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Pak Tea House » Bangladesh, History, Languages, Liberal Democratic Pakistan » Jinnah And Urdu-Bengali Controversy

Jinnah And Urdu-Bengali Controversy

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

This is a quick blog to correct a historical fallacy.  A false impression persists – thanks to people like Amar Jaleel and the like who in the right royal Urdu press fashion have a hard time sticking to the facts- that Jinnah- who according to Jaleel was drugged or cornered into making the speech in question- somehow told Bengalis to outlaw Bengali language when he declared Urdu to be the state language of Pakistan.  This is historically inaccurate. This blog is not to discuss whether Jinnah’s declaration was politically suave or naïve but to set the record straight about what it was that Jinnah said which laid foundations for the Urdu-Bengali discord in Pakistan and led to Pakistan ultimately declaring both Urdu and Bengali the “national languages” of Pakistan.  Ironically Jinnah did not even use the term “national language”, drawing the very valid distinction between a state language or lingua franca and a national language.

The two speeches that are  at the center of controversy were made on 21st and 24th of March, 1948 at a public meeting and then at Dacca University convention.   In both speeches Jinnah took a consistent stand:

  1.  The people of Bengal were free to choose Bengali as the official language of the Bengal province.   This he said very clearly and unambiguously on both occasions and the premier of Bengal – Khawaja Nazimuddin also reaffirmed this.
  2. Urdu alone would be the state language and the lingua franca of the Pakistan state.
  3. Bengali – like other provincial languages- could be the official language of the East Bengal province but not the Pakistan state and the Pakistan center (Jinnah’s words).

 (See Pages 150 and 158 of “Jinnah Speeches And Statements 1947-1948” Millennium edition Oxford University Press-  he said “Realizing, however, that the statement that your Prime Minister made on the language controversy, left no room for agitation, in so far as it conceded the right of the people of this province to choose Bengali as their official language if they so wished, they changed their tactics. They started demanding that Bengali should be the state language of the Pakistan centre, and since they could not overlook the obvious claims of Urdu as the official language of a Muslim state, they proceeded to demand that both Bengali and Urdu should be the state languages of Pakistan.  Make no mistake about it.  There can only be one state language if the component parts of this state are to march forward in unison, and in my opinion,  that can only be Urdu”)

It may be remembered that in this - wrong or right- Jinnah’s policy was identical to India’s policy of constitutionally elevating Hindi and English.   Jinnah did not go even that far and described in the proper constitutional manner Urdu as the state language not a national one.  Urdu was to be - in the real sense of the word- a lingua franca for the diverse people of Pakistan.

The problem with Amar Jaleel – who recently appeared on Vussatullah’s show on Dawn News Urdu Service-  is that in his zeal for an otherwise good cause,  he liberally twists the facts.   For example in the show in question he declared amongst other things – as obiter dicta – that Gandhi had fasted in his last days to have wheat exported to Pakistan.  Frankly I don’t know where he got this from.  In reality however Pakistan connection in Gandhi’s fast was purported to be vis a vis Indian government’s refusal to give Pakistan its share of the treasury.   However what was hilarious was his claim that Jinnah was cornered by people to make this statement.

Amar Jaleel’s cause is righteous.   All Pakistani languages must be equally respected and given an equal status in the republic as languages of the people of Pakistan.  However should he murder history and discredit himself by repeating this lie or does he believe that the longer it goes unnoticed, it might one day be taken up as the truth?

I have always felt that the writers of the Urdu press are given to exaggeration and embellishment, even if they are not right-wingers and pro-Jamaat-e-Islami fanatics  but even self styled champions of leftists, liberals and ethno-nationalists.   In this respect at least one hopes that Dawn News Urdu Service will bring some balance to the force.

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124 Responses to "Jinnah And Urdu-Bengali Controversy"

  1. Majumdar India Unknow Browser Unknow Os says:

    Civvie mian,

    ….aziz has documented the mistreatment of bengalis, right from the time of sir syed,…..

    That reminds me of a couple of famous speeches made by Sir Syed in 1887. I will quote some extracts

    Over all races, not only over Mahomedans but over Rajas of high position and the brave Rajputs who have not forgotten the swords of their ancestors, would be placed as ruler a Bengali who at sight of a table knife would crawl under his chair.

    I can picture Vajra da offending PMA sb on some debate and the annoyed PMA sb lunging at Vajra da with a knife…..

