Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 3 : 3 March 2003

Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Associate Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.




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Copyright © 2001
M. S. Thirumalai

Linguistic Engineering of Language Loyalty

S. Imtiaz Hasnain, Ph.D.
K. S. Rajyashree, Ph.D.


There is certain uniqueness about Hindi and Urdu - something that can be likened to Serbo-Croatian situation - which is altogether missing in case of other Indian languages. Historically too both these languages have occupied a special position both in relation to each other and, at least in the minds of some, in relation to all other languages of India as a possible national language. The uniqueness about Hindi - Urdu is further reinforced if one looks at the number of studies, as part of a larger historical project, looking into the political and social circumstances which helped people divide or bracket the two languages and associate them with certain social roles and group identities - Hindi as Hindu, Urdu as Muslim - and even contest or ratify these associations. Crystallization of identity as well as whether speakers' claims regarding the name of the language they speak emanate from this anxiety between Hindi - Urdu commitment are predicated upon the events which are political rather than linguistic.


We begin to look at this anxiety from an autobiographical note given by Rama Kant Agnihotri, and a seemingly biographical commitment from Alok Rai, coming out of filial obligation and privilege which Alok Rai enjoys, both written with an element of angst, and a strong sense of lament, conveying similar voice of anguish.

Agnihotri, and many others belonging to that age group, has witnessed both, a sharing of language and culture by older generation of Hindi and Muslim relatives and friends, and the gradual disintegration of the foundations of that sharing particularly among the young generations and even friends of his time:

"All my education was in the naagarii, or in the middle school onwards in the Roman script. Yet the so-called Urdu speakers and writers were a very active and meaningful part of my world. From a generation which could share in normal conversation Kabir, Premchand, Ghalib, Faiz, Nirala, and Keats, among several others, and have sustained discourse on them irrespective of whether they read them in the naagarii or the Perso-Arabic script or both, I felt we were entering a world of increasing polarization and focusing of social, cultural and linguistic norms. In the small sleepy town of Nahan in the Sirmaur district of Himachal Pradesh, my parents, very liberal otherwise, forbade me to associate any longer with two of my very dear schoolmates, Shaheed and Anwar; that is the time when I think I lost touch with the idiom of the street and could never return to flying kites and making fire-crackers; my father constantly told me that Muslims have been great friends, always sincere and honest, but 'you know..' etc.; he was also convinced that in the interest of national unity all of us should speak 'pure Hindi' and write in the bnaagarii script, though he could never do either himself; and later when I came to Delhi I noticed that the language in which contemporary Hindi poetry was being written was a part of linguistic engineering in which the language spoken inside the walled city was being kept out. Very often some friends would get together in the evening in the lawns of India Gate, recite poems and critically evaluate them and in the end almost always return to the increasing separation between the language of the people and the new 'pure Hindi' of All India Radio, nascent Doordarshan, Hindi newspapers and magazines and most of all of Hindi literature. Though literature from the other side of the border was not easily available, I, at that time, assumed that comparable developments must be taking place there as well. I, of course, subsequently realized that Urdu/Hindi was the native language of a very small group in Pakistan even though partition was considerably predicated on the association of Muslims with Urdu. In 1970, I found a copy of the poems of Faiz (1969) in the naagarii script. I was simply overwhelmed by the simplicity and power of some of his poems and asked myself and my friends whether he was simply not still the greatest Hindi/Urdu poet. I think it is in Faiz, Kaifi Azmi, Dhumil, and other similar poets, both in India and Pakistan, that we may trace the natural descendants of Kabir or Tulsi . . . Are poems like ham jo taariik raaho me maare gaye, yah fasl umiido kii hamdam, shaam, kab Thahregaa dard, paas raho, etc., Hindi poems or Urdu poems? Decide it for yourself:
jab terii samandar aakho me
yah dhuup kinaaraa, shaam Dhale
milte hai dono vaqt jahaa
jo raat na din, jo aaj na kal
pal bhar ko amar, pal bhar me dhuaa
is dhuup kinaare, pal do pal
hoTo kii lapak
baaho kii chanak
yah mel hamaaraa, jhuuTh na sac
kyo raar karo, kyo dosh dharo
kis kaaran jhuuThii baat karo
jab terii samandar aakho me
is shaam kaa suraj Duubegaa
sukh soyege ghar-dar vale
aur raahii apnii raah legaa" (Agnihotri, nd : 2)

