Is Urdu Dying? A Fact Check

Since people nowadays generally prefer digital searching, we will discuss only this perspective in this article.
Is Urdu dying? Let's take a look.
Is Urdu dying? Let's take a look.GK Layout Desk


Among the prevalent languages of the subcontinent, Urdu is leading in terms of articles available on Wikipedia. This study nullifies the concept that it is dying.

In 1977, a well-known journalist and writer late, Kushwant Singh,called Urdu a dying language.

Decades later, and just a few months ago, while hearing the case of the Shiv Sena split, a clip related to Urdu became quite viral and a topic of discussion on social media. During the debate, Tushar Mehta, the Solicitor General of India who was pleading on behalf of the Governor of Maharashtra, read a couplet from the renowned Urdu poet Bashir Badar. It reads:

"Main chup raha to aur galat fehmiyan badhi Wo bhi suna hai usne jo maine kaha nahi" (I remained silent, and misunderstandings increased, He also heard what I did not say)

Upon this, the courtroom burst into laughter for a moment. Chief Justice D. Y. Chandrachud, who generally speaks in English, expressed his interest and asked in Urdu about the relevance of "Us ne kaha nahi" in this legal parlance. Tushar replied, "Sir! This is a couplet in Urdu that the poet said about someone else." The Chief Justice then invited Uddhav Thackeray's lawyer Kapil Sibal to intervene. Sibal made his comments and concluded the debate by saying that Urdu is a beautiful language, but it is now dying. This is a fact, and we are losing our culture.

Is Urdu dying? Let's take a look.

Recent data shows that Urdu has the highest number of articles on Wikipedia among the major languages spoken in the subcontinent. In today's rapidly digitizing business environment, delivering content to customers with the help of technology is called digitization. If we summarize the term "digitization," it means that like other businesses, journalism and education are also heading in the same direction.

You might have noticed that the newspapers you buy are also available online on their respective websites. Some require a subscription, while others are freely accessible. The news or programs you watch on TV can also be found on their YouTube channels and other social media platforms.

There are three ways to measure the development of any language: First, through newspapers and books, in which language and how many newspapers are printed and sold. Second, through TV programs in which language the public watches the news and other debates and understands. TRP is a unit of measurement for the popularity of a TV channel. Thirdly, through digital media, indicating how much content is available online in a particular language. The more articles or content available in a language, the better it performs.

Since people nowadays generally prefer digital searching, we will discuss only this perspective in this article.

In a piece in the popular English newspaper 'The Hindu,' Vignesh Radhakrishnan presented statistics on the articles available on Wikipedia. According to those charts, among the 320 world languages, English has the most Wikipedia articles. Not surprisingly, it has a total of 6,671,236 articles, with Cebuano, a regional language of the Philippines, coming in second with a total of 6,123,197 articles. Other popular languages in the world, including German (2.86 million), Swedish (2.51 million), Dutch (2.12 million), and French (25.3 million), have a good number of articles on Wikipedia. Chinese has 13.6 million articles.

Among the constitutionally recognized languages in India, Urdu has the highest number of articles available on Wikipedia. The number of articles available in Urdu is 1.91 lakh, followed by Hindi (1.57 lakh), Tamil (1.54 lakh), and Bengali (1.4 lakh).

The Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India deals with recognizing languages. So far, 24 languages are recognized in the schedule. Punjabi and Sindhi are the official languages of the two provinces of Pakistan, Punjab, and Sindh, respectively. Bengali also has the status of a recognized language in India. It is the official language of Bangladesh and the state language of the Indian state of West Bengal. Sindhi has 15,000 articles on Wikipedia. Punjabi, Malayalam, Telugu, and Marathi are state languages in the Constitution of India, with the number of articles on Wikipedia ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 each.

Urdu is also one of the languages included in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. Thus, the roots of Urdu are Indian, but due to the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, it also suffered. The unfortunate reality is that while the language was once spoken in India regardless of religion and caste and was considered a Lingua Franca, it is now unfortunately associated with Muslims in India.

Of course, Urdu is an Indo-Aryan language, and the most solid theory about its evolution is believed to be by Masood Hussain Khan. According to this idea, Urdu emerged from the dialects of Delhi and its neighboring regions. The dialects of the surrounding areas of Delhi from which Urdu developed include Braj Bhasha, Khadi Boli, Haryanvi, Kanoji, and Mewati.

Thus, Urdu came into existence centuries ago and acquired the status of the lingua franca of India. Initially, the Deccan kingdoms played a significant role in its promotion. However, the nineteenth century was a milestone in its development. In 1800, Fort William College was established in Calcutta, along with a separate department of Indian languages under the chairmanship of Gilgrisht, with a particular focus on Urdu. The primary goal of the college was to acquaint British officers working in India with Indian culture and language.

To teach the officers Urdu, then known as Hindustani, many books were translated into the language at the college, which played a crucial role in its development. In 1835, Persian lost its status as the official language of India. Up until then, Persian had been the official language. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that Muslim rulers made special efforts to promote Urdu. If that were the case, Urdu would have been the official language instead of Persian. Linguist Suneti Kumar Chatterji rightly stated, "If Muslims had not come to India, the modern Indo-Aryan languages would have evolved, but their literary development would have been delayed."

In the 19th century, Urdu represented a secular linguistic revolution against Persian, Arabic, and Sanskrit in the subcontinent. It was promoted under the leadership of the British government. How unfortunate it is that Urdu, once a secular linguistic revolution, is now associated with Muslims and madrassas in India.

Urdu is an additional official language in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Telangana. At the same time, it is the first official language in Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistan is the only country outside India where Urdu serves as the official language and is used as the lingua franca throughout the country. It is also protected in the constitution of South Africa. Additionally, due to Indians and Pakistanis living in other countries, Urdu is spoken worldwide.

Rekhta, the most prominent Urdu website, is also based in India. Data on the availability of articles on Wikipedia contradicts the claim that Urdu is dying. According to this data, Urdu has the highest ranking among languages spoken in the subcontinent.

Author is a research scholar from the School of Social Sciences at JNU, New Delhi. He can be reached at:

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