PUNJAB, Punjabi and URDU, The Question of Displaced Identity
A Historical Appraisal

 Tahir Kamran


Colonialism was an all-pervasive phenomenon, subjugating 87 percent of the globe by 1914 and the Sub-Continent off course was no exception. It signified colossal change in the realms of economy and polity as well as administration, which attracted sufficient attention of the historians markedly from nationalist persuasion. However, the ascendancy of Marxist brand of historiography in India provided a deviation to the much-treaded and exclusionary path that the discourse of History had been coursing along since the days of Dada Bhai Neero Ji, Palme Dutt, Mazumdar followed by Tara Chand and Muhammad Habib discounting altogether the impact of colonialism on culture, language and pre-colonial intellectual and cognitive formulations. Nicholas B. Dirks laments that most of the scholars and analysts have turned a blind eye to the cultural effects of colonialism, considering it merely ‘inevitable logic of modernization and world capitalism’. More crucial question in the eyes of Dirks remains yet to be unraveled pertains to the ‘cultural control’ exercised by the Colonial state.

With the emergence of Subaltern School in the 1980s, through the post-structuralist and post-orientalist critiques of colonial technologies of control employed by its exponents unveiled new levels of sophistication into an inquiry about the different modes of colonial hegemony. Consequently the focus was particularly zeroed in on how “the ‘deep structures’ and ‘surface forms’ of discursive production were altered by the introduction of new conceptual languages through colonialism.” The modern normative categories introduced by the colonizers redefined and displaced already existing cultural and cognitive hierarchies and threw up “new indigenised forms of regarding and representing the social and natural world.” To elucidate the point further, one feels alluding to Nicholas Dirks again. He underlines the importance of the Colonial knowledge that ‘enabled the conquest and was produced by it’. Moreover, cultural forms in the ‘traditional’ societies were reconstructed and transformed by and through that knowledge. The people like William Jones, James Mill, Richard Temple, Denizel Ibbetson and host of other British administrators/scholars etc appropriated the indigenous knowledge. They, after recasting the acquired knowledge of the colony in the light of their own epistemic understanding and cultural context, imparted it back to the indigenous people.

               Hence, Colonial masters not only assumed power over the physical self of the colonized but also made them to internalize the cognitive structures rooted specifically in the Western knowledge system as the universal truth. Therefore, Partha Chatterji s postulate which he seems to have applied on the whole Sub-Continent including Punjab whereby anticolonial nationalism creates its own domain of sovereignty within colonial society which the “inner” domain is bearing the “essential” marks of cultural identity. The domain of “outside” signifies materialism where West has assumed precedence over the East. As outside domain gains strength and the Western skills are profusely imitated, the need “to preserve the distinctness of one s spiritual culture” become greater. While locating one of the several implications of the anticolonial nationalism, Partha Chatterji designates the ‘domain of the spiritual’ as the ‘sovereign territory’ hence it does not allow colonial power to intervene in that very domain. Therefore in the spiritual/inner domain ‘the nation is already sovereign, even when the state is in the hands of the colonial power’. Social reform, language and family were the three component of the inner domain. Initially Indian reformers looked expectantly towards the colonial ruler to bring about some reformatory change in the existing social setup but soon after when the period of nationalism, to Chatterji, got under way colonial intervention of any sort was not allowed rather it was resisted. The ‘colonial intruder’ was kept at bay from both family and language also. Chatterji further argues that ‘here nationalism launches its most powerful, creative and historically significant project: to fashion a “modern” national culture that is nevertheless not western’. That argument may hold water in the case of Bengal or those areas where nationalism emerged with unequivocal support from Bengali bhadralok but the same can hardly work with the equal force in the areas like Punjab. Any such nationalism with its inner domain was precluded from mobilizing people against the Colonial regime.

K N Panikkar has critically examined Chatterji s that contention that opens a new vista of perception of the subject. He holds, ‘there was no sphere of culture, inner or outer, which remained beyond colonial reach.’ In the case of Punjab, Panikkar s point seems to hold more plausibility where colonialism permeated so comprehensively that outer as well as inner domains of the Punjab’s society stood completely transformed in the course of a few decades after its annexation in 1849. Panikkar while commenting on Chatterji s views extends his argument and states, ‘the resistance (against the colonial intrusion) occurred not because culture was a sovereign territory in which nationalism was already manifest, but because colonial intrusion threatened to revamp the existing cultural identities’. Panikkar’ s that part of argument has in it an air of generalization as if the Colonial impact on the multiple cultures existing in India, can be explicated in the light of his assertion. Particularly in the Punjab the resistance was articulated against the colonial intrusion through the reform movements, which subsequently assumed the religious, garb i e Arya Samaj, Singh Sabha and Tehrik i Ahmedyya. Punjab because of its plural religious character stood totally atomized by 1880s. Consequently the collective Punjabi identity had been torn apart due to many factors, evangelical activity and the official support lent to it, introduction of separate electorate in local bodies elections from 1883 onwards, restoration of kine slaughter and communal preference in the recruitment for government services, to quote a few. However, the introduction of Urdu as a vernacular and the second official language in the Punjab had the profoundest bearing in the construction of new and to a great extent mutually exclusive identities and cultures in the province.