Rai, like many other bilingual intellectuals engaged in language debate arising out of the political agendas of nationalism and colonialism, raises some very complex questions:

There are two, widely different reactions whenever the matter of Hindi is broached: all those who are connected with Hindi-Urdu in any way whatsoever fall instantly into passionate contention; others, who are outside this furious circle are totally bemused… Even the simplest questions beget further controversy, but no clarification. Thus, consider the following elementary queries: are Hindi and Urdu two names of same language, or are they two different languages? Does Urdu become Hindi if it is written in the Nagari script? Is Hindi Hindu? Is Urdu Muslim, even though Muslims in distant Malabar have been known to claim it as their mother tongue? The only reasonable, and maddening, answer to all these questions is, well, yes and no. In respect of neither Hindi nor Urdu can one give an unambiguous answer one has to go into the historical detail to explain how/why it isn't; and then, in the space of a few decades, why it is (Rai 2000 : 4).


What remains common to both is their passionate defence of the language of every day life, synonymously referred to as Hindi, Urdu, Hindustani - not as three language categories defining the existence of three distinct linguistic entities, but constituting a single structure, verging on mutual intelligibility and sharing the social and inner space. Defence of the common language of the common man, which shows a remarkable resilience to rise above the maneuvering of communal constructionists of both Hindi and Urdu. Yes, indeed, a defence of a social mind that enjoys Hindi-Urdu speech and literature inspite of a "pre-partition partition", and a narrative of intimate destabilization and dispossession.


The British rule in India evinced keen interest in the Indian classical and vernacular languages, primarily for the purpose of effective administration. This resulted in the revival/continuation of classical languages such as Sanskrit, Persian, and Arabic, and recognition of vernacular languages such as Urdu and Hindi. This had a bearing upon two great religions in India - Hinduism and Islam. Sanskrit was the classical language of the Hindus and Arabic and Persian of the Muslims. Of the two vernacular languages, Urdu got identified with the Muslims and Hindi with the Hindus.

Historically, the consciousness of the divide may be traced to the establishment of Fort William College (henceforth, referred to as FWC). With its establishment, process of divergence between Hindi and Urdu at the linguistic, socio-cultural, and literary levels assumed a new dimension. Khadi boli was communalized. Hindu and Muslim writers from far-flung places were called to write prose in two styles of Khadi boli by using two different scripts: Devanagari and Perso-Arabic. While Lallu Lal and Sadal Mishra were hired for writing Khadi boli prose in the Devanagari script by using words of Sanskrit origin, Meer Amman, Haidar Baksh Haidari, and Sher Ali 'Afsos' were encouraged to write Khadi boli prose in the Perso-Arabic script by using Perso-Arabic words. Prem Sagar ('The Ocean of Love') of Lallu Lall (which was begun in 1804 and completed in 1810) in Hindi and Bagh-o-Bahar (published in 1803) of Meer Amman are the most representative literary works of FWC. (Discussions relating to the relevance of Premsagar and Bagh-o-Bahar and their usefulness as textbooks for the teaching and learning of Hindi/Urdu by the officials of British Indian administration may be found in Ranjit Singh, et al., Bringing Order to Linguistic Diversity: Language Planning in the British Raj, Language in India, October 2001.)

Thus, the establishment of FWC brought about the overt policy of divergence between Hindi and Urdu language on the one hand, and on the other the covert and subtle policy of a divide between Hindus and Muslims. This seemingly innocuous literary venture did attribute Hindi to Hindus and Urdu to Muslims. What became significant in this literary venture was the conscious use of Devanagari script, which incited the minds of the Hindi revivalists. Hindi was considered as the most suitable language for the expression of their socio-cultural thought. Consequently, the development of Hindi as the medium of modern education became a major concern of the Hindu revivalists.

