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Urdu, Baba-i-Urdu & Pakistan Movement

Aug 15: In the first chapter of his book `Pakistan: the formative phase', Khalid Bin Sayeed has given an interesting account of the conflicting views about the origin of Pakistan. The learned author has given many diverse views, citing, for example, British policy of divide and rule, Muslim anxiety and the Quaid-i-Azam's determination, but in the conclusion he writes:

"Each view taken by itself is a highly exaggerated account of the origin of Pakistan. Each, perhaps, played its role and Pakistan was brought about by a multiplicity of the factors. But perhaps a dominant or decisive cause of Pakistan is that there has never taken place a confluence of the two civilizations in India the Hindu and the Muslim. They may have meandered towards each other here and there, but on the whole the two have followed their separate courses sometimes parallel and sometimes contrary to each other."

Historians concur that it was the zeal of the writers, poets, journalists, scholars and intellectuals that created awareness in the Muslims. They agree that Altaf Hussain Hali, Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar, Akbar Allahabdi, Allama Iqbal, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan and many others brought about the cultural awakening of the masses. But Baba-i-Urdu Moulvi Abdul Haq's role is downplayed, though inadvertently, perhaps under the misconception that he was merely a scholar of the Urdu language and secretary of Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu. But it was he who fought on the linguistic and cultural front, countering the efforts of the Hindu revivalist movements to make the Hindi language an icon of Hindu culture and religion. Emphasising the cultural importance of Urdu for Muslims, Abdul Haq worked with a nationalistic spirit. It is a well-established fact that after religion, the most important role in the Independence Movement was played by the Urdu language. The emergence of Muslim nationalism owed much to the Hindi-Urdu controversy. Baba-i-Urdu's part, as any student of Indo-Pakistan history would tell you, in strengthening Urdu's case at a historical juncture was pivotal. It would not be wrong to say that he had devoted his entire life to Urdu's cause.

Baba-i-Urdu Moulvi Abdul Haq was born in Sarawah, a village near Hapur (District Meerut), on Aug 20, 1870. He got his early education in Ferozepur, Punjab, where his father Shaikh Ali Hussain had settled. Graduating from Aligarh in 1895, Moulvi Abdul Haq had the fortune of meeting there luminaries such as Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Prof Arnold, Shibli Naumani and Altaf Hussain Hali. The would-be stars of the Indo-Pakistan sub-continent such as Maulana Zafar Ali Khan and Dr Ziauddin Ahmed were his classmates.

A few years later, Abdul Haq went to Deccan, the princely state in South India, and worked there on different posts including headmaster, translator, assistant to director of education, inspector of schools, director of the bureau of compilation and translation and principal of Usmania College.

Abdul Haq was made secretary of Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu in 1912. The Anjuman was created in 1903 in Aligarh with Prof Arnold as president and Shibli Naumani as secretary. It was in fact an offshoot of Muhammadan Educational Conference, established by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in 1886. Abdul Haq established the Anjuman's office at Aurangabad (Deccan) as he was settled there in those days and it was much later, in 1938 to be precise, that the office of the Anjuman was shifted to Delhi.

It is often said that when Baba-i-Urdu took charge of the 'offices' and the 'assets' of the Anjuman, they consisted of an old metallic box (tied with a piece of rope) which contained a few worn-out registers, a few unedited manuscripts, an inkpot and a pen. This oft-quoted incident is not a myth. It was all the Anjuman consisted of. Building it from scratch, Moulvi Abdul Haq made the Anjuman one of the most dynamic and prolific institutions working for the development and progress of Urdu.

In the establishment of Usmania University, Abdul Haq played a very vital role. After retirement from the post of principal in1929, he was made professor of Urdu at Usmania University in 1930.

In 1936, after a meeting of Bhartia Sahitya Prishad (Indian Literary Society), where Gandhi declared that 'Hindi Hindustani' would be India's national language, the Urdu-Hindi controversy started to rage and anti-Urdu forces were unleashed to crush and wipe out Urdu from the face of the earth. Baba-i-Urdu convened an All-India Conference in Aligarh, resigned from the university, brought the offices of the Anjuman to Delhi and set out to counter the attacks on Urdu. His famous skirmishes with Gandhi on the language issue made him all the more prominent and his fight for the cause of Urdu got a boost, supported by Muslim political as well as religious leaders and Ulema.

After the independence, Moulvi Sahib wanted to work for Urdu on both sides of the border but Anjuman's Delhi office was ransacked by the rioters and Abul-Kalam Azad told him that in India suspicion and distrust on him was on the rise. Moulvi Sahib migrated to Pakistan in January 1949. He established Anjuman's office in Karachi.

In Pakistan, his primary task was to re-establish the Anjuman and do what he had been doing all his life: researching and editing the rare manuscripts, publishing reference books in Urdu and promoting higher education through Urdu. His dream was a college and a university where all the medium of instruction till the highest level would be Urdu. Both of his dreams came true but the first one after a long and fierce battle with the establishment and the second about 40 years after his death.

What anguish he had to go through during his last years of life and what treatment he received at the hands of the office-bearers of the Anjuman and Urdu college is a long and sorrowful story. In brief, Field Marshal Muhammad Ayub Khan had to come to his rescue and through a martial law ordinance Urdu college was handed over back to him with full powers restored. Qudrat-ullah Shahab, Ayub Khan's secretary and a writer in his own right, helped Baba-i-Urdu in his twilight years, perhaps a lone example of co-operation from the bureaucracy for someone working for the cause of our national language, be it a legend like Moulvi Sahib.

In addition to editing Anjuman's literary magazines and a large number of published articles, Moulvi Sahib has a long list of books to his credit, mostly rare texts edited and annotated, but more prominent among his great feats are: Qavaid-i-Urdu (A grammar of Urdu) and Lughat-i-Kabeer (Greater Urdu dictionary). Dawn
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Updated: 14 Oct, 2014
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