I’ve been exceptionally busy the past few weeks (and likely only to get busier in the run up to the New Year). What do Indian commentators think on the Padmavati furore (indefinitely postponed).

78 thoughts on “Padamavati”

  1. I don’t understand the Padmavati furor, because:
    1) the people making the furor haven’t watched the film (I think, correct me if I am wrong)
    2) threats of violence and intimidation are always completely wrong
    3) freedom of speech is extremely important
    4) if the movie turns out to be deeply offensive (which it might not be . . . don’t yet know), isn’t the best way to deal with it via peaceful loving nonviolent activism (marches, social media campaigns, letters). Wouldn’t letting the movie come out and turning it into a “teaching moment” be best for the Indian people and the world?

    This smacks of the travesty India committed against Salman Rushdie by impeding his freedom of speech. Without freedom of speech, how can dialogue with Islamists happen; how can Islamic reform proceed; how can the world ameliorate the threat of Islamism? Any limitation of freedom of speech will be used by Islamists to further reduce the freedom of speech of muslims. Muslims have already suffered 14 centuries too long from Islamism. Protecting the principle of freedom of speech for nonmuslims (by allowing Padamavati to be released and protecting everyone connected to the movie) is necessary to protect the freedom of speech of muslims; which is necessary to address the global islamist threat.

  2. I may do a longer version when I’ve more time, but in short the Padmavati furore is entirely a result of the spineless Indian government kow-towing to two-bit Rajput community police, who have otherwise very little to show for themselves other than over-grown moustaches and pervasive misogyny.

    If they are so concerned about female honour, they ought to try to stop female infanticide in Rajasthan, than issue violent threats against female actors or attack directors which they have no right to do.

    The persistent defeats the Rajputs suffered from Turks, Moghals, Marathas, English seems to have left a massive chip of their shoulder and the impotent males (with hurt egos) now take it out on women. Only goes to show how large parts of India are still medieval misogynist shitholes.

      1. Indeed, but does that matter, given Rajputness is a cultural attribute (with some genetic continuity)?

        King George was 100% German by blood (Saxe-Coburg on father’s side and Schleswig-Holstein on mother’s) but no less “English” during WW1. He renamed the English royal house from Saxe-Coburg to Windsor during the war. Didn’t speak any German either obviously.

        Human beings are great apes and in many respects slaves to our genes, but human culture has had an equally important (and much faster) evolution of its own. Cultural speciation is often as (if not more) important as genetic kinship.

        1. Well that’s why they renamed the Dynasty.. and the whiff of Germanness has never left the Royal Family either.. they do German Christmas celebration on Christmas Eve..

          There was an interesting comment I remembered reading that Kingship in Europe was essentially a Germanic institution..

          1. Aren’t the English “Germanic people”? Isn’t English a “Germanic language”. The English culture and religion were Germanic, before they became Christian. Germanic England is interesting in that it was conquered by the Norse . . . who themselves are an offshoot of Germanic peoples. So England has at least two large Germanic influxes that I am aware of. Too bad our beloved Abrahamic Christians tried to erase much of the ancient pre Christian history of England; which is why we know so little.

            The Germanic languages, religion and culture are part of the Indo-Aryan language/cultural/religious family. Same 7 days of the week to the same celestial objects (Sunday =Sun, Monday = Moon, Tuesday = Mars, Wednesday = Mercury, Thursday = Jupitor, Friday = Venus, Saturday = Saturn). Each major star, planet and moon have similar astrology properties. Similar original Gods from the proto Samhita Veda pantheon.

          2. I agree there’s some residual “Germanness” in the English royals, but the link with that Germanic umbilical cord was permanently been severed a century ago. It was the same with Moghals, who were of Rajput (maternal) lineage but culturally quite different. Same story with the Ottoman sultans with their Greek maternal lineage.

            My point was that genetic kinship barely stops people from murdering each other or calling each other barbarians etc. Human history is littered with such examples.

          3. HM the Queen’s brothers-in-law were Nazi officers; the Queen Mother was the first “Anglo” (Scottish aristocracy) infusion into the bloodline since the Georgians.

            The Royal Family is/was very very German; it’s just two World Wars that broke the link (King George V was allegedly terrified of the Russian Revolution and hence refused to help out his cousin’s husband, the Tsar).

            Also it was the sinking of a British passenger ship in the First World War that really created the anti-German tide and precipitated the shift to Windsor. Queen Victoria’s mother tongue was German and she may have even spoken English with a German accent.

            I ceded your point that for instance the War for Spanish Succession was fought between two cousins for different flags. Kinship & Kingship have intricate & complex connections..

            The Mughals pioneered Indo-Persian mores, which has more influence on modern South Asia, than the Rajput or the Sikhs or the Marathas. India is still defined by Mughlai cuisine, the Taj Mahal & Urdu songs try as she might to break away from it for a more Saffron streak..

          4. @AnAn

            // The Germanic languages, religion and culture are part of the Indo-Aryan language/cultural/religious family. //

            That is totally incorrect!

            Secondly, linguistic classification of English as Germanic is correct, but it does not imply any social/political affiliation. E.g. Kurds hate to be called Iranian and I know of many who refuse to speak/understand Farsi (even when they know it). Yet Kurdish is linguistically an “Iranian” language. Same is the case for Polish being Slavic (like Russian), but Poles have always hated Russians with a vengeance. Or Urdu is classified as Western Hindi – enough to trigger many Urduwallahs.

            These are labels linguists use for classification (based on historic evolution of languages) and *must not* be extrapolated for anything else.

          5. Lol which Kurds do you know. Your knowledge of Iran is a bit comical truth be told..

            Hindi is anyway a Persian word 🙂 irony of ironies..

  3. Zachary, Hindi is a Persian word but ultimately derives from Sanskrit Sindhu (great river, refers to the Sindhu/Indus river).

    Even if the language employed by Hindi films employs Persian loanwords (today it also employs English loanwords) and that cinematic tradition has important influences from Urdu romantic poetry, Urdu songs simply does not capture the breadth of expression embodied in Indian film songs.

    Loanwords do not define a language.