In the narrative that is to follow, an attempt has been made to delineate the ways and means that the Colonial regime deployed in order to re-configure the contours of the Punjabi social formation and culture through the new forms of representation particularly, a language declared as a vernacular in the region by the British. Subsequently the same language, Urdu, became the cultural symbol of the South Asian Muslims including the Muslim populace of the Punjab. The process that entailed Urdu s introduction at the official level in the Punjab and the implications it wrought in the years to come with respect to identity formation is the central theme of the debate that unfolds hereafter. Later on, the officially cultivated ‘native intelligentsia’ in the words of Ranajit Guha, sanctified Urdu and elevated it as the only language in the Indian Sub Continent that is capable of articulating Muslim ethos and culture.


      Throughout the Muslim rule, in the Punjab as well as in the rest of North India, all the official business was conducted in no other language but Persian. Even the Sikh rulers (1799-1849) after establishing their administrative control over the Punjab, persisted on with Persian instead of introducing any radical change either in the administrative set up or the language of Darbar. Not even when Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1799-1839) himself knew even a single word of Persian. However, Persian had been abandoned, as an official language in the British India in 1836 and English was its substitute. As the writ of the British Raj extended, the impact and influence of the English extended correspondingly. Consequently, it struck firm roots as a medium of transacting official business in matter of a few years; nevertheless it could not have a smooth sailing in the Punjab immediately after its annexation.

            British administrators in the Punjab started facing problems soon after the new administrative set up was put in place there. These problems were more pronounced with respect to the Judicial and criminal work particularly while recording witnesses in court proceedings. The ‘local language’ and ‘the system of deciphering and translation’ were at times found elusive because Ahlmad (Reader) could not be relied on whilst translating ‘the deponents’. The gravity of the problem got compounded when the Secretariat of Board of Administration ran into a tangle regarding an appropriate choice for a court language as large number of phrases and native terms were virtually untranslatable therefore majority of the cases had a great deal of ambiguity in them. In these circumstances, English proved to be inadequate instrument, which could let the officers of Punjab Commission of the hook. They were clearly in the need of some language in consequence of which the official business could be facilitated, enabling the officers to be in touch with the public without any intermediary. Thus, the matter was referred to the Governor General with the recommendation that ‘Urdu be allowed as the official language of the law courts of the Lahore and Jhelum Divisions and in the districts of Jhang and Pakpattan, whilst Persian should continue for the rest of the Punjab.’ That reference of the Punjab Government readily found favor with the Government of India and Urdu was accorded the status of the official language with out any noticeable demur or delay for the conduct of court work in the two divisions. Government of India, however, directed the Board of Administration that in criminal cases the confessions of prisoners should be taken down in his words of native dialect, a translation brief added if the dialect be one not generally known.

       In the meantime, the opinions of the field officers were also sought through a circular in 1849, as to the adoption of a language for the conduct of the administrative business. Great majority of the district and divisional officers could not detect any mentionable traces of Urdu in the respective areas under their charge. Court work was obstructed at times just because the munshis and rest of staff at the various districts had to endure substantial agony to negotiate with newly introduced language in the courts. Correspondence between Deputy Commissioner Hazara Capt. Abbottand the Secretary of the Board of Administration, Mr. G. J. Christian explicitly alludes to the difficulties, posed to the officers while doing their court work. Commissioner Multan Division also reported in negative with respect to the familiarity of Multani people with that language was concerned. Jhang was the only exception where some people had the smattering in Urdu. Same, more or less held true in the case of Pakpattan as well.  However, Urdu could manage to secure some niche in Lahore and its surroundings. Besides, Commissioner of Jhelum stated the emerging signs of Urdu s popularity in Gujrat. In most of the dispatches of the officers, they seem quite categorical in stating that the overwhelming number of people of the province could speak only Punjabi.

