Urdu must be kept alive, and not just on FM and filmsMarch 30th, 2008 - 1:42 pm ICT by admin
By Firoz Bakht Ahmed
The head of a government-run primary Urdu medium school in Delhi made a shocking revelation recently. Last year Urdu books were not available till October although schools opened in the summer and Urdu is a second language in the city along with Punjabi. And this is just one of the many problems confronting Muslims towards quality education.
The abysmally low results in Urdu schools year after year are indicative of the confusion amongst managing bodies, principals, teachers, students and parents. This has resulted in a sharp decline in the academic levels of Indian Muslims.
As things stand, education is not a priority for Muslims for three reasons.
First, most of them are primarily agriculturists. Second, their belief that they are discriminated against in employment acts as a deterrent to higher education. Third, Muslim girls, till not so long ago, were not sent to school owing to social taboos.
Sparsely lit dilapidated classrooms, poor sanitation, broken furniture, unhygienic drinking water, lack of teachers, unconcerned parents and uninterested students are some of the features of the 10,000 beleaguered Urdu medium schools in India.
There seems to be a sort of conspiracy to downgrade Urdu by associating it with communalists and terrorists, forgetting that it is a language deeply entrenched in the composite heritage of India.
Ironically, Urdu has been kept alive by Hindi cinema, FM radio, madrassas and the occasional recitation of couplets from Ghalib, Iqbal and Faiz in parliament. A language does not prosper through such methods alone but through people who love it with sincerity.
More people should subscribe to Urdu newspapers and journals rather than getting these free via mailing lists. Many popular children’s magazines in Urdu like Shama, Khilona, Toffee, Chandanagri and others have ceased publication for want of interest. They should be revived.
Urdu officers could be appointed in government nodal agencies like municipal corporations, police departments and so on. Besides, there should be more Urdu learning centres and Urdu should be part of the syllabuses of the Kendriya Vidyalayas and the Navodaya Vidyalayas.
The pass percentage in Delhi over the last two decades in the board exams in Urdu-medium schools fluctuates between 20 percent and 30 percent. In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the failure rate is identical to Delhi’s 77 percent. The only state where Urdu medium students do really well is Maharashtra where the pass percentage stood at 64 percent this year.
Most teachers in Urdu schools are found to be lackadaisical and unconcerned about both their jobs and students. As if this were not enough, the management bodies of those already victimised and harried backward institutions act as parasites rather than working towards rejuvenating the system.
The hapless students feel that their schools are completely responsible for their failures. Instead of doing something to upgrade Urdu and secure a better future for students, Muslim leaders keep diverting issues concerning Muslims in educational, social and economic fields to more political matters.
Children belonging to privileged Muslim families never study in Urdu schools but opt for missionary schools. Even those championing the cause of Urdu and occupying top positions in Urdu departments in universities and government offices prefer English-medium schools for their children.
Except for the likes of Syed Ahmed Khan, founder of the Aligarh Muslim University, Muslims in general never bothered to establish good schools or colleges unlike Christian missionaries.
Countrywide, every Urdu school has 10-12 vacancies in teaching jobs. No effort is made to fill them. A few Urdu schools do not even have their own buildings and are run in the open air.
Most schools do not have Urdu textbooks in subjects like science, geography and mathematics. Each year, textbooks fail to reach the market in time. When they finally do, the exams are over.
As India’s largest minority, Muslims can’t afford to be mediocre and spiritless. True, they should love Urdu, but they must also make sure they are conversant in English and Hindi or one other regional language.
India is forging ahead, but its Muslim population is still largely uneducated. More than anybody else, it is the responsibility of the Muslims to see that the community marches to a secure future.
(Firoz Bakht Ahmed is a commentator on educational and social issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)