State’s experiments with Urdu

Hyderabad, October 31: Subsequent to the Centre’s 1913 resolution on educational policy encouraging regional universities, Mysore was the first of the Indian states to establish an institution of higher learning outside the jurisdiction of British administered India in 1916. Hyderabad followed soon thereafter with the Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan issuing a farman on April 26, 1917 to initiate action for the establishment of a university at Hyderabad which eventually culminated in the founding of the Osmania University by a Royal Charter in 1918.

The notable difference was that Osmania would be the first university in India imparting education in the vernacular, having adopted Urdu as its medium of instruction. The move attracted the displeasure of the Imperial administration which was taken by surprise at this initiative which went against their policy of establishing English as the sole medium of higher learning in the sub-continent. The Nizam’s government had to resort to some astute diplomacy in convincing the British that the proposed academic institution was meant “merely to supplement, not supplant” the English medium Nizam College, then affiliated to the University of Madras.

Ravindranath Tagore, on learning about the Osmania proposal, lauded the efforts in a letter to Sir Akbar Hydri, the then prime minister of Hyderabad. Gurudev declared his whole hearted support claiming that imparting education through Urdu medium would serve as a morale booster to others outside the state of Hyderabad, “who cry in the wilderness despised by the prudent” in their quest for similar educational emancipation of the masses.

The Osmania University was thus the embodiment of a dream of Indians in colonial times to have a facility imparting contemporary education in vernacular languages. Unfortunately it remained the sole such institution for quite some time. As late as 1944, when the university was celebrating its silver jubilee, C. Rajagopalachari, in his convocation address was both appreciative of Osmania’s achievements and also critical that this successful experiment was not replicated at other places in the country. He lamented the fact that there was no university that had made Hindi the medium of instruction qualifying for degrees in Sciences and Humanities and praised the efforts of the Nizam by claiming that “Hyderabad has rendered signal service to the lingua franca of India by its bold and successful experiment in Urdu” which he defined as the “rich joint product of Muslim and Hindu contact”.

Rajaji was critical of the fact that every other university throughout India, including those that were “born in the new-found consciousness and renaissance of India” like the Andhra, Mysore and Annamalai universities, used English language for instruction. He, however, stressed that his observations were not criticism of the failures of his compatriots but rather an admiration of the courage shown by Hyderabad and that the Osmania experiment would enable others “to overcome the difficulties and set aside the illusion, which is the greatest of the difficulties, that there is anything insuperable in giving the highest instruction through any one of the great languages of India”. Rajaji hailed Osmania as the true Vidyapeeth, the only Swadeshi university of India.

It is ironic that when the proponents of Swadeshi ideals took over the administration of Hyderabad, the first true Vidyapeeth became a prime target of retribution being treated as a symbol of autocratic rule rather than the icon of vernacular education that had received such enthusiastic support from Indian literati. The change in medium of instruction, hailed as a harbinger of empowerment for the masses, checked further development of education through the vernacular. That the change was from Urdu to English and not to Telugu, which was the language of the majority, is in itself clinching evidence of the unrestrained bigotry of the new regime. The action was in fact an instrument of suppression and subjugation rather than the vehicle of empowerment as claimed by the new administration. Further evidence of the bias is clear from a comparison of the old and present monograms of the Osmania University.

That the attempted subjugation of Hyderabad achieved nothing but the alienation of a large section of society is evident from the problems which are being encountered in keeping anti-social tendencies in check today. It is time that we acknowledged that these disgruntled elements are fast turning into incurable sores and will eventually take a toll on the health of the state itself if left unchecked through concrete policies ensuring integration into the mainstream.