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Sunday, 10 June 2012





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Hindi versus Urdu

In this concluding column on Hindi literary culture, I examine, briefly, how Hindi emerged as a major Indian language and the failed initiative to invent Hindustani, idealistic language made out of comingling of Hindi and Urdu, which had never seen the light of the day.

I concluded the previous column by pointing out the pivotal role that Nagari Pracarini Sabha (Society for the propagation of Nagari). The society besides commencing its own research journal, the Nagari Pracarini Patrika, in 1896, it launched a literary journal in Allahabad, Sarasvati under the editorship of Mahavir Prasad Dvivedi (1903-1920). A significant contribution of the literary journal was to fix the norms of new Khari Boli Hindi and give Hindi wide acceptance and respectability, particularly, as a medium of poetry.

Hindi Sahitya Sammelan

Harish Trivedi in a paper entitled ‘Progress of Hindi’ observes, “The Sabha also conducted systematic research for rare Hindi books and manuscripts, contributing substantially through the publication of its triennial Search Reports to the corpus of Hindi literature; in addition it undertook to publish authoritative editions of canonical as well as popular Hindi texts. In 1910, it organised the first Hindi Sahitya Sammelan (Hindi literary conference), which then became an autonomous permanent institution under the name with its office in Allahabad and organised annual conferences at different venues over the country.”

One of the important developments spearheaded by Sahitya Sammelan was the establishment of a vital nexus between Hindi and the nationalist movement which subsequently elevated Hindi to its present status as a major Indian national language. Trivedi states, “Among its members were eminent political leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Rajendra Prasad, Jawaharlal Nehru, Purushottam Das Tandon, Narendra Dev, Sampurnannd, and Govind Das, nearly all of whom served as presidents of the Indian National Congress, and many of whom went on to become ministers or members of parliament in Independent India. ”

The publication of the Hindi dictionary in 1929 by the Sabha was a significant step which helped further consolidate the position of Hindi among Indian languages. Hindi Sabdasagar (Ocean of Hindi words), the Hindi dictionary published by the Sabha still unsurpassed in its size and authority. Trivedi observes that the preface to the dictionary by Ramacandra Sukla was so comprehensive and authoritative that in fact, it remains ‘the foundational and largely definitive history of Hindi literature.

The Sabha’s publication entitled Hindi Sahitya Ka Brhat Itihasa (Comprehensive History of Hindi literature) published in 1959 in six volumes, substantially contributed to the contemporary corpus of knowledge of Hindi language and literature.

Nagari script won the battle over Persian script on April 18, 1900 when the then colonial administration passed an order authorising the use of Nagari, alongside the Persian script, at the lower level of the legal and civil administration. The immediate outcome of the move was the establishment of Urdu Defence Association. Although the Urdu Defence Association was moribound, its successor Anjuman Taraqqi-e-Urdu (Society for the Progress of Urdu) launched an aggressive campaign to promote Urdu in diverse parts of India. One of the most important political developments with far reaching consequences was also resulted in the linguistic division spearheaded by the two campaigns to promote Hindi and Urdu.

“Indeed, just as Hindi aligned itself with Congress nationalism, the Ajuman went on to champion the ‘two-nation’ politics of separatism, which claimed Urdu as the national language of the projected state of Pakistan and as one of the main agents in the creation of Pakistan.”

Urdu and Hindi

The relationship between Urdu and Hindi is close but highly contested. The relationship has been described in terms of human kinship. Trivedi observes, “No two languages in India (and perhaps few elsewhere) have had such a close and yet contestatory relationship as Hindi and Urdu, a relationship that has been described variously, in human kinship terms, as between mother and daughter, between two sons (though not quite twins, for one language or the other has always claimed to be the older), and between mutually jealous co-wives or concubines. Their complex, intertwined, and yet sorely vexed history raises a whole range of major questions that have proved historically to be of vital consequence to the Indian nation. ”

It is pertinent at this juncture to look at, briefly, the salient similarities and dissimilarities between Urdu and Hindi. According to Trivedi one major proposition to strike a similarity between two languages is whether Hindi and Urdu are the same language although they have always been written in different scripts. Another is whether there are any historical grounds for considering either Hindi or Urdu as the sources from which the other originated and whether the two languages were ever the same language in the past. There are equally contested propositions for the division of two languages such as did the British rulers of India at any stage play a part in either bringing together or separating Hindi and Urdu, and if so, to what purpose and effect.


An important phase in the evolution of Hindi is the failed attempt to invent Hindustani, a language that attempted not only to intertwine Hindi and Urdu but also to co-mingle. Strangely the ground for such an invention was not on linguistic, literary or cultural but in accordance with nationalist political agenda and ‘on the meagre basis of a common bazar vocabulary of probably not more than five hundred words.’ Trivedi states that the defining moment for the campaign for Hindustani came ‘at 9.a.m. on April 24, 1936, when at the first and last convention of the well-meaning new organisations Bharatiya Sahitya Parisad (Indian literary council) at Nagpur-attended by many of the important national leaders as well as Hindi and Urdu writers, including Premchand-Gandhi. ’ Gandhi’s one remark made at the historical meeting virtually caused the rift between Hindi and Urdu.

Trivedi captures the widespread political implications of the rift as “Nehru’s ‘Hamlet like’ procrastination in implementing the decision of the government to continue with English as the additional official language indefinitely , beyond the designated fifteen-year period (1950-1965), have effectively dispelled all the apprehensions of Hindi imperialism.

They have also perhaps saved India from the fate, suffered by Pakistan, of further fragmentation when the attempt was made to impose Urdu on Bengali-speaking East Pakistan, which then broke away to become Bangladesh; or that suffered by Sri Lanka, where the introduction of a Sinhala-only language policy has centrally contributed to the rise of secessionist Tamil dissidence. Indian remains a nation effectively without a national language, but at least-and perhaps precisely for that reason-it remains a nation. ”



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