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New Delhi, Thursday, July 29, 1999.

As a non-Urdu speaking person I am pleasantly surprised and deeply touched to have been invited to inaugurate this Urdu Editors` Conference. It is a mark of the liberality of mind of the Urdu speaking people and symbolic of the tolerance of the multi-lingual multi-religious society of India. May I express my profound thanks to my distinguished friend Shri Mohd. Afzal and his fellow Urdu Editors for this honour they have conferred upon me. Amir Khusro has a couplet that is perhaps appropriate to my situation to-day.

This has been the predicament of Indians throughout the centuries. The language of the heart has however enabled them to surmount the barriers of multi-lingual predicament.

For long years and periods of its history the language of the ruling and upper classes in India has been different from that of the masses. It was so during the Mughal period when Persian was the Court language. It was so during the British period when English held sway. Even when Sanskrit was supreme in India among the rulers, scholars, and the upper classes it was not the language spoken by the masses. But the Court and official languages have always stimulated the growth of popular languages for communication with and among the masses. Urdu has the distinction of having been a language allied to the Court that spread to the military camps and then to people and grew and flourished as a language of the masses. It is not a Muslim language, but an Indian language which is used not only in northern India, but in Eastern, Western, Southern and Central India not only by Muslims but by Hindus and others. Sant Tukaram, it is well known, wrote many of his devotional songs in Dakhani Urdu. Prem Chand wrote his early works in Urdu. Lala Lajpat Rai spoke Urdu and his paper `Bandemataram` was published in Urdu. To-day Urdu is the third largest language of India and it is included in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution. There are 43 million people constituting over 5% of the population speaking Urdu in India. It is recognized as a language for Sahitya Academy Awards. It is the official language of Jammu and Kashmir, the second official language of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Delhi. And as Pandit Nehru once pointed out Urdu is a link with Western Asia and with countries whose friendship is important to India. Above all, it is a lively link with the people of Pakistan. Urdu represents a fusion of cultures, and for India it is an integrating and synthesizing language. Mahatma Gandhi had seen this role of Urdu and he had pleaded for a language for India which is an amalgam of Hindi and Urdu - Hindustani. At the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan held in Indore in 1918 he said that Hindi is incomplete without Urdu. He later said that after the attainment of independence: `In my view he who objects to Urdu is to that extent less of an Indian`.

It is no surprise that Urdu became an important medium of journalism in India and assumed an all India character. The beginnings of Urdu journalism goes back to 1822 when `Jam-i-Jahan-Numa` was brought out from Calcutta. In the same year Raja Ram Mohun Roy published a paper in Persian called Mirat-ul-Akhbar. It is amazing that in 1848 out of a total of 26 newspapers published in India 19 were in Urdu Language. Indeed Urdu was the medium of mass communication even before newspapers were brought out in printed form. From Delhi alone 120 handwritten manuscript papers were mailed containing nationalist writings directed against the British rule. They were read out to crowds in important squares of towns and cities. The impact of these manuscript papers on the armed personnel and the people was such that Lord Auckland and Lord Canning mentioned in their official minutes that this manuscript journalism helped in spreading disaffection against the British rule and created fertile conditions for the Great Rebellion of 1857. Moulavi Mohammed Baquar and Munshi Jamaluddin played an important role in rousing the people through their newspapers. Mohd. Baquar was executed by the British and Jamaluddin was put in Jail. These acts of cruelty and suppression had only stimulated the spread of Urdu journalism.

In 1907 in the Golden Jubilee year of the Great Rebellion a group of Urdu journalists formed a society called Bharat Mata Sabha which had as its objective completing the unfinished task of 1857. Dina Nath, the Editor of `Hindustan` and Dina Dayal Banke, Editor of Jhang Syal were some of those associated with the Sabha. Dina Dayal wrote the famous patriotic song `Pagadi Sambhal Jatta` which stirred peasants during the freedom struggle. Later when a Hindi film focussed on Bhagat Singh was made, the first line of this song was used to portray the fight against British Raj and the Zamindari system.

