On 20 October, popular clothing brand, FabIndia, removed their Diwali ad featuring their latest clothing collection, titled ‘Jashn-e-Riwaaz’. The Urdu titled campaign offended Hindu nationalist bloc who accused the clothing brand of ‘damaging the Hindu festival of Diwali’.
“As we welcome the festival of love and light, Jashn-e-Riwaaz, by FabIndia is a collection that beautifully pays homage to Indian culture…” FabIndia’s tweet was removed immediately following #boycottFabIndia campaign.
“This deliberate attempt of abrahamisation of Hindu festivals, depicting models without traditional Hindu attires, must be called out,” tweeted Tejasvi Surya, national president of BJP Yuva Morcha.
The title neither impressed Urdu enthusiasts.
FabIndia is not the first brand landing in controversy for adapting Urdu, one of the official languages of India. In Hindutva eco chambers, Urdu is “foreign” and associated with “Muslims”.
“I would rather see FabIndia’s usage of Urdu tagline for campaign as an exotic case of misrepresentation,” says Kurram Murad, a young poet and Urdu tutor.
The brand misspelled “rivaaj” as “rivaaz”. The title — jashn e rivaaz— would not be right on so many syntactic levels of Urdu.
“But one can only have scope of such academic scrutiny,” mocks Murad. The debate was overtly Islamophobic, revisiting centuries old dispute about the belongingness of Urdu language.
“Everything that is related to muslims is unbearable, obviously there is an idea that Urdu is the language of the Muslims.”
Since Hindu nationalist regime got into power in 2014, Urdu has been vanishing from public spaces. The hostility to use of the language has increased as majoritarian interests are “against Urdu”.
“They are using tools to establish their supremacy, to establish their anarchy. See when you are targeting a language you’re not only targeting the language but the whole community also,” Kurram told Maktoob.
The word Urdu is a word derived from the Turkish language which means the camp or royal tent. But it doesn’t mean the language is foreign. .
“This is where Urdu was born. But in modern history, two languages were mixed with religions to give a political colour,” says Azhar Iqbal, a famous Urdu poet.
The birth of Urdu in India is considered to be in the 12th century. At that time the popular name of this language was not Urdu but Hindavi. It also has different names like Zaban-e-Hind, Rekhta, Zaban-e-Dehli, Hindi, Gujri, Deccani, Zaban-e-Urdu-e-Mualla and Urdu.
According to the National-Encyclopedian, (2010) figures, Urdu is at the 21st place among the first languages spoken in the world. Due to the fusion of other languages in the Urdu language, this language has become localized, even its influence is seen in the Urdu language of Pakistan. Thus there has been a local difference in the Urdu language.
Samsur Rahman Farooqi , an Urdu poet and Professor says that out of 100 percent of the words spoken in the commonly spoken Urdu language, 60 percent came from Sanskrit.
“It means Sanskrit is the mother of Urdu”.
But the stigma around Urdu began in British India where Hindu nationalists actively campaigned to remove Urdu as the administrative language. In the last years of the 18th century, when illiteracy was about 97 percent, Urdu was the language of administration, court and all other government functions in the country.
India took two years after independence in deciding to choose the official language. In 1950, India replaced Urdu and gave it the place of English.
Since, Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, There are been a spike in efforts to erase Urdu from India. At times identifying with Urdu name has led to people getting targeted for hate crimes.
“In railway stations, where name boards have three languages — English, Urdu and regional language —you see Urdu handwriting is erased, or cut, by applying white colour over it,” Murad explains. “This whole enmity against Urdu is just to targeting a community”.
“Renaming or deletion of stations where it is written in Urdu is not a new thing. Whenever the rules have changed, people have used it for political gains,” says Iqbal, relating to the ongoing campaign to change Urdu names in Uttar Pradesh.
Rahul Jha, Managing Editor of Rekhta Books, says that the number of Urdu readers is increasing. “Since the annual gathering of Jashn e Rekhta started in 2015, a lot of non-Muslims started joining and many of them started reading Urdu”.
“In recent years, brands and organisations have been targeted for expressing the feeling in Urdu language, which is very unfortunate”. He says the boycott has “increased” Urdu’s popularity, Although not everyone agree with it.
Critics of BJP regime has observed that there is a dip in population with Udru mother tongue documented in recent census. The push for Hindi as the official language of India has pressued people in rural India to identify Hindi as their language.
“You’re not only targeting the language but the whole community,” adds Murad.