Both the literary heritage and political contingency contributed towards the revival of Hindi linguism. The entire devotional poetry of Braj, Awadhi, and Maithili was available in the script with Nagari character which was purely Indian, more accessible and easier to learn and adopt. Muslims, in general, and some mystic thinkers and saints, in particular, who had mastered the regional languages had shown no interest in the use of Devanagari script.

This had further led to the sharpening of the divide between Hindus and Muslims and deepened Hindi-Urdu differentiation. The political value of Hindi as a symbol of anti-colonialism combined with Hindi-Urdu differentiation. Hindi was perceived as the symbolic instrument for fighting colonialism and English. Urdu was considered to be an extension of Mughal imperialism and was perceived basically as an instrument for preserving Muslim self-identity. The decision made by the English administration to use Urdu as the court language had further reinforced the suspicion with regard to Urdu and even questioned its suitability for the anti-colonial struggle.

Between Hindi and Urdu, there was more a question of self-identification, and issues pertaining to apparent linguistic similarities and differences became rather secondary. Self-identification basically involves issues like attitude towards the differences, the functional roles assigned to them, and the uses made of them. Two distinct scripts and deliberate use of Sanskritized Hindi and Persianized Urdu accentuated the question of self-identification, and it subsequently gave rise to the Hindi movement. Agitation of the Hindus of North-Western provinces and Oudh between 1868 and 1900 over the replacement of Persian by Urdu finally culminated in the offensive against Urdu and its defense by the Muslims. All this linguistic antagonism led to the reinforcement of the communal divergence between Hindus and Muslims.

The late nineteenth and early twentieth century marked the period of exaggerated difference between Hindi and Urdu. Both these languages became the means as well as the symbol of community creation. It was during this period that Nagari Pracharini Sabha was formed (1893), Hindi Sahitya Sammelan was founded (1910), Anjuman Taraqqi-e-Urdu was established (1903), Arya Samaj's anti-Urdu campaign was initiated, and the Anjuman-e-Islam of Lahore waged a counter-attack against the Hindi movement. The setting up of the Benaras Hindu University (BHU) in 1915 as a modern institution with a religio-cultural agenda and establishment of Hindi departments in universities and colleges strengthened the self-image of the Hindi literati and contributed immensely towards the success of their cultural agenda.

The early twentieth century also marked the deliberate creation and crystallization of Hindi speakers' identity mediated through Hindi curriculum and texts. At this point, the contribution of Acharya Ramchandra Shukla, a teacher at the BHU, is worth mentioning. For, he not only shaped the format of the syllabi of Hindi but also "defined the heritage of Hindi language and literature in a manner that few have dared to quarrel with" (Kumar 1990: 180). His book Hindi Sahitya Ka Itihas ('History of Hindi Literature'), first published in 1929, gave a distinct Hindi identity to the Hindi heritage:

It is my opinion that Hindi and Urdu are two very different languages. The Hindus of this country speak Hindi, while Muslims and those Hindus who have studied Persian speak Urdu. Sanskrit words abound in Hindi as Arabic and Persian words abound in Urdu. There is no necessity to use Arabic and Persian words in speaking Hindi, nor do I call that language Hindi, which is filled with Persian and Arabic words (Ramchandra Shukla, quoted in King 1994: 23).

