Language has been known as a symbol of identity since a long time. It is considered as a gelling force to keep the communities united. Urdu was the official language of the sub-continent and was spoken and used by both, Hindus and Muslims. All groups had contributed towards the development of the language. The Urdu-Hindi controversy started with the fall of the Mughal Empire. This is because the Hindus felt that Urdu was a language of the invaders as many Turkish, Arabic and Persian words had been added to it. Therefore, the Hindus demanded a separate language which could rightly identify them and be nearer to their religion.
Rahman (1996) says that according to the linguists, Urdu and Hindi are ‘two styles of the same language’ as their basic vocabulary is the same; they differ in the word order abstract words. The style that is more inclined to Sanskrit is called Modern Hindi. People like Insha Allah made some efforts to escape the influence of Urdu words in Hindi, but were not very successful. Lallujilal Kavi and Sadal Misra are known to have advanced ‘Hindi’ at Fort William College in Agra as Lallujilal’s books Sihasan Battial (1801) and Prem Sagar (1803-10) show relatively lesser use of Urdu words in it.
Kavi’s successors ‘Sanskritized’ Hindi by carrying out language planning activities. These included standardization and replacement of Persian and Arabic words with those of Sanskrit. However, in this process, mutual intelligibility suffered as the new Hindi was not easily comprehendible for the locals. In 1837, Persian was replaced by Urdu which was introduced as the vernacular of the vast majority of India. However, the government was still very against Persianized Urdu hence, Persianization was repeatedly deterred at all levels by the British officials.
They were also of the idea that only catered well to the Muslim community. Thus, Sir George Campbell ordered in 1872 that Persianized Urdu was replaced by Hindi in the courts of Bihar. Initially the British’s policy towards the Urdu-Hindi controversy was never consistent. They kept justifying themselves that they were not pro-Hindi. They wanted to regain the trust of the Hindus and calm the Muslims so that law and order could be attained. To Rahman (1996), the basic objective of the government behind this policy seems to have been to increase its popularity among the Hindus by opening the doors of government employment for them.
After Garcin de Tassy’s lecture of 1865, in which he made reference to Shiva Prasad’s publication, the Urdu-Hindi controversy officially emerged. Rahman (1996) that Hindus considered Hindi as a symbol of Hinduism and thought that the Muslims eased their way into government service by having a strong grip over Urdu. Whereas the Muslims disagreed with this and were of the idea that Urdu was the lingua franca and a language for the Hindus, too. The Hindus counter claimed that the Devanagari script (the script in which Hindi was written) was easier to understand than the Persian one.
To this, the Muslims argued that there were many refined words of Perso-Arabic origin that could not be rightly demonstrated via the Devanagari script. Therefore, these arguments of both communities were purely based on prejudice rather than substance. However, the final analysis suggests that the conflict was due to the contrast in the ways of living and perception of history and difference in the plans for future. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was not very pleased with Babu Shiva’s efforts. Thus, he wrote a letter from England to Mohsin-ul-Mulk about Shiva’s proposal, in which he mentioned his prognostication to the “rise of separatism in India”.
Rahman (1996) says that in opposition to Sir Syed’s proposal of setting Urdu as the medium of language at university, a Hindu society at Etawah was formed which wanted Hindi to replace Urdu. The friction between the two languages kept growing, hence, the Urdu Defense Committee was formed on December 12th 1873. To safeguard Hindi, the Nagari Pracharni Sabha was established in Banares in 1893. Malaviya presented the “Hindu version of the case” where as the Muslim response, based on the “assumption of Muslim superiority” was exposed by Hamid Ali Khan.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Education Commission sat down to consider the controversy. 118 memorials signed by around 70,000 Hindus showed their desire of selecting Hindi over Urdu as the medium of exchange as they thought that they were forced to teach their children Urdu language as it was a compulsion from the government. Even the Punjabis supported the Hindus on this thought. This shows that language was a “highly politicized issue” in India. The Urdu-Hindi controversy was very powerful in UP.
A census was carried out in the province in the late nineteenth century that showed a comparison between the Hindu and Muslim representation in terms of urbanization, employment and education. All three figures showed that the Muslims were not under-represented in UP. Due to this reason, they thought of themselves as superior to Hindus in religion, language and culture. (Rahman, 1996). Another very important factor in the development of the Urdu-Hindi controversy was the attitude of the British towards the Muslims.
Sir A. P. Macdonnell was the Lieutenant General of North-Western Provinces. He was known to have an anti-Muslim and anti-Urdu approach. The Hindus kept bringing to him their demands in favor of the Devanagari script. However, he set a few conditions trying to satisfy both the communities. One of which was that only those people will be offered government jobs who have complete knowledge of how to read and write both the Devanagari and the Persian script. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was on his deathbed therefore, Mohsin-ul-Mulk carried out efforts to promote Urdu in the subcontinent.
Macdonnell did not approve of Mr. Mulk’s involvement in the controversy hence he warned him that grants to the Aligarh university will be cut off if Mulk would not stop his efforts. Due to such evident biasness of the British towards the Muslims, Mulk had to step down. However, this aggravated the situation and Muslims decided to form the Anjuman-e-Tarraqi-e-Urdu (ATU) in 1903. Moreover, Rahman (1996) suggests that Mahatima Gandhi’s efforts to overcome distrust between the two communities were starting to point out towards a separate land for Hindus and Muslims.
On his persistence, Bharatiya Sahitya Parishad “changed the term Hindustani to Hindi-Hindustani” which made it pretty clear that he did not want to share a language with the Muslim community. Very soon the Muslims were the Muslims able to get that M. Gandhi was openly trying to suppress Urdu. Consequently, in a letter to Gandhi, Abdul Haq, (the head of ATU at that time), showed his protest on Mahatima calling Urdu purely the language of the Musalmans. All India Muslim League formulated a report in 1937 in which it discussed the conflict in detail.
Rahman (1996) quotes that despite of Urdu being allowed in the courts, the clerks and presiding officers always discouraged it. Also, there were not many Urdu schools even in places with the Muslim majority. Both Islam and Urdu held immense symbolic value to the Pakistan movement during the 1940s. All the Muslim Ulemas of that agreed on the fact that the protection of Urdu was very essential if Islam was to be safeguarded. The Muslim League had always spoken to the government to elevate the status of Urdu and considered it as an identity marker for the Indian Muslims.
It was a “conscious effort” on part of the members of the League as they would talk about the importance of the language to build a separate nation for the Muslims. Therefore, at the fifteenth session of the Provincial Education Conference at Delhi, Liaquat Ali Khan said very clearly that Muslims will speak and write Urdu and will continue to call it Urdu, no matter what happens. Muslims all over India shared the same emotions. Meanwhile, Gandhi’s hypocrisy on Hindustani being a common language for the two nations was also unveiled by the Muslims when they found out that the language of his own paper Harijan was Sanskrized.