    The whole Council will consist of Babu So-and-so Mitter, Babu So-and-So Ghose, and Babu So-and-so Chuckerbutty

    Regards

  2. ylh United Kingdom Unknow Browser Unknow Os says:

    Majumdar,

    Just to add to BC’s point… Jinnah on the same tour also spoke at length praising the martial spirit of Bengalis (I think it was at the ceremony of the East Bengal rifles) and slammed the British martial race theory. I have the speech somewhere…I’ll quote it later tonight.

  3. Majumdar India Unknow Browser Unknow Os says:

    Yasser Pai,

    Jinnah on the same tour also spoke at length praising the martial spirit of Bengalis

    I am told that the J-man had a great sense of humour and irony among his many qualities.

    Regards

  4. vajra India Unknow Browser Unknow Os says:

    @karunx

    It was intended to be a homeland for Muslims, which would inspire other Muslims, in Hindu majority areas, the bulk of the land mass, to live with a certain degree of – what was that phrase again? – confidence and self-assurance.

    How different is this demand from that of Telengana? Does it mean we have to support any statehood demand based on any identity or perceived injustice.

    No, we do not have to equate each and every demand as it occurs with all the previous ones that have occurred.

    It stands to reason that each has to be evaluated on merit.

    Since you mentioned Telengana, does it not have merit, according to you? Has it not been receiving sufficient political attention? Does that not seem to you to indicate that this is a serious demand and is taken seriously?

    Obviously, if there is a serious demand, it should be considered. The situation that is being sought to be reviewed is the reorganisation of states in 1956; there was nothing sacred about it, and there is no apparent reason not to consider a change in the configuration of the administrative divisions of the Indian nation.

    Considering also the response to identity definition in Uttarakhand, Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand, don’t you think your question is answered by recent events themselves?

    btw, the following comment was not in good taste:
    It was never intended to be a partition, if you have read anything at all, anywhere at all.

    As for that, we have had such extensive and detailed discussions on the nature of the events of 1947 that any misinterpretation can no longer be seen as accidental. Such misinterpretations will inevitably be seen as deliberate baiting.

    On the subject of tasteful writing, I suggest you re-read your own earlier bad-tempered, belligerent and frequently offensive posts. There is not much good taste displayed on any of those.

    To be honest, responding to your comments is an unpleasant chore. How I wish this would cease.

  5. karunx Singapore Unknow Browser Unknow Os says:

    @vajra

    Sorry, I do not agree with you on this, on taking federal polity to farcical levels

    As for that, we have had such extensive and detailed discussions on the nature of the events of 1947 that any misinterpretation can no longer be seen as accidental. Such misinterpretations will inevitably be seen as deliberate baiting.
    **********************************************

    I am sorry no conclusions have been drawn from that and certainly does not absolve either ML or INC for the tragedy of partition.

    I am not sure whether this elaborate discussions concluded partition was right or wrong. (it just tried to apportion the blame of partition fairly.)

    To be honest, responding to your comments is an unpleasant chore. How I wish this would cease

    Well since i have already oulined that i differ on my views of whether partion was necessary/not necessary, rite/wrong , you may desist from trying to proseltyse me to your world views, which implies any further discussion on this front is not required.

    Thanks for your engaging write ups.

  6. vajra India Unknow Browser Unknow Os says:

    @karun

    Well since i have already oulined that i differ on my views of whether partion was necessary/not necessary, rite/wrong , you may desist from trying to proseltyse me to your world views, which implies any further discussion on this front is not required.

    Thanks for your engaging write ups.

    Your facts are on part with your attitude; both are defective.

    Nobody tried to proselytise you (I cannot think of any good reason why anyone should); you asked a question – of a sort that should surely have been unnecessary if you had been paying attention or had been trying to absorb what was in front of you – and I answered. With patience out of proportion for the recipient’s deserts, I might add.

    The passage where you sought an answer is copied below, so that you stop thinking that people have nothing better to do than to search you out and swing your enormous intellect to their way of thinking.


    karunx
    February 24, 2010 at 1:41 pm @ hayyer and vajra

    Subcontinental identities are forever forming and differentiating. As you peel or paper over one level of difference another emerges. It is an expression of the inability of sub-continental types to form any consolidated identity whatever.

    and thats why perhaps partition ‘based’ on certain ‘cultural/religio’ identity at that point of time was not a good idea. Right?

    Although you obviously are unaware of these niceties, it is civil to reply to a direct question, no matter how one may regret the loss of time and the waste of effort.

  7. karunx Singapore Unknow Browser Unknow Os says:

    @vajra

    you can possibly live with contradictions and very apparent hypocrisy in your views.

