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Look who is studying Urdu

Non-Muslims are being appointed in large numbers as Urdu teachers. In many districts of UP, their numbers are up to 50 per cent, reports Neelesh Misra.

india Updated: Sep 30, 2006 02:56 IST

Her head covered demurely with her sari, Anamika Pandey quickly finished her morning chores, waiting to begin the most important part of her day: her Urdu tuition.

In a few minutes, her teacher, 80-year-old Maulvi Anwar Beg, walked in for the hour-long daily session, something that would have been unimaginable until some months ago in the remote village in Uttar Pradesh.

With Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav announcing thousands of new jobs for Urdu teachers and translators, there are simply not enough qualified Muslim candidates available. Pandey, 22, like Hindus in many other villages, wants a share of the jackpot of 5,000 Urdu teachers and more than 3,000 translators in a state where unemployment runs high.

“Non-Muslims are being appointed in large numbers as Urdu teachers. In many districts of UP, their numbers are up to 50 per cent,” Yasin Ali Usmani, chairman of the state government’s Urdu Academy, told Hindustan Times. “This is very welcome. Urdu had lost out because it came to be identified only with one religion.”

Still, there were 1,700 vacancies among the 5,000 jobs available for Urdu teachers, according to government figures in July.

So Maulvi Beg is suddenly in great demand, and he is reminded of British colonial times when Urdu was part of official communication and many Hindus knew the script.

“A lot of people are asking me to teach them because Urdu is rising again,” he said. Beg has 30 students; six of them are Hindus. He has had to turn down several Hindu students; his age does not allow him to teach in more than five villages, where he goes on his rickety bicycle.

“She is a very good student. She is studying Class III books now, and I think she will know Urdu up to high school standards in a year,” Beg said.

“Urdu is in great demand, but there are not enough people who know the language,” she said. “Maybe I can get a job as a teacher.”

Yadav’s job bonanza seems part of an aggressive campaign to attract Muslim votes ahead of the state elections next year. It includes Rs 118 crore in scholarships for Muslim students this year, free textbooks from classes I through VIII, computers at 300 of the state’s 1,200 madrasas, and assistance of Rs 20,000 to Muslim women who want to join universities.

But the impact of this and years of other similar policies is yet to touch the lives of the state’s Muslims, experts say. “The condition of Muslims is the same as that of Dalits… above the high school level, educated Muslims are extremely low in proportion,” said AK Singh, director of the Giri Institute of Development Studies in Lucknow.