The Hindi-Urdu controversy is an ongoing
dispute—dating back to the 19th century—regarding the
establishment of a single standard language in certain areas of
north and northwestern India; while the debate was officially
settled by government order in 1950, some resistance remains.
Hindi and Urdu are literary registers of the Khariboli dialect
of the Hindi languages spoken as a mother tongue by about 45% of India's
population, mostly in modern North and Central India. A Persianized
variant of Khariboli, known variously as Hindustani or Urdu, began to
take shape during the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526 AD) and Mughal Empire
(1526–1858 AD) in South Asia.
The British East India company replaced Persian with Hindustani/Urdu
written in Perso-Arabic script as the official standard of
Hindi-speaking Northern provinces of modern day India in addition to
The last few decades of the nineteenth century witnessed the eruption
of the Hindi-Urdu controversy in North-Western provinces and Oudh with
"Hindi" and "Urdu" protagonists advocating the official use of
Hindustani with the Devanagari script or with the Persian script,
respectively. Hindi movements advocating the growth of and official
status for Devanagari were established in Northern India. Babu Shiva
Prasad and Madan Mohan Malaviya were notable early proponents of this
movement. This, consequently, led to the development of Urdu movements
defending Urdu's official status; Syed Ahmed Khan was one of its noted
In 1900, the Government issued a decree granting symbolic equal
status to both Hindi and Urdu which was opposed by Muslims and received
with jubilation by Hindus. Hindi and Urdu started to diverge
linguistically, with Hindi drawing on Sanskrit as the primary source for
formal and academic vocabulary, often with a conscious attempt to purge
the language of Persian-derived equivalents. Deploring this Hindu-Muslim
divide, Gandhi proposed re-merging the standards, using either Devagari
or Persian script, under the traditional generic term Hindustani.
Bolstered by the support received by Congress and various leaders
involved in the Indian Independence Movement , Hindi in Devanagari
script along with English replaced Urdu as the official language of
India during the institution of the Indian constitution in 1950.
The main cause of this divide may be attributed to the way both
communities Hindu and Muslim took inspirations.During Muslim rule (whose
founder were West Asians) people who converted to Islam readily adopted
the culture they brought with them. Persian at that time was considered
a well developed language and inspirational language in whole of West
and Central Asia (see also Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire). Hindus
considered these things as an alien culture.So with passage of time
things like Sanskrit language, Dhoti, Ayurveda etc. came to associated
with Hindus and things like Yunani medicine, Persian Language with
Muslims. There came even
difference in food culture of two communities. During pre-1971 Pakistan,
Ayub Khan once told "East Bengalis... still are under considerable Hindu
culture and influence. This is because Bengali language is Sanskritized
and uses Indic script (see also Bengali Language Movement).
Urdu became the language of the courts of Muslim rulers who invaded
the Indian subcontinent from the eighth century onwards. It developed
from Khari boli of the Delhi area with infusion of words from Arabic,
Persian and Turkish. As the Muslim invaders spread in the Northern
India, Urdu interacted with various vernaculars and introduced Persian
words into local languages and absorbed local vocabulary, and over a
period of time developed into a distinct spoken language. Hindi also
developed from Khari boli albeit with assimilation of words from local
languages and Sanskrit.
Several factors contributed to the increasing divergence of Hindi and
Urdu. The Muslim rulers chose to write Urdu in Persian script instead of
Devanagari script. In time, Urdu in Persian script also became a
literary language with an increasing body of literature written in the
18th and 19th century. A division developed gradually between Hindus who
chose to write Hindi-Urdu in Devanagari script and Muslims and some
Hindus who chose to write the same in Persian script. The development of
Hindi movements in the late nineteenth century further contributed to
Paul R. Brass, Professor (Emeritus) of Political Science and
International Studies at the University of Washington notes in his book,
Language, Religion and Politics in North India,
controversy by its very bitterness demonstrates how little the
objective similarities between language groups matter when
people attach subjective significance to their languages.
Willingness to communicate through the same language is quite a
different thing from the mere ability to communicate.
In 1837, the British East India company replaced Persian with local
vernacular in various provinces as the official and court language.
However, in North India, Urdu in Persian script instead of Hindi in
Devanagari script was chosen to replace Persian.
The most immediate reason for the controversy is believed to be the
contradictory language policy in North India in the 1860s. While the
then government encouraged both Hindi and Urdu as a medium of education
in school, it discouraged Hindi or Nagari script for official purposes.