      By 1851 the Government of the Punjab were convinced that Urdu (in Persian script) had gained enough ground in the whole province that it could be adopted with out any further delay. As stated in the Administrative Report of that year, Punjabi that was being spoken by the local populace mostly living in the villages had fast been loosing currency and giving way to the ascendant, Urdu. In the same Report it was also declared that Urdu had almost acquired the position that of a lingua franca therefore Punjabis, if imparted education in that language instead of English, which would be too difficult for them, it could produce encouraging results. Likewise, dispatches of the officers from different corners of the province started reaching the Board of Administration making heartening observations about Urdu s soaring graph of usage among the general public. In April 1851, Commissioner Multan pleaded for Urdu to be allowed as an official language in the District and three years later in the whole Division. Such instance must have provided the members of the Board a substantial impetus to take the decisive measure in April 1851 whereby Urdu was announced as the language of courts in the entire Province. Peshawar and Hazara Divisions remained exceptions nevertheless. About Peshawar and Leiha Divisions with reference to Urdu as an official language, John Lawrence opined:

             It should be considered that the Urdu is not the language of these
Districts neither is Persian. But Urdu is well understood by the
majority of our officers, whereas Persian is not. Of course many
more of the people understand Urdu even in these Districts than
Persian. Urdu is the “Lingua Franca” of India and it is presumably
but perceptibly becoming that of all the Districts in the Punjab even
in the Derajat and Peshawar it is spreading in Hazara it is familiar to
the people.

              The introduction of Urdu into the Courts will tend to spread it still more

      Above quoted statement of John Lawrence clearly reflects how sanguine, British officers had been about the future of Urdu in the Punjab and they were putting in virtually everything possible to make it acceptable to the people mostly because it ensured their administrative convenience. Main reason for their so doing also figures in that statement of John Lawrence. British officers were relatively more proficient in that language than the Punjabi, the language of the common folks. Just to reinforce Urdu in the province an Urdu newspaper by the name of SARKARI AKHBAR was brought out, containing ‘a brief summary of the news of the month, abstracts of important trials and orders, changes, appointments and dismissals’. Subsequently Urdu owed quite a lot to journalism with many newspapers started coming out during the last quarter of the 19th century, Chaudvin Sadi, Paisa Akhbar and Zamindar to quote just a few.

The question of imparting instruction to the natives was, for the first time agitated “in no less a document than the famous dispatch of Charles Wood” in 1854. This document has been called the ‘Magna Charta of English Education in India’ that called for a policy whereby “English would be used in the elitist domains of power but the vernaculars will be employed for the dissemination of knowledge among the people.” It was in the same year (1854) that “the English officials working in Punjab had prepared a scheme for initiating an education system there along the lines evolved earlier in the north-western provinces.” Proponent in chief in devising the plan for education in the Punjab was the first Director of Public Instruction of the province, William D. Arnold (1856-1859). He also lent full support to Urdu and as Krishna Kumar quotes Richey “Urdu represented ‘the nearest approach that exists to a common vernacular’, and was therefore a fit medium of popular instruction”. Hence, the way was paved for ensuring the ascendancy of Urdu as a vernacular in the Punjab, making it into the only region in the Sub Continent where even the vernacular was not its own.   A committee was instituted in 1865 to look into the possibility of considering favorably all such future candidates for employment, who had sufficient proficiency if not in English at least in vernacular (Urdu). The Governor of the Punjab expressed his desire ‘that a thorough knowledge of Urdu orthography with correctness, as regards both idioms and spellings be regarded as sine quo non’. While not casting aspersions on Urdu or the status it came to enjoy through official patronage, it can justifiably be argued that by adopting a language that had hardly been in existence in the province on the eve of its annexation, resulted in the marginalization of a large number of people, particularly rural folks. It may not be astonishing to know that overwhelming majority of the Punjabi people live in the rural areas even now. Naturally the proportion of the village dwellers would have been many times higher than what it is now.  They were reduced to ahistorical status by simply denying them the language of their very own. Dr. Leitner though very ardent supporter of Urdu that he was, along with some other British officers suggested ‘Punjabi should be taught first to children before exposing them to the instruction of other languages. Equally important was the appropriation of their right of self-representation. Those who were not ready to accept the dictates of the Colonial regime to change the ‘inner’ domain of their culture, as Chatterji says in The Nation and its Fragments, that they had been adhering to, for centuries were cosigned to homeostasis.

It would also be of great interest to note the discordant voice raised by the Deputy Commissioner of Shahpur Mr. J. Wilson.  His assessment as to the low literacy rate was caused by the employment of Urdu with Persian script as the medium that was foreign to the people. Plethora of Punjabi dialects were in use simultaneously in the province therefore picking up one dialect and developing it into a language, understood by all Punjabi speakers would be difficult. Hence, ‘he proposed that the Roman character was the most suitable as it was a “character” developed by speakers of Aryan languages and would suit the genius of the Punjabi tongue better than the Arabic character.’ To substantiate his point Wilson referred to the Census Report of 1891, saying that
“ only 4 per cent of the boys in the Punjab between the ages of five and fourteen inclusive were learning to write, the proportion among Hindus being 12 percent, and among Mussalmans 3 percent; of the whole male population only 5.89 percent were able to read and write, the proportion among the commercial classes being 17.8 per cent, among the agricultural classes only 1.44 percent and among the artisan class only .88 percent.”