The deliberate construction of Hindi-Hindu identity has been rightly highlighted by Kumar, when he says:

Shukla went well beyond the territory of the literary historian, and took a strong ideological position indicating the irrelevance of the Urdu-Persian tradition for the development of modern Hindi. He ignored major Urdu poets of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in his otherwise meticulous chronology… In an autobiographical essay, Shukla had written that his father had good knowledge of Persian and he used to enjoy mixing lines of Persian poetry with the lines written by Hindi poet. Ramchandra Shukla gave no signs, either in his history or in his other prolific works of literary criticism, of having either taste or tolerance for this kind of mixture. By denying the literary works written in the mixed Hindi-Urdu tradition a valid place and status in Hindi's literary history, he performed a decisive symbolic act in shaping the cultural identity of college/educated men and women for generations. The identity Shukla gave to the Hindi heritage was a distinct Hindu identity. His appreciation of a Muslim poet like Jaisi, and his acknowledgement of the achievement of Premchand, who symbolized the confluence of Hindi and Urdu at a time when the two had traveled far apart, made little difference to this. (Kumar 1990:180)

Thus, Shukla not only formalized the linguistic discussions but also strengthened the tendency to identify Urdu as the language of the Muslims and Hindi as the language of the Hindus. It is around the same period that these linguistic identities merged with national identity. We defer the issue of nationalism and language identity in the context of Hindi-Urdu and instead move on to look into the dynamics inherent in the anxiety of communal constructionists of both Hindi and Urdu.


As mentioned above Shukla believed that "There is no necessity to use Arabic and Persian words in speaking Hindi . . ." His contention, although seems to be very simple and innocuous, quite in tune with the processes of Sanskritization and Perso-Arabicization, and merely conveying an ostensibly unproblematic and true statement about language choice, is not just a reflection of a benign question of individual language choice. Rather it is suggestive of a maneuvering design of the communal constructionists.

However, what is important to note now is that one shade of communalist construction has not emerged in reaction to another shade (that is, with regard to Perso-Arabic expressions vis-a-vis Sanskritization). It reflects a transparent dimension of discursive practices absorbed in truth value statement. It is, in fact, suggestive of a political content. It positions the discourse of identity formation in the space in terms of positive and negative attitudes. It is also suggestive of an ideology, which is exclusionary. Thus, in the framework of Foucault, both pristine Urdu and pristine Hindi possess regulatory and dominating aspects of power where each is trying to produce categories of speech community displaying certain linguistic dispositions that are believed to be both mimetic and emblematic of cultural history. It produces its own opposition, i. e., oppositional categories from where people work and think against it. It also creates ideologies of linguistic differentiation by recognizing (or "misrecognizing" (Bourdieu 1977) differences among linguistic practices, locating, interpreting, rationalizing sociolingusitic complexity and identifying linguistic varieties with "typical" persons and activity.

The ideologies of linguistic differentiation work through iconicity, recursiveness, and erasure. These semiotic processes not only establish link between linguistic forms and social phenomena, thus providing the means by which people construct ideological representations of differences in linguistic practices, but also focus on linguistic differences for defining 'self' against some imagined 'other' in the identity formation.

By recursively projecting an opposition and meaningful distinction between imagined homogeneous speech community (achieved through erasure which simplifies the field of linguistic practices, features or varieties by imagining language as homogeneous entity devoid of internal linguistic variations), an iconic relationship is established between linguistic practices and social groups.

This process of identity formation is quite well known in the social sciences. It is based on essentialist model of production of identity where the "other" (or simply the other side of the contrast) is often essentialized and imagined as homogeneous. It assumes that "there is some intrinsic and essential content to any identity which is defined by either a common origin or a common structure of experiences or both" (Grossberg 1996 : 89).


Besides representing a social, religious, or cultural group as an homogeneous entity, even a language may be imagined as homogeneous. The internal linguistic variations of a language may be ignored, and there may be a conscious selection of those expressions which only exxagerate and increase already existing differentiation. There is a totalizing vision in such linguistic ideology. Use of chaste Hindi in the telecast serials such as Ramayana, Chanakya, etc., further vindicate our point.

In fact the anxiety of the communal constructionists towards Hindi-Urdu commitment is not symmetrical.

In Urdu, the love for the pristine is of a vanishing tribe who simply uses Perso-Arabic expressions for defence. In Hindi, the love for the pristine is of an emerging culture, which harks back on the Golden Age of revivalism, a sense of nostagia and false sense of linguistic identity. Use of chaste Hindi is chosen here not as part of simple individual language choice, but it is reflective of language design to create a simulation of identity. The Sanskritized expressions, deliberate and contrived, were consciously used to simulate the language of the Ancient period in order to construct the identity of the people of the Golden Age.