    If you really read out the answer you gave to my ‘telengana’/'pakistan’ question, its like giving no answer at all.

    so according to you everything has to be seen in a piece meal fashion with rationality!!!. thats your right vs wrong?

    Pls do not try to be politically correct and rational at the same time. They dont gel together.

    If at all you want to retort to this, pls dont be needlessly abusive.

  8. Sameet United States Unknow Browser Unknow Os says:

    @Karunx,

    Sorry to butt in on your rather interesting conversation with Vajra, but with regard to the following statement of yours:

    “so according to you everything has to be seen in a piece meal fashion with rationality!!!thats your right vs wrong?”…

    What’s wrong in seeing things rationally? Why should everything be forced to be encompassed into one (probably incoherent?) mega narrative?

  9. vajra India Unknow Browser Unknow Os says:

    @karun


    you can possibly live with contradictions and very apparent hypocrisy in your views.

    Which contradiction did you have particularly in mind? Would you mind pointing it out as a horrible lesson for the populace at large?

    If the hypocrisy of my views is quite so apparent, why not show which view, or which views are hypocritical, and in what way?

    Could we have some facts and concrete material in place of these sizzling noises?


    If you really read out the answer you gave to my ‘telengana’/’pakistan’ question, its like giving no answer at all.

    I am afraid that should rightly apply to your response, not to my original answer to your ‘Telengana’/'Pakistan’ .

    I had stated the following (abbreviated here, all the better to see what was stated, and to show how baseless your counter is):

    1. There is no need to consider each demand for autonomy in a uniform fashion. Each needs to be considered separately, on merit.

    2. The demand for Telengana does have merit. It is being considered seriously, except by some lunatics who wish to retain the status quo due to chauvinism of a terribly provincial kind.

    3. Indian states can be re-constituted quite easily. None of them is a sacred cow, most having been put together in 1956.

    4. Indian states have been re-constituted since 1956. The Punjab was divided into the Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. Assam has been divided into seven components. Finally, recently, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh were constituted.

    Which part of this amounts to “giving no answer at all“? Just out of curiousity, do you actually read what you write?

    so according to you everything has to be seen in a piecemeal fashion with radicalisk Pls do not try to be politically correct and rational at the same time. They dont gel together.

    Yes. Everything has to be logical I believe.

    I am glad to say that neither of your last two sentences could make sense to me.

  10. karunx Singapore Unknow Browser Unknow Os says:

    @vajra.

    The tone of your answer suggets all demands for statehood should be met.

    However pls note acc. to many analysts Creation of Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh was a folly, Uttaranchal perhaps was a success.

    what iam trying to point out to you is states can be constituted flexibly and on aregular basis, which is why this question is of secondary importance and is being treated as such. It is not as if people of Telengana have been denied ‘fundamental rights’ nor are they being discriminated in jobs/education within Andhra because they are ‘telengana’.

    Well the same argument holds true for vivisection of undidvided india. The ‘fundamental rights’ and ‘opportunity to education/living’ would not have been trampled even under an all Indian congress regime.

    and since the question of statehood/identity was flexible it was not a necessary and sufficient condition to break the nation.

    now questioning pakistan national identity to be a folly or wise decision may or may not be politically correct especially at this site, but perhaps as a sign of maturity even this topic should not be considered a taboo and am sure this is not a closed chapter yet. The jusry is still out on this.

  11. karunx Singapore Unknow Browser Unknow Os says:

    @Sameet

    No no one is forcing me or you to adopt a one and all encompassing strategy, but i am questioning whether one strategy namely

    “Subcontinental identities are forever forming and differentiating. As you peel or paper over one level of difference another emerges. It is an expression of the inability of sub-continental types to form any consolidated identity whatever”

    is being consistently applied across two scenarios, Telengana/Pakistan.

    Perhaps all of us should ask the author of this quote Mr. Hayyer himself, of what he thinks of this.

  12. vajra India Unknow Browser Unknow Os says:

    @karun

    The tone of my answer indicates that all demands for statehood should be considered. Considered on merit, actually, as my answer indicates clearly.

    Unfortunately in your forced attempts to link the happenings and the situation of today to the happenings and the situation prevailing sixty to sixty-five years ago, it is obviously necessary for you to ignore what is being stated by others that is inconvenient for your own arguments.

    As an example, please consider the clear evidence of my own words, which you have, intentionally or otherwise, distorted:

    1. There is no need to consider each demand for autonomy in a uniform fashion. Each needs to be considered separately, on merit.

    2. The demand for Telengana does have merit. It is being considered seriously, except by some lunatics who wish to retain the status quo due to chauvinism of a terribly provincial kind.