To the ordinary Punjabi village boy Urdu is almost as foreign as French would be to an English rustic. The Punjabi boy is not taught to read the language he speaks, but a language many of the words in which he does not understand until they are translated for him into his own Punjabi.

                 Wilson s suggestion was circulated to elicit the opinion of the relevant officers in various districts but the unanimous decision of retaining Urdu as the official language of the province was upheld.

       With the exit of the older order and the power elite, there emerged a power vacuum that was promptly filled up by putting in place the new system of Government with the consequence of which the Punjab came under the British suzerainty, whose provenance was located in Calcutta, the Imperial capital of British India. The change in rulers brought in another change as well, that of the class of intermediaries belonging to other parts of India. Most important among those intermediaries were the Bengali Babus. In fact the new administrative structure needed “a large number of clerks, teachers, pleaders, and doctors the human underpinnings of the Raj.” Such people had to be imported from ‘the older British-controlled territories of Bengal and North Western Provinces’ because they were not available in the Punjab. Kayasthas from North Western Provinces whereas Brahmans, Baidyas, and Kayasthas from Bengal did not take much time in constituting a new social grouping between the rulers and the large majority of natives who had yet to have English-educated, modernized elite of their own. Veena Naregal s opinion on the status of people who had come from other provinces appears spot on, ‘Despite their politically subordinate and numerically marginal position, they were able to acquire an influential position through their re-inscription of cultural and political norms’. Hence, by constructing that two-layered administrative hierarchy completed the subjugation of the Punjabi populace not only economically but also socially and culturally.

That social engineering effected many far reaching changes in the future course of the Punjab s history. The Western modernity assumed extra ordinary salience as an epistemic tool. Modernity provided a perspective in which the identity of the local people was re-inscribed and with the introduction of census and ethnographical surveys etc, divergent social groups became conscious of themselves being different as exclusive identities. Those identities were not only re configured by emphasizing religion, language and kinship bonds as identity markers but also solidified. With the Colonial rulers came Christian missionaries, some of them were foreigner but many hailed from Bengal. The Bengalis who did not convert to Christianity, brought with them the reformatory zeal enshrined in the tenets of Brahmo Samaj. Its branch was opened up, by the name of Lahore Brahmo Samaj in 1863. It soon cast palpable influence on the Punjabi Hindus, eventually resulted in the re-inscription of their identity in religious terms. Therefore, the more extremist Arya Samaj found it relatively easy to inculcate among the Punjabi Hindus the sense of being different from the rest of the Punjabis belonging to other religious persuasions.

The question of identity rooted in faith became much more complicated when Urdu-Hindi-Gurmukhi controversy sharpened the division between the three communities, who had been living side by side for centuries. Urdu-Hindi controversy that erupted in Benaras in 1867 went a long way in persuading the Punjabi Muslims to adopt Urdu as a symbol of their identity. One may not find enough reasons for not concurring with Paul Brass when he traces the usage of Urdu as a medium of instruction not before the later half of the 19th century “when the Muslim elites of north India and the British decided that Muslims wee backward in education in relation to Hindus and should be encouraged to attend government schools that it was felt necessary to offer Urdu in the Persian-Arabic script as an inducement to Muslims to attend the schools.” It was only after the language controversy that North Indian Muslims adopted Urdu as a symbol of their identity “second only to Islam itself.” Urdu, as has been said earlier, was already accorded the status of a vernacular in the Punjab; having a borrowed identity symbol the province had a new cultural core in the form of North Western Provinces, cultural, religious influences that sprang from there, galvanized quite decisively the future course of particularly the Urban Punjab.

However, before addressing the issue of identity and language as the identity marker affecting subsequent history of the Punjab, it would surely be worthwhile to look into the state both the languages in question were in before the said province was subjected to the Colonial rule. That indeed is an uphill task because the sources that can serve as guiding posts are not very many. Nevertheless, Hafiz Mehmood Sheerani s remarkable work Punjab mein Urdu can help us in having some idea about the status of both the languages in comparison to Persian during 17th and 18th centuries. Although the title of the book suggests Urdu to be the main point of focus nevertheless it has been discussed in juxtaposition to Punjabi. Therefore, numerous allusions are found in Sheerani s book regarding Punjabi and its practical usages in the centuries before the advent of the British that some comparison can be made, to say the least.  Similarly Tariq Rehman too has devoted one chapter of his book, Language, Power and Ideology   on the development of the Punjabi during 17th and 18th centuries but he seems to have repeated the version that originally belongs to Mehmood Sheerani. Another scholar of extra ordinary stature, Ain ul Haque Faridkoti in his important book, Urdu Zaban Ki Qadeem Tarikh though draws the same conclusion as does Sheerani but the overall construction of his argument is substantially different. Sheerani and Faridkoti both infer out of the extensive research pointing to the unalienable nexus between both the languages. With the reference to all these works it may be possible to ascertain the viability and the potential of both the languages to act as the substitute to Persian in the colonial Punjab.

