Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Urdu Press: The Need to Come Out of Ghettos

Recently I came across an edit from the Times of India, which speaks, among other things, about the narrow and defeatist attitude the Urdu media (read Urdu dailies) has been exhibiting since long. This isn’t a good idea for the simple fact that Urdu media (like any other media) plays a very vital role in developing the mindset of its audience, which mostly comprise of the Urdu speaking Indian Muslims.

While it’s the responsibility of the media to highlight any lapses on the part of establishment, continuously brooding over the ‘pathetic state’ can go on to cultivate a negative mind frame of its readers, which can and does hamper the growth of community in particular and nation in general.

Instead of toeing a fanatically-religious and anti-secular line, the Urdu media must once again go on to become what is was during the revolution of 1857 i.e. free, secular, progressive, and above all revolutionary.

By changing its attitude, the Urdu media can very well be instrumental in breathing a new zest in its audiance.

As Iqbal would say: Teri Khudi main agar inqalaab ho paida, ajab nahi ke yeah chaar sou badal jayey.

BTW, in the edit I learned about Maulvi Mohammed Baqar, who was the first journalist to be martyred during the uprising of 1857. And yes, he was an Urdu journalist.

I am reproducing the TOI edit below for the benefit of readers:,curpg-1.cms

Every morning I open the Urdu newspapers with dread. Will I have to read yet another regressive rant by those who call themselves the custodians of Islam, or one more litany on the wrongs done to the Muslim community worldwide?

Sadly, the answer is yes. What better example of this kind of bigotry than the headline in the Urdu Times on January 9: 'Sharon ki maut par jashn manaya jayega' (Sharon's death will be celebrated)?

Muslims, madrassas, reservations in a Muslim university, a mosque under threat, another lavish one being built, Muslims being oppressed from Kashmir to Kandahar and Baghdad to Bradford, Bosnia, Palestine, Afghanistan.

These are the staples that Urdu dailies thrive on. It appears as if nothing else in the world is newsworthy unless it has Muslims at its centre, preferably in a situation of victimhood.

But a paper is a hard habit to break, no matter how parochial, bland or offensive. And it is also unfair to tar all the Urdu dailies with the same green brush.

But since Hyderabad's leading Urdu daily Siasat is hosting the World Urdu Conference between January 14 and 16, it is an excellent opportunity for leading dailies and their readership to do some introspection and take a hard look at the fare being dished out everyday.

This exercise might be more constructive than breast beating about the tardy treatment meted out to the Urdu language by an apathetic government.

Urdu, the epitome of our 'Ganga-Yamuni tehzeeb' (composite culture), is in its death throes. And nowhere is the decay more pronounced than its press, once the sentinel of freedom of thought and speech, mores and conduct. Urdu journalism prided itself on its glorious past.

If Maulvi Mohammed Baqar, an Urdu editor in Delhi, became the first Indian journalist who was martyred during the 1857 rising, Urdu journalists and writers like Maulana Azad, Maulana Mohammed Ali and Maulana Hasrat Mohani suffered rigorous imprisonment for opposing the British raj.

The spirit of Urdu, and its press, before it was trussed into a religious achkan, was secular, its tone revolutionary and progressive. It was never a language of the Muslims.

Munshi Prem Chand, Pandit Ratan Nath Sarshar, Krishen Chandar, Rajinder Singh Bedi and Josh Malsiyani were leading exponents of the language. How many Hindus does Urdu need to flaunt to prove its appeal across religions?

Urdu has enriched Hindi cinema immensely, providing mellifluous lyrics and embroidering dialogue. Yet regular reading of Urdu dailies is a lesson in looking at the world through the exclusive prism of Islam.

Like some Hindi rags, they too have begun to thrive on sensationalism. There are half a dozen leading Urdu dailies.

Interestingly, Hind Samachar, owned by a Hindu business family of late Lala Jagat Narain, is the largest circulated Urdu daily with a circulation of over one lakh. Urdu is historically linked with Indian Islam.

A bulk of Islamic tradition is in it. But to Islamise Urdu is to subvert the language's inclusive character — one that resulted from the intermingling of soldiers from different countries, which is why Urdu means camp.

Nobody paid a bigger price for Partition than Urdu. Pakistan, in its desperation to acquire legitimacy, appropriated Urdu and its poet Allama Iqbal.

Urdu became Pakistan's national language while Iqbal, who gave us Sare Jahan Se Achcha..., was turned into Pakistan's founder-thinker. Hindutva's hate-Urdu campaign became part of the anti-Muslim tirade.

The opportunist policies of the Congress governments only fuelled anti-Urdu campaigns. Urdu became a stranger in its own home.

Driven out of secular government schools, it found shelter in the insular, exclusivist madrassas and moribund maktabs. Like the commu-nity which patronised it, it became a minority.

It became the politicians' favourite plank to get Muslim votes. Dwindling revenue, caused by a shrinking readership, has pushed the Urdu press virtually into the hands of regressive forces.

There are some exceptions, but dissenting views and progressive ideas are mostly blacked out of the Urdu press. Is this issue also on the World Urdu Conference's agenda?

