Hate campaign in India against Urdu for being a ‘Muslim’ language

Last week, Hindu right-wing forces in India forced a leading firm to withdraw its festive season advertisement after it featured a couple of words from the Urdu language, which in the popular imagination in the country is a “Muslim language”.

The company, FabIndia, issued an advertisement for Diwali – a significant Hindu festival that falls next month – showcasing its latest collection of clothes. The text at the top read: “Jashn-e-Rivaaz”.

“Jashn” in Urdu means a celebration while “Riwaaz”, which is actually “Riwaaj”, means tradition. The title translated to “A Celebration of Tradition”.

But a young parliamentarian belonging to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who often makes headlines for his Islamophobic remarks, was not happy.

“Deepavali is not Jashn-e-Riwaaz,” 30-year-old Tejasvi Surya posted on Twitter, calling Diwali by its more traditional name.

“This deliberate attempt of Abrahamisation of Hindu festivals, depicting models without traditional Hindu attires, must be called out.”

FabIndia is a household name in India and sells clothes, furniture, home furnishings and food items. It has hundreds of showrooms across the vast country and abroad.

Surya said the company “must face economic costs for such deliberate misadventures”.

Soon, other members of the BJP and other Hindu nationalist groups started attacking FabIndia on social media, accusing the brand of “hurting” the religious sentiments of Hindus.

“Hindutva” refers to a century-old Hindu supremacist movement which seeks to convert India into an ethnic Hindu state.

Urdu was born in India

The Urdu language was born in northern India during the Mughal rule. Linguists and historians say Urdu and Hindi originally developed from Khadi Boli, a dialect of the Delhi region, and Prakrit. It also borrowed heavily from Persian, Turkish and Arabic languages.

Until the British colonised the subcontinent, Urdu and Hindu languages were collectively referred to as Hindustani. It was British linguist John Gilchrist who for the first time classified and defined Hindustani into two broad categories – words inspired largely by Persian and Arabic were identified as Urdu, and those inspired by Sanskrit became Hindi.

However, spoken Urdu is similar to Hindi and the two share a common grammar and a large percentage of their vocabulary.

For centuries, Urdu was widely spoken by Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in undivided India. Many of its celebrated poets and writers are non-Muslims, including Munshi Premchand, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Firaq Gorakhpuri and Gulzar to name a few.

Today, Urdu is among the 22 languages officially recognised by the Indian constitution.

For centuries, Urdu was widely spoken by Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in undivided India. Many of its celebrated poets and writers are non-Muslims, including Munshi Premchand, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Firaq Gorakhpuri and Gulzar to name a few.

Today, Urdu is among the 22 languages officially recognised by the Indian constitution.

Apart from poetry and literature, Urdu had a huge influence over Bollywood, the site of India’s “Hindi” film industry based in the western city of Mumbai. A large number of Urdu poets and writers wrote film scripts, songs and dialogues.

But many believe that too has changed in a religiously polarised India.

After the FabIndia controversy, many social media users shared memes featuring popular Bollywood dialogues and songs, replacing their Urdu words with Hindi counterparts in an attempt to showcase that the effect is not the same.

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