Urdu Journalism beyond rhetorical flourish

The three-day conclave on Urdu Media: Past, present and future at Maulana Azad National University, Hyderabad, on November 13, 14 and 15 has brought to lights issues facing the nation as well as the future of survival of Urdu language journalism.

Much admired peace hardly goes well with the elemental human psyche, and violence, animosity, discord, and conflict get approval instantly; hence Media cannot knock over it swiftly. In a fact-free world that draws on hate volcanoes, newspapers, TV, radio, and interactive media may find fashioning a gripping narrative of peace an uphill task. However, they can put a premium on telling the truth, no matter how arduous it might be. Telling the truth alone can mitigate the suffering. It is what came through in a perceptively pulsating debate in an Urdu media conclave set in motion by the iconic figures of Indian journalism Rajdeep Sardesai, Srinivasan Jain, Rahul Dev,  Pankaj Pachauri,  Madhukar Upadhyaya,  Qamar Waheed Naqvi,  Shakeel Shamsi, Sanjeev Kapoor, Anant Vijay, Sumera Khan and Azam  Shahid.

At the outset, Srinivasan Jain regretted that Media has abandoned its torch bearer and moral arbiter role and become the biggest propagator of acrimony. It has defiled the basic principles of journalism. 

Rajdeep Sardesai held social Media equally responsible for uninterruptedly dishing out provocative content against a community. Rahul Dev believed that the Media was supposed to be a purveyor of the truth only, and peace had augured well with Media.

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Qamar Waheed Naqvi elucidated the primary concerns of algorithmic-driven media that have become bereft of human values.

Anant  Vijay said new media coverage trends need to be located from a global perspective. If the emphasis is laid on stories of women, it can pave the way for dialogue and peace. Pankaj Pachauri, too, described it as a global phenomenon, but its onslaught needs to be arrested immediately 

The conclave was part of the bicentennial celebration of Urdu journalism held in Hyderabad. It brought a refreshing whizz of air as no discussion on   Urdu journalism falls short of lavishly eulogizing it for its stimulative and wakening role in the freedom struggle and coining revolution energizing term,’ Inqilab Zindabad”.

Similarly, Maulvi  Mohammad Baqar’s supreme sacrifice for the country (the editor of Delhi Urdu Akhbar who got the death penalty as the British took over Delhi in 1857) is rightfully mentioned, and so is the name of Har Dutta, who launched the first Urdu newspaper of Urdu in 1822 as the clinching evidence of Urdu’s secular credentials. The unconditional admiration,   betraying an intense obsession with chewing the cud,  gets intensified further when the bicentenary of Urdu journalism is celebrated across the country with much fanfare. It is the moment of celebration and introspection, but jubilation looms, and soul-searching gives the slip.

One has to locate the role of Urdu journalism in a fact-free world where the Media takes pride in justifying the Government instead of questioning its anti-people policies. How do Urdu newspapers respond to the hatred volcano (Srinivasan Jain used this term)  unleashed by the mainstream media? When nationalism has become the subject of an everyday referendum, do Urdu newspapers seek to uphold the dignity of the term by making a candid difference between patriotism and nationalism? Despite its frequent forays into regressive and sentimental topics, does it produce a public sphere for rational debate? Does new information technology go well with  Urdu newspapers? If digitalization is the future, will Urdu retain its script?  The omission of frank and candid discussion sans rhetorical flourish centering these questions left media educators baffled, and now it was the turn of  Professor Ehtisham Ahmad Khan, Dean School of Mass Communication and Professor Mohammad Faryad, Head, Department of Mass Communication, Maulana Azad University Hyderabad, to take the lead.

The Maulana Azad University has invited a plethora of renowned media practitioners and distinguished academicians to zero in on these pertinent questions in a recent three-day international Urdu journalism conference.

The conference quite remarkably went beyond narrating the History of Urdu journalism and its dwindling fortunes and bemoaning the ever-increasing decline of Urdu. It tried to set in motion a  comprehensive debate on how Indian journalism, including Urdu media, falter in creating a space for reasoned debate in eight plenary sessions. The active  participation of celebrated professionals belonging  to TV, Radio, and Print, such as Dr Waviel Awwad, Parnjoy Guha Thakurtha, Satish Jacob, Swapan Das Gupta, Siddarth Varadarajan, Rajdeep Sardesai, Srinivasan Jain,  Qamar Waheed Naqvi,  Pankaj Pachauri,Madhukar Upadhya,  Rahul Dev, Qurban Ali,  Hasan Kamal, Rahul Srivastava,  Anant Vijay,  Shahid Lateef, Shameem Tariq, Azam Shahid, Naghma Saher , Sumera Khan, Arfa Khanam Sherwani, Shakeel Hasan Shamsi, Farhat Rizvi,  Shahira Naeem,   Amir Ali Khan,  Aziz Burney, Sarfraz Arzoo,  Hisamul Islam Siddiqui,  Suhail Anjum, Yameen Ansari, Saeed Alam, P.K. Tiwari, Mehtab Alam, Fazil Hussain Parvez, Mustafa Kamal,  Feroz Naqvi,  Zaman Habib,  Asdar Ali,   Shakeel Akhtar,  Ismael Zafar  and  many eminent academicians  Prof Ifthikhar Ahmad, Prof Sanjay Diwedi,  Dr Athar Faroqui,  Prof Mohammad Sajjad, Prof  Shahid Hussain, Prof Asad Nizam, Prof M J Warsi, Professor Farhat Baseer and Dr. Dabeer Ahmad  lend credence to deliberations.

