Status of Urdu in India

Based on Analysis of Language Census 2001

Syed Shahabuddin

On December 13, 2007 the Census of India has released the Language Data of Census 2001, after an incomprehensible delay of more than six years. It is yet to be published in book form but it is available on the official website of the Registrar General of India (censusindia.gov.in) and on CD. The Census covers 22 Scheduled Languages and 86 Non-Scheduled Languages.

Language-wise Break-up of Population 2001: Position of Urdu ACCORDING to the available data, the number of persons who returned these 22 languages as their mother tongue, and 70 languages grouped with them, as well as 86 Non-Scheduled Languages and the percentage they form in the total population of India are given in Table I (for all 22 Scheduled Languages) and Table IA (linked only to seven languages with more than one million speakers). Table IB gives other languages grouped with Schedule 8 languages. Table IC focuses on Hindi and gives the number of persons speaking 26 languages (above one million) grouped with Hindi.

Urdu occupies the sixth position among the Scheduled Languages after Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Marathi and Tamil but above Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Oriya, Punjabi and Assamese. Only 13 out of 22 have more than 10 million speakers.

In terms of percentage of national population, Urdu forms 5.01 per cent of the total population, a decline since 1991. Urdu has no other language grouped with it.

Table ID gives the State-wise division of 10,000 persons by Principal Language, Hindi/Urdu. The Urdu speaking population is concentrated (above one per cent of the national Urdu-speaking population) in the 10 States of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal (in alphabetical order) as shown in Table II. An overwhelming proportion of the Urdu speaking population lives in the six States of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Jharkhand (85.8 per cent of national Urdu speaking population). Other four major Urdu-speaking States, namely, West Bengal, MP, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan constitute 8.7 per cent, to make 94.3 per cent, living in 10 States.


Basic Data on Scheduled Languages


Sl.No. Scheduled Language No. of Persons who declared the National of the language as their mother tongue (in millions) % Population 2010 (1991)
1. Hindi 422.1 41.03 (39.29)
2. Bengali 83.4 8.11 (8.30)
3. Telugu 74.0 7.19 (7.87)
4. Marathi 71.9 6.99 (7.45)
5. Tamil 60.89 5.91 (6.32)
6. Urdu 51.5 5.01 (5.18 )
7. Gujarati 46.1 4.48 (4.85)
8. Kannada 37.9 3.69 (3.91)
9. Malayalam 33.1 3.21 (3.62)
10. Oriya 33.0 3.21 (3.35)
11. Punjabi 29.1 2.83 (2.79)
12. Assamese 13.2 1.28 (1.56)
13. Maithili 12.2 1.18 (0.93)
14. Santhali 6.5 0.63 (0.62)
15. Kashmiri 5.5 0.54
16. Nepali 2.9 0.28 (0.25)
17. Sindhi 2.5 0.25 (0.25)
18. Konkani 2.5 0.24 (0.21)
19. Dogri 2.3 0.22 (0.22)
20. Manipuri 1.5 0.14 (0.15)
21. Bodo 0.4 0.13 (0.15)
22. Sanskrit 0.01 Negligible


Basic Data on Non-Scheduled Major Languages (above 1 millions peakers)


Sl. No. Non-Scheduled Major Languages No.of Person who declared it as M.T. (in millions)
1. Bhili/Bhilodi 3.3
2. Wagdi 2.5
3. Gondi 2.5
4. Ho 1.0
5. Ahirani 1.9
6. Kurukh/Oraon 1.7
7. Mundari 1.0



Other Languages Grouped with Scheduled Languages


Scheduled Language No. of other Languages Grouped with S.L. Total No. of Speakers of Grouped Languages (In Millions) % of Total Number of Speakers
Bengali 3 0.9 1.1
Gujarati 3 1.4 3.0
Hindi 48 165.12 39.1
Kannada 2 0.8 2.1
Kashmiri 2 0.1 1.8
Konkani 2 0.6 2.4
Malyalam 1 0.01 0.3
Oriya 4 0.9 6.7
Punjabi 2 1.95 6.7
Santhali 1 0.5 8.4
Sindhi 1 0.8 3.2
Tamil 2 0.2 0.33
Telugu 1 .2 0.27
Urdu 0 0 0



Number of Persons Speaking 26 Languages Grouped with Hindi (above 1 million)


