The Decay of the Urdu Language and Its Literature and Culture in Post-Partition India is an Effect of the Imposition of the Singular Definition of Nation 

After reading some interesting analyses of the dominance of the Hindi-belt in India, I thought about my work on culture, language, and politics, specifically the decay of Urdu litearure in post-Partition India and its impact on national politics.

In Custody by Anita Desai highlights the impoverishment of the cultural and linguistic forms of Muslim identity in post-1947 India, as when one of Nur Shahjenabadi’s cronies says, “Urdu is supposed to have died in 1947. What you see in the universities—in some of the universities, a few of them only—is its ghost, wrapped in a shroud” (56). In reference to the complicity of the Congress leadership in giving preference to Hindi in postcolonial India, the Urdu poet Nur Shahjenabadi declares in the novel, “Those Congress-wallahs have set up Hindi on top as our ruler” (42).

As Prabhu S. Guptara reminds the student of Indian history, the recognition of English and Hindi by the Constitution of independent India as the nation’s two official languages enabled Hindi to make “significant strides, and the number of publications has been growing steadily” (24). The nation and nationalism that were defined by the politics of the Partition need to be analyzed in order to account for the volcanic eruptions caused by this horrific event.

Beyond the rifts that were brought to the surface in the subcontinent in 1947, the forces of communal violence and fundamentalism continue to wield their power with unabated vigor.

In the context of these historical ruptures, poems by Faiz and similar narratives describe the experience of the disenfranchised Muslims and Hindus who were uprooted during the Partition, and require the reader to consider their experiences.

The insistence on a nationalist rhetoric that prevents a nation from retrieving and performing a critical examination of its culture, social customs, its gender divisions is rendered more urgent by such narratives.

In post-colonial and post-Partition India, Urdu finds itself abandoned by its wealthy and regal patrons of pre-Partition era, who are still reeling under the disorienting effects of dislocation. In the era of the decrepitude of the glorious tradition of the Urdu language, there is “no place for it to live in the style to which it is accustomed, no emperors and nawabs to act as its patrons” (15).

Historically, the Partition did fragment the writing community by redistributing its members into two separate territorial nations. One of the significant consequences of the Partition was the migration of Urdu writers of Muslim origin to Pakistan. So the chime of Independence was, as Aijaz Ahmad puts it, “experienced in the whole range of Urdu literature of the period not in the celebratory mode but as a defeat, a disorientation, a diaspora” (Lineages 118).

In the modern world, religious and cultural differences are deliberately fostered by many nation-states in their efforts to construct homogenous subjects of state. So Chandra Chatterjee tells the reader about the redefinition of Hinduism in pre-Independence India, which was engendered in reaction to colonial rule in India and also in reaction to the nation by ethnic and religious groups in post-independence democratic and secular India:

“However, democracy in India is itself protest-ridden. The ethnic and religious minorities protest against the singular definition of “nation.” The politically marginalized groups protest against inadequate representation in government policies. Numerous insurgencies all over the country relate their revolts to wars for independence at the subnational level which the dominant national ideology has been unable to either outwit or neutralize” (7-8).

The decay of the Urdu language and its literature and culture in post-Partition India is an effect of the imposition of the singular definition of nation against which ethnic and religious minorities continue to protest in present-day India.

But hearkening to the call of the present should not necessitate a rejection of a rich cultural heritage and traditions—Urdu literature and Muslim culture should not be neutralized within a nationalist polity that threatens to remove differences cultural and linguistic differences in post-Independence India.

More articles by:

Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.

September 17, 2019
Mario Barrera
The Southern Strategy and Donald Trump
Robert Jensen
The Danger of Inspiration in a Time of Ecological Crisis
Dean Baker
Health Care: Premiums and Taxes
Dave Lindorff
Recalling the Hundreds of Thousands of Civilian Victims of America’s Endless ‘War on Terror’
Binoy Kampmark
Oiling for War: The Houthi Attack on Abqaiq
Susie Day
You Say You Want a Revolution: a Prison Letter to Yoko Ono
Rich Gibson
Seize Solidarity House
Laura Flanders
From Voice of America to NPR: New CEO Lansing’s Glass House
Don Fitz
What is Energy Denial?
Dan Bacher
Governor Newsom Says He Will Veto Bill Blocking Trump Rollback of Endangered Fish Species Protections
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: Time to Stop Pretending and Start Over
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Inside the Syrian Peace Talks
Elliot Sperber
Mickey Mouse Networks
September 16, 2019
Sam Husseini
Biden Taking Iraq Lies to the Max
Paul Street
Joe Biden’s Answer to Slavery’s Legacy: Phonographs for the Poor
Paul Atwood
Why Mattis is No Hero
Jonathan Cook
Brexit Reveals Jeremy Corbyn to be the True Moderate
Jeff Mackler
Trump, Trade and China
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Democrats and the Climate Crisis
Michael Doliner
Hot Stuff on the Afghan Peace Deal Snafu
Nyla Ali Khan
Spectacles of the Demolition of the Babri Masjid in Uttar Pradesh and the Revocation of the Autonomous Status of Kashmir
Stansfield Smith
Celebrating 50 Years of Venceremos Brigade solidarity with the Cuban Revolution
Tim Butterworth
Socialism Made America Great
Nick Licata
Profiles in Courage: the Tories Have It, the Republicans Don’t
Abel Prieto
Cubanness and Cuban Identity: the Importance of Fernando Ortiz
Robert Koehler
Altruists of the World Unite!
Mel Gurtov
Farewell, John Bolton
Weekend Edition
September 13, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
The Age of Constitutional Coups
Rob Urie
Bernie Sanders and the Realignment of the American Left
Anthony DiMaggio
Teaching the “War on Terror”: Lessons for Contemporary Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: They Are the Walrus
T.J. Coles
Jeremy Corbyn: Electoral “Chicken” or Political Mastermind?
Joseph Natoli
The Vox Populi
Sasan Fayazmanesh
The Pirates of Gibraltar
John Feffer
Hong Kong and the Future of China
David Rosen
The Likely End to Roe v. Wade?
Ishmael Reed
When You Mess With Creation Myths, the Knives Come Out
Michael Hudson
Break Up the Democratic Party?
Paul Tritschler
What If This is as Good as It Gets?
Jonah Raskin
Uncensored Tony Serra: Consummate Criminal Defense Lawyer
Ryan Gunderson
Here’s to the Last Philosophes, the Frankfurt School
Michael T. Klare
The Pompeo Doctrine: How to Seize the Arctic’s Resources, Now Accessible Due to Climate Change (Just Don’t Mention Those Words!)
Luke O'Neil
I Would Want To Drink Their Blood: God Will Punish Them
Louis Proyect
The Intellectual Development of Karl Marx