Only a handful of Indians have Arabic as mother tongue

April 19th, 2008 - 6:57 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, April 19 (IANS) There are many more than 50,000 people in India who can speak Arabic, but only a handful - especially in the Malabar region of Kerala - would have it as their mother tongue, say academics, casting doubts on the 2001 census. The census had said that 51,728 people in India have Arabic as their mother tongue - more than double the figure in the 1991 census, which cited 22,000.

Of the 51,728 people, 18,000 live in Bihar and a little below 8,500 live in Uttar Pradesh, while nine other states each have at least 1,000 people who have Arabic as their mother tongue, said the census report.

However, “there doesn’t seem to be much reality in the data”, Rizwanur Rahman, professor of Arabic language at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) told IANS.

Rahman maintained that the Malabar region in northern Kerala is the only one in the country where there are people whose mother tongue is actually Arabic.

“The only place in India where the original Arabs live and their mother tongue is Arabic is Malabar. The number of Arabs living there must be around 5,000-6,000. The data that the mother tongue of 18,000 people in Bihar is Arabic is highly unlikely,” he said.

Zubair Ahmad Farooqi, retired professor of Arabic at the Jamia Milia Islamia University here, agreed.

“The number of people who can speak Arabic in India can be much more than 50,000. But those whose mother tongue is Arabic? Just a handful. There are a few households in Malabar where the people’s mother tongue is Arabic,” Farooqi said.

M. Mujtaba Khan, professor at the K.R. Narayanan Centre for Dalit and Minority Studies, also said that the number of people who know how to speak Arabic is huge, but not those whose mother tongue is Arabic.

“There are many Muslims and non-Muslims who know the language but to say that more than 50,000 people have Arabic as their mother tongue would be an over-estimate,” Khan said.

Rahman said that the only possible reason for the census data being what it is would be “religious influences”.

“The only possibility for the data is that there could have been religious influences on it. Since the Quran and the Hadith, the religious books of the Muslims, are in Arabic, certain sections of the Muslim population must have said that Arabic was their mother tongue,” he offered.

The census also states that there are 11,688 people in India whose mother tongue is Persian. Of them, the highest number - 3,670 live in West Bengal, followed by Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Bihar.

However, only 85,000 people told the census data collectors that their mother tongue was Tibetan, though the number of Tibetan refugees in India is esetimated at over 100,000.

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