Sl. No. Major languages grouped with Hindi No. of persons who returned the languages as their mother tongue above 1 million
1. Awadhi 2.5
2. Bagheli/Baghel 2.9
3. Bagri rajasthani 1.4
4. Banjari 1.3
5. Bhojpuri 33.1
6. Bundeli 3.1
7. Chhattisgarhi 13.3
8. Dhundhari 1.9
9. Garhwali 2.3
10. Harauti 2.5
11. Haryanvi 8.0
12. Kangri 1.1
13. Khortha/khotta 4.7
14. Kumauni 2.0
15. Lamani/Lambadi 2.7
16. Magadhi/Maghi 14.0
17. Malvi 5.6
18. Marwari 7.9
19. Mewari 5.1
20. Nagpuria 1.2
21. Nimadi 2.1
22. Pahari 2.8
23. Rajasthani 18.4
24. Sadan/Sadri 2.0
25. Surgujia 1.5
26. Surjapuri 1.2

Total population of Major Grouped Language = 143.9 million Total Hindi speaking population = 422.1 million % of Speakers of all Associated/Grouped Languages = 39.1%


Division of 10,000 persons by Urdu-Hindi, State-wise (for major language only)

State Principal Language Hindi Urdu Other Major Languages
AP Telugu 8388 323 863
Assam Assamese 9944 597 2 Bengali-2791
Bihar Hindi 7312 1141 Maithili-1427
Chhatisgarh Hindi 8268 42
Delhi Hindi 8100 632
Gujarat Gujarati 8448 472 109 Sindhi-189
H.Pradesh Hindi 8803 586
Haryana Hindi 8734 123
Jharkhand Hindi 5765 864 Santhali-1070 Bengali-969
J & K Kashmiri 5398 1861 13 Dogri-2194
Karnataka Kannada 6626 256 1054 Marathi-360, Telugu-703, Tamil-357
Kerala Malayalam 9676 8 4 Tamil-188
Maharashtra Marathi 6889 1104 713
MP Hindi 8732 197
Orissa Oriya 318 4 166
Punjab Punjabi 9170 760 11
Rajasthan Hindi 9109 117
Tamil Nadu Tamil 8943 30 151 Telugu-565
UP Hindi 9133 799
W.B Bengali 8534 717 206 Santhali-280

Note : Kerala, Panjab, UP, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu are linguistically most homogeneous states in that order.

Table II
Major Urdu-speaking States


Sl.No. State Urdu-speaking population(above 500,000) in Million Position % of National Urdu Speaking Cumulative Total (%)
1. UP 13.3 I 25.8 25.8
2. Bihar 9.5 II 18.5 44.3
3. Maharashtra 6.9 III 13.4 57.7
4. Andhra Pradesh 6.6 IV 12.8 70.5
5. Karnataka 5.5 V 10.7 81.2
6. Jharkhand 2.3 VI 4.4 85.6
7. W.B 1.7 VII 3.3 88.9
8. MP 1.2 VIII 2.3 91.2
9. Tamil Nadu 0.9 IX 1.7 92.9
10. Rajasthan 0.7 X 1.4 94.3



Correlation between Urdu speaking and Muslim Population in Major States of Urdu/Muslim Concentration Coefficient of Urduisation of Muslim Population, state-wise


India/State Urdu Speaking population (million) Muslim population (million) Co-efficient Urduisation (U/Mx100)
India 51.5 138.2 37.3
AP 6.6 7.0 94.3
Karnataka 5.5 6.5 84.6
Orissa 0.6 0.75 80.0
Bihar 9.5 13.7 69.3
Maharashtra 6.9 10.3 67.0
Jharkhand 2.3 3.8 60.5
Delhi 0.9 1.6 56.2
Chhatisgarh 0.8 0.4 50.0
Uttaranchal 0.5 1.0 50.0
UP 13.3 30.7 43.3
MP 1.2 3.9 30.7
Tamil Nadu 0.9 3.5 25.7
Haryana 0.3 1.2 25.0
Rajasthan 0.7 4.8 14.6
Gujarat 0.6 4.6 13.0
W.B 1.7 20.2 8.4



Comparative Rate of Growth of Mother Tongues 1971-2001 (above five million


Sl.No. Language Persons who returned the language as mother tongue (in million) % of Growth during 1971-2001 % of Decadal growth during 1991-2001 % of Decadal growth during 1981-1991
1971 2001
1. Hindi 202.8 422.0 208 28.08 27.84
2. Bengali 44.8 83.4 186 19.79 35.67
3. Telugu 44.8 74.0 147 12.10 30.41
4. Marathi 41.8 71.9 1 72 15.13 26.35
5. Tamil 37.7 60.7 160 14.69 **
6. Urdu 28.6 51.5 180 18.73 24.23
7. Gujarati 25.9 46.1 178 13.32 23.02
8. Kannada 21.7 37.9 174 15.79 27.46
9. Malayalam 21.9 33.1 151 8.85 18.20
10. Oriya 19.9 33.0 147 17.66 21.89
11. Punjabi 14.1 29.1 206 24.48 19.21
12. Assamese 9.0 13.2 147 0.68 **
13. Maithili 6.1 12.2 200 56.81 3.25
14. Santhali 3.8 6.5 216 24.03 20.40
15. Kashmiri 2.5 5.5 220