    There is no way songs ‘Humko Mann Ki Shakti Dena’, ‘Tu Pyaar Ka Saagar Hai’ and ‘Moh Moh Ke Dhage’ could be called ‘Urdu songs’. No tradition in Urdu poetry accomodates the use of lines like,
    “Tu Kaun Hai, Tera Naam Hai Kya, Sita Bhi Yahan Badnaam Hui” (despite the Persian bad-). But Kuch to Log Kahenge is a Hindi classic.

    But is very easy and natural for Indians to call “Huzoor Is Tarah” a Hindi song. Hindi (in the colloquial not official sense) is simply a larger universe than Urdu.

    And regarding ‘Mughlai cuisine’ tomatoes, potatoes, onions were all introduced to the subcontinent by European colonizers. Try making ‘Mughlai’ without these.

    1. Urdu & Mughlai cuisine have always been syncretic; it’s simply the stress on Saffronic purity that is confounding..

      You are of course making the mistake of conflating Hindustani & Hindi. There is a very rich popular tradition of Hindustani songs that has been renamed Hindi.

      This craze to somehow indigenise everything back to a Sanskrit source is self-defeating. My point is that anyway Hindi/Hindu are labels adopted & pioneered by Persians in the first place well before Islam. India’s face to the world has anyway been defined, to some extent, by foreign forces.

      It’s a pity your comment didn’t touch upon the fact that the Taj Mahal is in fact a secret Ram Temple built by thrice born Brahmins..

      1. If Urdu is syncretic, why not Hindi ? And let me point out here that nobody is forcing the creators of these songs to call them Hindi. They are doing it out of their own volition.

        The Hindustani traditions you mention are more apparent in the songs of ‘Baiju Bawra’ and ‘Naya Daur’. The songs I mentioned are derived from Bhajan traditions, or more recent Hindi poetic traditions, which were not present in Hindustani.

        I made no stress on ‘Saffronic purity’, in fact I acknowledged the influence of Urdu poetic traditions, which itself derives from Persian poetry.

          1. I don’t understand the attempt at Sophistry. Conflating Hindi the Language family with Shuddh Hindi, which has a very different history & context, doesn’t necessarily make sense.

            In no way am I castigating the popular linguistic traditions of the Hindi Cow Belt.

            To analogise to Iran; irrespective of Ferdowsi’s efforts, Arabic is fundamental to modern Persian. To Latinise (Aryanise) the script or somehow eradicate the Arabic infusion into Persian is to strip the language of its vitality. I find it funny when I hear Iranians drop in French words in their Farsi, it’s not a natural graft..

          1. Pak Urdu doesn’t make sense since Urdu’s very Genesis is seen as a hybrid (like Ottoman Turkish)..

          2. Ah yes, the old Urdu/Hindi debate! This never gets old.

            “Shuddh” Hindi and “Pak” Urdu are both nationalistic constructions. According to linguists, standard Hindi and standard Urdu are both registers of the same language, called Hindustani. This is the language of ordinary people, spoken across North India and Pakistan. Literary Urdu has more Persian and Arabic vocabulary while Literary Hindi has more Sanskrit derived words. Attempts to sharpen the divide between these two registers and classify them as completely separate languages is a post-Partition phenomenon and reflects the continuing India-Pakistan animosity, not necessarily reality.

            As for Hindi songs, I think they are called that because they are produced by the Hindi film industry, not because they are actually in Hindi. Many of them could very well be in Urdu.

          3. Kabir, I agree that a lot of whats produced by the Hindi film industry could also be called Urdu. However, the range of influences is more in the language of Hindi movies. Nobody will say that ‘Aati Kya Khandala’ or ‘Banno Tera Swagger’ is Urdu, but it is very natural to call the language used in these songs Hindi.

            Perhaps we need a new language name, Bollywood bhasha ?

          4. Hindustani has always been the colloquial name for the language and Urdu the higher register. Frankly I don’t know where/what position Hindi occupies; the fact that it is so reliant on English reminds me of other “new” languages like Hebrew, Turkish & even Shahi Persian.

            It’s all very well and good when nations want to resurrect purer language and butcher the mixed Imperial tongues but “purer languages” in general make for much poorer literatures.

            Think of English, the greatest assimilator of words & languages. The blistering pace at which it evolves is simply phenomenal.

          5. Vikram,

            This whole debate basically comes down to nationalism (and is thus in my view rather pointless). Hindi and Urdu are names given to standardized registers of the same language: Hindustani. Since they have nearly identical grammar, linguists would say that they are the same language. Since Partition, literary Urdu has been Persianized and literary Hindi has been Sanskritized. The common language spoken in the bazaar in North India and Pakistan is still very much mutually intelligible. This is why Pakistanis can enjoy “Hindi” songs without subtitles. This is not to say that some songs (bhajans for example) may have more Sanskrit-derived vocabulary and be harder for Pakistanis to understand.

            If you want to call the language you speak Hindi, go ahead. If I want to call it Urdu, that’s also perfectly Ok. This only really matters to people for nationalistic reasons.

          6. However the point is that Hindi is a “cleansed” version of Urdu and it’s creation could be seen as a spark for TNT

          7. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Hindi is a “cleansed” version of Urdu. “Shudh” Hindi is a version of Hindustani from which the Arabic and Persian vocabulary has been removed. Urdu and Hindi are simply names of two different registers of Hindustani, one more Persianized and the other more Sanskritized.

            As far as TNT goes, if I recall correctly the Urdu/Hindi controversy was more about the written script than the spoken language. If the two versions of the same language had been written using the same script, there wouldn’t have been much of a problem. But since the Perso-Arabic script was associated with Islam and Devnagri was associated with Hinduism, the choice of script became an issue of contention.

    2. Onions have been a part of cuisine across the ancient world for millennia.

      Tomatoes and Patotos were exported from the Americas to the rest of the world in the 1500s AD.

      Pharsi, Urdu and Hindi are all part of the Indo Iranian European Aryan language family; which is why they are so similar.

      Ferdinand de Saussure (founder of modern linguistics, Structuralism, Post Modernism, and to a large degree modern academic humanities) speculated that there was a proto Aryan language they all derived from. Before Ferdinand, European Enlightenment scholars speculated that Vedic Samhita Sanskrit was the original proto Aryan Language from which all Aryan languages derived; which is my view.