Linguistic engineering is often undertaken at the behest of a select social elite either to appropriate political power or to maintain the status quo. In such cases, a premium is always placed on the language of the social elite. The emergence of separatist tendencies in linguistic engineering not only created the 'Muslim-Urdu' and 'Hindi-Urdu' equation, but also set into motion forces of Sanskritization and Perso-Arabicization within the secular Hindu world and Muslim world.

Let us substantiate it by citing a particular empirical study carried out by Agnihotri (1977). While examining the oral, written, normative, and attitudinal behavior of native speakers of Hindi, - mostly University of Delhi lecturers teaching Hindi and other subjects in humanities and social sciences - Agnihotri found striking differences in all aspects of linguistic behavior and clear emergence of 'pure and standardized Hindi,' which has disowned a considerable part of its lexical heritage.

Of course, much of the discourse during the national movement revolved around the issue of selecting Hindi as "the language in which the citizens of the future nation could speak to each other . . . [for] inter-regional communication" (Rai 2000, 107). It had the support of Bankim and Gandhi. Although it was not clear what exactly this Hindi would be, it was unquestionably people's vernacular Hindi that had the appeal and support for becoming the centerpiece of national struggle. But over the period of time, "the discursive space of the people's vernacular Hindi . . . was progressively usurped by Sanskrit 'Hindi'." (Rai 2000, 108) What remained common in this transformation is only the continuity in the name. The internal linguistic forms underwent radical change. "Sanskritized Hindi" came into existence.

Rai has rightly pointed out that this act of Sanskritizing the pople's vernacular was carried out with twin objectives. At one level, it was effectively used as "an important tactic in the regional power struggle," and, at the other level, it helped "Sanskritized Hindi" catapult to national level. It helped it go beyond its regional territorial affiliation and also enabled it to assume ecumenical acceptance as the rashtrabhasha Hindi, characterized by its uniformity and absence of local hue and shade, and capable of carrying out the national struggle with romantic-ethnic nationalism.

Besides being perceived as the symbolic instrument for fighting colonialism and English, Hindi, according to Kumar, also "represented a far more ambitious programme, that of crowning the emergent vision of an independent India with a pan-Indian language" (1990:176). Hence, the seeds of Hindi nationalism were inadvertently sown.

What remains hidden in this perception is a mind-set of the constructionists - a mind-set that evokes counterfeit ambivalence. At one level, this "Hindi" lays claim to be the real representative of ancient Indian culture and the only substitute for a rashtrabhasha capable of producing nationalist struggle against English and English imperialism. At the other level it uses English for sustained comprehensibility of contrived expressions. A strange mind-set, indeed, which is willing to share with the imperialist bedfellow, but unwilling to have any liaison with shared and composite heritage.

This is apparent from the neologisms created in imitation of English words. Both prefixes like an-, up- and suffixes like -(i) karan (in words like rashtriyakaran 'nationalization', adhunikikaran 'modernization', etc.) provide convenient parallels for English 'un-, sub-, and -isation, respectively.

But, what is important to mention here is that mere familiarity with Sanskrit lexicons may not necessarily guarantee any comprehensibility of these neologisms. Comprehension is achieved only if the underlying English model is perceived. There are also instances where, in spite of the availability of existing terms in Sanskrit, consciously English words (or ideas based on English words) are used for the coinages of neologisms. For example, Hindi has borrowed words describing eight-way distinction for direction as 'loans' from Sanskrit, such as uttar-dakshin/purv-pakchim and vayuvya-nairuty/isanya-agneya for 'North-South/East-West/SouthWest/NorthEast-SouthEast', respectively. These are not only 'loans' from Sanskrit but they also have attestation in Sanskrit usage. Still the neologisms like uttarpurvi for 'NorthEast', etc are created on the patterns of English.

