Urdu as an intra-provincial link language

Vikram made the novel point that the use of Urdu in Punjab was a way to bind an ethnically diverse province (Seraiki in the South).

Speaking Like a State

What is interesting is that 3 of Pakistan’s provinces (Baluchistan, KPK & Punjab) have >25% linguistic minorities. Half of Baluchistan’s population is Pathan/Pashto, KPK has a significant Hindko population (circa 25%) and Punjab might be majority Seraiki. As an aside it’s interesting that the Punjabi population in KPK are known as “Hindkos”; those of Hind, there is a clear civilisational faultline right there.

“More than one interpretation has been offered for the term Hindko. Some associate it with India, others with Hindu people, and still others with the Indus.”[6]

(Pak Gen Ayub Khan was Hazara by birth, Punjabi by nature, say Indian army veterans) .

Much as we think Pakistan to be an “artificial” country (for that matter every nation state in South Asia is an artifice conjured up by the British) even the provincial units are constructed entities. So Urdu as a link language within the provinces did what Hindi managed to do within BIMARU (not the best acronym since it resembles the word for sick and I’m avoiding the term C-Belt as it can be quite offensive); provide an inter & intra provincial means of communication.

One of the greatest demographic transformations in the Indus Valley has been the prolific success and expansion of the “Iranian tribes.” The Baluch but especially the Pathans have been prolifically expanding and assimilating the indigenous populations that are undergoing tribal and language shifts, Swat is an example of this shift from an Indo-Dardic speaking population to an Iranian one. Also see Swati native Malala Yousufzai’s very emotional (Urdu-Pashto) speech about returning to Pakistan (somewhat uniquely South Asians are comfortably tri-lingual as a rule).

I have always had mixed feelings about Malala but the above clip shows she obviously loves Pakistan and this inspired me to share the lovely song Ae Watan from Raazi.

I called out this Hindutva chap who was trying to pin a Sanskrit/Indo-Iranian origin for vatan when it’s clearly an Arabic term.

Even though I don’t know much about linguistics; it’s very clear that Vatan has a triconsonantal ring to it. The fact that Ey Vatan, being Urdu, has such massive popularity in India is disconcerting to some but regardless Arabic words in whatever language stand out for clarity and lucidity. Even Persian would be bereft without the Arabic influence & script. It would be fatal and one of the upsides of the Iranian Revolution (there are admittedly few) is maintaining the Arabic influence in Perso-Arabic.

I sometimes like to contract Urdu and it’s Saffronised offspring, Hindi, to Ottmanish and Turkish. Turkish is a denuded and rather inelegant language compared to its great predecessor Ottomanish, which was rich and complex.

Ottoman Turkish (/ˈɒtəmən/; Turkish: Osmanlı Türkçesi), or the Ottoman language (Ottoman Turkish: لسان عثمانى‎, lisân-ı Osmânî, also known as تركجه‎, Türkçe or تركی‎, Türkî, “Turkish”; Turkish: Osmanlıca), is the variety of the Turkish language that was used in the Ottoman Empire. It borrows, in all aspects, extensively from Arabic and Persian, and it was written in the Ottoman Turkish alphabet. During the peak of Ottoman power, Persian and Arabic vocabulary accounted for up to 88% of the Ottoman vocabulary,[3] while words of foreign origins heavily outnumbered native Turkish words.[4]

Back to the thrust of the post. I was initially looking at the way Punjabi has been treated by both sides of the Punjab. The liturgical and practical importance assigned to the language by the Sikhs is in contrast to the comical and rustic value given to it by Punjabi Muslims. Hindu Punjabis (the Khatri castes) have almost entirely switched to Hindi in Delhi so the standard bearers for the Punjabi language really are the Sikhs both at home and in the diaspora.

I’ll end this thought with Nick Jonas’s mum dancing to the Bhangra with her samdhan (only an Indic language could have such a wonderfully complex kinship term) Mrs. Chopra.

