The 2011 Census of Language reveals some startling fact. Urdu still registers the presence of pan Indian speakers. Apart from Konarki, Urdu is the only language that has registered a fall in the number of speakers. The fall in the number of Urdu speakers is a reversal of the growth rate that was recorded in earlier census data.
The number of Urdu speakers was 2.86 crore in 1971. It increased to over 3.5 crores in 1981 and a decade later, it reached 4.4 crores. The 2001 census recorded 5.15 crore Urdu speakers. But in 2011, the figure dropped to 5.07 crore. One must, however, note that the data aforementioned is people registering language as their mother tongue. A lot of Indians understand Urdu according to varying level of comprehensibility but don’t register it as their mother tongue.
A glaring statistic is that South India has been witnessing an increase in Urdu speakers, contrary to North India. Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana put together amount to more than 2.15 crore Urdu speakers which is almost double the number of Urdu speakers in UP.
The advent of neoliberalism and globalisation has been a witness to the growing marginal role of the state. To believe that the state is going to promote or aid substantially Urdu is defying the reality. Urdu, however, is recognised as the state official language in five states of India.
Apart from the politicisation of the issue of Urdu’s decline, self-help is the route lovers of Urdu must take. Elite speakers of the language have been involved in spreading this language through organising Urdu cultural festivals and Rekhta, one of the world’s biggest Urdu cultural festival in India, is a manifestation of that.
Publishing houses through magazines, journals, papers, etc. are helping the cause. The advent of technology through globalisation throws a great opportunity for the spread of the language. Online platforms are widely used for learning Urdu and they are also helpful in providing translated versions of Urdu literary works. Pakistani TV serials are loved in India and have become one of the means of learning the language.
Online Urdu journalism and the Urdu film industry, through theatres and films, creating good content can help in spreading it. Urdu still holds the potential to keep it not only alive but flourishing.
Youngsters could be provided short term courses on learning Urdu along with the familiarity with its cultural resources.