Urdu as medium is endangering the Muslim student

By Firoz Bakht Ahmed

As things are, India is forging ahead now, but its Muslim minority is still largely primitive and uneducated. It is the responsibility of Muslims more than anybody else to see to it that the community does not lose out on an enlightened education.

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Now that the Urdu medium schools' results are out, these stand absolutely exposed. "Right from the beginning of this session to now, 74 Urdu-medium books of Class 1-12 are not available and there are 50 vacancies for various subjects in most Urdu medium schools," laments Maroof Khan, the headmaster of Zakir Hussain Memorial School, an Urdu-medium school of Delhi. It's a shocking revelation.

The bane of the Urdu medium schools is non-availability of teachers, particularly in mathematics, English and the sciences.

Take, for example, the Qaumi School of Delhi that has been pitched in tents at the Eidgah since June 30, 1976, following the Emergency. It has vacancies for 24 teachers out of a capacity of 40. The bane of the Urdu medium schools is non-availability of teachers, particularly in mathematics, English and the sciences.

The availability of Urdu medium texts has been a problem for ages. When the English and Hindi books of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) are sent to the market, the translation of Urdu books begins and by the time the translation ends, either the session is over or the text is changed. No wonder the results of Urdu schools are pathetic. Ironically, the Delhi government accepted Urdu as its second language a couple of years ago – a cosmetic step or an electoral ploy!

This year again in the CBSE board exams, except Maharashtra and to some extent Delhi, no other state in the Urdu belt has been able to do well. The all-India Urdu result in Class 10 stands at 50 percent while the non-Urdu result is 78 percent. In Class 12, the overall non-Urdu result is 85 percent while in Urdu it is 66 percent. By the way, this is the best Urdu result in two decades.

The Class 10 board exam result is not rosy in states like Madhya Pradesh (30 percent), Rajasthan (41 percent), Andhra Pradesh (45 percent), Punjab (42 percent), West Bengal (50 percent), Delhi (52 percent) and Bihar (55 percent).

As things stand today, education is not a priority for Muslims for three reasons. First, most of them are primarily agriculturists. Second, their belief that they are discriminated against in matters of selection and employment acts as a deterrent to higher educational attainment. Third, Muslim girls, till not so long ago, were not sent to school owing to social taboos.

Sparsely-lit dilapidated classrooms, poor sanitation facilities, broken, decrepit furniture, unhygienic drinking water or no water, the absence of co-curricular activities, the lack of teachers, unconcerned parents and uninterested students are some of the features of the 10,000 beleaguered and ghettoised Urdu medium schools in India.

These Urdu schools hardly have any extra-curricular activity at all to motivate students. In most of these Urdu schools, there are hardly any PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) bodies and the rapport between the principals, parents, teachers and students is abysmally low. Many Urdu medium schools have principals and teachers who hail from an English or Hindi background and there's a lacuna of understanding besides a language bias in the day-to-day activities of the schools.

After the abysmal educational scenario of Muslims was highlighted in the Sachar Committee findings, there's rather more confusion, widespread disappointment, a sense of helplessness and some anger in the already beleaguered community of Muslims as nothing pragmatic has been done to redress the wrongs except lip service.

It seems that the introduction of Urdu as a medium according to the Indian Constitution's Articles 14, 19 (1) (g), 24, 29 (2), 30 (1), 38, 39 (F), 41 and 61 was a planned conspiracy by the Congress to take Muslims anti-clockwise to the dark ages. Urdu, as a language, is known to be of immense literary value but professionally, it doesn't open up many avenues.

It would be better to convert all the Urdu medium schools into English medium ones or perhaps Hindi and Urdu should be studied as a subject not only in Muslim majority schools but in all schools as part of the three-language formula. Fact is that some non-Muslim students who have taken up Urdu as a subject have not only fared extremely well in the language but are also proud to have done so.

Therefore, it is time that a scheme is introduced by the government under which Urdu is made part of the curriculum of all Indian schools. At least the backward Muslim children can find some jobs.

In fact, Urdu has been kept alive by Hindi cinema, FM Radio, the few Urdu channels, the madrassas and the occasional recitation of couplets from Ghalib, Iqbal and Faiz in parliament. A language does not prosper through such channels alone but through the people who sincerely love it.

Most people prefer getting the Urdu journals and newspapers as freebies via mailing lists to buying them. Many popular children's Urdu magazines like Shama, Khilona, Bano, Shabistan, Toffee, Chandanagri and Jannat Ka Phool have ceased publication for want of interest. They should be revived.

Urdu officers could be appointed in the government's nodal agencies like municipal corporations, police departments and so on. Besides, via the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, there should be more Urdu learning centres in India and Urdu should be made part of the syllabus of the ICSE board, Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas.

Besides, Urdu promoting institutes like the Urdu Academies of all states, the National Council for Promotion of Urdu (NCPUL), Taraqqui Anjuman Urdu, National and State Minority Commissions and the Ministry of Minority Affairs should be accountable as to where they are spending the millions of rupees given in the name of Urdu and uplift of minorities.

Instead of doing something to upgrade Urdu and secure a better future for students, the so-called Muslim leaders have kept on diverting the real issues concerning Muslims from educational, social and economic uplift to political ones like Osama bin Laden, Babri masjid and Shah Bano.

Children belonging to privileged Muslim families never study in Urdu schools and opt instead for missionary schools. Even those championing the cause of Urdu and occupying top positions in Urdu in various universities and government offices prefer English-medium schools. Except the likes of Sir Syed or Hakeem Abdul Hameed, Muslims in general never bothered to establish good schools or colleges or universities.

As a minority community, Muslims can't afford to be mediocre and spiritless. True they should love Urdu but they must also make sure they are conversant in two other languages, namely English and Hindi, or any other regional language.

(The author is a commentator on social, educational and religious issues. He can be reached at [email protected])