Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Urdu, a language, which walked a country to its dismemberment

It was early spring in Dhaka, the then capital of the province of East Bengal in Pakistan. Students from the University of Dhaka started gathering for a protest on 21st February 1952. The protest was a result of more than four years of petitions and requests to give Bengali the status of the national language. A resolution passed in 1947 in Karachi made Urdu the only national language. This meant approximately two thirds (44 million Bengali speaking people out of 69 million Pakistanis) of the population was rendered illiterate and ineligible for government jobs. The Bengalis saw this as an attempt by West Pakistani political machinery to dominate them and eradicate their rich cultural and linguistic history.

Image: Google search
The February protests obviously did not go down well with the administration. Section 144 was imposed to prevent “unlawful” assembly by protesters. Students were arrested and teargas was fired. In their attempt to meet the legislators the students faced gun fire and many were killed. The iron hold of the administration to stifle the movement was understandable. In 1948, none other than the Qaid himself has declared that Urdu and Urdu alone represents the spirit of a Muslim nation.

The language movement or Bhasha Andolan as it was called in Bengali lasted for another four years and the issue was settled with a constitutional amendment of 29th February 1956. Bengali was accepted as the second national language of Pakistan. The issue may have been settled constitutionally but it continued to be controversial. During the Martial Law imposed by Ayub Khan, attempts were made to reverse the constitutional amendment but it did not succeed.

Bengali was not the only reason for the bitterness between the eastern and western halves of Pakistan. It had much to do with the assumed racial supremacy of West Pakistanis over their eastern brethren. The army was dominated by recruits from West Pakistan and state aid hardly reached the flood and cyclone prone East Pakistan. Amidst all this the final blow came with the overwhelming victory of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s Awami League in the general elections of 1970. West Pakistan never allowed the transfer of power to the legitimate contender, leading to a standoff between Mujibur Rehman and West Pakistan. It led to the Bangladesh’s liberation in 1971 and a humiliating defeat of Pakistan. Ironically the instrument of surrender was signed at the Ramana Race Course, the same place from where the Qaid has once declared that Urdu alone represents the spirit of a Muslim nation.

The polarisation unleashed by Urdu proved to be stronger than the Two Nation Theory on which Pakistan was created. The liberation of Bangladesh was proof that the Two Nation Theory was not only flawed but failed to act as the cohesive bond between the two halves of Pakistan.

The dominance of Urdu in Pakistan happened at the expense of local languages like Punjabi, Baluchi and Sindhi. A section of undivided India, which had many different languages was forced to accept an alien language. A language, which the elite imported from India, a country they refused to call their own.

Urdu influenced literature in much of Northern India and continues to do so. It has given us poets like Ghalib and Mir. It was once the language of the Delhi elite and represented the high culture of cities. Sadly, the language that once incited romance also incited hatred and bloodshed.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Scroll and its lies

So it happens again. Scroll, is a so called “liberal” online publication which usually dishes out stories on social issues. These stories sometimes have a liberal sprinkling of lies on them. You can read more on the lies here. So in its latest attempt, Scroll has “revived” one of its old articles written by Girish Shahane. Now Girish sits in the same row as Shoaib Daniyal (also writes for Scroll), another habitual liar. Both Girish and Shoaib have an unexplained hatred for Indian history. That is probably the reason they never bother to really dig deeper to understand what the recent developments in archaeology suggest about India’s history. Maybe they both had to suffer a boring history teacher in school and hence are so disgusted with the subject that they decided to singlehandedly distort it.

In the latest “revived” article, Girish tries hard to “expose” the historical myths of India. A very challenging task, especially if one has to distort and hide facts. Let us examine the exposes one at a time. By the way, the article starts with invocation of BJP for some strange reason. But let it be.

Expose 1. The myth of rani Padmini

Here Girish makes the effort to establish the fact that Padmini is a fictitious character, who appears in the epic written by Jayasi, almost two centuries later. The records suggest that Padmini was also mentioned as Padmavati, thus introducing the element of myth to the story. Padmini may well have been a name given to the queen by Jayasi and later poets. But does that take away the fact that women of Chittor committed Jauhar once the city fell to Khilji? Jauhar has been recorded many times in Medieval India. Mostly in the then Rajputana but also in other parts of India. The South East Asia equivalent of Jauhar (Puputan) was recorded as late as the early twentieth century. The king with his entire family and the city dwellers would commit mass suicide by stabbing themselves with a Kris (dagger), when faced with imminent defeat. So yes the name Padmini may be fictitious but the other details stand true. The then prevailing war rules of the Muslim armies would allow the sack and plunder of the city for three days after its fall. The soldiers were allowed to take booty and slaves, a fifth of which would belong to the sultan. The women preferred to die instead of being humiliated in the slave markets.

