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Urdu Newspapers in India

Determinant and Conveyor of Muslim Opinion

Abdullah Khan (abdullah.journo@gmail.com) is a doctoral student and Aman Vats (amanvats@live.com) teaches at the Amity School of Communication, Amity University, Noida.

The declining fortunes of Urdu newspapers seem to be reversing as major media houses are beginning to invest in Urdu media. Largely catering to the Muslim population in the country, its impact in terms of representing Muslim interests and shaping Muslim opinion is enormous. Domestically, almost all Urdu media outlets regularly highlight the theme of Muslim victimhood at the hands of the Indian state. Internationally, these outlets are consistently critical of Israel, the United States and the West for their propaganda vis-à-vis international Islamic terrorism and adverse foreign policy towards Muslim nations.

The Urdu press is the third-largest language press in India, after Hindi and English, in terms of reach and influence. Urdu newspapers and periodicals are published across India in 16 states and one union territory, the most important being Telangana, Bihar, West Bengal, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir(J&K), Karnataka, Maharashtra, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh (UP). Geographically, the most important centres for Urdu newspapers are Delhi, Lucknow and Srinagar in the north, Bhopal in central India, Mumbai and Aurangabad in the west, Hyderabad and Bengaluru in the south, and Kolkata and Patna in the east. While other vernacular newspapers, including those in Hindi, are generally confined to particular linguistic belts, Urdu dailies are published in scattered pockets throughout India. 

Urdu papers continue to stay afloat and politically important in India’s media landscape despite their limited reach. Urdu was among the leading languages, and attracted poets and commoners alike in many parts of India for most of its pre- and post-independence history. However, the last two decades have seen a sharp decline in its popularity. Of late, the trend seems to be changing as major media houses have started investing in Urdu newspapers and television channels.

Overview

In 1947, the Urdu press had a dominant position in the whole of northern India. But the situation changed after the country’s bloody partition and Urdu newspapers saw a decline in their circulation. Urdu’s political influence was soon limited to the Muslim sections as more and more people took to English, Hindi and other popular languages. But now with increased competition in the saturated media market, Urdu media is gaining importance again. The interest shown by private media groups is proof of that.

Although the number of Urdu publications is quite large, a majority of them have limited circulation, catering to a strictly local or regional readership. India’s Muslim community usually gets its news initially from media outlets, followed by mosques and various Muslim organisations. From the standpoint of influencing public perceptions on a variety of issues, the role of smaller publications should not be underestimated given their close links to readers (see Table 1 (pp 104–05) for an overview of contemporary Urdu publications).

Many newspapers in India are helped by prominent national and/or regional political parties, and social organisations. Almost every Urdu-language daily in India is known to have a staunch ideological allegiance and a steadfast commitment to a single (in some cases, multiple) political party or religious entity (see Table 2 for a list of publications with known political and religious links, as reported in the media).

According to the Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI), the total circulation of all types of Urdu newspapers and magazines stands at 4.13 crore copies in 2014–15 across 16 states of India (RNI 2015). The major centres of publication comprise New Delhi, Lucknow, Mumbai, Patna, Srinagar, Hyderabad and Kolkata. Estimates of the total Urdu newspaper readership in India could not be found officially.

This study uses qualitative content analysis and thematic analysis methods to trace the determinants of Muslim opinion as the unit of analysis from 15 Urdu newspapers, namely Rashtriya Sahara, Inquilab, Hamara Samaj, Hindustan Express, Sahafat, Akhbar-e-Mashriq, Urdu Times, Munsif Daily, Siasat Daily, Dawat, Daily Aftab, Srinagar Times, Daily Chattan, Kashmir Uzma and Roznama Khabrein. As these determinants are dynamic and keep changing according to contemporary interests, the keywords pertaining to the dominant themes were first searched manually from the selected newspapers followed by the narrowing down of the dominant themes pertaining to the study. The themes were then analysed in the context of religion, polity and society to understand how Urdu newspapers have directly/indirectly conveyed and shaped the opinion of the Muslim community. The dominant themes used for analysis were Muslim victimhood, home-grown and saffron terror, cross-border and international terrorism, American imperialism, Israel, issues of Muslim women and Ahmadiyyas, Indian foreign policy and criticism of the Hindu right-wing and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Political Economy

Singapore-based researcher Amit Jaipal Julka classifies India’s Urdu newspapers into three categories: (i) traditional Muslim-owned newspapers being published from areas with major Muslim populations; (ii) newspapers with Hindu owners who migrated from the areas which are now under Pakistan; and (iii) newspapers owned by big media houses (personal interview 2016). The majority of Urdu publications are individual or family-owned. It is quite common for the owners to be directly involved in editing and managing their publications. Newsrooms are, however, manned by professional journalists or translators who translate from English to Urdu. Some Urdu newspapers and magazines are also published by public and private companies, public societies, trusts, state governments, and political parties. Some owner–editors may have political affiliations or ambitions, but it is not a general phenomenon.