Sometimes, too much of irrationality prevails over the coinages, literally verging at the point of ridicule. For example, dur purviya deshon 'Far East countries'. These countries may be 'far' for the English speakers but not for us. Certainly the 'hidden hand' of English is playing an important role in the development of modern Hindi style. As Snell (1993) has rightly pointed out, "though Sanskrit and English may seem odd bedfellows in the context of modern Hindi, their illicit relationship is proving extremely productive to an extent which would have been unthinkable for either one of the pair acting alone" (1993:79). What suffered most from this Trojan horse of English was the character of Hindustani.


Hindustani, which emerged as a conscious decision towards openness with no fanatical commitment to rigidity in the use of expression, became a victim of both the separatist tendencies in the linguistic engineering of language patterns and the notion of a single national language during the freedom movement. The rhetoric used during the freedom struggle for "policing the boundaries of language" (Sridhar Pathak, cited in Rai 2000 : 02) or even efforts made to collapse language boundaries with the physical boundaries of the nation (Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, cited in Rai 2000 : 02) gave a new meaning to nationalism. It was publicized through the religio-nationalist and linguistic slogan of "Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan" given by the then Hindi stalwart, Pandit Pratap Narayan Mishra:

cahuhu jusco nij kalyan to sab mili Bharat santan ! japo nirantar ek jaban hindi, hindu, Hindustan ! (If your well-being you really want, O children of Bharat ! Then chant forever but these words Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan).

A three-fold assertion of the identity of language, religion, and motherland, which did consolidate the communal mobilization through its genius of poetry, but failed to wipe out the trace of lexical heritage (zaban in place of bhasha)!

Conflation of language with nationalism and nation-states formation ultimetly dampened the claim of Hindustani. It even sharpened the divide between Hindi-Urdu on religious lines and heightened the nationalist rhetoric for the divide between the two languages. Rai believes that the partition killed Hindustani. The immediate context of the partition of India could not let Hindustani "command any significant constituency" (2000:113).

Certainly, there were voices sufficient enough to suggest that Hindustani became a victim of partition. One vociferous voice was that of R. V. Dhulekar who "advised" Maulana Hifzur Rahman to refrain from making a case for representing Hindustani. To quote Rai, "Today if you speak for Hindustani, it will not be heard. You will be misrepresented, you will be misunderstood . . ." (2000:113). Although specific regional politics and identification of Hindustani with "a status quo-ist defence of privilege" have been considered to be the reason for such prevailing attitudes towards it, Hindustani unfortunately was not even spared of suspicion by its so called status quo-ist defenders of privilege. Advocates of Urdu and notaries of partition treated it as yet another name for Hindi. Thus, in a letter written to Patel on behalf of Liaqat Ali Khan, early in 1947, Ghazanfar Ali Khan pointed out that "Urdu and Urdu alone is the common language of both Muslims and Hindu in North India. Replacing it with Hindi, even under the pseudonym of Hindustani, is an attempt to suppress those parts of Indian culture, which are not exclusively Hindu but in the making of which Muslims too have had a hand" (Lelyveld 1993: 678).


In discussing the educational problems of Anita, a working-class school girl in Delhi, Poonam Kaul (1989) attributes a large proportion of Anita's difficulties to language:

All of the textbooks are couched in highly Sanskritized language very far from spoken or ordinary written Hindi. The arithmetic texts for primary classes (Part Four) has the following list of contents: Samay; guna aur gunankhand; sarvagunakhand aur sarvagunaj; . . . The science texts for class five . . . [contains] one chapter entitled ayatan, bhar aur ghanatva ('volume, weight and solidity'), which none of the women at Munushi, including graduates, postgraduates, and habitual Hindi speakers, could translate without a dictionary.

A press review has the following Perso-Arabicized Urdu lexical items, as in the following sentences:

/ is bare sa Gir me amriki fOji madaxlat kisi Ase shaXs ke liye ta?jubxez nahi he jis ne amriki jeografiyai palisi ki peshe raft ko nazar me rakha ho /

Although these are supposed to have been written in a language of public discourse, they remain too inscrutable.