                 Colonial administration elbowed the ‘Punjabi’ out of contention by simply denying it the status of a language. For the British officials, the various dialects of Punjabi were merely ‘barbarian mixtures of Hindee and Persian of which Oordoo… {was] the pure type.’ Many dialects of Punjabi were considered as a great impediment in the process of its standardization. Government was of the view that Punjabi villagers would find it easier to converse to understand simple Urdu than ‘indifferent Punjabee talked by foreigners’ and to its estimation in all probability Urdu would become the language of the people. All these observations put forward by the Colonial Administrators, if read closely in the historical context, seems to be based on flimsy grounds. Punjabi had an oral as well as written tradition that goes back to centuries when Punjabi prose had been employed to disseminating religious message. Mauazah Nausha by Nausha Peer was the first one in the long chain of Punjabi prose, followed by Janam Sakhis of Sikh Gurus. Then Punjabi had been in vogue as the facilitator along with Urdu to the main language, Persian that was the main vehicle for leaning and knowledge production. Paki Roti, Missi Roti and Mithi Roti formed the part of educational syllabus, in circulation in the Punjab before the British rule. These texts were meant to impart instruction in religion. Therefore recurrent claim of those, ascribing a religious character to Punjabi cannot be deemed authentic in the light of these genres, which had been integral part of education in the pre-modern Punjab.    The first prose writing traced in Urdu language is Sub Ras by Mulla Wajeeh produced in 1635, much recent than the first Punjabi prose.


          Traditional view as regards Urdu is epitomized in the theory whose first exponent is Maulana Muhammad Hussein Azad that considers Vali Dekkani as the first poet of Urdu and Dekkan as its breeding ground. Gradually the frontiers of Urdu literature were pushed back towards Northern India. The cities of Lucknow and Delhi became the centres of its development, although other parts of UP also played their role from the 18th century onwards. Many scholars argue that Brij Bhasha, a language spoken at the time of the Muslims’ arrival in North India was an earlier form of Urdu. Amalgamation of Arabic and Persian vocabulary gave it an entirely new complexion; as a consequence Urdu came into being. After reaching the pinnacle point of its glory as the medium of transmitting the subtlest of the civilizational nuances in both forms, poetry and prose, it reached Punjab fully grown. That probably was the reason; no Dabistan with its distinctive features could spring into existence in the Punjab (Lahore) as it did in Lucknow and Delhi.

              That view held credence with out any shadow of doubt till Mehmood Sheerani brought in a new literary synthesis by systematizing the debate, initiated by the Maghzan Lahore in 1903 that continued till 1919. The Civil and Military Gazette, Urdu i Muala and Tazkira i Ijaz i Sukhan also contributed quite tangibly in that debate whereby Urdu’s point of origin was relocated in the Punjab and it s role in the development of Urdu had been radically re-visited. In 1909, Muslims from Urban Punjab lent unequivocal support and adherence to Urdu by setting up such organizations like Anjuman i Begamat Hami i Urdu Lahore at the initiative of Bint i Mahboob Alam who was the first Secretary General of it. Similarly Bazm i Urdu (1909) was brought into being with the same objective. Khawaja Dil Muhammad, Haji Rahim Bakhsh and Sir Abdul Qadir were the pioneering figures of this organization. Later on Iqbal also joined them. However, Rehman quotes Iqbal s only interview in Punjabi in December 1930 to the Punjabi magazine Sarang in which he clarified that “he did not write in Punjabi because his intellectual training had not opened up that option for him.” Iqbal s poetry and the measure of popularity it notched up during the early decades of the 20th century provided a big boost to Urdu as a vehicle of literary expression though it came at the expense of Punjabi. As Tariq Rehman refers to the anti Punjabi fervour exuding the Muslims of the Punjab:

Such was the anti-Punjabi fervour of the leading Punjabi Muslims that when Dr P. L. Chatterjee, the Bengali vice Chancellor of Punjab University, declared in his convocation address at the University in 1908, that Punjabi, the real vernacular language of Punjab, should replace Urdu, the Muslims condemned him vehemently. The Muslim League held a meeting at Amritsar to condemn him in December.

That proposal of Chatterjee caused many furs to fly among the Muslim sections of the Urban Punjab. The newspapers, particularly the Paisa Akhbar relentlessly condemned not only Chatterjee s ideas but Punjabi itself was considered unworthy of being used as the medium of instruction even at the primary level what to talk of the higher education. Multiple dialects and no standard form of the Punjabi language were also projected as grave shortcoming that bars that language to be taken seriously as a vernacular. Many stalwarts of Urdu thought the promotion of Punjabi as a conspiracy to undermine Urdu as well as Muslims.