The Urdu press is not generally financed or controlled by big business houses or political parties. The exceptions to this include the Urdu-language daily of the Hindi Rashtriya Sahara chain (the first corporate entity in Urdu news) and Inquilab of the Hindi Dainik Jagran chain. Exceptions to the political non-affiliation rule comprise Aabshaar (Kolkata) which followed the party line of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) but shut shop recently, Daily Pratap (Delhi) which is sympathetic to the BJP, and Hind Samachar (Jalandhar) which is close to the political ideology of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its numerous offshoots such as the BJP, Vishva Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, etc.

Indian Urdu newspapers have never been in the leading, or even comfortable position, with regard to political, economic, technological and social resources. Little has been done in terms of formulating an industrial policy to build a stable, independent and critical media. Studies under various settings show that political influences can lead to media bias, and in turn help political parties reap electoral rewards (Mishra 2014). While Urdu newspapers in India are exploited by several political parties, the publications themselves have been unable to reap major financial rewards.

Further, despite the decline in Urdu speakers among non-Muslims, there has been a sharp increase in the incidence of non-Muslim publishers of Urdu newspapers over the past decade. So, contrary to the popular perception, the RNI data suggests that over the past decade, both registration of Urdu newspapers and the participation of non-Muslims in the Urdu newspaper industry, have increased (Pandey 2016).

However, the number of Urdu readers has gone down substantially (Zafar 2011). Readers seem unwilling to spend on newspapers, unless such enticements as signing up for a contest which promises a fully paid trip to perform hajj (Islamic pilgrimage) in Saudi Arabia or some breaking news or beneficial article or advertisement are carried in the daily. However, most Urdu dailies seem to find it hard to keep up with regular subscriptions. Given this, bringing out a good newspaper, expanding circulation and publishing critical content become difficult to sustain for most publications.

Most national and regional dailies (whether English, Bengali, or Gujarati among others) carry columns and op-eds by eminent, respectable and scholarly individuals. Such contributors also receive suitable compensation for their pieces. However, this is not the case with Urdu newspapers. Furthermore, most Urdu papers refrain from employing dedicated correspondents and columnists for the lack of financial resources. This results in a heavy dependence on non-Urdu language news agencies, features services and freelance journalists for news stories and special columns.

New trends are surfacing as publishers recognise the need to provide varied news (such as on social and economic issues) and cater to the changing tastes of the new generation. Most Urdu newspapers are now available in soft copies; the rest are quickly moving in that direction. At least 40 dailies are available on the internet and five Urdu dailies are distributed in West Asian countries, where many Urdu-speaking expatriates from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are employed. Siasat Daily and Munsif Daily are also distributed in the United States (US), Canada, and Europe, all of which have significant numbers of Urdu speakers from South Asia.

Although Urdu newspapers largely cover Muslim issues, Hindu political organisations such as the RSS and its allied parties closely scrutinise Urdu press. A while ago, the right-wing think tank, India Policy Foundation—an organisation headed by Rakesh Sinha, considered to be a close ally of theRSS—started a fortnightly review of Urdu newspapers under the title “Review of Urdu Press.” In this, all the esteemed Urdu newspapers of the country have been included. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is said to have taken the help of Urdu newspapers to build a secular image of himself by covering up the taint of communalism and the Gujarat massacre of 2002 (Rizvi 2014).

Urdu journalism needs to find new standards of reporting. The same news story in an Urdu and Hindi publication can give the reader completely contradictory impressions. If a reader were to read Urdu newspapers, they would believe that Muslims are perennial victims and were they to read Hindi newspapers, the impression they would get is that Muslims are responsible for all issues. It is widely considered that the Urdu media best reflects the sentiments of Indian Muslims. Hence, journalists associated with Hindi and English media translate reports from the field of Urdu journalism on Muslim issues.