      1. // Indo Iranian European Aryan language //

        Packing too much in that phrase.

        1) The founder of modern linguistics (was called philology back then) has many contenders, but for IE linguistics it is most probably the British polymath William Jones, who predates Saussure by a century.

        2) Indo-Iranian (you could call it Aryan, but that’s obsolete usage) is a subset of Indo-European family. No attested member of IIr was ever spoken natively by any population – as far as we know – in what is now called Europe. Even Scythian nomads (Sakai to Greeks, Saka to Persians, SakaH to Indians) never ventured beyond the Pontic steppe. So IIr is not a European branch by any reasonable use of the term.

        3) Indo-European family itself spawned many branches: most of which are actually attested in Europe (Italic, Celtic, Hellenic, Germanic, Slavic). Iranic dominated ME and also Central Asia for a while. Indic was (and remains) dominant in South Asia.

        4) The word “Arya” (Ariya in Old Persian and Airia in Avestan), first attested in the Rg Veda (primarily as a marker of culture and language), but also later in the Avestan Gathas (cf. Sanskrit gAthA, i.e. ode). It has nothing to do with any European culture and the connections were primarily a result of interest in Sanskrit philology at the turn of the last century, confounded by German propaganda during WW2.

        5) Urdu and Hindi are in a sprachbund. Farsi has had a much longer history of independent evolution but obvious similarities remain. As far as my own view goes, and others may differ, Farsi is (in spite of huge lexical borrowing from Arabic), more syntactically conservative than either Urdu or Hindi, i.e. it resembles Old Persian syntax more than Urdu or Hindi resemble Sanskrit. Hindi’s (esp. the so called “shuddh” variety) resemblance to Sanskrit is very superficial and a post-colonial add-on rather than organic.

        1. How does one distinguish organic from ‘add-on’ ? If anything, introducing a higher proportion of Sanskrit vocabulary into the lingua-franca of North India was the sustained desire of a large majority of the population of that region (see Christopher King’s book on the the Hindi-Urdu debate), once they had reached a level of political consciousness.

          On the other hand, the Persian influence was almost entirely down to the political power of an imperial power, which patronised a foreign high culture.

          1. You forget the reason Khari Bholi even became the lingua franca of South Asia was because of the Delhi Sultanate.

          2. // How does one distinguish organic from ‘add-on’ //

            That is a valid question. I would say we do by looking at:

            a) how crucial any feature is to a language, and
            b) how common it is in a population.

            E.g. how common is it for a speaker of Hindi to say the following:

            “yatriyoN sey anurodh hai ki vey vAtAnukUlit kaksh key dvar sadaiv band rakheiN”

            Most will tell you that this is extremely formalized speech – the sort that is blared out of loudspeakers at New Delhi railway station, not in a household conversation. Much of the vocabulary used, e.g. anurodh, vAtAnukUlit, sadaiv are Sanskrit compounds (samas) lifted as-is from Sanskrit speech to Hindi – probably to replace more Arabic/Farsi words that would have existed in their place 300 years ago. However, not vAtAnukUlit (air-conditioned; Skt ‘vAta’ wind/air, cf. Pers. ‘bAd’) as the technology did not exist back then. Note that Sanskrit noun/verbal inflections are not borrowed, nor are grammar or syntactical devices. Just pre-formed and packaged nouns/adjectives air-dropped from Sanskrit stratosphere to Hindi lowlands.

            Note that there’s a difference between is and ought. I think the debate, on whether the conscious decision by a large number of people to purge vocab of a certain type from common language in favour of another is morally/politically good, is sort of pointless.

            As far as Arabic/Persian influence goes, its effect on North Indian dialect cluster (daughter languages of Sauraseni Prakrit) had been there for a long time [much longer than Sanskrit vocab in Hindi]. Quite akin to the effect of Norman French on Anglo-Saxon dialects, that set the stage for Modern English. In fact Norman French affected English much more deeply – in that there’s barely an English sentence that can be constructed without Latinate verbs (including “affect” and “contruct”). But do you so the English going around purging these verbs from their language?

            Ultimately words like “Urdu”, “Hindi”, “Hindustani” whatever are merely labels for a thing. That thing is a cluster of dialects with lot more Arabic and Persian words than (tatsama) Sanskrit words.

          3. Again this is somehow obviating the specific language controversy about a more “Hindu” version of Urdu, which is what Hindi is.

            Urdu is a higher register of the Delhi language spoken from time of the Delhi Sultanate/Mughal era. It’s unsuitability as the lingua Franca of South Asia foreshadowed the ultimate division..

          4. Slapstik, I think the objective of the population group that forms the bulwark of support for Hindi is related to your final line.

            “That thing is a cluster of dialects with lot more Arabic and Persian words than (tatsama) Sanskrit words.”

            The goal is not to completely transform ‘that thing’ and remove all Arabic/Persian words. It is to simply change the proportion over a period of time, with the end goal being a language which has a higher proportion of Indian origin words than foreign ones.

            The (re)introduction of Sanskrit words also enlarges the vocabulary. For example, consider the words intzaar, wait, inteyzaar, and prateeksha. All three are used today. The first two, especially wait, are used colloquially to mean a simple wait. Inteyzaar is used in romantic/poetic contexts, whereas prateeksha is used to refer to a comtemplative/meditative wait.

            It would be appropriate in North India to say that ‘Virat Kohli Dale Steyn se saamna karne ki prateeksha kar raha hain’. The use of ‘wait’ in the above line would be too informal, and (ka) inteyzaar would be completely out of place.

            It is a bit akin to how the word ‘jungle’ (ultimately from Sanskrit) is used in English to convey fear/confusion/unpleasantness (‘urban jungle’, ‘its a jungle out there’) whereas the original forest is simply used to refer to an actual forest.

            If you listen to news bulletins (on Rajya Sabha TV for example) and even speeches (even by Modi or Adityanath) you will see predominantly Sanskrit vocabulary, but there are also Arabic/Persian origin words being used. So the driver for this new ‘rebalanced’ language has been politics, but it is also being deployed in music now (popular songs like ‘Moh Moh Ke Dhaage’, ‘Naina’) and will eventually seep into popular usage.