All such developments provided the background to Mehmood Sheerani along with the impetus infused by Mr. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Principal, Islamia College Lahore that made him to undertake that project with the title of Punjab mein Urdu that eventually got published in 1928. His argument wielded a tremendous influence over many critics and laureates in Pakistan like Jamil Jalbi, Dr. Wahid Qureshi and Fateh Muhammad Malik. Most of those who have been upholding Sheerani s view represent ultra rightist political position. Fateh Muhammad Malik in couple of his newspaper articles (published in the daily The Nawa i Waqt) has branded Punjabi as a primitive form of Urdu, which obviously is, to Mr. Malik, the more refined and evolved form of the former. Malik seems to have drawn the crux of his argument from Sheerani s view projected in that book, which assumed the status of a classic.

           Sheerani argues that Urdu was not originally the language being spoken in Delhi at the time of Muslims went there; Muslims introduced Urdu in the vicinity of Delhi and its neighborhood. Therefore, one is lead to believe that Urdu might have gone to Delhi from the Punjab because Muslims came to Punjab first and then went further to Gangetic plain. Furthermore, he traces striking resemblance between Punjabi and Urdu, enunciating Punjabi as primordial form of Urdu. Sheerani Consequently effort to establish the independent historical evolution of Urdu from Hindi was lent credence, an attempt to prove mutual exclusivity of both the languages. However, Sheerani s view of establishing umbilical cord between the Punjab and the evolution of Urdu could not go uncontested. A person, no other than Jamil Jalibi laments about the fact that Saad Masud Suleman (1046-1121) s Hindvi diwan of poetry could not be retrieved. Therefore, Sheerani s view seems to be constructed on a few allusions made by Aufi in Lubab ul Albab and Amir Khusrao in the Preface of Ghurat ul Kamal that Saad Suleman was the first Hindvi poet, who hailed from Lahore and the same Hindvi subsequently evolved into Urdu. However, the case for Urdu (Hindvi of older times) can hardly be pleaded because Saad Suleman s Hindvi Diwan has not been found, thus obliterating any plausibility of the claim regarding Saad being the very first poet in Hindvi. Irretrievability of Saad s Diwan therefore exposes Sheerani s view to a credible contestation.

           Those were, arguably, the political exigencies of the Muslim intelligentsia that Urdu was linked up with separatist ideology, limiting it as a cultural symbol for the Muslims only. Similarly, Hindus claimed Hindi as their cultural emblem with a different script. Consequently the languages in the Punjab drew further apart because of the difference in the scripts i e Persian for Urdu, Nagri for Hindi and Gurmukhi for Punjabi. After Christian missionaries targeted Punjab for their proselytizing activities and Brahmo Samaj and Arya Samaj followed on their heels, as a result visible change in the construction of distinct identity seemed in evidence, religion being the its prime denominator. Cleavage between the three communities namely Muslims, Hindus and the Sikhs widened considerably. Religious exclusivism, seed of which had been sowed initially by the Christian missionaries and then the sprouting seed was nestled passionately by the Arya Samajis in particular, spilled over to the discourse of language as the primary mean of articulating religious identities. While summarizing the whole argument one can state that the overall official policy of the British Government in the Punjab conjured into existence many currents and crosscurrents including facilitating missionaries in their work, which contributed significantly towards the sharpening of the identities, contemporaneously existing since very long. Suffice it to say after all analysis given above; language as it happens more often than not came to be the principal site of identity formation after the introduction of Urdu in Persianized script as a vernacular in the Punjab.

            When Hunter Commission was constituted in 1882 for the final determination of the medium of instruction in the educational institutions, its survey evoked split response as it could be surmised. Muslims went whole hog for Urdu in Persian script, Hindus lent support for the Hindi in Nagri script and the language, spoken by the majority, the Punjabi was owned only by the Sikhs. Muslim Organizations like Anjuman i Islamia vociferously supported Urdu in Persian script and also lamented the soaring opposition in the Province started off by the outsiders with the collusion of influential Hindus. Anjuman i Punjab (Anjuman-i-Ishaat i Mutalib i Mufida i Punjab was its full name), an elitist organization conceived ab initio by Dr. Lietner, Principal, Government College Lahore and Col. Holroyd, Director Public Instruction, and ardently supported by Mecloed, Lieutenant Governor of the province. It eventually came into existence on 21 January 1865 at Sikhsha Sabha Hall Lahore, promotion of vernacular languages like Urdu along with Persian Arabic and Sanskrit in the province was its main objective. The government of the Punjab funded it on the recommendation of Dr. Leitner. Urdu literary figures like Muhammad Hussain Azad, Altaf Hussain Hali and Nazir Ahmed worked in cahoots with the above-mentioned British officers for the promotion of Urdu. S M Ikram hails the meritorious services of Azad that he rendered for the cause of Urdu making Lahore ‘heir of Delhi’.