This policy gave rise to conflict between students educated in Hindi or
Urdu for the competition of government jobs, which eventually took on a
and Urdu movements
In 1867, some Hindus in the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh during
the British Raj in India began to demand that Hindi be made an official
language in place of Urdu.
Babu Shiva Prasad of Banares was one of the early proponents of the
Nagari script. In a Memorandum on court characters written in
1868, he accused the early Muslim rulers of India for forcing them to
learn Persian. In 1897, Madan Mohan Malaviya published a collection of
documents and statements titled Court character and primary education
in North Western Provinces and Oudh, in which, he made a compelling
case for Hindi.
Several Hindi movements were formed in the late 19th and early 20th
century; notable among them were Nagari Pracharini Sabha formed in
Banaras in 1893, Hindi Sahitya Sammelan in Allahabad in 1910, Dakshina
Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha in 1918 and Rashtra Bhasha Prachar Samiti in
The movement was encouraged in 1881 when Hindi in Devanagari script
replaced Urdu in Persian script as the official language in neighboring
Bihar. They submitted 118 memorials signed by 67,000 people to the
Education Commission in several cities.
The proponents of Hindi argued that the majority of people spoke Hindi
and therefore introduction of Nagari script would provide better
education and improve prospects for holding Government positions. They
also argued that Urdu script made court documents illegible, encouraged
forgery and promoted the use of complex Arabic and Persian words.
Organisations such as Anjuman Taraqqi-e-Urdu were formed for the
advocacy of Urdu.
Advocates of Urdu argued that Hindi scripts could not be written faster,
and lacked standardisation and vocabulary. They also argued that the
Urdu language originated in India, asserted that Urdu could also be
spoken fluently by most of the people and disputed the assertion that
official status of language and script is essential for the spread of
Communal violence broke out as the issue was taken up by firebrands.
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan had once stated, "I look to both Hindus and Muslims
with the same eyes & consider them as two eyes of a bride. By the word
nation I only mean Hindus and Muslims and nothing else. We Hindus and
Muslims live together under the same soil under the same government. Our
interest and problems are common and therefore I consider the two
factions as one nation." Speaking to Mr. Shakespeare, the governor of
Banaras, after the language controversy heated up, he said "I am now
convinced that the Hindus and Muslims could never become one nation as
their religion and way of life was quite distinct from one and other."
In the last three decades of 19th century the controversy flared up
several times in North-Western provinces and Oudh. The Hunter
commission, appointed by the Government of India to review the progress
of education, was used by the advocates of both Hindi and Urdu for their
idea of Hindustani
Hindi and Urdu continued to diverge both linguistcally and
culturally. Linguistically, Hindi continued drawing words from Sanskrit,
and Urdu from Persian, Arabic and Turkish. Culturally Urdu came to be
identified with Muslims and Hindi with Hindus. This wide divergence in
1920s was deplored by Gandhi who exhorted the re-merging of both Hindi
and Urdu naming it Hindustani written in both Nagari and Persian
Though he failed in his attempt to bring together Hindi and Urdu under
the Hindustani banner, he popularised Hindustani in other non-Hindi
It has been argued that the Hindi-Urdu controversy sowed the seeds
for Muslim separatism in India. However, other historians dispute this,
pointing to the development of Muslim separatism in Bengal where Urdu
was not spoken. Some also argued that Syed Ahmad had expressed
separatist views long before the controversy developed.
On April 1900, the colonial Government of the North-Western Provinces
issued an order granting equal official status to both Nagari and
Perso-Arabic scripts. This decree evoked protests from Urdu supporters
and joy from Hindi supporters. However, the order was more symbolic in
that it did not provision exclusive use of Nagari script. Perso-Arabic
remained dominant in North-Western provinces and Oudh as the preferred
writing system until independence.
C. Rajagopalachari, chief minister of Madras Presidency introduced
Hindustani as a compulsory language in secondary school education though
he later relented and opposed the introduction of Hindi during the
Madras anti-Hindi agitation of 1965.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak supported Devanagari script as the essential part of
nationalist movement. The language policy of Congress and the
independence movement paved its status as an alternative official
language of independent India. Hindi was supported by religious and
political leaders, social reformers, writers and intellectuals during
independence movement securing that status. Hindi along with English was
recognised as the official language of India during the institution of
the Indian constitution in 1950.