  4. “You forget the reason Khari Bholi even became the lingua franca of South Asia was because of the Delhi Sultanate.”

    I dont see how this is relevant. The vast majority of a population group want to speak a language that is rooted in their soil. I do not want to be restricted to the use of foreign words only, and would prefer to use words my own civilization came up with. Languages capture the singularity of a civilizational experience. What is so difficult to understand about this ?

    If North Indians also started asking for prohibitions on the use of Arabic/Persian/Urdu, you would have an argument. I would personally oppose that tooth and nail. But there are no restrictions in India on the use of these languages. In fact, the government gives these languages support (co-official status in places, departments in government colleges, literary awards). And the population provides ample financial and emotional support for mushairas, Urdu poetry etc.

    Let me put it this way. The British were foundational to modern Pakistan: canal colonies, imposition of Urdu in Punjab, army recruitment, cricket, English medium education, the very administrative system, these were all introduced by the British. Their legacy is far stronger and more influential than that of the Delhi Sultanate on North India. Why dont you forget about Urdu and fully adopt English, the way you are asking Indians to forget about Sanskrit ?

    1. The highest echelons of Pakistan communicate predominantly in English.

      This Saffron-hued version of India, which delineates Urdu & her heritage as foreign, logically leads to División.

      To be honest my experience of India is far more pluralistic..

      1. Zachary, like I said there are no restrictions on the use and development of Urdu in India.

        What is wrong in Urdu being foreign ? Why should that lead to division ?

    2. Vikram,

      How is Urdu “foreign” to India given that it evolved in the UP/Delhi region? It is very much a native Indian language. This “civilizational” argument of yours seems to me to come from a place of soft Hindutva in which “native” and “Indian” mean only Hindu and any kind of Islamic influence is deemed foreign. This is the mirror image of those Pakistanis who refuse to say “Hindustani” or “Indian” classical music because of their visceral dislike for India. I don’t think Zachary is asking Indians to “forget about Sanskrit” but simply questioning the need to remove all Arabic/Persian words from the commonly spoken language and replace them with sometimes artificial Sanskrit-derived vocabulary.

      On the other hand, I think Zachary is also incorrect in claiming that Hindi is a “Hindu version” of Urdu. Hindi is simply one standardized register of Hindustani while Urdu is another. They exist on a continuum, neither is a version of the other.

      One final question: Can “Saare Jahan Say Acha Hai Hindustan Hamara” be called a Hindi poem because it is one of India’s national songs or must it be called Urdu because Allama Iqbal was a Muslim and the spiritual founder of Pakistan?

      1. “to remove all Arabic/Persian words”

        This is either a gross exaggeration or a misrepresentation of what I have said. I have talked about expanding vocabularies and giving people more options, so that they can utilize the proportion they want. Not about cleansing and removing.

        Please hear any news bulletin or program on an official Indian broadcaster like DD, LSTV, RSTV. You will hear plenty of Persian/Arabic origin words.

        Here’s a simple representation of whats going on,
        Original Prakrit/Sanskrit based Apabhraṃśa (popular) + Perso/Arabic (official, imperial policy) -> 1st generation Hindi
        1st generation Hindi (popular) + Sanskrit/English (official, by popular will) + Bollywood influences -> 2nd generation Hindi

        The Bollywood influences are primarily bringing in Marathi/Gujarati origin words.

        The 2nd generation Hindi is on its way to replacing 1st generation Hindi as the popular language in the coming future.

        1. You have not answered the central question: In what way can Urdu be called a foreign language when it is native to India? If Pakistan had not adopted Urdu as its national language why would anyone in India have had a problem with owning the language? Insisting that Urdu is foreign only makes sense if you have decided that anything Muslim is un-Indian. If that is your position, please be honest with us and say so openly. Saying that you want to use words that your “civilization” invented implies that Hindu and Muslim Indians are from two different civilizations and that is frankly ridiculous and even offensive to me as someone with two grandparents that came from what is now India. Also, in an odd way it seems you agree with the TNT.

          It is of course your right (and that of all other Indians) to use the language they want to use and call it by whatever name they please. But the tendency to disavow all Islamic influences is definitely a mark of the larger Saffronization occuring in Modi’s India.

          1. Kabir, Islam is a faith and religion, not some specific set of cultural influences. The vast majority of Indian Muslims speak Bengali, Gujarati, Bihari languages, Malayalam and not Urdu. So your Urdu = Muslim equation is mostly an attempt to privilege a particular set of North Indian Muslim aristocratic traditions. You have every right to seek such privilege, but I am not sure why you expect Indians to honor such wishes.

            There is a lot more to the Muslim experience in India than a language that has simply adopted a lot of Persian and Arabic vocabulary. Urdu hardly played any role in the Muslim discourse in Punjab, for example. I dont think Bulleh Shah and Waris Shah had anything to do with Urdu. Similarly Muslim Sufis in other regions hardly composed anything in Urdu. They used the existing language of the natives.

            Are you really denying that the language you are speaking of relies almost entirely on Persian and Arabic literature for inspiration ? Urdu can be rightly seen as a continuation of the legacy of Rumi and Hafez, not any Indian literary tradition. The Indic aspect is merely that of a substrate. It is not clear to me why you expect Indians (whether Hindu or Muslim) to not see this language as foreign. It is also unclear what this has anything to do with the individual rights of Muslims in India.

            Indians also see English as a foreign language, and that language is doing fine in India. So why not Urdu ?

            And please stop Godwining this discussion with bogey words like ‘Saffronize’, ‘Modi’ etc.

          2. Vikram,

            Regardless of your opinion, the reality is that Urdu is not a foreign language in India. It developed organically from Khari Boli in UP and Delhi. It was not brought from outside. Your comparison with English is therefore flawed. English was brought by the British colonialists and its development was not significantly influenced by the Indian environment. In contrast, there would have been no Urdu without India. Also not all Indians see Urdu as foreign. There are plenty for whom Urdu is their native language (Muslims of UP).

