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:
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.