P.S. This edit appeared in the Times of India before the mentioned World Urdu Conference happened in Hyderabad, in the month of January, 2006.


Anonymous said...

Is there something called Indian Islam?

Unknown said...

No. There is only one Islam.

However, Muslims come in various shapes, sizes, nationalities, and beliefs...

urdudaaN said...

It is a sad state of affairs that such articles are dividing and poisoning the entire country's moderate minds. Times of India is a newspaper most disliked by any person with even an ounce of righteousness, My firend Manish almost hating it.
Such articles bear an unique property of being unavoidable. If you reproduce them, you end up furthering their web of falsehood. If you respond to them, you prove yourself to be angainst them.
For any right minded person, TOI is dangerous for it is providing daily dose of hatred.
Muslims & Urdu newspapers are well aware of TOI's convoluted thinking, but they have to refrain from saying a word about it's malicious intentions of denigrating muslims. As a result, TOI seems to have taken a proactive(provoking) stand.
Some people suggest that Muslims should ignore such provocations. But, the irony is that the the goal of TOI and the like is to escalate their provocative attitude until you get angry, so ignoring such things is just going to make them finding new ways of angering you, it being the ultimate goal.

Coming to Urdu, there are Muslims who are determined to take extra efforts to educate their children in Urdu. I am yet to come across a non-muslim in 'secular' India who is ready to take pain.
It is sad, unfortunate yet true that Urdu belongs to Muslims. It does not mean Hindues and others are after Urdu, or they hate Urdu. But the fact remains that today only Muslims demand & run Urdu schools, for others it is just a sweet languages, they can't imagine to hate.

In the end, TOI is very 'bad' at masking news. Some Urdu newspapers successfully end up providing the other side of the story, which seems to troubling them.

I am not sure, whether all this is sufficient to prove me against TOI and hence secularism. Belonging to aggressive Islam & a hardliner Muslim who has utter contempt for freedom of speech.

Anonymous said...

i agree completely with the fact that Times of india is just a joke for a newspaper. it is just a commercial establishment, which sells whatever will make money.

Having cleared my opinion on the paper as such, i would say that the edit concerned, makes an important point. and we as people who are concerned about muslims, urdu and the culture, need to undersatnd, albiet with a lot of shock and displeasure that muslims and urdu are "ghettoised" in this country. they live in big cities, but away from places of prosperity. look at delhi-old and new--they are worlds is, as if the muslims in old delhi are in a time warp, untouched by modernisation.

similar is the case with urdu, as a language, as well as the newspapers. and one must not forget that these newspapers are run by media houses that also publish hindi newspapers-rashtriya sahara, dainik jagran--but theres a marked difference in quality of the two. the idea here is to realise that ghettoisation is not a way to prove that urdu can do well.urdu desrves, and needs to carve out a place of itself in the mainstream.

there are regressive elements in every sect. i wud shudder to look at saamna which the RSS publishes, but i wud also shudder to look at a regressive urdu newspaper.the irony of the situation remains that the latter gets more negative attention than the former.

Manzoor Khan said...

Dear Anonymous (would love to know your real identidy),

With respect to your "regressive urdu newspaper", I remember one of the Urdu dailies of Hyderabad (don't remember the name) published an article whose title was something like: "Abdul Kalaam, Musalmaan ke naaam pe Kalank". This was during the time when the BJP Goverment choose him to be the President of the Republic of India. Now, why was a genius like Prez. Kalam being called a "kalank"???

These kinds of stories make once's heart sombre, when they get currency by the Urdu media, which further prolifirate the "Ghetto Mentality" among its prime audiance - the Indian Muslims.

Your comment on Old Delhi and New Delhi is valid. The same goes true for Old Hyderabad, Old Lukhnow, Old Bhopal, etc.

BTW, I believe, Saamna is a Shiv Sena mouthpiece, whereas The Organizer is from the RSS.

Anonymous said...

Dear Manzoor

Yes i think your example further emphasises the need to break out of ghettos, but i would also add that one needs to accept first that one is ghettoised and then work towards breaking it. there is an interesting article in Economic and political Weekly, April 22 issue, by JS Bandukwala..while one may not agree with all the thing the author says, its worth a read...and may be discussing.will try and put a link to it as soon as i get it.

As for my identity, well, u can call me Khanabadosh from now on...:O)

Anonymous said...

oh yes, and thank you for the correction, Saamna is Shiv Sena's, while Organiser is RSS...mistake is mine, sorry!

Unknown said...

I am currently doing a case study on Inquilab...a urdu daily...from Mumbai by the Midday multimedia pvt. ltd.... i had been searching information on the paper, but, hardly found any information on the net... And then i found a link of ur blog on google search page...
Its sad to hear the status of Urdu press in India... although I had been thinking about the domination of islam related issues coming everyday on Inquilab... ur attachment of the TOI article would be helpful...
But then, about their ghettoism, I think, it has much to do with the readers of the Newspaper itself...yes, its not the only cause...but, then readers are only muslims, don't u think...? No non-muslim reads urdu now...Anyway it has made me think about Urdu Press moving away form mainstream issues...

I would be grateful to you if u know any source where I can get mor information on the paper...Inquilab...

please mail me at: if u have any information to share...