            This discussion is about Urdu specifically and not about the languages spoken by Indian Muslims in general. Your bringing in Bulleh Shah does not disprove my argument. Urdu is linked to a specific region of India not to a religion. Some well-known Urdu poets were Hindu and they wrote in the nastaliq script–this had nothing to do with their religion.
            We are also not talking about “official” languages. Indians can democratically choose any language they like to be their official language. The concern is simply that this desire to mask the reality of Urdu’s organic development in North India reflects an extreme degree of discomfort with the presence of Islamic culture in India. This discomfort is reflected in larger political trends as well. And it seems, despite your attempts to sound reasonable and liberal, at bottom you also seem to believe that whatever is Muslim is not Indian. There would otherwise be no reason to deny the reality that Urdu developed from Khari Boli in what is today UP and Delhi.
            In some ways it is ironic that your binary between native and foreign is quite similar to the arguments used to justify the creation of Pakistan and the division of the Indian subcontinent. The TNT was a bad argument when used by the Muslim League and it’s a bad argument when used by those believing in soft Hindutva.

            Since this discussion is now getting repetitive, we will have to agree to disagree.

          3. Kabir, I answered your question. Please answer mine. What is Indian about Urdu apart from its substrate ?

          4. “What is Indian about Urdu apart from its substrate?”

            I couldn’t have been more clear in my previous comment. Standard Urdu is a register of Hindustani, which evolved from Khari Boli. Standard Hindi is another register of Hindustani. Urdu developed in the UP and in Delhi, it did not come from the Middle East. Thus, it cannot be described as anything other than Indian.

            This is not just my personal opinion. Quoting Wikipedia: “Urdu is a Persianised and standardized register language of the Hindustani language. Apart from specialized vocabulary, Urdu is mutually intelligible with Standard Hindi, another recognized register of Hindustani. The Urdu variant of Hindustani received recognition and patronage under British rule when the British replaced the local official languages with English and Hindustani written in Nastaʿlīq script, as the official language in North and Northwestern India.[13][14][15] Religious, social, and political factors pushed for a distinction between Urdu and Hindi in India, leading to the Hindi–Urdu controversy.[16]”

            Urdu developed in India. This is a fact. What you feel about it is another matter and is your right, but it will not change reality.

            I take this personally because some of my ancestry is from UP. I don’t appreciate the insinuation that my grandmother and her relatives belonged to some different “civilization” than her Hindu neighbors simply by virtue of her religion. She called the language she spoke Urdu, while her neighbors may have said they were speaking Hindi. The fact remains that they were able to communicate with very few problems. This whole debate is a function of post-Partition nationalism and communalism. It has no basis in linguistics whatsoever.

  5. It is extremely problematic that the democratic will of the majority of North India for a more Sanskrit based Hindi is being labeled ‘saffron’. A majority has the right to demand its language of choice be a preeminent official language.

    There has been absolutely no attempt to suppress Urdu anywhere in North India. This just seems hyperbole and paranoia, rooted more in the loss of elite status derived from the preeminence of Urdu than anything else.

  6. Kabir, do you expect North Indian Hindus to have an ‘extreme degree of comfort’ with this ?

    “The Qutab Minar Complex is located in Lal Kote, a neighborhood of Delhi founded by Muslim rulers. There are mosques, towers, tombs and associated buildings in the area. Quwatul-Islam mosque is the first mosque constructed in Delhi, and was built by Qutabuddin in 1129. The stones to construct the mosque were obtained by demolishing twenty-seven Hindu and Jain temples.” – World Heritage Monuments and Related Edifices in India By Ali Javid, Tabassum Javeed

    “This mosque was a Sanskrit college in the 12th century before Ghori destroyed it. Designed by Abu Bakr of Herat, the architect accompanying Ghori, the mosque is a grand example of early Indo–Islamic architecture and is built from material taken from the destroyed Hindu and Jain temples and a Sanskrit college that existed there.” – K.D.L Khan on Adhai din ka Jhonpra (

    1. I’m not going to defend temple destruction, but that is the history. How we feel about it doesn’t change the fact that it happened. Those were different times and such things must be considered in their context. If you really want to talk destruction though, we can always talk about the secular government of modern India acquiescing in the destruction of the Babri Masjid, a historical site and a place of worship of the minority community. I’m personally more worried about something that happened 25 years ago than something that happened hundreds of years ago, when norms were different.

      This has nothing to do with the topic at hand though, which is that Urdu is a syncretic language and an example of India’s composite culture.

  7. I think poetry more than prose can respond to Vikram. First, on temples and mosques.

    Hazaaron saal ki yeh daastan; Aur yaad haiy unko sirf itna; Kay Aalamgir zaalim thha’ Hindukush thaa, sitamgar thha

    And on Saffronism broadly, here is Fehmida Riaz, a Pakistani poet on visiting India.

    “Tum bilkul hum jaise nikle
    tum bilkul hum jaisey nikley
    ab tak kahaN chhupe the bhai
    voh moorkhta, voh ghaamarpan
    jis mein hum ne sadi ganwai
    aakhir pahunchi dwaar tumhaarey
    arre badhai bohot badhai

    preyt dharam ka naach rahaa hai
    qayam Hindu raaj karoge?
    saarey ultey kaaj karogay
    apna chaman daraaj karogey
    tum bhee baithey karogey sochaa
    poori hai waisi tayyari
    kaun hai Hindu, kaun naheeN hai
    tum bhi karogay fatwe jaari
    hoga kathin yahaN bhi jeena
    raatoN aa jayega paseena
    jaisi taisi kata karegi
    yahan bhi sabki saans ghutegi
    kal dukh se socha karti thi
    soch ke bohot hansi aaj aee,
    tum bilkul hum jaise nikle
    Hum do qaum nahin the bhai…

    The poem continues — link with translation included separately if this Urdu is too foreign for you.

    But I like to cut it off at that line, for my brother Vikram.