Representing Muslim Interests

India’s Urdu press has a rich political tradition dating to the days of India’s independence movement, when the regional language press played a central role in stimulating the movement throughout the country. In line with this traditional focus on political developments, the Urdu press continues to give wide coverage to political events, especially issues affecting minority interests that Urdu speakers may view as being downplayed, ignored, or misrepresented by larger media outlets. In addition to the coverage of local news, Urdu newspapers cover all major international events, especially those relating to the Muslim world. International events with implications for India are given space in accordance with their overall importance. While Urdu dailies do not carry as many commentaries on world affairs as their English-language counterparts, they do comment on all major international issues and on important foreign policies of the US, Russia, Europe and other major players in world politics, especially those of interest and concern to the Muslim world and South Asia.

Aside from the fact that Urdu has a rich common heritage for Hindus and Muslims alike (even today, there are many Hindus who still read and write in Urdu), in India Urdu is largely identified with Muslims. Both historical and political factors have abetted this communalisation of the language. Given this, Urdu language publications largely cater to Muslim interests. Although these newspapers also give factual coverage to other communities, the coverage is negligible but never negative. The Urdu press is largely run by Muslims and reflects their sentiments. Regardless of whether an Urdu publication is owned by a non-Muslim individual/family, such as Hind Samachar, Daily Milap, and Daily Pratap among others, or run by a non-Muslim corporate management like Rashtriya Sahara, or even headed by a non-Muslim editor, the editorial and composing sections are administered largely or totally by Muslim staff. As a result, the majority of Urdu publications are highly community-sensitive, taking special care to cover issues and events of interest and concern to Muslims. Consequently, in situations of critical significance to the community, one can observe Urdu newspapers from the four corners of the country speaking in onevoice. Hind Samachar and Daily Pratap are exceptions to this trend as they are run by non-Muslims and affiliated with the BJP. 

Most of the Urdu newspapers represent Sunni Muslims and thereby promote Sunni world views and religious epithets. All the Sunni clerics get wider coverage in comparison to Shia clerics. Exceptions to this include Sahafat, Inquilab and Aag. If we look at the links between religious authorities and Urdu media, then it can be safely said that the latter is largely influenced by the Muslim clergy. They do not utter a single word against Muslim ulemas/imams/religious authorities. They always keep a close watch on Muslim political threats and opportunities, and try to guide Muslim community by arousing religious sentiments or by urging them to unite. A commentary on an English language news portal, FirstPost (Suroor 2014), observed that Urdu newspapers “reveal a disturbingly sectarian world view.”

The Urdu-language media in India also tries to glorify Muslim leaders and Muslim political parties like the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) in Hyderabad, All India United Democratic Front in Assam, Indian Union Muslim League in Kerala, and Peace Party of India and Rashtriya Ulama Council in UP. During elections, these newspapers were seen arousing religious fervour among Muslim voters (Jain 2014; Urdu Times 2014a). However, after the 2014 general elections and 2017 UP assembly election, the same newspapers were seen criticising Muslim political parties for dividing Muslim voters and political leaders.

Key Themes of Coverage

A sustained study of the Urdu media in India suggests that their reportage and commentary often reflect and reinforce some common themes, which are distinctly different from the ones observed in the national English- and Hindi-language media. The study undertaken by the authors reveals that the sampled newspapers take a strong stance on the following issues regularly.

Muslim victimhood in India: Urdu publications often underscore what they perceive to be the “institutionalised victimisation” of Indian Muslims by the Indian state machinery and agencies. The theme of victimhood is perhaps best reflected in news reportage and comments on incidents of stated counterterrorism operations that involve the killings and arrests of Muslim youth. Most Urdu newspapers view such operations with deep reservations and often openly regard them as “fake” (Inquilab 2015c). The controversial killing of any Muslim in the country always evokes sharp reactions across various Urdu media outlets, demanding the investigation of all suspicious killings and arrests of Muslim youth under terrorism charges. Thus, Urdu media have and continue to indict incumbent governments for indifference to the human rights violations against Muslims.

Expressing concern over the release of Muslim youngsters by courts who find them innocent in terror cases, an editorial in Hamara Samaj (2015d) questioned:

If the cycle of being proved innocent through release after the arrests continues, how will the actual culprits be arrested? How will the actual culprits be identified? After all, who is behind these terrorist acts? There is definitely someone who has carried out this destructive act in which innocent Muslim youngsters were taken into custody and their precious lives rendered useless.