Maulana Hasrat Mohani edited a paper Urdu-i-Mualla which used to publish the addresses of the Presidents of the Indian National Congress. He was uncompromising in his demand for Indian Independence. It is interesting to note that much before the Indian National Congress adopted the demand for Poorna Swaraj Hasrat Mohani had urged the Congress to adopt this goal. In one of the Congress Sessions when his proposal was not entertained, it is said that he climbed a tree nearby and shouted at the top of his voice `Kamil Swaraj`.

Urdu journalism played an important role in the struggle for independence and also in the movement for social and political awakening of our people. Many of the stalwarts of our freedom movement came to public life through journalism particularly through Urdu journalism. Since Urdu was the language of the common people in Northern India leaders tried to reach out to the people through this language. Lala Lajpat Rai, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad all came to public life through Urdu journalism. `Al Hilal` published by Maulana Azad from Calcutta in 1912 was one of the finest examples of powerful Urdu journalism. His writings not only stirred the minds and hearts of people against British rule of India, but shaped the evolution of the Urdu language as it is to-day. The Maulana summed up the message of Al Hilal in this way: `I want to tell you that Al Hilal is essentially and entirely a call for freedom or death`. Mahatma Gandhi published an edition of his paper `Harijan` in Urdu. Jawaharlal Nehru started an Urdu paper from Lucknow `Qaumi Awaz`. As our national struggle assumed an international dimension Urdu newspapers were brought out from abroad like `Talwar` from Berlin and `Hindustani Akhbar` from San Francisco. Urdu journalism was also devoted to social change and reforms and new scientific ideas. In this Syed Ahmed Khan`s `Scientific Gazette` and Tahzibul Akhlaq occupied pride of place. Papers like Milap, Pratap, Tej and many others espoused the cause of freedom powerfully and earned the wrath of British authorities. In fact it was said that the British lived in fear of Urdu journalism.

To-day Urdu journalism occupies the third largest position in India after Hindi and English. Urdu papers are brought out in 15 States and 2 union territories of India. With a total of 2670 publications it is the third largest numerical group after Hindi and English. It occupies the second position at all-India level for dailies - there are 495 Urdu dailies. With these impressive figures the Urdu Press can become a powerful media in the next millennium. During the last two decades Urdu press showed a phenomenal increase according to official statistics. The rate of growth is higher than that of the Indian dailies in all languages put together.

But Urdu like other language papers suffer from various handicaps. Some of these problems have to be addressed boldly. The Committee appointed by the Government of India in 1972 for the promotion of Urdu under the Chairmanship of Shri I.K. Gujral made important recommendations in relation to Urdu journalism. These include providing loans and financial assistance by nationalised banks to Urdu press, simplifying procedures for giving newsprint to small newspapers in Urdu, relaxation in conditions for giving advertisements to Urdu newspapers, opening centres in Universities and Institutes of Mass Communication for training persons interested in Urdu journalism, forming cooperatives to bring out Urdu papers and periodicals, and the modernising of the printing of Urdu newspapers and periodicals by using latest communication facilities. These are very important recommendations which deserve serious consideration and follow up action. A Committee of Experts appointed by the Government of India in 1990 under the Chairmanship of Mr. Ali Sardar Jafri to examine the implementation of the Gujral Committee recommendations underlined the need to augment efforts to train Urdu journalists who do not have opportunities to refine their skills. The suggestion that Urdu academics should be involved to further improve Urdu journalism is an important one as the growth of Urdu journalism and that of Urdu literature will go together. Urdu is the depository of the composite culture of India. As such it can be one of the subtle and powerful instruments of national integration, communal harmony and social amity in our vast country of rich diversities. Urdu newspapers are to-day scattered all over India in small groups without much capital to support them. The structure of Urdu publishing can be modernized with the introduction of new capital resources and management patterns. The potential readership of Urdu newspapers has not yet been reached or exploited. It has been said that Urdu newspaper industry is awaiting the arrival of a Northcliffe or Murdock. That would be a contribution to Urdu journalism and to Urdu language and literature which is a store-house of our rich composite cultural values and nationalist sentiments. I should like to end by quoting Bashir Badr on the perfumed wisdom of the Urdu language which the newspapers could spread among the people for the good of our motherland.

Jai Hind

Source©SPEECH 2000

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