Is Urdu facing imminent death in Bihar?, experts rue govt apathy, lack of interest among readers

Sami Ahmad, 

Patna: Urdu is the second official language of Bihar. However, the plight of the language is such that it’s out of the government offices and schools in the state.

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Bihar Urdu Academy, a governmental organization formed in 1972 to promote the use of Urdu language within the state, has had no regular secretary for the last seven years. Another body looking after the promotion of Urdu in the state Urdu Advisory Board has no chairman for the last two years. The Government-run Urdu Library has no librarian, and the grants have been stopped. The aid for Urdu authors has been stopped.

With the New Education Policy’s three-language formula, the future of Urdu – a language of pre-eminence in the Indian subcontinent, seems bleak.

To counter the downward trend of the language in Bihar, an organization Imarat-e-Shariah, Bihar-Jharkhand and Odisha, which is a prominent Muslim religious organization has started a campaign for the promotion and protection of Urdu along with its campaign for education. On February 14, Imarat organized a special advisory meeting of nearly a hundred Urdu lovers from across the state.

According to Maulana Mohammad Shibli al Qasmi, the Bihar government had announced to appoint Urdu teachers in all government schools but the education department has just trashed it with a new order. The new order says Urdu teachers will be appointed to only those schools which have at least 40 Urdu students. The order effectively means that if a school has 39 Urdu students, it would have no Urdu teacher. Earlier, the number of required students was 10 and Urdu was taught as a compulsory subject in government schools for those students who enrol their mother tongue as Urdu. The number-hurdle has created a crisis for learning and teaching Urdu in the state.

Urdu is the mother tongue of all Muslim students in Bihar. According to the Census 2011, Muslims constitute 14 per cent of the total 10.4 crores population in Bihar.

A source told, the Muslim population ranges from 4 per cent in Lakhisarai to 68 per cent in Kishanganj.

The plight of Urdu can be calculated both at the level of students and teachers.

As per an estimate, Bihar should have appointed 77000 Urdu teachers in the same number of schools (Primary and Secondary) as per the announcement of the chief minister Nitish Kumar, but since 2005, the government has appointed just thirty thousand Urdu teachers.

Seven years ago, the Bihar government conducted a special Urdu teacher eligibility test for the vacant 27000 posts but only 5310 aspirants were declared successful. According to Maulana Shibli, it was due to the faulty examination process that caused this depreciation. Finally, after much deliberation, this number was raised to 16881. However, almost twelve thousand aspirants were deprived of a fair result.

Interestingly, out of the 27000 vacant posts even the many among the 16881 successful candidates have not been appointed as there were not enough seats available in the roster prepared for the purpose.

Maulana Shibli told that “due to the deliberate design of the officials in Muslim majority districts of Kishanganj, Katihar and Purnia, less number of seats were provided in the roster of those districts.”

“This resulted in a situation of fewer candidates for more seats and fewer seats for more candidates,” he added.

Plight same in Urdu medium schools

In schools where Urdu is only a subject (like Hindi or English medium schools), the situation of Urdu can be explained by a mismatch between demand, need and government apathy. However, the case with Urdu medium schools of Bihar is somewhat similar.

Bihar is reported to have 2597 Urdu medium government schools (16382 is the national number). The government of Bihar has adopted a policy of merging schools with less number of students with those schools having more number of students. As a result, Urdu medium schools are bound to suffer more as it is most probable that they would be merged with a Hindi medium school, further hampering the Urdu language.

Ameer Shariat, Imarat-e-Shariah Maulana Mohammad Wali Rahmani apprehends something more serious at a policy level. Talking to, Rahmani says that the new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 of India may prove a death knell for Urdu not only in Bihar but entire North India, where it is mostly spoken. “Urdu has no mention in NEP even though Urdu is the medium of conversation for most of North India, which is ‘unduly called Hindi’,” he says.

Maulana Rahmani is of the view that the talk of teaching in one’s mother tongue is good but the problem lies in the three language formula.

According to NEP 2020, “Wherever possible, the medium of instruction until at least Grade 5, but preferably till Grade 8 and beyond, will be the home language/mother-tongue/local language/regional language. Thereafter, the home/local language shall continue to be taught as a language wherever possible.”

Maulana Rahmani says that this option from mother-tongue/local language/regional language would affect Urdu questioning who would be the authority to decide between mother tongue and local/regional language? “English is an international language and Hindi being the official language leave just one option,” he says.

The pertinent question is that if Maithili is the regional language of Darbhanga, what would happen to the Urdu students?

Maulana Rahmani says that NEP does not mention articles 29 and 30 of the Indian Constitution which is related to the cultural and educational rights of minorities.

As Urdu is the second official language of Bihar, the state is required to appoint Urdu-to-Hindi translators.

In 2018, the Bihar government sanctioned to appoint 1765 Urdu translators. In 2019, the vacancy for the posts of 404 Urdu translators, 1204 Assistant Urdu translators, 119 Senior Urdu translators and 38 Translation Officers were advertised but the process of appointment is still not complete.

Senior journalist and editor Rehan Ghani told that, “of late government advertisements for Urdu newspapers are not being provided in the Urdu language.”

Afzal Hussain of Siwan, Bihar is associated with educational upliftment of Muslim students. “Today our new generation drinks Rooh Afza but doesn’t know what that means or many of them don’t know how it is written,” he says.

Hussain rues that the general attitude of supposedly Urdu speaking people is quite disappointing as even Urdu teachers don’t buy Urdu newspapers. “If Urdu speaking population starts caring for it, the government would be forced to think about that,” he says adding, “In my days, Urdu and Persian was considered an unavoidable subject but nowadays it is out of school syllabus.”

Hussain says that if an Urdu teacher retires or gets transferred the post in the concerned school is abolished. “This is the area where the government needs to pay attention,” he says.

Hussain is hopeful that initiatives like started by Imarat-e-Shariah would help to better the condition of Urdu in Bihar.

Salahuddin Mohammad Farhad from Nalanda is a senior officer with Life Insurance Corporation of India. “Urdu was the main language in Bihar of British India. Even in independent India, Urdu continued to be leading. In the registry office, sale and purchase documents used to be recorded in Urdu. Students used to read and write every subject in Urdu,” he said.

Farhad elaborates with his example. “I had written all the subject papers in Urdu duri matriculation examination. There were subscribers of Urdu newspapers and magazines in almost every village which has now become a thing of the past. Now Urdu appears to be losing ground. The use of the Urdu script is not prevalent. The death of Urdu appears to be imminent,” he said.

Farhad says that both the government and Urdu readers are responsible for this. “On one hand the government is withdrawing its support to Urdu with time and on the other hand, Urdu readers are leaving the use of Urdu. Urdu readers have a long list of complaints and demands but they do not do what is needed to be done. In Urdu schools, teachers who get a job to impart education in Urdu don’t do that. They teach in Hindi and students read and write in Hindi. Pass-outs of Urdu primary and middle schools do not know read and write Urdu. They cannot read and write anything in Urdu script,” rues Farhad.

Sohrab Khan of Gaya is an HR consultant. He says that till late nineties Urdu was reflected in government offices and schools. “We had boards in Urdu, nameplates of officers in Urdu. There were translators to read and translate Urdu applications. Now, no translators are deputed at the DM office for peripheral works and Urdu speaking people too don’t give their application in Urdu fearing the fate of that,” says Sohrab, adding, “Urdu Urdu newspapers are being run by non-Urdu speaking people.”