27 thoughts on “Urdu as an intra-provincial link language”

  1. For a while in modern India, Urdu served as a link language in areas beyond the Hindi belt where the labor class is unable to understand Hindi at all. There was a better chance that say a Kannadiga Muslim or a Manipuri Muslim auto driver is bilingual with Urdu via the mosque/madrasaah, and as a result if you’re a Hindi speaker, Muslims in these areas are kind of an extension of the Hindustani culture and they can translate for you (like if you got into an argument with your Kannadiga-only auto driver, a Kannadiga Muslim fellow with Urdu training might come by mediate and translate).

    That doesn’t mean a Kannadiga Muslim is actually a migrant from the Hindi belt. It’s just that during British India, when a Muslim sub nationalism was growing and connecting Muslims at a far greater rate across subcontinent, there was an Urdu=Muslim and Muslim= Urdu push. And for the most part Muslims in the Hindu majority/dominant areas of subcontinent did not resist this on ethnolinguistic grounds. The Bangladesh saga is highlighted because it is more the exception than the norm. So by the time modern India was formed, the local Muslim population was a readily available pan India present large enough minority to serve as a catalyst for easier integration at people to people level.

    1. “And for the most part Muslims in the Hindu majority/dominant areas of subcontinent did not resist this on ethnolinguistic grounds.”

      You are ascribing a religious dimension to the adoption of Urdu, but a very similar process was seen amongst Bhojpuri, Maithili (in the same language family as Bengali) and Rajasthani (same family as Gujarati) speaking Hindus, when it came to Hindi. The reasons for the adoption of Hindi or Urdu by these populations had more to do with commercial and state employment opportunities.

      Across India, Muslims speak the same language as local Hindus, with the exception of Muslims in Karnataka and Hyderabad.

      1. Marwaris out of Rajasthan might have made the switch to Hindi in recent generations (plenty still speak the language though), but Rajasthani languages are quite alive and kicking within the state. Hindi is like a 2nd native language in urban areas, but head to the villages and it gets very different. Because of the (linguistically false) political history of claiming Rajasthani as a dialect of Western Hindi, some people think of their language as a corrupted version of Hindi, the way Punjabi might have gone if things had gone otherwise. This might be changing. Interesting to note that the linguistic distance between Rajasthani languages and Hindi might be greater than Punjabi and Hindi.

        1. Encouraging to hear this. Wikipedia says that there is a push by Rajasthan leaders to insert Rajasthani into the Eighth schedule. But the real turning point would be if Rajasthani is made the official language of Rajasthan, like Gujarati is in Gujarat and Punjabi in Punjab.

          1. Which Marwaris? The trading castes have a conservative rep but they are historically spread across all India (so not culturally isolated), are relatively well off (so western educations, etc.), and increasingly quite urban. This means conservative in some ways and not conservative in others. Not a lot of “gaon ki ladki le aana” here. New generations are marrying out to Hindi speakers, Punjabis, Gujaratis, etc. I’m not too sure about all the communities solely based in Marwar though- differs with each one.

            Yeah that turning point hasn’t been reached. I think Rajasthan’s linguistic problems are:
            1. The abundance of different languages with proud and distinct histories. So though Marwari is the biggest one, there is probably resistance to Marwari hegemony, as well as any proposed “artificial synthesis” language that “Rajasthani” would be. Also, don’t forget the presence of Punjabi in the north, Braj in the east, and Sindhi as well due to partition.
            2. Rampant bilingualism in the cities, reinforced by unscientific nationalist views about Hindi. So hard to separate the languages from Hindi in many people’s minds. There’s also Hindi lexical influence pulling Rajasthani languages closer to Hindi.

