South Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Remaking Nation and Recasting Language: Urdu-Hindi Debate in North India 1947-1970

Saturday, July 7
10:20 AM - 11:50 AM
Location: Tamarind, New Building

The Hindi-Urdu controversy has been a subject of intense debate among historians since the nineteenth century. The inauguration of the Constitution and adoption of Hindi as the official language and the three-language formula and the creation of linguistic provinces in 1956 are commonly seen as the closure of the issue. But closure was illusory. This paper explores the controversy in Uttar Pradesh where Hindi was adopted as the state language in 1947. This reignited the controversy at the state level. The partition of the subcontinent and the creation of Pakistan created a sense of insecurity and a need for symbols of unity. Language was seen as an important symbol of unity and Hindi was perceived to be the language of the nation. Urdu, on the other hand, was seen as primarily the language of Muslims and hence foreign and anti-national. This study explores the nature of this debate in Uttar Pradesh where Hindi was promoted at the cost of Urdu. It makes a departure from existing work that has focused more on the struggles and eventual decline of Urdu. Rather than invoke this familiar story of decline, it explores the re-emergence of UP as the centre of a fight for survival of Urdu. It will also examine how the language of debate in UP differed from the rest of the country. It will ask what changes it underwent in the 1960s, especially in the light of wider changes taking place in UP politics and society. 

Saumya Saxena

Law Commission of India, India

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