English Only

Posted by sepoy on November 19, 2011 · 2 mins read

Naim Sahib, one of my teachers at Chicago, has a must-must-must read "rant" (as he puts it) in Outlook India. I really think it is one of his best and critically lays bare a key disconnect between the intellectual engagements within Urdu and English presses when it comes to matters of Muslims and Islam. I think almost everything he writes, holds true for the case of Pakistan. Please read, print, and frame it.

C. M. Naim, "The Deadening Silence of Good Intentions", Outlook India, Nov 18, 2011

Let me put my argument this way. In Kerala, for example, local Muslims at all levels of the society not only speak the language of the region but also think, argue, and communicate—with each other as well as their non-Muslim peers—in that language. The same can be said to be true for the Muslims of so many other states. A Muslim professor of sociology in Bengal will not only be conversant in Bengali but also very much aware of what was being said or written in Bengali on the issues that should be of concern to him. Likewise, a Muslim intellectual in Gujarat would not hesitate to jump into some cultural debate in the Gujarati press because she would most likely be a part of its readership. These persons of my examples are unlikely to be entirely circumscribed by the English media in their regions. That situation, I aver, does not exist in Delhi, U.P., and Hyderabad. (I leave out Bihar and Madhya Pradesh since I know nothing about the Urdu press there.) Over the last five or six decades, the educated Urdu-speaking Muslim elite in Delhi and U.P., particularly those equipped with higher education in social sciences and thus expected to hold and express considered views on socio-political and economic issues, have become cut off from the Urdu-medium discourse around them. Those who seriously read and write on contemporary issues do so almost exclusively in English. That disconnect does not affect their wellbeing either professionally or personally. Most remain oblivious of it, and a few cheerfully so. Many of them, in my experience, express a little disdain when Urdu press comes up in conversation. Of course, that is to their loss. But, more importantly, it is a greater loss to the general Muslim population of the region.


Qalandar | November 19, 2011

A superb piece indeed, sepoy, thanks for bringing it to our attention. The way it builds up, ceding by the end to the piece from Kafila, is just masterful. And wounding. Personally, I read "Inquilaab" in Mumbai, and can definitely attest to the derisive and dismissive way in which Taslima Nasreen is discussed. I think it is more sober, and moderate on the Ahmadi question (that is, it doesn't address it as much as the papers Mr. Naim cites apparently do), but apart from that, the 9-point list sums it up perfectly. That being said, I do think that the Ahmadi question might be broader than one of the Urdu press -- in my experience, the vast majority of sub-continental Muslims I have met/am related to, betray appalling attitudes towards Ahmadis. In fact, many who wouldn't be caught dead making bigoted statements about (e.g.) Hindus, routinely make casually dismissive comments about Ahmadis. The atmosphere of incitement against this sect has been legitimized to such an extent that it has become part of the air Muslims breathe. One interesting question (that I don't know the answer to) is, does this mania afflict the Malayalam and Southern Indian Muslim writings too? Certainly, my impression (stereotype?) has long been that Muslims from Kerala and Tamil Nadu tend to be about as Sunni as they come, and I wonder if this is an issue that has surfaced there.

Vincent G Thomas | November 19, 2011

I don't know why it is necessary for a Muslim to speak and write in Urdu. Isn't it possible to be a Muslim without knowing Urdu? I don't think Chinese Muslims have to read and write in Urdu.

no | November 19, 2011

"Actually, let's face it, as long as Muslims are not being torched by Hindu mobs, the Indian left-liberal could not care less about what happens to Muslims. And when people who call themselves Muslim are sat upon by Muslim hegemons, the Indian Left-Liberal really does not give a damn." The whole article can be summed up by the above quote. Liberals are just like Congress party (due to pakistan) codling in a vote bank, given personal law separate from everyone else. What do you expect after 60 years of this. If there is no integration, no social compact. Minorities can only excel when they work like Jews in America or Protestants in France. Those muslim that liberal can adopt to the new world order so obviously they don't care about their poor brethren same kind of bs argument is laid upon the upward mobile middle class of Black Americans. At least India is not creating laws and jailing all the poor muslims like the US has done since 70s.

Unknown | January 19, 2012

I am a muslim and most importantly a keralite. Why I stressed myself as a keralite just because, we keralites never used to speak urdu even among muslims. The reason is because, Malayalam is our mother tongue and we used to converse using that. So, I don't feel it is a necessity that muslims must know urdu just because language is for communication purpose and not for creating divisions among people.