            That being said, I think there’s hope considering the resurgence of cultural pride, and a recognition of a “Rajasthani” identity that probably wasn’t that strong before. Rajasthan was lucky in the years before partition in that culture often trumped religion. So all religions are equally Rajasthani and less Hindi for Hindus, Urdu for Muslims BS (I’m looking at you, Punjab). Let’s hope the cultural pride doesn’t turn destructive though like it has elsewhere…

  2. You seem to have conflated Punjabi Hindus with Khatris, this is understandable but quite far from being correct. Most Punjabi Hindus are agrarian castes like Kamboj and Sainis. But Khatris are the most urbanized and most educated.

    Regarding Pakistan’s provinces, before the States Reorganization Act, India’s states were similarly incongruent with clear linguistic majorities. In the long term, more than the rather artificial Hindu-Muslim tension, it is the linguistic politics along with of course caste mobilizations that have shaped India.

    The only states that have not been reorged are the BIMARU ones, but the emergence of new states here is imminent. There is an argument by Prerna Singh at Brown that ethno-linguistic solidarity does play a role in social development. See: How Solidarity Works for Welfare – Prerna Singh.

      1. It is not clear what the competitive interests of Hindus and Muslims in India are. Hindus are the overwhelming majority, totally dominant in land ownership, commerce, education and armed forces. And there is hardly any Muslim voice that contests this dominance. In fact, upper caste Muslims fully participate in this setup, especially via positions in the media.

        Look closer and you will see that the real tension is amongst the Hindus. The dominance in commerce and education is of the upper caste (dvija) Hindus. The dominance in land holding is of the peasant castes and SC’s, although still at the margins, have found a look in via government reservations and political mobilization. Upper caste Hindus would like a quicker transition to an industrial economy (which they will dominate) and less spending on rural areas, which conflicts with the interests of the peasantry. They also want an end to reservations, which conflicts with the SCs. The peasant castes also resent the upward mobility of the Dalits, since it raises costs for them and decreases their control over the rural setup.

        So its a triangle, and Muslims are strategically used by both the upper castes and the dominant castes to win elections. The upper caste portrays them as the ‘other’ to consolidate votes from other Hindus, while the peasant castes seek alliances with influential conservative Muslims to get past the winning percentage.

        So currently both Hindu-Muslim tension and alliances in India are artificial.

        1. I forgot to mention that Sindh is actually the most “linguistically tense” population in Pakistan even though it has no historic linguistic minority. In 1947 it swapped linguistic homogeneity for religious homogeneity but a lot of the same factors you touch on are playing out in the Province.

          However I do think you underestimate the role of religion and intramarriage within a caste/religion helps to “seal the deal.”

          1. Zack, I would not deny that Hindu-Muslim tensions before independence were real, underpinned by competitive interests. Therefore, I agree that religion (or even sect) can be a real source of tension.

            Regarding Sindh, you are right that the underlying tension between Sindhi Muslims and Muhajirs pertains to control of resources. But from an objective standpoint, Sindhi Muslims did not bargain for a population swap, and it was impossible for them to imagine that they would find their main city swamped by migrating Urdu Ashrafis. They’ve paid the costs of partition in every possible way.

          2. In regards to Vikram’s post… Yeah I feel like although Sindh managed to maintain its territorial integrity, the upheaval it experienced post-partition has been quite overlooked and forgotten in modern discourse. Sindh WAS partitioned- from the rest of West India that is. If you look closely at the borders of Sindh, Rajasthan, and Gujarat, you realize that the linguistic and cultural zones all blend together, and the Thar desert really isn’t some isolating natural barrier. The lower Indus is extremely similar in culture, language, music, dress, etc. to western Raj. and Gujarat. And Sindh used to enjoy some hefty economic lifelines through Marwar going northeast, and through Gujarat down the subcontinent’s west coast. The Sindhis got a pretty raw deal here.

        2. You seem to catch hold of one model of sub nationalism (mainly tamil one) and have been applying the same assumptions and coming to the same conclusion over and over again. Not everything in this world is about language, not everything is about interests . Human beings are not always rational. For many religion trumps language, for many it doesn’t. Doesnt mean it’s “artificial”

          Just like there is no push back in N-India to hindi by the regional languages(which many in the South find unbelievable), many in North feel the relative lower religious tensions unbelievable (because the south didnt have the same “muslim” experience of the North). I would argue many in North feel South Hindi- Tamil tensions as contrived and exaggerated. Doesn’t make what South feels as artificial or real.