An editorial, titled “Encounter Ya Qatl” (encounter or murder), published in Siasat Daily (2015h), asserts “If Muslim youngsters continue to be victims of the deep conspiracies of the police and anti-Muslim elements, every human heart will only be seen mourning the insensitivity of this society.”

Noting the prevalence of Islamophobia in India, an Akhbar-e-Mashriq (2015c) editorial stresses on the point that

National security can certainly not be compromised. However, mere speculation and suspicion cannot be categorised as proof and evidence. If the government has any concrete evidence in this regard, it should come up with it.

Many publications affirm that there are systematic attempts by the Indian government and the political class to keep Muslims backward and to deny the community justice (Urdu Times 2015b). Widely read Urdu-language daily Rashtriya Sahara (2015g) alleged that “it is a bitter truth that Muslims are often discriminated against in government and non-government sectors.” According to Siasat Daily (2015m), “Muslims are being subjected to discriminatory treatment on religious grounds in every field.” Some experts, however, have criticised the Urdu media’s “inability” to “look beyond the gambit of Muslims” and for allegedly exaggerating the “sense of discrimination” among Muslims (Sinha 2013; Times of India 2015).

Recently, Urdu-language newspapers gave wide coverage to the “Not In My Name” protests held across some cities in the country on 28 June 2017 against the recent attacks by cow vigilantes. In fact, they dedicated several pages to the protests, and carried editorials and commentaries for several days. Demanding investigation of “all” killings and attacks, the Urdu media criticised the BJP-led union government and UP state government for indifference, and urged organised efforts by Muslims “within the constitutional framework” to counter the “anti-Muslim” conspiracy (Urdu Times 2017; Rashtriya Sahara 2017; Shamsi 2017; Sahafat 2017).

Home-grown and saffron terror: Urdu-language newspapers’ analysis of terrorism in India is more nuanced than English- and Hindi-language newspapers. We present here the broad positions on home-grown, cross-border, international and saffron terror.

Unlike English- and Hindi-language press, Urdu newspapers mostly tend to view the Indian security agencies’ claims about Indian-origin Islamic terrorists and radical groups with deep distrust. They voice strong suspicions over and disapproval of Indian counterterror activities, involving the killings and arrests of Muslim youth, and perceive them as attempts to suppress the community as a whole (Hamara Samaj 2015d; Hindustan Express 2015a; Siasat Daily 2015a, 2015h). Urdu media allude to a “political cause” behind the killings of Muslim youth in “fake encounters” and their indiscriminate arrests under “false charges of terrorism” by the police “across the country” (Daily Chattan 2017; Kashmir Uzma 2016).

In contrast to the portrayal of the Indian Mujahideen as a major Indian terrorist group by English and Hindi media, Urdu newspapers often question the very existence of the said group. They project Indian Mujahideen as a “fictitious entity” and a “brainchild” of the Indian intelligence agencies aimed at maligning Muslims (Rizvi 2013; Sahafat 2013; Shamsi 2013; Urdu Times 2014c). However, not all Urdu newspapers completely deny the possibility of Indian Muslim youth’s involvement in terrorism. Some cite Muslim youth’s purported disappointment with the government and communal tensions with Hindu hard line elements, as probable reasons for Muslims to turn towards terrorism (Akhbar-e-Mashriq 2014d; Hindustan Express 2015b; Siasat Daily (2013, 2015m).

The Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) is an Islamist student organisation that was banned by the Government of India in 2001 (Srivastava 2014). Many English- and Hindi-language media have reported on its alleged role in terrorism in India (Ghatwai 2014). In contrast, many Urdu publications voiced their opposition to the ban arguing that SIMI members arrested on terrorism charges have been acquitted (Akhbar-e-Mashriq 2014a; Inquilab 2014; Rashtriya Sahara 2014a; Urdu Times 2014d).

On the other hand, Urdu newspapers are extremely critical of purported Hindu extremism and periodically highlight the alleged role of Hindu radicals in terrorist attacks at Muslim sites. They allege a systematic attempt to shield the Hindu terror accused from justice (Dawat 2015b; Hamara Samaj 2014a; Sahafat 2015b; Shahab 2014; Urdu Times 2014b).