    1. Ikram,

      Thanks very much for Fehmida Riaz’s poem. It is very poignantly expressed: “Hum do qaum nahin the bhai”. When most Indians and Pakistanis interact with each other (asides from the Islamists and the Hindtvavadis), we realize that we are essentially the same people, with the same culture, language, dress, etc. It is very ironic that those who believe in Hindutva and are thus at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Muslim League and the creators of Pakistan seem to share a passionate belief in the TNT. It is up to moderates in the middle to express the view that the last 70 years of history cannot define and negate the hundreds of years of co-existence that came before.

  8. There is a lot of moral grandstanding and Godwining going on here. I wanted to reply in summary:

    1) The whole debate started when Mr. Latif deemed the music of Hindi cinema to be ‘Urdu songs’. I pointed out the fallacy in saying this even while acknowledging Urdu poetic tradition as an important influence on Hindi cinema.

    2) Literary Urdu is far, far more influenced than Perso-Arabic literature than any Indic literature. Kabir has still not pointed out which specific Indic influences it has had, and how it continues any Indic literary tradition.

    After that I have been given a big lecture about Saffronization versus ‘composite culture’. But it is clear that the composite culture that Mr. Latif, Kabir and Ikram seek to emphasize is a predominantly Islamicate/Perso-Arabic tradition, with Indic influences reduced to a pidgin like role. It is quite ridiculous to expect anyone to expect such debasement.

    Kabir happily points out that his grandparent’s neighbor’s were speaking Urdu but calling it Hindi, without understanding *why* they insisted on calling it Hindi. The reason they accommodated to speak a language with copious amounts of foreign vocabulary was that they were politically dominated by a foreign minority whose cultural and aesthetic tastes were Persian not Indian. Once they threw off this political domination, they have worked towards a new equilibrium.

    Composite culture in North India emerged mainly after 1947, when in an environment of political independence and a spirit of newly found freedom, creative individuals and teams borrowed freely from any tradition they could had access to. Indic, Persian, Arabic, Anglo. This is why Sita and reincarnation find comfortable space alongside Khuda and tassawur. Labeling the output of this enterprise ‘Urdu songs’ shows only ethnocentrism, nothing else.

  9. “Kabir has still not pointed out which specific Indic influences it has had, and how it continues any Indic literary tradition.”

    Now you are being disingenuous or perhaps you are incapable of comprehending Wikipedia articles (not likely for someone who managed to earn a Ph.D). As I quoted above: “Urdu is a Persianised and standardized register language of the Hindustani language. Apart from specialized vocabulary, Urdu is mutually intelligible with Standard Hindi, another recognized register of Hindustani.” Wikipedia goes on: ” It evolved from the medieval (6th to 13th century) Apabhraṃśa register of the preceding Shauraseni language, a Middle Indo-Aryan language that is also the ancestor of other modern Indo-Aryan languages, including the Punjabi dialects. Urdu developed under the influence of the Persian and Arabic languages, both of which have contributed a significant amount of vocabulary to formal speech.[18][19][20][21][22][23] Around 99% of Urdu verbs have their roots in Sanskrit and Prakrit.[24]”

    There is no way that a language in which almost all verbs come from Sanskrit cannot be called “Indic”. In addition (again referring to Wikipedia): “However, both [standard Urdu and standard Hindi] have large numbers of Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit words, and most linguists consider them to be two standardised forms of the same language,[57][58] and consider the differences to be sociolinguistic,[59] though a few classify them separately.[60]”.

    The composite culture I was referring to emerged in the centuries following the arrival of the Muslims in North India (Delhi Sultanate and Mughals). This includes dress, food, and language. It is also known as “Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb”. It is quite strange to argue that composite culture emerged after 1947, when Partition is usually seen as the beginning of the end of the composite culture.

    Basically, you have a fixed belief that the Muslims of UP were a “foreign minority”. No amount of logic and evidence is going to disabuse you of that notion. In your world, “Indic” means Hindu and Muslim equals foreign. I find this notion personally offensive given that my ancestors trace their history in India and in Kashmir for generations. My daadi and her family were not any less Indian than your family, even though they happened to be Muslim. This attitude is exactly what led to Partition and caused my ancestors and thousands of others to have to leave their ancestral homeland behind and go to a new country. The Hindu Mahsahaba and the Muslim League agreed on nothing but on the TNT. And it seems that their descendants, the PakNationalists and soft-Hindutvavadis continue to agree that India belongs to Hindus and Pakistan belongs to Muslims. It is of course up to Indians if they want to destroy the pluralist and secular legacy of the past, but one can only say that it is extremely sad to see extremist Pakistani attitudes being mirrored by otherwise educated middle class Indians.

    1. Kabir, verbs and pronouns constitute the substrate of a language. However, the way language captures the singularity of a population’s experience is through its vocabulary and its literary expression. And Urdu’s vocabulary and literary expression are Perso-Arabic not Indic.

      I think you are not going to relent on calling me some kind of an extremist, so there is no point in me protesting any more.

      I just wanted to make a point about the two-nation theory. I feel that the Pakistan movement, as seen from the point of view of Muslim minorities of British North India (excluding Punjab), was much more about Urdu than Islam. In today’s India, very few Muslims in UP will speak the kind of ‘Urdu’ that was spoken by their ancestors before 1947 and almost all the youth will understand Hindustani written in the Devnagari script, often in addition to the Arabic script. On the other hand, Pakistan provided a space for this pre-1947 Urdu, and in that sense has managed to preserve the pre-1947 aristrocratic Muslim culture better.

      The Two Nation theory was a political movement, and it is unfair to judge it on the basis of the partition violence. In any case, violence in UP was very little compared to the genocides in Punjab and Bengal. UP is still a very plural and diverse place, apart from pockets in West UP which are tense. The change is that now there are as many kavi sammelans as shayari mahotsav’s. There is a genuine merging of Sanskrit and Perso-Arabic (locally called Urdu) traditions in speech and literature, which was not the case before 1947. This is why I feel the atmosphere now reflects a more composite culture than before.

      1. Vikram, most of the vocabulary of spoken Urdu is identical to that of Hindi. The differences arise at the level of literature. I will concede that Urdu literature is influenced by Persian and Arabic tropes and forms rather than by Sanskrit. But I was discussing the language of common people not high literature. At this level, it is denying reality to claim that Urdu is not “Indic”. As referred to on Wikipedia, the linguistic consensus is that Urdu-Hindi is the same language, but classified as two languages for sociolinguistic reasons. An analogy can be be made with Dari in Afghanistan and Farsi in Iran. They are basically the same language but Afghans prefer to call their language Dari because of past Iranian imperialism. This is a question of nationalism rather than of linguistics.