    3. Indian states can be re-constituted quite easily. None of them is a sacred cow, most having been put together in 1956.

    This indicates very clearly that three of your statements really are superfluous or are misleading:

    * I have not suggested that all demands should be met. Please read point 1 again; which part of ‘considered on merit’ is not clear to you? And which part of that sounds as if the consideration apart, the decision should be in favour of formation of a new state?

    * Obviously if this consideration on merit is not followed, mistakes will happen. I am not sure how you or the critics you have cited have come to the glib conclusion that Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh were mistakes, and would be inclined to believe that any reasonable analyst would allow more time for the situation to become clearer, instead of jumping to conclusions.

    * In any case, if states are reconstituted on whims and fancies, they will not be successful; that is why consideration of merit is required.

    * Finally, I do not know in how many different ways my points 3 and 4 can be interpreted, and why you found it necessary to assure us solemnly and earnestly that “what iam trying to point out to you is states can be constituted flexibly and on aregular basis, which is why this question is of secondary importance and is being treated as such.”

    Could you explain why you are trying to point out facts which have immediately prior to your writing been brought to your notice?

    The rest, unfortunately, appears to be fairly well-refined non sequiturs; certainly well-refined, just as certainly non sequiturs.

    First, the people of Telengana might not agree with you that their access to employment is not hampered within Andhra, that they are indeed being discriminated (sic) in jobs/education within Andhra because they are ‘telengana’. The young man who misguidedly set himself on fire and died of his burns did so precisely because he saw his chances of a secure job vanish with the unkept promises for a Telengana State.

    It was never about fundamental rights, it was always about domination, about submersion in an alien culture. It was about the needs, hopes and aspirations of an identity group being challenged and suppressed by a dominant group which either seeks to co-opt that first identity group, or to deny its existence, or to assert that it has no reason to agitate, having no genuine grievances to display. It was this boa constrictor victim fate that exercises the imaginations and the passion of the Telengana people, it was also this that left the Muslim nation shaken and sceptical about a unified India.

    You have frequently asked that you should be treated with more respect and kindness. It is difficult.

    To demonstrate why, let us take the offending three and a half paras of your mail:

    Well the same argument holds true for vivisection of undidvided india. The ‘fundamental rights’ and ‘opportunity to education/living’ would not have been trampled even under an all Indian congress regime.

    What makes you say that? Can you not see for yourself, even without the evidence of official government commissions of enquiry, the heart-rending reality that it is the Brahmins and upper castes that rule the roost? Leaving aside Muslims, even scheduled castes, as well as tribals of both varieties, have risen up in anger and are now, even as you write your glib, dismissive, smug descriptions of a perfect heaven that never existed and will not in future unless we all struggle to bring it about?

    and since the question of statehood/identity was flexible it was not a necessary and sufficient condition to break the nation.

    And who declared this flexible? How and where did you establish this?

    Please try to remember that forming a state, or a geographical entity, does not by itself constitute a protection of identity. As you yourself pointed out, the formation of Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh is criticised today. It is criticised because simply setting aside some districts and printing a Gazette notification creating a state does not amount to a recognition and a protection of identity.

    The flexibility of the Indian Constitution with regard to the formation of a state does not amount to satisfaction of the identity needs of a group. There is far, far more to be achieved. A link cannot be drawn between a state and an identity; creation of the state which will house the identity group is only a beginning to the task of freeing the identity group in question, not the end.

    Is it not fair that you should present your arguments and subject them to scrutiny and to refutation and rebuttal before drawing conclusions from them?

    now questioning pakistan national identity to be a folly or wise decision may or may not be politically correct especially at this site, but perhaps as a sign of maturity even this topic should not be considered a taboo and am sure this is not a closed chapter yet. The jusry is still out on this.

    Questioning a state that has existed for sixty years is a mark of maturity? You are to be congratulated on the maturity of the suggestion.

    I should imagine that a sign of maturity which is even more meaningful is to understand the nature of identity formation and recognition, and the subsequent creation of identity politics which furthers these issues.

  13. a j khan Pakistan Unknow Browser Unknow Os says:

    The problem is not what Jinnah said, but the attitude of Urdu lovers, who made this language controversial.
    In India you will see Hindi- Urdu controversy, In then East Pakistan it was Bangla Urdu controversy, today in Sindh, it is Urdu- Sindhi controversy.
    No one can impose a language. Urdu speaking people think that it is their right to impose Urdu, where as all others think, it is not so. To give it a tall position, it is some time equated with the existenance of Pakistan, other time it is made the language of Islam.
    Urdu has played a divisive role in India, Bangla Desh and Pakistan. It should be taken as language of the Indian Mohajirs and nothing more than that.