            Those who were the supporters of Hindi opined that “ the bhasa written inNagri was a dialect of ‘Hindi’ and in Gurmukhi characters became ‘Punjabi’.” According to them the real language of the Punjab was an offshoot of Sanskrit and Prakrit.’ If the original language of the region with Nagri script were employed as a medium of instruction, it would give phenomenal boost to primary education, ‘which was faltering on account of inappropriate medium of instruction.’ The statement of Sardar Attar Singh, chief of Bhadour, to the Hunter Commission as recorded by Aysha Jalal reads, ‘…the mother tongue of the ‘poor simple people’ was Punjabi which was neither Hindi nor Urdu.’ A series of Sikh deputationists made it clear that “ Punjabi in Gurmukhi script was ‘used by every one of any race or creed who wants to write or read Punjabi’ and the ‘easiest, cheapest, and surest mode of imparting elementary instruction to all sorts …of people’. Elevating Hindi to the status of a vernacular would amount to ‘killing the Punjabi language’. 

Some exceptions and aberrations however were noticed in the sense that more than a few Muslim voices were raised in favour of Punjabi as the medium of vernacular instruction. Two members of the senate of the Punjab University College, Nawab Abdul Majid Khan and Fakir Sayad Kamar ud Din submitted memorandums and pleaded for not neglecting the vernacular languages (including Punjabi). They also recommended Punjabi not to be excluded from the examination list.   Similarly a member of the select committee of the Anjuman i Punjab thought it advisable to have primary instruction in Punjabi, which would be ‘a great improvement’ and for the time being Urdu ought to be ‘discarded’. Inspite of these instances the divergence cultivated because of the growing consciousness of the difference accruing from the ‘otherness’ in terms of religious persuasions articulated through the agency of languages or scripts vitiated the communal mutuality, which did not stop short of the creation of a separate state in 1947.

On the risk of being branded as having politically biased view as regard Urdu, one can easily draw from Sheerani s contention about intrinsic relationship, the two languages did have, point towards the underlying notional and cultural underpinnings of the Punjabi identity as mutually exclusive from the social and cultural ethos of mainland India. It does not require much of an effort to decipher communal hostility crept substantially deep among the Muslims of U.P and Behar by the closing years of 1920s. Impact of print media and far superior means of communication had brought an end to the insularity of the Punjab, which had accepted UP as its nerve center by then. Consequently, like 19th century France it had acquired the habit of sneezing whenever UP caught cold.  Third decade of the 20th century was particularly marked by the estranged relationship between Hindus and the Muslims of the Sub Continent. With the collapse of the Khilafat movement in 1924, the communal antagonism became ubiquitous leading both the communities to wean further away from each other. Recommendations of Nehru Report failed to pay any heed to the demands of urban Muslims, thus, wedge was driven quite deep, uprooting any possibility of communal rapprochement and the Hindu-Muslim alienation went quite a few notches up. Separatism pervaded all the way through. Those separatist proclivities found its resonance in ‘Urdu’, an imagined cultural symbol for an imagined community, which had its genealogical roots in the speeches of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan who redefined the Indian Muslims as a Qaum, a distinct social and political entity having no commonality with the Hindus, giving rise to fresh polemics with in the Muslims on the issue of the legitimacy of that concept. That polemic eventually culminated in the debate, raged with full force and vehemence between Iqbal and Hussain Ahmed Madni. Former espoused Qaum or nation as completely in consonance with Islamic injunctions whereas latter plead the concept of Millat or Ummah as valid in Islam.

           While concluding the argument, Partha Chatterji s concept underlining the insularity of the cultural ‘inner domain’ from the colonial modernity on the colonized stands strongly contested if the issue of the language as an identity marker is studied in the perspective of the colonial Punjab and particularly the official policy of introducing Urdu as vernacular in the Punjab. Urdu adopted and promoted for the administrative convenience was subsequently ‘imagined’ as the prime cultural symbol for the Muslim urban elite of the Punjab. History of Urdu language was reworked and the scholars like Sheerani relocated its wellsprings in the Punjab, deconstructing the view held since quite long. 



Bernard Cohen, Colonialism & Its Forms of Knowledge: British in India. (Princeton: Princeton University Press,1996), pp.1-3.


Ibid, pp.1-4.

Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), p.6.



K.N. Panikkar, “Culture, Nationalism and Common Politics.” in K.N. Paniker; Terence J. Byres and Utsa Patnaik (eds.), The Making of History: Essays Presented to Irfan Habib, (London: Anthem Press, 2002) p.536.


Percival Spear, “Bentinck and Education.” in Thomas R. Metcalf, ed., Modern India: An Interpretative Anthology, (London:  Macmillan , 1971), p. 173.