Ahmad (1997) examined the mutual comprehensibility of Hindi and Urdu news bulletins among 'Urdu' (Muslim) and 'Hindi' (Hindu) speakers, respectively. He found that the comprehensibility of the Hindi bulletins was only 49% as against 77% of the Urdu Bulletins. He concluded:
It is clear that the process of Sanskritization of Hindi has resulted in a substantial loss of population that hitherto understood and participated in the life of Hindustani. It appears that Urdu has not closed its doors to the outside influence. It has not only retained the native Hindustani words but has also borrowed freely from English. Not surprisingly, Hindi speakers find the Urdu News bulletin well within their range of comprehension. Hindi, on the contrary, is increasingly closing its doors to outside influence. Even words and constructions that are a part of the heritage of common man are being replaced by unfamiliar words. It is, therefore, not surprising that Urdu speaking informants, though living in a predominantly 'Hindi World', find the Hindi news bulletin beyond their comprehension". (quoted in Agnihotri nd : 4-5)

Besides incomprehensibility, loss of literary sensitivity is yet another casualty of this linguistic engineering. To quote Agnihotri :

By the 1990s, the linguistic consequences of these primarily political moves were becoming increasing transparent. A new generation had grown up, unfamiliar not only with Ghalib and Faiz but also with Kabir and Premchand; nor could they understand Prasad or Nirala. It was only with some difficulty that one could explain Dhumil or Nagarjun to them; the staple diet was Bombay film Hindi. The damage that inevitably accompanies the loss of literary sensitivity in a community is there for everyone to see. (Agnihotri nd : 4)

These are not isolated cases of incomprehension. There are innumerable examples suggesting incomprehensibility on account of linguistic engineering, not because the innovations in language were difficult but because these innovations were not in consonance with the general background of the common users of language.

Consequences of anxiety are all around us - be it in the form of creation of "Standard Hindi/Urdu" or "Sarkari Hindi/Urdu" where the creation is far removed from the created ones. Language has lost the charm, or genius for social relations - the cadence, the vibrance, or the entire poetry. It is this poetry which becomes a justification of the tongue of the tribe (in Mallarmean sense). The language has been robbed of its intimate possession, "something that one possesses in the same measure that one is possessed by it". Besides suggesting the problems of comprehension, the innovations used here (and in all other cases as well) speak of power and officialdom and also, in a way, suggest the predicament of the public in the language sphere - be it Hindi or Urdu, for it is Hindi or Urdu, not English, the language of the people, the vernacular of the masses.


Hindi-Urdu-Hindustani forms a continuum of speech repertoire where the identities are crystallized. Both Hindi-Urdu form one end of the continuum where they survive by acquiring the language of aggression and identify with the ideology of the perpetrators of communal constructionists. The writers of Hindustani, on the other hand, are situated on the other end of the continuum who merely want to reflect the reality and not how to survive. Their use of Hindustani is a reflection of 'voluntary inner exile,' consciously chosen to obtain the freedom to separate reality from the language of ideology, desire to come out of the inscrutable gaze of private sphere.

This brings us close to the notion of the dimension of public - private in the modern cultural sphere - taking cue from Habermas' notion of private sphere versus public sphere. Habermas defined the public sphere as "a realm of our social life in which something approaching public opinion can be formed. Access is guaranteed to all citizens. A portion of the public sphere comes into being in every conversation in which private individuals assemble to form a public body." (Habermas, quoted in Orisini 1999 : 409)

The public sphere is the space where arguments and reasons about the shared real world and hypothetical literary worlds are made and contested, given and taken in a manner which is democratic and civil. The private sphere, on the other hand, is the space where reasons need not be given, arguments need not be contested. Public sphere is the domain of civility - a domain where there is a possibility of 'conversation of mankind' (a la Rorty) or 'dialogism' (a la Bakhtin) - where a discourse can be simultaneously hermetic , as well as mimetic - where each can confront the other on a shared ground of reasons.

