Wednesday, Dec 06, 2023

Hate Speech And The Language That Speaks Of Love: An Ode To Urdu


Hate Speech And The Language That Speaks Of Love: An Ode To Urdu

With so much hate being spewed on social media and public platforms, the language of Urdu feels like a soothing balm  

Urdu, the language of love
Urdu, the language of love Shutterstock

Language is just a medium to convey messages from one person to other and nothing else. According to Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, “Earlier, communication was only some clicking sounds, some roars and shouting that used to denote certain messages. If they saw some threat, then they would start a special kind of shouting. It became complex and formed sentences denoting special meanings, which led to complex speeches and communication networks.” The concept of pre and protohistory witnessed the evolution of languages and scripts, and this is how civilisation began. The language evolved and grew, it helped people to understand each other and that made the life easier for them. But now when we have command over multiple languages, we are unable to convey our message. This is how the concept of hate speech emerged.

Multilingual India

The SIL Ethnologue lists over 400 languages for India; 24 of these languages are spoken by over a million native speakers, and 114 by more than 10,000 (Census 2011). In this context, the multiculturalism that India sustains is one of its kind. People coexist with different languages and cultures. The nationalisation of a single language can prove to be offensive to the lingual minorities. India needs to preserve the ethos of secularism and fraternity as enshrined in our constitution. To preserve and promote the languages of the minority communities, the Indian Constitution has spoken that, “Article 30(1) provides that "all minorities whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice". Article 350A enjoins upon "every state and every local authority within the state to provide acceptable facilities for instruction in their mother tongue at the key stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups".

Fuelling toxicity

Can specialisation in a certain area prove to be toxic? Just like the creation of the nuclear atom bomb with the help of fusion and fission reactions? It can be in any language. Like the Supreme Court's warning to the Dharam Sansad in Uttarakhand or the recent case of Elon Musk calling Twitter, “Toxic Twitter”, for the amount of hate speech exchanged on the platform. As digital rights researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch, Deborah Brown, told Reuters in an email: “Twitter is not just another company. Regardless of who owns Twitter, the company has human rights, and responsibilities to respect the rights of people around the world who rely on the platform. Changes to its policies, features, and algorithms, big and small, can have disproportionate and sometimes devastating impacts, including offline violence."

Hostility and liberty

Hate speech causes distress or offends and incites hostility. Hate speech covers many forms of expressions that advocate, incite, promote, or justify hatred, violence and discrimination against a person or group of persons for a variety of reasons. India gives its citizens freedom of speech and expression, a fundamental right, which is a kind of positive liberty. There are two kinds of liberties—positive and negative. The space of negative liberty is usually very narrow. It decides things that are very personal to us: our food preferences, type of clothes or career we want to pursue. But liberty that allows restrictions is positive. Like we can enjoy our liberty by robbing someone but there are state restrictions that call theft a punishable offence. Similarly, freedom of speech and expression are positive liberties, but could transform into hate speech—a punishable crime based on CrPC and IPC. There is enough literature and cinema in diverse languages that speak of love and innocence and keep the ideals of humanity intact waning the concept of abuse of speech and language.

Poetry vs Hate speech
Poetry vs Hate speech | Credit: Shutterstock

Love in Indian literature

There are many writers and poets who have worked towards preserving love, peace and tranquillity, humanity by professing secularism. One such entity was Rabindranath Tagore, a prominent figure in Bengali literature and the first Asian recipient of the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature. Famous for his mysticism and devoutness, Tagore never shied away from criticising the intransigence in religion. Many of his poems comprise reverence for the father of the cosmos. At the same time, he disdainfully mocked the prejudice that led people to fall into conflicts and shed blood. Born on November 27, 1907, in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, Harivansh Rai Bachchan is a gem from the Chayavad (romantic) generation. He is known for Madhushala—a book of verses and for his work of selflessly promoting Hindi as the official language of India. During his stint at the government ministry, he translated some of the major works into Hindi, including the works of W.B.Yeats and texts like Othello, Rubaiyat, Macbeth, and Bhagawad Gita, among others. Apart from his other acclaimed works, the four-part serial biography, Kya Bhooloon Kya Yaad Karoon, Need Ka Nirmaan Phir, and last but not the least Dashdwaar Se Sopaan Tak, also need a mention. He passed away in January 2003. Another towering figure of modern Hindi literature was Jaishankar Prasad, born on January 30, 1889, in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. His mahakavya (epic poem) Kamayani, needs a distinct mention for its beautiful depiction of love. Prasad was deeply influenced by Vedic texts, and his poems vary from patriotic to romantic. Due to the emergence of Hindi and its aggressive promotion, Urdu—the language once patronised by Nawabs—has lost its strong presence and is on the decline. However, platforms like Rekhta are doing their bit to revive the magic of Urdu.

Rekhta, a blessing for Urdu

Rekhta has been organising Urdu literary events, including Mushaira, Nashist, Baitbaazi, promotion of young poets, and ghazal, which has successfully managed to create interest in Urdu literature across the country. On its website, Rekhta defines Urdu as “not merely a language but an entire culture unto itself and touches the heart and soul of anyone who comes in contact with it.”

Vidya Shah performs during the Sham e Ghazal on Begum Akhtar during the "Jashn-e-Virasat-e-Urdu", a festival to celebrate Urdu culture and its heritage at Central Park in Connaught Place | Credit: Getty Images

There are programmes in various categories like, Jashn-e-rekhta, Shaam-e-rekhta, Sham-e-sher, Rang-e-rekhta, Rekhta Baitbaazi, and many more. Prominent Urdu poets like Firaq Gorakhpuri, Shakeel Badyuni, Mir Taqui Mir, Imama Iqbal, Ghalib, Bashir Badr, Jaun Eliyaa, Gulzar, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Hazrat Mohani and others are celebrated on Rekhta and at the same time, people get a chance to recite their self-composed shayari/poetry. It has been a part and parcel of our culture, recited especially by people to the one they are in love with.

As Plato rightly said, “At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet.”  A sher by Ahmad Wasi is an apt conclusion for this piece:

"Woh kare baat to har lafz se Khushboo

aaye aisi boli wahi bole jise Urdu aaye"

(When they speak, the fragrance comes from each word, only those who know Urdu speak such language).

(Views expressed in this article are personal)