Cross-border and international terrorism: Most Urdu newspapers, like their English and Hindi counterparts, articulate strong concerns over terrorism originating in Pakistan and see the “encouragement of terrorism” by Islamabad as the “biggest hurdle” in normalisation of bilateral ties (Akhbar-e-Mashriq 2015b; Hamara Samaj 2015a; Rashtriya Sahara 2015a; Siasat Daily 2015e, 2015i).However, they still mostly advocate cooperation to resolve differences, as opposed to a more hawkish line espoused by some English and Hindi media (Daily Aftab 2015a, 2015b; Siasat Daily 2014b; Akhbar-e-Mashriq 2015f). Urdu newspapers usually welcome and favour the continuation of talks between India and Pakistan (Siasat Daily 2014a, 2015d; Rashtriya Sahara 2015b, 2015c).

The Urdu media sees Muslims as the biggest victims of international Islamic terrorism and strongly opposes associating the Muslim community with terrorism. In many cases, they see the linking of the Muslim community with terrorism as a ploy to defame Islam (Akhbar-e-Mashriq 2015a; Munsif Daily 2014).

Most Urdu newspapers are critical of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and have repeatedly called for its elimination through international action (Hamara Samaj 2015e; Inquilab 2015b; Rashtriya Sahara 2014b). However, as mentioned above, many also see the role of the US and the West as having abetted the group’s emergence (Siasat Daily 2015j; Hamara Samaj 2014b). Select outlets have been observed to carry reports and articles projecting ISIL in somewhat positive light. For example, Akhbar-e-Mashriq (2014b), a prominent Urdu daily from West Bengal, prominently flagged an account that ISIL extremists were the “real protectors” of Indian nurses, whom they had held captive and released subsequently in Iraq. The newspaper, however, did not report accounts of two other Indian workers who accused ISIL terrorists of “brutality” and being “barbarians” (Suroor 2014).

Much reportage and comment have not been observed in the Urdu media about Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). An Urdu Times (2014c) commentary on 11 September, discussing the announcement of AQIS, actually appeared to question and mock the media concern over the development.

Critique of US imperialism: Urdu publications, in stark contrast to the rest of the Indian media, are the sharpest critics of the US’ foreign policy and of the Israeli state, particularly with reference to West Asia. They frequently project a deep distrust and suspicion of the US and the West, and espouse the belief that the US, United Kingdom (UK) and some of their European allies have anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim designs (Rashtriya Sahara 2015f; Akhbar-e-Mashriq 2015d). Some outlets even claim that the twin towers attack on 11 September 2001 was “plotted” by the US and that the following “hype” was used as a pretext to “meddle” in the affairs of Muslim nations (Shamsi 2014). For instance, a Siasat Daily (2015c) editorial suggested that

As a result of these attacks, the United States had found a justification for launching a one-sided attack on Afghanistan and wreaking destruction there... There are already many doubts and suspicions regarding the authenticity of these attacks. Rather, it would not be wrong to say that the majority [of people] in the world are aware of the truth behind these attacks and believe that the United States and Israel alone had a role in the attacks, and that these attacks have been used as a justification to target the Islamic world.

Most commentaries in Urdu newspapers also blame the US and the West for international Islamic terrorism, particularly the emergence of the IS (Islamic State), Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and ISIL (Siasat Daily 2015j; Dawat 2014; Hamara Samaj 2014b; Urdu Times 2014c). Raising questions over the spread of international terrorism, a Munsif Daily editorial (2014) stridently announced

Wow, what a script! But why (is it that) this intelligent and thinking world does not see who the biggest terrorist of the world is. Who is the one that attacked Iraq and killed more than a million people after leveling false allegations of the country possessing weapons of mass destructions (WMDs)? Who is the one that wreaked havoc in Latin American countries and killed 2.5 million people in a quarter of a century? Who is the one that rained so many chemical weapons on Vietnam that the country became barren? Who is the one that dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Who is the one that wants to influence the entire world through its terror and dominance by setting up its military bases in every corner of the world? Who is the one that spreads unrest in West Asia, becomes a reason for the emergence of ISIL, and uses every act of it to defame Islam?

While flagging the “war mongering” nature of the US, Urdu-language newspapers were observed to forward a critique of Western imperialism. According to an Urdu Times editorial on 14 May 2013, “From the US to Europe, everyone is united over the fact that the West, western culture, and western imperialism have only one objective in the world; starting a new crusade against Islam.”

