The Lost Heritage
Dilip Kumar left for his heavenly abode. The generation I belong to has not been acquainted with Dilip Sahab's life and works. However, the way magazines, newspapers, TV channels, and social media have reacted to his death, it’s inevitable to say that my contemporaries and I have been able to earn, if not all, some familiarity with his grandeur. The other day while scrolling through my Facebook and observing different posts related to the legend’s life, an interview grabbed my attention. His wife Saira Banu mentioned that Dilip Kumar was quite fond of Persian and Urdu Poetry. Surprisingly, Saira Bano, to earn Dilip Kumar’s affection and to impress him, recruited a tutor to learn Farsi (Persian language) and Urdu. I wonder how much she loved him. No amount of words will ever be able to define her love.
Apart from that, when on the one hand I was flabbergasted to learn of her devotion to her beloved, I was intrigued by a question that struck my mind. What led to the eradication of Farsi from the sub-continent?
The arrival of the Mughals in the central regions of the subcontinent was not as similar to how Ghaznis and Ghoris made an appearance. The Mughals came to the Subcontinent to stay and rule this region with utmost dedication and concentration. Unlike any other foreign ruler who came to this land just to loot, plunder, fill their humungous pockets, and spend all their acquisitions on their own countries, the Mughals accepted this place as their homeland and whatever they earned from this locality, was only spent on this region. From the overawing architecture of Lahore Fort to the dazzling persona of Taj Mahal, and from the cultural heritage of India to the religious beliefs of the Subcontinent, each and every development of the Mughals illustrated the true essence of patriotism that the Mughal rulers had for the subcontinent in their selves. When we look into the different aspects of society during the Mughal reign, another treasure that the Mughals brought with them was the Persian Language. In that period, Persian culture and literature earned great respect in Indian society. Being the official court language, it was considered the language of elites, and all major works of that time were amalgamated in Farsi.
However, as the eyes of Indians witnessed the downfall of the Mughal Empire and the rise of the East India Company and later the colonization of India, I believe that colonization slowly and steadily, with the help of various policies, eradicated the Persian language with all its prestige and significance. Very cleverly, different decisions led to the Indians losing the language that once was a precious stone in the crown of the Indian aristocracy.
Mohammad Hussian Azad mentions, in his book Sukhan Daan-e-Faris (a compilation of his lectures), four major characteristics that affect a language’s potential and worth.
1. Freedom of the Public
2. Prosperity of the Empire
3. Empire’s Faith
4. Education and Culture
Molana believed that if these four characteristics are laid on strong footings, only then can a language sustain and rule political and social merits.
In light of what he mentioned, this region lost its independence to the influence of East India Company and then Great Britain. Secondly, the empire was not focused on the wellbeing of the public, due to its policies, internal clashes, and carelessness, which further paved a path towards the destabilization of the Mughal empire. Thirdly, the theological involvement of the Persian language was reduced to a point where only a few people had an acquaintance with the Persian language and literature. Almost every local lost the understanding and utilization of this language. Lastly, education and culture gradually replaced the influence of the Persian language with English modernity and superiority.
As the East India Company started acquiring power in India, the British stood up for major decisions to derail the importance of the Farsi. As they observed that they were dependent on local “Munshis”, the British started different training programs for Munshis at different colleges, in order to teach them the English language. By the 1850s, the majority of the Munshis were acquainted with English, and were as fluent in it as Persian or any other local language. The reason why Munshis had so much importance was that they had a strong command over court dealings, letter writings, administrative record-keeping, etc.
Hunter, one of the Civil Servants of 1872, writes in his autobiography that there was a time when all the bureaucratic, judicial, and political posts had a requirement of the Persian language. Any person who had a desire to apply for any of these posts was bound to be skilled in the Persian Language. This made Persian a respectable and integral part of Indian society. Till the time when India remained in the hands of locals, Persian remained unchallenged for its prominent role. However, by 1837, Persian was completely detached from judicial and public offices. English was made compulsory for every job application.
The establishment of the General Committee of Public Instruction (IGCPI) by the East India Company in 1823 resulted in another major turning point. Modern science and English institutions were established in Bengal, Calcutta, and Delhi. By constituting such institutions, the company was able to greatly induce English into Indian society. New curricula offered courses in the English language with a blend of Indian and Western culture which further exemplified English as a superior language.
Moreover, Lord Macaulay’s Minutes considered a black dot on a white cloth of Indian educational culture, his thirty-six points agenda could be summarized into his single statement. He said about the educational funds:
"....would be best employed on English education alone."
The company began to spend all its educational funds and budget on western education with English as a must. This restricted the Persian language and ultimately glamorized the superiority of English.
Another reason, which may be considered a source of derailment for this language, was the Urdu-Hindi Controversy. As Urdu was able to get itself established enough, that people started acquiring it as their language, it replaced the use of Persian. This atmosphere led the Hindu elites to pressurize the government to establish Hindi as an administrative language, which further pushed the Persian language out of the scene. Such circumstances provided greater space for English, as Hindus were already ready to accept any other language as the official language except Urdu. Thus, such a scenario left no space for Persian.
The downfall of any language in any region only takes place when the public, their pens, and their hearts become empty from the attachment to a specific language. Roman and Greek languages, which were once considered the source of the epitome of knowledge, are only left in old shattered pieces of some historical works that are not even comprehensible for the people of this age. If we look at Farsi, we see the same atrocity and misfortune in this region.
There is no doubt in the fact that the hands of outsiders did oust the Persian language from this culture and society. Though many policies played their role in displacing the language; however, restricting this language to Madaris only, and displacing it from our cultural and traditional values, has too played a huge role. Our National Poet’s major poetic work is in Persian. It’s been said by different literary critics that to resist the deteriorating situation of language, Allama Iqbal penned down most of his work in the Persian Language; for he could foresee that in this region, the future will not leave much space for Farsi.