Language of poets, but not of globalised markets?

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Kanchan Srivastava

Adding to the debate about whether regional languages are relevant for getting ahead in today’s globalised world, a research paper from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences has said that most Urdu-medium students lose out on job opportunities because they lack proficiency in English and Marathi. The paper, however, says that this is because “Urdu has not been linked with employment opportunities by the government.”

The paper says, “Most of the state-run competitive examinations are conducted in Marathi and English. This shuts the doors for Urdu-medium students for larger job opportunities. In such a scenario, the maximum an Urdu-educated student can expect is the job of an Urdu teacher in Urdu schools and Madrassas.”

This is significant because there are presently 4,900 Urdu medium schools in the state, catering to about 13 lakh students- 5.9% of the total schoolgoing children, as per the school education department.

The state supports the Urdu-medium schools under the constitutional obligation of providing primary education in one’s mother tongue.

Maharashtra has the largest number of Urdu-medium schools supported by any Indian state, but Urdu is still to get the status of second language of the state. This is in contrast with Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi and Bengal, and erstwhile Andhra Pradesh.

The paper says that to make matters worse, Urdu medium education in Maharashtra is available only up to the HSC level. After that students have to opt for English or regional languages.

Pointing out this major issue, the paper reveals, “Most of the Muslim students will not reach college and university level by sticking to Urdu-medium schools, as competitive examination for admission in universities and colleges is conducted in English and Marathi mediums.”

“Given that about 95% of the students in Urdu schools are related to a deprived religious minority community, it also adversely impacts their overall representation in public and private sector employment,” states the paper.
Authored by Prof Abdul Shaban, head of the Tuljapur campus of TISS, the paper is titled ‘Urdu and Urdu Medium Schools in Maharashtra in fast Changing Social and Economic Contexts’. The paper is based on the study of Urdu medium schools in Maharashtra. It also critically analyses the state’s policy, language politics and socio-economic status of the Muslim community.

Only poor and middle-class Muslims of Maharashtra, and those who are not able to get their children admitted to English-medium schools, are sending students to Urdu schools.

“However, a massive chasm is seen with regard to opportunities of employment of those educated in Urdu and other mediums of education as Urdu has not got embedded in the capitalist system. The embedding in capitalist system and becoming a language of commercial activities are important to remaining relevant and surviving in this market-dominated society,” adds the paper.

The paper also points out that inability of Urdu to adapt technical terms of science, technology and even social sciences. Hence, Urdu language students find it difficult to perform well in college and university, and finally drop out.

Abhay Pethe, Professor of economics with Mumbai University, insists that other regional languages, too are facing a similar situation. “Languages need to evolve as per the need of the globalised and advanced world.

Unfortunately, Urdu, Marathi and other languages are yet to develop convenient vocabulary for science and technology. Then English becomes a natural option.”

Prof Shaban says, “Promotion of Urdu as the second language of the state and conducting competitive examinations in Urdu can help in ameliorating the situation of both Urdu and millions of Urdu-educated youths in the state.”

But Prof Pethe is sceptical about policy intervention. “I don’t think it will work. All regional languages have their essence and will be able to survive through art, culture and cinema. But we must accept the need of the globalised world rather than playing language politics. Let’s not become islands.”

Knowing the reality, educated upper and middle class Muslims have started sending their children to English medium schools. Many of them arrange Urdu classes for kids at home to facilitate the reading of religious texts, says the principal of an Urdu school in south Mumbai.

“Even clerics and politicians who talk about promoting Urdu schools send their kids to English medium schools,” says Shabbir Ansari, head of the Muslim OBC organization. Ansari adds, “Urdu schools need to be upgraded so that poor kids get good education in their mother tongue. English medium education can be initiated from the upper primary level.”

Kanchan Srivastava, “Language of poets, but not of globalised markets?,” in DNA India, April 17, 2015. Accessed on April 17, 2015, at:

The item above written by Kanchan Srivastava and published in DNA India on April 17, 2015, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on April 17, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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