Urdu Press: Significance and Impact on the Readership


LUCKNOW : It is a hot summer evening and customers wait their turn at the local barber’s shop in a prominent Muslim neighbourhood of the historic city of old Lucknow.

A middle-aged man, who was going through an Urdu newspaper kept at the waiting bench, starts reading the editorial out loud: “Kahaani ab qalmi nahi filmi hoti hai. Kerala Story ke tasawwurati qisse ko Karnatak ke siyasi story ka hissa tasleem kiya jaa raha hai (The story is no longer literary but movie-like fictitious. The imaginary tale of Kerala Story is being made a part of the political story of Karnataka before the elections).”

He has barely read a line or two more before another interrupts with his views on the topic and it soon turns into a group discussion with the middle-aged man adding more points from the editorial.

This is a common occurrence at tea stalls, pan shops and late-night gatherings of community members in local neighbourhoods as well.

Contrary to the belief that the Urdu readership has declined, it has, in fact, gone up in the Muslim community. The Muslim population has grown over the years and so has the number of madrassas. According to a 2017 report, there are more than 16,400 madrassas just in Uttar Pradesh and this figure does not include the private ones that are being run in mosques and in Muslim localities.

These madrassas cumulatively have lakhs of students who are learning the language and who want to read news in Urdu as it also helps them practice and also makes them aware of their surroundings. The number of readers goes up in tier 3 and 4 cities as well as the rural areas.

Apart from this, with the improvement in economic conditions due to globalisation, an increased number of middle and upper-class Muslim families have started hiring private tutors for their children to make them learn Urdu and Arabic. Due to the similarity of the script with Arabic and its association with religion, Urdu remains a very popular language among Muslims of India.

Urdu newspapers (be it print or digital) are very significant for a number of reasons. The Muslim community is always interested in reading news about the Middle East and also about other Muslim-majority nations. They want to learn about the happenings in Saudi Arabia, the land of the Two Holy Mosques. These news pieces are carried in detail only by the Urdu Press. All the other English and Hindi news sources do cover such news but not in as much detail. This becomes a primary reason for people to read and opt for Urdu media over other mediums. They also carry news about organisations such as the Arab League and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), etc. which is of great interest to the community.

Additionally, Urdu media also covers news about the minority community which is generally not carried by the other news mediums.

Urdu newspapers also publish stories on a host of religious issues and about famous Muslim personalities which are a source of education for the Muslim populace.

The association of Urdu language with Islam in India further adds to the credibility of the Urdu Press. A Muslim will put more faith in a news piece that he reads in an Urdu newspaper as compared to a newspaper in any other language. The sense of familiarity that is created by the language only adds to the faith that the reader puts in the news being carried.

Zaheer Mustafa, a senior Urdu journalist with almost three decades of experience as the editor of a prominent UP-based Urdu newspaper, explains the significance of the Urdu Press. “If there is something that an Indian Muslim puts faith in after the Holy Qur’an, it’s the Urdu newspaper,” he says.

“It’s a positive and a negative aspect of an Urdu newspaper,” he adds. “One has to be very careful and balanced in the news stories that are published in an Urdu newspaper as it is a very sensitive medium and the slightest of extreme views can flare up tensions,” he goes on to say.

The Urdu Press has a massive impact on the community as a whole. There is a need to highlight the positives which are often ignored, dropped or concisely covered by mainstream media.

The impact an Urdu news story can have depends on the perspective that the story covers.

For example, even in a tense riot-like situation, a story about how a single family of a particular community living in an area dominated by another community remained safe and was protected by the dominant community neighbours can help in normalising relations in tense situations.

The Urdu Press is watched closely not only by the minority community but by the international community as well. Most embassies and consulates in India keep track of the Urdu Press. It is of equal interest to both the Western powers as well as the Middle East and Muslim-dominated nations. Some embassies such as the United States of America have a separate Urdu Press section. Foreign diplomats are always interested in meeting Urdu journalists as they consider them the representatives and voice of the minority community after the religious leaders.

An Urdu newspaper and a news portal can serve as a medium to build a positive image of the nation among the international community as well. Even countries like the UK, the US, and Israel always highlight their pro-minority points whenever they meet Urdu journalists in India and talk about the equal status and representation being provided to minorities in their respective countries. This is just to build a positive disposition of their nation and governments in the minds of the minority community in India. The same needs to be done by our country as well.

Last year, in March, our nation celebrated the bicentenary of the Urdu Press with various programmes being organised across the country. The foundation of Urdu Journalism in India was laid by Sadasukh Lal and Harihar Dutta, the Editor and Publisher of Jam e Jahan Numa, India’s first Urdu newspaper published in Kolkata in 1822.

Starting from 1857 when Maulvi Muhammad Baqar, the editor of Delhi Urdu Akhbar, was killed by the British, Urdu Press has played a significant role in India’s struggle for independence. Urdu newspaper publishers were imposed fines as high as Rs 50,000 and even arrested and sent to jail in the Andamans by the British.

Urdu Press’ composite legacy and contribution to the freedom struggle can be ascertained by the fact that Lala Lajpat Rai published his nationalist newspaper Vande Mataram in Urdu. Even Bhagat Singh and Veer Savarkar wrote in Urdu.

The future of the Urdu Press is in going hybrid — having a print as well as a digital edition. Digital gives the ability to reach the readers not just in different parts of the country but to the Indian diaspora living abroad as well. The penetration of cell phones and mobile internet has further given the digital medium a boost. It gives the scope to expand in a cost-effective way while taking powerful and effective stories to millions of people in one go.

The power of Urdu Press on a national scale is something that has remained largely untapped but if used in the right way it can have far-reaching positive effect on the government and the nation. ­— IANS


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