Coefficient of Urduisation of Muslim Indians

URDU has become synonymous with Muslim Indians. Though it is not the mother tongue of all Muslim Indians but almost all Indians who declare it as their mother tongue are Muslims. For the purpose of comparison, we define a Coefficient of Urduisation of Muslim Population to compare figures of Muslim population and Urdu population in the above States as given in Table III. AP and Karnataka lead with 94.3 per cent and 84.6 per cent respectively among the major Urdu concentration States, Bihar comes next with 69.3 per cent, but UP with the highest Urdu speaking population has the Coefficient of Urduisation of only 43.3 per cent, lower than Jharkhand. This epitomises the tragedy of Urdu after independence.

Relative Growth of Languages during 1971-2001

TABLE IV gives the comparative rate of growth of major languages in 30 years from 1971 to 2001. In fact, all but five out of the 15 major languages, Hindi along with Punjabi, Maithili, Santhali and Kashmiri, form an exception to the general rule. All other major languages have gone down in terms of percentage during 1971-2001. But Maithili and Santhali are not the principal languages of any State. Also they are newcomers to Schedule 8.

It will be noticed that the growth of Hindi over 30 years (1971-2001) is higher than that of the national population and among the languages it is higher than all languages which have State-bases of their own. Let us examine the methodology of the Language Census.

Under each mother tongue, the Census includes other languages apart from the main language; for example, in the case of Bengali, the other languages included are Chakma, Hozon, Rajbakshi and ‘some other’ languages. In the case of Hindi, no less than 49 other languages are placed along with Hindi. Table IB illustrates this point.

Table IB also shows that the difference between the total number of persons grouped under each language and the number of persons who returned the language proper as their mother tongue is the highest in the case of Hindi. It shows that nearly 39 per cent people, who have been shown under Hindi, speak other identified languages, close to or similar to Hindi. This includes 26 languages which have recorded more than one million speakers. In the case of Urdu, it stands by itself, though linguistically it has several dialects but they all appear to have been grouped with Hindi (Table IC). Table IC gives the major languages grouped with Hindi.

Including Sanskrit, among the 22 languages recognised as Scheduled Languages, nine languages —namely, Santhali, Kashmiri, Nepali, Sindhi, Konkani, Dogri, Manipuri, Bodo and Sanskrit—are spoken by less than 10 million persons. Seven of them are spoken by less than five million people. Therefore, there appears to be no reason to include major languages such as Bhojpuri, Magadhi, Marwari, Mewari, Rajasthani and Chhattisgarhi under Hindi. Until 1991, Maithili was also in this category; now it is recognised as a separate Schedule 8 Language.

It follows that if associated languages are excluded, the total of Hindi-speaking population will fall to 277.2 million and its national percentage will go down from 41.3 per cent to 26.9 per cent. Hindi will, no doubt, still remain the biggest single language, far above the second biggest language, namely, Bengali.

Principle of Scheduling Languages or Grouping: Non-Scheduled Languages with Scheduled Languages

FAIRNESS demands uniform criteria when related languages or associated dialects are grouped with a major language or treated as Non-Scheduled Languages. It is noticeable that with the exception of Bhili, Ho, Khandeshi, Khasi, Mundari and Oraon—all other Non-Scheduled Languages have much smaller number of speakers. A fair policy should be to have a cut-off at one million so that if a distinct language if spoken by more than one million speakers, its data should be recorded separately and it should not be treated as a dialect of another language, whether Scheduled or Non-Scheduled, unless it is indeed a dialect with no grammar or literature of its own. Similarly all grouped languages, which have more than the 10 million speakers, should be given the status of Scheduled Languages. Bhojpuri, Magadhi, Rajasthani and Chhattisgarhi fall in this category.

Hindi and Urdu Compared: Reasons for Higher Rate of Growth of Hindi

IF we take all Hindi-speaking States (Table VA)—namely, Bihar, Chhatisgarh, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh—in order of population, the total Urdu population is 29.5 million, which forms 6.3 per cent of the total population and 7.4 per cent of the total Hindi-speaking population of those States. However, in all Hindi-speaking States, Urdu is the second most widely spoken language.

A comparison of Urdu and Hindi-speaking population in the non-Hindi speaking States has been made in Table VB. However, in non-Hindi speaking States as a whole, Urdu is spoken by a higher proportion of people of the State than Hindi. In major non-Hindi States like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Urdu outranks Hindi. Among all national languages Urdu and Sindhi are the only languages, which have no State base. Hindi, on the other hand, is the official language of the Union and also of 10 States (including Delhi).