        Your comments about the TNT and the Pakistan movement reflect a serious misunderstanding. The Pakistan movement was not about Urdu. If it had been mainly about Urdu, it would not have taken along Bengali Muslims who were among the most enthusiastic supporters of the Muslim League. The Pakistan movement was about the rights of British India’s Muslims and the perception that Muslims needed separate electorates and weighted representation in order to be protected in a Hindu-majority country. It is true that Jinnah did consider Urdu to be the language of all of British India’s Muslims (an extremely problematic notion as seen by the secession of East Pakistan). One could argue that this was a concession to the UP Muslims who were some of the most important backers of the League.

        As for Pakistan preserving UP’s aristocratic Muslim culture, a visit to Pakistan will show that this is not the case. UP’s Muslim culture died in 1947 in the ancestral homeland. “Adaab” has been replaced by “salaam”. Pakistani Urdu has been influenced by Punjabi–the native language of 50% of Pakistanis. Very few Pakistanis will be able to speak Lucknawi or Delhi Urdu, and those would be the descendants of muhajirs.

        1. Hi Kabir, there is nothing wrong about being inspired by Persian and Arabic literature. These are great and attractive traditions, with their own unique perspectives on the human experience. It is no surprise that many in India choose to make this heritage a part of their daily lives via vocabulary and other literary inspirations.

          I am sure that an abstraction of this appreciation for Perso-Arabic literature will also help you see why many Indians (Hindu and Muslim) feel the same way about Sanskrit (or some other classical language) literature, and want to make that heritage part of their daily life. In fact, this is one reason why I strongly oppose giving Hindi any kind of special ‘national language’ status in India. I understand why Tamil people, Marathi people, Bengali people and others want their lives to be shaped by their respective literatures.

          And these communities are by no means unique in having such perspectives. Most native English speakers will identify the continuing development of English language literature as a very important (or even the most important) part of their identity.

          Regarding TNT, I was talking about the Pakistan movement specifically from the point of view of the Urdu speaking population of the then United Provinces. It is natural that the ‘original’ Urdu as spoken in North India has changed as it is adopted by speakers of other languages.

          1. ‘Lingua franca’ is a hegemonic idea. Languages should not be instruments of power.

            No one talks about lingua franca of Europe. People take pride in learning multiple languages. This was the idea behind the three language formula in India. But of course, Hindi/Urdu wallahs found a way to subvert this.

            This might interest you:

          2. Vikram,

            I have no problem with those who want to make Sanskrit part of their daily life. More power to them! I do have a problem with those who want to deny reality and claim that Urdu is not an Indian language and by extension Urdu-speakers are somehow “foreigners”. This is an example of nationalism and communalism and tendencies such as this have done great harm to South Asia. In any case, I was talking about Urdu-Hindi at the level of ordinary discourse not about Perso-Arabic literature.

            You may be interested in a new book entitled “Negotiating Languages: Urdu, Hindi, and the Definition of Modern South Asia” by Walter N. Hakala, a professor at the University of Buffalo, SUNY. He argues that: “Through the later nineteenth and twentieth centuries, advocates for Hindi and Urdu increasingly associated their ‘language’ with competing religious and nationalist projects, each group vying to install one or the other as the official language of, first, British South Asia and, later, postindependence India and Pakistan. To cite Christopher King’s memorable formulation, lexicographic texts contributed to the transformation of the equations Urdu=Muslim+ Hindu and Hindi=Hindu+Muslim into Urdu=Muslim and Hindi=Hindu… Negotiating Languages demonstrates how proponents of the two styles of a single, mutually intelligible language–which shared a common grammar and serves as the mother tongue of a combined population that is surpassed only by Mandarin Chinese and Spanish–inscribed through dictionaries, children’s vocabularies, and administrative glossaries a lexical division that contributed to the bloody partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947” (Hakala 7-8).

            Regarding TNT, I think even in UP, the Pakistan movement was more about protecting Muslim rights than about language specifically. Urdu was a symbol of the Muslim identity but not the main issue. In any case, Partition caused those who migrated to Pakistan to lose their ancestral homeland forever. One consequence of this is that the prestige register of Urdu (Lucknawi) was left behind in India and those who speak Urdu in Pakistan are speaking a much-more “Punjabized” language. It is of course natural that the language would change given the new circumstances, but the loss of Indo-Islamic high culture is nevertheless sad.

          3. The UP Urdu salariat would have lost out in a Hindi defined civil service hence the strong support for Pakistan amongst them ..

          4. I agree with Zachary here. Even today 50% of Indian parents have government jobs as the preferred employment for their children, and there is intense political passion around access to government jobs.

            The situation was even more extreme then. There was no private sector to speak of (there still really isnt in UP) and losing out on government jobs to Hindi speakers would have been a body blow.

  10. Yes, the salariat would have lost out in a Hindi-defined civil service and this was definitely part of the motivation for Pakistan. Many of the people who moved to Pakistan got jobs that they would never have been able to get back in India.

    But I think the Urdu-Hindi controversy was more about which script the language would be written in rather than how it was spoken. According to Wikipedia: “The last few decades of the nineteenth century witnessed the eruption of the Hindi–Urdu controversy in the United Provinces (present-day Uttar Pradesh, then known as “the North-Western Provinces and Oudh”). The controversy comprised “Hindi” and “Urdu” protagonists each advocating the official use of Hindustani with the Devanagari script or with the Nastaʿlīq script, respectively. Hindi movements advocating the growth of and official status for Devanagari were established in Northern India. Babu Shiva Prasad and Madan Mohan Malaviya were notable early proponents of this movement. This, consequently, led to the development of Urdu movements defending Urdu’s official status; Syed Ahmed Khan was one of its noted advocates.”

    Gandhi ji attempted to merge “Urdu” and “Hindi” back into Hindustani and have it be written in both Nastaliq and Devanagri. Acceptance of such a compromise would have avoided a lot of problems.