          1. For example Marathi nationalism is both an amalgamation of aspects of Tamil as well as Hindu nationalism. Doesn’t mean either of them is contrived. Muslims are not competing for anything in Maharashtra. But still even in presence of another pro Hindu party(BJP), the Shiv Sena is unable to let go of hindu nationalism, because that would mean of letting go of part of marathi nationalism itself.

          2. Saurav, the Shiv Sena conducts coaching for Railway and other services exams. This would be meaningless if Marathi did not have the status they agitated for. So there were clear instrumental benefits of the Shiv Sena’s politics. Same with Tamil, once the role of Tamil in securing government jobs secure, the Tamil language politics watered down.

            Shiv Sena has made a lot of overtures to Muslims in recent times: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/Sena-our-true-well-wisher-say-winning-Muslim-candidates/article17371235.ece

        3. This was really insightful. Real spotlight on the caste-based reservation protests of nowadays.

  3. Baluchistan – place where Belici live.

    One of official (diplomatic) languages in Ottoman Turkey was Serbian language.

    Re – kinship terms…

    There are many words which are almost identical in Serbian and Sanskrit. For example, almost identical are single words for: husband’s mother, husband’s father, husband’s brother’s wife, wife’s sister’s husband, wife’s brother’s wife, husband’s sister’s husband, etc.

          1. Afghanistan’s history – Yes, and made comments about STAN. The other, just skimmed.

  4. Urdu is Pakistan’s national language and the language of our high culture. It is the only medium that will allow me (a Lahori Kashmiri-Punjabi) to speak to a shopkeeper in Peshawar. At the elite levels, we can all speak English, but for most normal Pakistanis, it is only Urdu that allows communication between different parts of the country.

    On what basis do you suggest that Punjab is majority Seraiki? As far as I am aware, most of the population is concentrated in Central and Northern Punjab. Lahore is the heart of the province.

    1. What in your view would the army favor , to have a Seraiki state or not? It could theoretically help them “shape” the elections every time. Almost all politicians of S-Punjab are “independent” players who can be pushed towards whichever side the army would like them. In the long run don’t you think it would be wise for the army to stop the rise of another pan Punjabi leader like Nawaz and the best way is to take away Multan from Lahore?

      1. I don’t think provincial reorganization really matters to the Army. They have many ways to influence election results.

        Smaller provinces would certainly break the domination of Punjab over Pakistan and in that sense it is good. Also, it would be administratively more convenient for people to get their issues sorted in Multan. But I am against the creation of more provinces on an ethnic basis, as I think it is divisive. I remember the Hazara belt was upset when NWFP was renamed Khyber-Pakthunkhwa, as it implied that the entire province belonged to the Pakthuns. Having a Multan province, a Lahore province etc would be an acceptable thing.

  5. Imran bhai saved the honour of Allah (SWT) and his holy Prophet (PBUH) from the blaspheming Kuffar of Holland. Wild Wilders has cancelled his event!!!

    I used to respect Dutch people being tall and blonde and worthy equals of us Central Asians. Changez Khan used to rule over them and Timur Khan sent envoys to them to invite them to Islam. But now I wish sea floods upon them as they live below sea level anyway. No dyke can save u from the wrath of Almighty Allah. Don’t mock our Prophet by cartoons ye infidel….

    Many Pakistani brothers showed solidarity and were willing to lay down their lives for the Rasool. Full RESPECT. But Imran bhai acted decisively in time. It would be great for intelligent Brown people like Kabir Miyan or Zak Miyan here to write about how Imran bhai saved fakhr-e deen from being tarnished by cartoons.

    Labbaik ya Rasool…

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