Girish here goes one step further and appoints Khilji as “one of the finest generals in India’s military history”. What is not clear here is whether Girish considers burning of libraries and Buddhist places of worship as a qualification to be the “finest general”.

Expose 2. The myth of Prithviraj Chauhan

Here Girish contests the poem written by Chand Bardai, where Prithviraj is depicted as blind man, captured by Mohammed Ghori. Prithviraj, with the help of a companion kills Ghori by an arrow. Here again, Girish relies on a poem, which by no account should be considered history. But probably Girish learnt Greek history from Iliad and Odyssey and actually believes that there was indeed a Cyclops settlement in ancient Greece.

In both expose 1 & 2 Girish relies on poetry. He forgets that what people believe to be the words of god, were written down by humans. The new testament, the koran, the hadith were all written down, as we know them, centuries after Jesus and Mohammed died. These in no way these should be considered history and then rebutted. It is a fool’s job, really.

Expose 3. The myth of a non-violent India

Here Girish rebuts the “myth” of a non-violent India and quotes Vivekanand’s speech in Colombo. “…our religion is truer than any other religion, because it never conquered, because it never shed blood.” He then goes on to highlight the Chola naval expeditions to Sri Lanka and South East Asia. Hence proving that India was not a non-violent country. As it happens, a quote is taken out form a speech and is “adjusted” to suit the writer’s narrative. You can read the full text of the 1897 speech Vivekanand delivered here. Here the context in which the remark of India being a non-conquering nation was made was that of propagating ideas and probably religious beliefs through war. And in this context he says that India has never propagated her ideas through war. He was probably referring to the Crusades or the Islamic conquest of the Middle East and North Africa. Later in the speech Vivekanand mentions the Greeks and Romans who waged great wars but were ultimately erased and sent to the pages of history while India as a civilisation still stands.

Expose 4. The myth of Sanskrit

Girish firmly believes that Sanskrit is not the “mother of all languages”. He mentions the research which puts Proto Indo European (PIE) as the source of Indo European languages. According to the research the PIE originated in the Anatolian region and by that logic Sanskrit cannot be the mother of all languages, since Sanskrit itself is derived from an ancient language.

Girish in his claim does not tell us which research he is actually talking about. A quick Google search revealed that a research with the same conclusion was published in the Science in 2012. The new item in Times of India suggests that the research took into consideration 6,000 cognates, fed them into a computer programme and came up with the conclusion. Now it is interesting that the study claims to have come up some “convincing” evidence based on mere 6,000 cognates. But that is not all. Academicians and archaeologists have disputed the claims of the research. You can read the views here.

So is Sanskrit the mother of all languages? Yes and no. It may not be the mother of Arabic or Chinese but it surely is the mother of almost all Indian languages, except for maybe Tamil. The influence of Sanskrit is evident is the grammar and alphabets of the Indian languages and that of Tibet, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. All these languages use the principles of Pannini of arranging the alphabet and have the same sound as those of Sanskrit. So yes, Sanskrit is the mother of all languages if you look South East.

Expose 5. The myth of a 5,000 year old civilisation

I am Bhirrana, I am 8,000 years old
Image: ASI
This is probably the lamest of the five rebuttals that Girish has concocted. He says, “In truth, almost nothing in India is 5,000 years old. The ruins of the Harappan civilisation come closest, but the artefacts that have survived, aside from a few pot shards, don’t date earlier than 2500 BC”. If the claim made by Girish is to be believed the Archaeological Survey of India is definitely an organisation that is spinning lies. Because the ASI has submitted a report suggesting the archaeological remains excavated at Bhirrana village date back to between 7570 – 6200 BCE. The entire history of the Indus-Saraswati civilisation has been pushed back by almost 3,700 years. So yes, the Indian civilisation is not 5,000 years old but more like 8,000 years old.


It is sad that for the sake of ideological leanings people not only distort data but also manufacture lies.