    1. Kabir, you are right that most of the conflict was about script.

      But it was the written language that was important for government employment, not the spoken one. So those factors are deeply intertwined.

      Gandhi’s ideas were good, and that is what has eventually happened in North India. But at the time, his efforts failed.

      1. What has happened in North India is not what Gandhi advocated. He wanted “Urdu” and “Hindi” to be merged into Hindustani. Since Partition, Hindi has become more Sanskritized and Urdu has become ghettoized as a “Muslim” language.

        If Gandhi’s ideas had been taken more seriously, we may have been one country today. It is always better to focus on what unites people rather than what divides them. This is not to say that you shouldn’t take pride in your heritage, but there is no reason that Urdu or Indo-Islamic culture should make you insecure. The same goes for Pakistanis who cannot deal with any evidence of the Hindu past (the state of Katas Raj and the lack of any idols in the temple there is an example. Apparently the yatris are supposed to bring their own idols).

        1. Kabir, like I said it was the specific intersection of employment opportunities and script that produced the kind of politicization we saw in North India. Gandhi’s program didnt really solve this problem.

          Regarding the merging of Urdu and Hindi in North India, it is simply more demographics than any government policy. The population is 80% Hindu and 20% Muslim, the Hindus speak a mixture of Hindi, Punjabi and Haryanvi, while the Muslims predominantly speak Urdu, and it is the interactions of these groups along with the English of the elite that has produced the North Indian common speak today.

          The common language in North India is not really as Sanskritised as you think it is, it is more Anglicized than anything else. But yes, use of Sanskrit words is more common than the Urdu of Pakistan. For example, lagataar would be used instead of musalsal, nishchint would be used instead of itminaan, dhyan instead of tawwaju and so on. But Devanagari script is universal, Muslims as well as Hindus learn it in school and understand it.

          1. Vikram, of the examples you have mentioned of “Sanksrit” words, two of the three are the words most commonly used in Pakistan as well. “Lagataar” and “dhyan” are words used in ordinary discourse while “musalsal” and “tawwaju” are used in formal Urdu. I must confess I have never heard anyone use the word “nischint” (though in Hindi dramas that are popular in Pakistan, people do say “chinta na kijiyey”).

            It is not surprising that Devanagari script is universal. Hindi is after all the official language of the country. Language and script have nothing to do with religion but simply with what is used in education in a particular country. Those Pakistani Hindus and Christians who have gone to school are perfectly comfortable with reading and writing Urdu in Nastaliq .

          2. You are right. “Musalsal” is of Arabic origin. The Sanskrit word is “lagataar”, which is far more common in spoken Urdu.

          3. I personally tend to think of musalsal and lagataar in different ways. Musalsal means a nonstop process (musalsal baarish) whereas lagataar means continuous repetition (lagataar chaar chouke lagaye).

            I think that is the way forward, just like English adopted uses jungle (from Skt) and forest differently, Perso-Arabic and Sanskrit words, which are currently considered synonyms, can be used differently in an expanding vocabulary. I know that some writers and actors in Hindi cinema already do this. For example, Amitabh Bhattacharya and Aamir Khan.

  11. Kabir, you said, “Those Pakistani Hindus and Christians who have gone to school are perfectly comfortable with reading and writing Urdu in Nastaliq .”

    Perso-Arabic script systems are not ideal for representing Indic speech. In the words of Robert D. King,

    “While the graphemic fit of the Devanagari script to the phonemics of Hindi-Urdu is very good, that of the Perso-Arabic script in either of its variants is poor. The script is extremely deficient in the vowel category – no surprise, since Arabic has no graphemes for vowels. The same symbol is used to spell /a/, /i/, /u/, /e/, /o/, /E/, and /c/. Diacritics are available to dif€ferentiate the vowel qualities, but they are not often used except for children and beginners in the language. As for the consonants, Urdu “has an overabundance of consonant symbols” (Kachru 1987: 475). This is true provided the full set of diacritic marks normatively specified for writing Urdu is employed, which is not always the case. For example, the same basic symbol is used to denote the phonemes /p/, /b/, /t/, and /.t/, and diacritics are added to di€fferentiate them. The same is true for other sets of sounds such as /s/, /sÏ/, /sv/, /z/, the stops /k/, /q/, and /3Ï /, /cÏ/, /h/, /x/. If the diacritics are omitted, then the writing system is under-diff€erentiated almost to the point of unreadability except for the most adept.”

    A possible consequence is the slower spread of literacy in Pakistan. In UP, the literacy rate of Hindus was 70% and Muslims 59%. In Pakistan, literacy rate over the same period was 54%. And UP is one of the worst governed states in India.

    But the Arabic based script firmly locates Pakistan as a member of the Muslim civilization from Morocco to Afghanistan. Almost all the countries in this region use a variant of the Arabic script, and this has important political implications.

    1. I wouldn’t overthink the choice of script. My point was that script/language have nothing to do with religion but simply with the norm in whichever country we are talking about. Everyone who is educated in Urdu reads and writes it using Nastaliq, no matter whether they happen to be Christian, Hindu or Muslim. Urdu has always been written using the Perso-Arabic script. Similarly, everyone who is educated in Hindi can read and write Devanagri, even if they happen to be Muslim.

      Your point that Devanagari is a much more exact script with one symbol for each sound is very well taken. For Urdu, you just have to become familiar with which words are spelled using which symbol (even if they have the exact same sound). The lack of diacritics is not usually a problem for those who have become familiar with the language over years of practice. You can usually tell from context which word is intended. Where exact pronunciation is important, diacritics are always used (for example, in the Quran).

        1. This must be a post-Partition phenomenon as Nastaliq is not taught in mainstream Indian schools. Urdu can be written in Roman as well (and often is by English-medium Pakistanis). However, that doesn’t change the fact that traditionally the script used for Urdu is Nastaliq.

          The language remains the same, whichever script it is written in and that is the important thing.

      1. Yes script is often a matter of politics/identity dresses up as convenience.

        The disaster of the switch of Turkish from Perso-Arabic to Latin. Absolute disaster..

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