Hate speech and the language that speaks of love: an ode to Urdu

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Language is just a means of transmitting messages from one person to another and nothing else. According to Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, “Before, communication was just the clicks, roars and shouts that denoted certain messages. If they saw a threat, then they let out a special type of scream. It became complex, formed sentences denoting particular 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 civilization began. The language has evolved and grown, it has helped people understand each other and it has made their lives easier. But now that we have mastered several languages, we are unable to convey our message. This is how the concept of hate speech arose.

Multilingual India

The SIL Ethnologue lists over 400 languages ​​for India; 24 of these languages ​​are spoken by more than one million native speakers and 114 by more than 10,000 (2011 census). In this context, India’s multiculturalism is unique. People coexist with different languages ​​and cultures. The nationalization of a single language can be offensive to linguistic minorities. India must preserve the ethos of secularism and brotherhood as enshrined in our constitution. To preserve and promote the languages ​​of minority communities, the Constitution of India has stated that “Section 30 (1) provides that “all minorities, whether based on religion or language, have the right to create and ‘administer educational institutions of their choice’. Section 350A enjoins “each State and each local authority within the State to provide acceptable facilities for instruction in their native language at the key stage of l education for children belonging to linguistic minority groups”.

Feed the toxicity

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

hostility and freedom

Hate speech causes distress or offense and incites hostility. Hate speech covers many forms of expression that advocate, incite, promote or justify hatred, violence and discrimination against a person or a group of people for various reasons. India gives its citizens freedom of speech and expression, a fundamental right, which is a kind of positive freedom. There are two kinds of freedoms, positive and negative. The space of negative freedom is usually very narrow. It decides things that are very personal to us: our food preferences, the type of clothing or the career we want to pursue. But the freedom that allows restrictions is positive. For example, we can take advantage of our freedom by stealing from someone, but there are state restrictions that make theft a punishable offence. Likewise, freedom of speech and expression are positive freedoms, but could turn into hate speech, a punishable crime based on CrPC and IPC. There is enough literature and film in various languages ​​that speaks of love and innocence and keeps the ideals of humanity intact by diminishing the concept of abuse of speech and language.

Poetry vs Hate Speech | Credit: Shutterstock

Love in Indian Literature

Many writers and poets have worked to preserve love, peace and tranquility, 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 devotion, Tagore never hesitated to criticize the intransigence of religion. Many of his poems include a reverence for the father of the cosmos. At the same time, he disdainfully mocked the prejudices that caused people to fall into strife and shed blood. Born on November 27, 1907 in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, Harivansh Rai Bachchan is a gem of the Chayavad (romantic) generation. He is known for Madhushala-a book of verse and for his selfless work in promoting Hindi as the official language of India. During his time in government ministry, he translated some of the major works into Hindi, including the works of WBYeats and texts like othello, Rubaiyat, macbethand Bhagawad-Gita, among others. Along with his other acclaimed works, the four-part serial biography, Kya Bhooloon Kya Yaad Karoon, need Ka Nirman Phir, and last but not least Dashdwaar Se Sopaan Tak, also need a mention. He died in January 2003. Another towering figure in modern Hindi literature was Jaishankar Prasad who was born on January 30, 1889 in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. His mahakavya (epic poem) Kamayani, needs separate mention for its beautiful portrayal of love. Prasad was deeply influenced by Vedic texts and his poems range from patriotic to romantic. Due to the emergence of Hindi and its aggressive promotion, Urdu – the language once frequented by the Nawabs – has lost its strong presence and is in decline. However, platforms like Rekhta are doing their part to rekindle the magic of Urdu.

Rekhta, a blessing for Urdu

Rekhta organizes literary events in Urdu, including Mushaira, nashist, Baitbaazi, promotion of young poets and ghazal, which has succeeded in arousing interest in Urdu literature throughout the country. On her website, Rekhta defines Urdu as “not just a language but an entire culture unto itself and touches the heart and soul of anyone who comes in contact with it.”

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

There are programs in various categories like, Jashn-e-rekhta, Shaam-e-rekhta, Sham-e-sher, Rank-e-rekhta, Rekhta Baitbaazi, and much 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 in Rekhta and at the same time people have the chance to recite their self-composed shayari/poetry. It is an integral part of our culture, recited especially by people to the one they are in love with.

As Plato rightly said,In contact with 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 scent comes from every word, only those who know Urdu speak such a language).

(The opinions expressed in this article are personal)

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