all linguistic minorities will become bleak because anti-secular forces purport to deny democratic space to every other identity besides their own. So it is the high time for Muslims and for other religious and linguistic minorities to unite with the secular and democratic forces for preservation of our rich diversity. Unless Muslims give up the tendency of looking towards others to take up battle for their rights, they will remain marginalized. They should not expect the secular Hindus alone to fight for their cause. They have to join the fight for secular and democratic space and their social and educational empowerment”if they want to be seen as more than passive vote-banks. To get secular education is their constitutional right, and they should legitimately demand schools and facilities in their mother tongue.

As in other dynamic societies, changes are taking place in India too. The 86th Amendment of the Constitution of India notified on 13 December 2002 gave the fundamental right of education up to the age of 14 years. Children must get this education in their mother tongue”in case of Urdu linguistic minority, in Urdu. We should not oppose English medium education per se. But education in private institutions with English as the medium of instruction is a costly affair and cannot be a substitute for our own languages. Hence, every possible step must be taken to improve the system of education in Indian languages.