  14. blunderer Bangladesh Unknow Browser Unknow Os says:

    The argument/s on this page makes my head spin. No wonder governments of the time didnt want to argue the idea — they would never have finished and halfway through would have descended to fights no doubt. Having read through the above one feels that the best thing for the subcontinent would have been the continuance of the British Raj.

  15. URDU MEEN PEES KIA JAY

  16. Hats off to The Freedom Fighters of Bangladesh (মুক্তিজুদ্ধের জওান্দের সালাম যানাই !). Discrimination was clear from the speech itself that Urdu would be the language of major importance in Pakistan state. That was the reason Bengali’s were frowned. Bengali’s can tolerate anything but a Bengali can never tolerate disrespect to our LANGUAGE, LAND & CULTURE of BENGAL.

    Today in West Bengal, urdu is being a lot of importance which is another cause for concern cos the language of BENGAL is BANGLA and Not URDU.
    With All due respect to URDU as a language of North India n Pakistan.
    Proud To be Bengali… !
    Joy Bangla…!

  17. zubaeerul islam Bangladesh Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    just remember that Bangladeshies were majority in number in accordance with the total population of the then EAST+WEST Pakistan. Now just think what should be the national language? The one of the majority or not?

    Let not argue in this topic anymore because you can never understand the feelings of us. The nation which can cause such a genocide and haven’t even begged pardon for this heinous activity, we expect nothing from them.

    Just remember one thing, the curse of 3000000 brothers and fathers, 200000 raped mothers and sisters, we will never forget them. The curse of 160000000 BANGLADESHIES will always be on Pakistan. We don’t hate new generation Pakistanies cause they haven’t done anything but remember, our nation will never forget your ancestors.

    Tell me one thing, does your history books have enough details of 1971??????? I know, the answer is NO. Because those who have written those books are also ashamed of 1971!

  18. zubaeerul islam Bangladesh Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    এখানে যে বাঙালি ভাইরা পোস্ট দিয়েছেন তাদের উদ্দেশ্যে,

    ভাই, ওদেরকে কোন যুক্তি বুঝাতে পারবেন না কারণ তারা ওইসব জারজদের ঔরসজাত সন্তান যারা আজ থেকে ৬১ বছর আগে “বাংলা” এবং ৪২ বছর আগে আমাদের “দেশ”-কে অস্বীকার করে। তাদের থেকে আমরা ‘৫২তে বাংলা এবং ‘৭১ এ দেশ কেড়ে নিয়ে ১৬ডিসেম্বর “বাংলাদেশ” পেয়েছি। অন্ধকে যতোই চেষ্টা করেন আলো দেখাতে পারবেন না।

    “জয় বাংলা”

    “তুমি কে, আমি কে?…… বাঙালি…… বাঙালি”

    “তোমার আমার ঠিকানা, পদ্মা-মেঘনা-যমুনা”

  19. zubaeerul islam Bangladesh Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I’ve enough controlled my tongue yet. But Pakistanies do you feel pain to write and call it BANGLADESH? I’ve noticed you are still using East Pakistan….. We hate to bear the name of Pakistan in our forehead.

  20. azam khan United Arab Emirates Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Just remember one thing, the curse of 3000000 brothers and fathers, 200000 raped mothers and sisters, we will never forget them

    +it is all bullshit.u are liar and propagandist no.1.u(mukti bahini) first killed urdu speaking biharis.around the same number were killed by pak army.u also raped thousands of urdu speaking girls.all figure are hyped and fabricated.military action continued only for 9 months in which last 6 months they were hiding for their protection.how they could kill 3 million.this is lie.where are their graves.submit the list.
    allah will punish u for speaking lie.haseena too is big liar.she will have same end of mujeeb.

  21. azam khan United Arab Emirates Internet Explorer Windows says:

    urdu speaking and bangladeshees have equal right over east pakistan.they replaced hindu bengalee who left bangladesh.india.so they had right over the land.brhmnst of india created the crisis.

  22. zubaeerul islam Bangladesh Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Check international reports and then tell whatever you want. I bet you cannot even prove any BIHARI GIRL who was raped by any BANGALI.

  23. [...] up to:a b Yasser Latif Hamdani (February 22, 2010). “Jinnah And Urdu-Bengali Controversy”. Pakistan Tea House. Retrieved 17 April [...]

  24. gani Pakistan Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    pakistan zindaabad

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