  Chaudhary Nazir Ahmed. Development of Urdu as Official Language in the Punjab (1849-1974), (Lahore: Punjab Government Record Office Publications, 1977),p.ii




  Government of the Punjab, Administrative Report of the Punjab, 1851 (Lahore: Government Printing Press, n.d.), p.2.

Chaudhary Nazir Ahmed. Development of Urdu as Official Language in the Punjab (1849-1974), (Lahore: Government of the Punjab, 1977),pp,11-36.

From Secretary to Chief Commissioner, Punjab to Commissioner Leia& Deputy Commissioner of Peshawar &Hazara (Note by Sir John Lawrence), Lahore, Dated 7th June,1854. in ibid,pp.27-8.


Krishna Kumar, Political Agenda of Education: A Study of Colonialist and Nationalist Ideas (Reprint. New Delhi, Sage Pub., 2005), p. 45.

J A Richey, (ed.), Selections from Educational Records Part II, 1840–1859 ( Delhi: India Bureau of Education , 1922).

  Krishna Kumar, Political Agenda of Education, p. 51.

Ibid, p.57.

Chaudhary Nazir Ahmed, Development of Urdu, p.v.

G.W. Leitner, History of Indigenous Education in the Punjab since Annexation and in 1882. Reprint (Lahore: Republican Books, 1991) (first edition published in 1882), pp. 110-12.

James Wilson, Note on Primary Education in the Punjab and the teaching of Punjabi in Roman Character,21 April,1894 in Chaudhary Nazir Ahmed. Development of Urdu,,pp.169-177

  Tariq Rahman, Language, Ideology and Power: Language Learning Among the Muslims of Pakistan and North India. (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 115.

Bernard Cohen, Colonialism & Its Forms of Knowledge, pp 1-4.

  Veena.Naregal, Language Politics, Elites and the Public Sphere: Western India Under Colonialism (London: Anthem Press, 2002),  p.3.

Paul R Brass, Language, Religion and Politics in North India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), p.49.

Hafiz Mahmood Sherani, Punjab Mein Urdu, Vol. 1. (Islamabad: Muqtadirah Qaumi Zaban, 1998).

Tariq Rahman, Language, Ideology and Power: Language Learning Among the Muslims of Pakistan and North India(Karachi: Oxford University Press,2002).

Ain-ul- Haq Farid Koti, Urdu Ki Qadeem Tarikh, (Lahore: n.p., 1972).

Ayesha Jalal, Self and Sovereignty: Individual and Community in South Asian Islam Since 1850 (Lahore: Sang-e-Meel Publications, 2001), p.110.

Ijaz Qureshi, Punjabi Adab Di Mukhtasar Tarikh(Lahore: Aziz Publishers, 2002),pp.347-8.

Tariq Rahman, Language, Ideology and Power, p.387.

Jameel Jalibi, Tarikh Adab-e-Urdu, Vol. 1. (Lahore: Majlis-i-Taraqi Adab, 1986).

  Muhammd Hussain Azad, Aab-e-Hayat (Lahore: Sang-e-Meel, 1985).

Hafiz Mahmood Sherani, Punjab Mein Urdu, Vol. 1. (Islamabad: Muqtadirah Qaumi Zaban, 1998), pp. 110-117.

Ahmed Saeed, Musilmanan-i-Punjab Ki Samaji Aur Falahi Anjamanain: Aik Tajziati Mutalia.(Lahore: Research Society of Pakistan, Punjab University, 2004), pp. 70,130.

Tariq Rahman, Language, Ideology and Power, pp.395-6.

  Ibid., pp. 396-7.

Paisa Akhbar(Lahore), December 1908-April 1909.

Paisa Akhbar(Lahore), 7 June 1909.

Tariq Rahman, Language, Ideology and Power, p. 397.

Jameel Jalibi, Tarikh Adab-e-Urdu, Vol. 1. (Lahore: Majlis-I-Taraqi Adab, 1986), pp.

Kennth W. Jones, “Communalism in the Punjab: The Arya Samaj Contribution.” in Thomas R. Metcalf, (ed.), Modern India: An Interpretive Anthology (London: Macmillan, 1971), pp. 210-11.

Zarina Salamat, The Punjab in 1920’s: A Case Study of Muslims (Karachi: Royal Book Company, 1997), pp. 11-12.

 Tabasum Kashmiri, Tahqiq-namma  (Lahore: Oriental College, 2000), pp.56-7.

S.M. Ikram, Modern Muslim India and Birth of Pakistan (Lahore:Idara-i-Saqafat-i-Islamia,  1970), p.201.

Tariq Rahman, Language, Ideology and Power, p.394.

Hussain Ahmad Madni, Maslai’ qumiat (Lahore, n.p. 1988), pp. 41-53.

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