Between 1991 and 2001, Urdu has declined from 5.2 to 5.0 per cent while Hindi has risen from 39.3 to 41.0 per cent. Urdu’s ratio of growth is lower than that of the national population or Muslim population.

National Population (1971) = 548 million National Population (2001) = 1029 million Rate of Growth (1971-2001) = 187.7 National Muslim Population (1991) = 61.4 National Muslim Population (2001) = 138.2 Rate of Growth (1971-2001) = 225.0

But the ‘high’ rate of growth of Hindi during the period 1971-2001 cannot be explained only by reference to a flawed methodology. A major reason is the deliberate recording of Urdu speakers as Hindi speakers, taking advantage of the close similarity between Hindi and Urdu at the level of common speech. Many instances have been reported that a Urdu-speaking person, who declares Urdu as his mother tongue, is recorded by the Census enumerator as a Hindi-speaking person, despite his protest. Here again, the Census Commissioner should instruct that the enumerator must record the mother tongue of a person and his family as declared by the head of the family or the household, irrespective of the dialect that the family uses at home or in the family.

The lower Coefficient of Urduisation of the Muslim population in the Hindi-speaking States as compared to the other States also points in this direction (Table III). Also, the lower growth of Urdu between 1971 and 2001 is 180 per cent, against the much higher growth of national population and of Muslim population during the same period, 225 per cent, also point in the same direction. Otherwise, there is no reason why the Coefficient of Urduisation be much higher in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka, even in Orissa than in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan.

It is a matter or some satisfaction that despite many handicaps the Urdu-speaking population faces in Hindi-speaking States in teaching Urdu language or in using Urdu as the medium of instruction even at the primary level and notwithstanding the manipulation in Census enumeration in Hindi-speaking States, the co-efficient of Urduisation has not fallen even lower than it has. But it is an evidence of the fact that the Muslim community in Hindi-speaking States is under coercive pressure for cultural assimilation. It is also possible that by choice or by compulsion of circumstances, the Muslim community in Hindi-speaking States is slowly succumbing to social, economic and political pressure and distancing itself from Urdu to the advantage of Hindi. In either case, the situation is a negation of linguistic freedom, cultural autonomy and equality of opportunity.

Slow Linguistic Genocide

THE impact of this process of assimilation is increasingly perceptible as the Urdu-speaking population in the post-independence period moves from the second to the third or the fourth generation in Hindi-speaking areas. The denial of facilities for learning Urdu in schools could not deprive the second generation from learning to speak the language at home. This generation was not able to read or write Urdu but even then while writing in Devanagri script, it used Urdu vocabulary, which it had learnt at home and in social intercourse (and perhaps through the film). But, steadily, because the dots have been given up in Devanagri script and azadi is written as ‘ajadi’, to give an example, it has lost the capacity to pronounce Urdu words correctly. In the third generation, one notices a clear setback. This generation has lost its command of basic Urdu vocabulary and has become largely dependent on the language it learns at school.

Urdu and Hindi-speaking Population in Hindi-speaking States


State State Populations (in million) Hindi-speaking population (in million) Urdu-speaking population (in million)
UP 166.2 151.8 13.3
Bihar 83.3 60.6 9.5
MP 60.3 52.7 1.3
Rajasthan 56.5 51.4 0.7
Haryana 21.1 18.5 0.3
Chhatisgarh 20.8 17.2 0.8
Jharkhand 26.9 15.5 2.3
Delhi 13.9 11.2 0.8
Himachal Pradesh 6.1 5.4 0.5
Total 455.1 384.3 29.5 (with)
Percentage of Urdu population 6.1 7.7 100


Urdu & Hindi in Non-Hindi speaking states


Total population = 645 million
Urdu-speaking population: 22.2 million
Ratio of total population = 3.4/1000
Hindi speaking population = 30.7 million
Ratio of total population= 4.7/100
Urdu/Hindi Ratio= 72/100

This deliberate and steady linguistic genocide has crated a situation when children of Urdu speaking families cannot communicate with or write to their parents and vice versa and reached a point where the younger generation cannot even speak its mother tongue at home or with the family.

Thus, Urdu faces the prospect of becoming an ethnic language as far as Hindi-speaking States are concerned. Soon it will be limited to those whose parents take special pains to teach Urdu by sending them to local Maktabs and Madrasas or by arranging private tuition at home.

One does not know whether and how long Urdu in north India can stand this steady erosion and multi-pronged encroachment. Urdu may soon become extinct in the region of its birth, while it continues to expand horizontally, in all its glory beyond its borders and even across continents and oceans.

Source- Mainstreamweekly


Most Popular

To Top