For some time now there has been an attempt to take away the stature of Urdu (or Hindustani) as the language of the masses and project it as just the language of the Muslim community. The political class has not refrained from doing irreversible harm to the language.

According to one of India’s foremost Urdu experts, Dr Zia Ur Rahman Siddiqui, “Unfortunately people do not read the history of this beautiful language. It was always a language prized by Hindus as well as Muslims. Poets have used the language to bring out the powerful ethos to unite different cultures and people. Both Hindus and Muslims have rendered unparalleled service to this language.”

Siddiqui told The Citizen, “One of the most touching sequences from the Ramayan, when Sita approaches Ram heading for exile to take her along, has been most beautifully brought out by the Urdu poet Brij Narayan Chakbast Lakhnavi who was born into a Kashmiri Pandit family in Lucknow:

‘Humrah apne van ko mere nath le chalo
Rekha tumhare charanon ki hun, saath le chalo
Nazuk hai mera sheesha-e-dil toot jayega
Choota tumhara saath to jee toot jayega’

Take me along to the forest my Lord
I am the dust of you feet please take me along
My heart is as fragile as glass and will break
If we are separated, my spirit will break.”

Siddiqui also points to eight nazms written on Holi by Nazir Akbarabadi (1740-1830). It was he who penned the lines, “Rang hai roop hai jhamela hai, Zor Baldevji ka mela hai”.

And perhaps the first play in Urdu, ‘Indrasabha’, is a fictional work about the mythological king Indra who is also called the Lord of Rain. It was penned by Amanat Lakhnavi (1815-1858) and one of the key characters in this play goes by the name of Gulfam.

Siddiqui has penned 18 books in Urdu including an Urdu-Hindi dictionary. Echoing centuries of linguists he observes that Persian/ Farsi and Sanskrit are two sister languages with a strong and similar grammar. He recommends ‘Surili Bansuri’ by Arzoo Lakhnavi (1873-1951) as a must read, for it is a book “written in pure Hindustani.”

Urdu evolved over a long journey of linguistic transformation that includes Dakhni, Hindvi and Rekhta, and was always spoken by ordinary people and poets. Over the centuries, Siddiqui reminds us, many Hindus launched and edited prominent Urdu newspapers, magazines and journals.

But over the last two decades an assault has been launched on this language, and efforts to undermine it are being made from various quarters with political intentions.

The most recent such engineered division was the reported proposal of the Panjab University in Chandigarh to merge its Urdu Department with the School of Foreign Languages. The move has reportedly been put on hold and the meeting scheduled to decide upon the proposal on September 30 has been postponed.

The proposal was met with an outcry from all Urdu loving people in the region including Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who registered his opposition in a tweet where he said he ask the university’s vice-chancellor Raj Kumar and senators to consider reviewing their proposal.

“Urdu is an Indian language, like all great languages of the country,’’ CM Singh underlined. “At a personal level, I regret that I did not have the chance to learn Urdu.”

Dr Ali Abbas of PU’s Urdu Department wrote to remind university authorities that Urdu was born, nurtured and cultured in India during the first two decades of the 13th century. From that moment onwards Urdu and its sister languages have not looked back.

“Now is the time to either merge the departments of Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi into one department, under the banner of Department of Indian Languages, or let them function independently as per the present day arrangement,” the letter reads.

This reporter was witness to the tarnishing of Urdu’s reputation in Gujarat, which was a prominent centre of Urdu learning until the last century. In recent decades those who wanted communal polarisation instituted the propaganda that Urdu was a language of “jihadi” elements.

Common Urdu magazines published in north India were “recovered” from those accused of such crimes, and were peddled as “jihadi literature” before the ever gullible media fraternity.

The biggest example was the infamous Akshardham terror attack in 2002, where six persons were tried on the basis of a letter written in Urdu allegedly found on one of the two terrorists killed in the operations.

All six were eventually let off by the Supreme Court 12 years later. Interestingly, none of the cops were able to read the language and a maulana or cleric had to be called in to read the letter.

Another interesting point came up during arguments in the case: while the terrorists killed had their bodies covered in mud and blood and also water, the letter was found in pristine condition.

This letter was the essential link that the prosecution relied upon to make its case in the lower courts as well as the Gujarat High Court, before the Supreme Court decided otherwise.

“One can imagine the state of affairs: after being set free, Mufti Abdul Qayyum Mansuri had to write his ordeal in the book Gyarah Saal Salakhon Ke Peeche (Eleven Years Behind Bars) in Gujarati, which was later translated into English and Hindi. He knew no one would understand Urdu, and would be keen to keep an Urdu copy at his place,” disclosed a political observer in Ahmedabad.

Many people feel that continued attempts are being made to marginalise Urdu and this leads to the question what needs to be done.

“There are three essential steps that need to be taken. First, Urdu needs to be released from the shackles of those who are trying to bring it under the umbrella of Arabic. Second, it needs to be spread among the non Urdu speaking masses so they can explore its beauty and take it forward together with Urdu speakers. The third thing that needs to be done is to promote translations from Urdu into other languages and vice versa,” says Siddiqui.

Surely this composite language has the ability to bring the masses together, in the face of political forces trying to divide us on religious lines.

Poet Munawwar Rana on politics and the Urdu language