It is through the public sphere that individuals can exercise political control and create discourse and a space for a social mind that enjoys Hindi-Urdu speech and literature. But in case of Hindi-Urdu, it has been difficult to locate any such shared grounds. Any discussion with regard to the matter of Hindi and Urdu is impossible. Both Urdu and Hindi-wallahs feel "paranoid and dispossessed". A sort of a closure and blindness prevails with regard to the matter of Hindi and Urdu and any space for public discourse has been largely appropriated by the protagonists of both Urdu and Hindi.

While the Hindi-wallahs palpably justify the case of Hindi as the case of National language and feel convinced that anyone who attempts to "open the matter up to rational and historical consideration" is probably an enemy. For the Urdu-wallahs, any attempt to bring the matter of Urdu to public scrutiny, at times, tantamounts to an attack on the identity and, consequently, disturbing the placidity of religious equilibrium.

There is yet another dimension of public and private sphere particularly with regard to Urdu. Habermas traces the history of the division between public and private in language and philosophy and sees the public sphere as developing out of the private institution of the family and from what he calls the "literary public sphere". Urdu, when situated in the private institution of the Urdu-speaking family, marks an impossible "culturally schizophrenic situation." (Ahmad 1989). This situation has arisen because Urdu has been relegated to the private sphere of family, and, therefore, on the one hand, there is clamour from the Urdu-speaking family to send their children to learn Urdu for cultural reproduction, while on the other hand, the market forces have reduced the importance of Urdu. A kind of linguicism has set in, where both the parents as well as the children feel that there is really no incentive to learn Urdu.

The ideologues of Hindi and Urdu, thanks to the politics of linguistic engineering, have their well defined audiences, well defined constituencies, and a well maneuvered divisive strategy to divide the shared linguistic heritage of central India into Hindi and Urdu resulting from "the intrigues of feudal and imperial powers to keep the common people divided and stay in power" (Agnihotri nd :8).

Loss of literary sensitivity has set in and their ideologically driven-literature has not only failed to move each other but has consciously distanced each other from popular mode and shared linguistic domains of interaction. Hence the anxiety of the loss of public sphere.

In a situation when fraction becomes fractious, claim to a common language becomes inevitable. Rai has pointed out that "the democratic legitimacy of the fractious factions . . . derives from their claim to the common language" (2000:103). This common language could be Hindi, Urdu, or Hindustani - any one "without inverted commas" (Rai 2000:15).

Rai comes out in his Hindi Nationalism with a programmatic agenda for resurrecting this lost language. However, despite his touch of sublime and sincerity of intention, this programmatic project cannot be extirpated from the moment of past and the present.

One is conscious of the fact that going too much into history will not be a happy ground to tread, for history opens up wounds that need to be forgotten, if people are to live together. However, if the language is forced to descend abjectly from its being the language of the dominant elite at one point of time to being associated with poverty, illiteracy, and backwardness (at least in the minds of people) and ever further down to being identified with terrorism, then, what ever be the extent of distancing from the languages with inverted commas, any attempt to recover the lost ground would still remain a part of the painful anxiety between Hindi-Urdu commitment.


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Orsini,. F. 1999. What did they mean by 'public'? Language, literature and politics of nationalism, Economic and Political Weekly, Feb.13 : 409 - 16.

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Snell, R. 1993. The hidden hand : English lexis, syntax and idiom as determinants of modern Hindi usage, in David Arnold and Peter Robb (eds.) Institutions and Ideologies : A SOAS South Asia Reader, London : Curzon Press Ltd., pp 74-90.

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Spark Notes : Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, (visited on 12/11/02)

This is an early draft of the paper presented in the Seminar on 21st Century Reality: Language, Culture and Technology, October 29 - 31, 2002 at Mahatma Gandhi International Hindi University, New Delhi 110049. Final version under preparation will appear in the proceedings of the Seminar.

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S.Imtiaz Hasnain, Ph.D.
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Central Institute of Indian Languages
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K. S. Rajya Shree, Ph.D.
Central Institute of Indian Languages
Mysore 570006, India