Since its inception, Pseudo-religiosity-fed Identity has been the central preoccupation of Urdu newspapers, and up to a large extent, identarian politics prevented them from turning attention to the everyday disaster and agrarian issues that shape the destiny of the readers. It peeved many,   and it prompted  Prof Sajjad, an author and columnist who teaches History at Aligarh Muslim University, to suggest that the time has come to look beyond the identity prism. Seventy-five years after independence, Urdu journalism remains mired in inconsequential polemics. Now gaze has to be relocated, and one must realize that if issues having a direct bearing on day-to-day life are addressed, Identity will be retained. Now it must go well with Urdu media.

Nostalgia gains currency in dispossession and turmoil, but the past, mostly imagined past, no matter how glorious it might be, can never be the future. Religious, cultural and linguistic Identity, regional aspirations, and liberal values occupy equal space in the debate, which Herbamas calls the ‘public sphere.’ The media create it, and freedom of expression figures prominently. Urdu media falters considerably here, and the lapse contributed immensely to pseudo-religiosity and conservatism.

In the inaugural session, veteran journalist Mr Hasan Kamal asserted that the survival of Urdu newspapers rests with digitalization. Online edition reduces costs, and the printing looks redundant.

Kamna Prasad, the founder of Jashn-e-Bahar, said that people have religion but not languages. It is a religion that needs language. Urdu as a language has kept the human spirit above the world shaped by Sheikhs and Brahmans.

Swapan Das Gupta, a  prominent columnist and parliamentarian,  said the much admired digital word poses a grave threat to the language’s existence as it will only reduce it to a spoken language. Media independent of the script can disseminate information but cannot preserve the literary culture.


Shakeel Hassan Shamsi does not buy the argument that Urdu journalism is in decline and refers to the widespread growth of  Urdu newspapers.

Shahid Lateef, the editor of Inqilab Mumbai, said that these two centuries contributed significantly to the collective life of India. He said that current times are challenging. For him, prediction for the bright future of Urdu Journalism betrays wishful thinking as the language, both written and spoken, finds it difficult to survive.

The Chief Guest, S H Awwad, a journalist from Syria,  pointed out that language plays a  crucial role in enriching and preserving culture. Sometimes language becomes the medium of revolution, and Urdu bears testimony to it.

The Vice-Chancellor of MANNU, Prof Ainul Hasan Abidi, an acclaimed academician, discussed the historical role of Persian and Urdu newspapers in fostering cultural ties with neighbouring countries. He mentioned  Raja Ram  Mohan Roy’s Persian newspaper Miratul Akhbar and how its crusade against the repression of women influenced  Iran.     

In the plenary session, Prof Sanjay Dwivedi said that some onus for partition lies on Urdu and the wrongly perceived institutionalization of the difference between Urdu and Hindi left Urdu exasperated.

Shashadri Chari said that various divides are a part of history, and the language divide is one of them. Still, language cannot be used to inflict discrimination as it is, per se, neutral. Urdu is not the language of Muslims, nor is Hindi the language of Hindus.

Qurban Ali said Urdu had not received official patronage, yet Bollywood used Urdu as the medium for filmmaking. He regretted that Urdu is no longer a  language that fetches one livelihood. He said that it is ironic that the bicentenary celebrations of Urdu Journalism are being held only here and not in New Delhi.

The three-day event comprised the inaugural session, Urdu media conclave, plenary, and technical sessions. Two docudramas on  Rahi Masoom Raza and Ghalib and Kolkata were also staged.

 In the valedictory session, Prof Ehtisham Ahmad Khan said that the celebration began on March 27 with the documentary on Urdu journalism featuring 200 journalists. Around  400 persons participated in the seminar. 

Amir Ali Khan, the Managing Editor of Siasat, reminded the adversarial role of journalists and said that journalists must question the power that- be.

Khan also said that we need not worry about the condition of Urdu journalism. Communalism during current times should not discourage journalists. He said that the strength of speaking truth to power is only left with Urdu journalists now. He spoke about the need to live on a mantra – “Each One Help One”.

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