Critique of Israel: Except for a few Urdu-language publications run by non-Muslims, most Urdu outlets publish editorials and commentaries that oppose the US and UK’s actions in
Afghanistan and Iraq, and what they view as the US’s “blind support” to Israel’s “tyrannical policy” towards Palestinians (Hindustan Express 2011; Inquilab 2017). As an extension of their criticism of the US, the Urdu press was observed to harshly criticise Israel (Dawat 2015a; Siasat Daily 2015f, 2015l; Hamara Samaj 2015c). An editorial published in Urdu Times on 5 March 2015a, read thus “There is no change in our well-thought-out view that the salvation of the world lies in the destruction of Israel.”

In July 2017, India’s English and Hindi media praised Prime Minister Modi’s 4–6 July visit to Israel but the Urdu media cautioned that closer ties with Israel could harm India’s relations with the Arab world. Prominent Urdu-language dailies Inquilab (2017) and Akhbar-e-Mashriq (2017) faulted Modi’s decision to not visit the Palestine.

At the same time, Urdu editorials and commentaries tend to support Iraqi resistance against foreign forces, oppose imperial campaigns against Iran, express solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, sympathise with HAMAS, and take every opportunity to condemn Israel and its supporters, especially the US
(Akhbar-e-Mashriq 2015e, 2014c; Shamsi 2015). Select media outlets, however, were seen welcoming the US–Iran nuclear agreement in 2015 as a “diplomatic victory” for Iran and affirming that the deal would end the era’s “biggest dispute” (Siasat Daily 2015k; Dawat 2015c; Rashtriya Sahara 2015d). An editorial in Siasat Daily (2015g) claimed that

Through the agreement, the global powers have recognised Iran’s right to (carry on) its nuclear program. From this aspect, it can certainly be called Iran’s diplomatic achievement.

On India foreign policy: The Urdu press generally advocates strong caution in India’s dealing with the US. Some outlets insinuate that the US has its own “hidden interests” behind the increasing friendship with India, warn against Washington’s “use and throw” policy, and caution against rushing into signing pacts with the imperial nation (Akhbar-e-Mashriq 2015e; Hamara Samaj 2015b).During the former US President Barack Obama’s visit in January 2015, the Urdu dailies focused more on portraying his remarks on the rising religious intolerance in India as a “blow” for Prime Minister Modi than on the substantive outcomes from the former’s visit (Inquilab 2015a; Sahafat 2015a; Srinagar Times 2015). On other occasions, they have opposed expanding relations with the US at the cost of India’s ties with Russia and China (Akhbar-e-Mashriq 2015e; Hamara Samaj 2015b; Siasat Daily 2015b; Rashtriya Sahara 2015h). While they do not tend to specifically oppose improved relations with the US, they have taken a cautious approach, warning New Delhi that becoming too close to Washington could jeopardise India’s own national interests.

All complaints and criticisms against the US and its allies aside, India’s Urdu press does not encourage readers to resort to jihad or other violent means of expressing anger over events seen as being painful to Muslims at home or abroad. Well-aware of the fact that foreign policy is a federal government prerogative, Urdu papers generally go along with New Delhi on foreign policy issues. However, since they cater to a readership that is part of the global Muslim community, they favour cordial relations between India and Muslim countries, and often take positions that seek to accommodate the Muslim world’s concerns and New Delhi’s larger foreign policy framework.

Muslim women and Ahmadiyyas: There is no denying that Urdu newspapers could not come out of Islam and the Islamic world. Urdu dailies, almost on a daily basis, publish articles about Islam, the Islamic way of life, and Quranic interpretations. In fact, on Fridays, most Urdu newspapers publish a dedicated page for religious narratives (Inquilab 2018; Rashtriya Sahara 2018).

The Urdu-language media has played an ugly role in the Ahmadiyya movement. While they do not run stories on the Muslim minority community frequently, whenever they do they always portray them in a negative light. In fact, most dailies do not recognise Ahmadiyya Muslims as Muslims at all. They do not use the word Muslims for Ahmadiyyas and instead use the pejorative word Qadiani or Qadiyani. This term originated from Qadian, a small town in Punjab and the birthplace of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement. In 2013, Urdu-language dailies prominently covered the Gujarat state assembly opposition leader Shankersinh Vaghela’s statement claiming that the RSS is using “Qadianis” to defame Muslims. They went on to urge the state government to take this allegation seriously and carry out a high-level investigation (Munsif Daily 2013). Further, Urdu-language dailies were openly critical of the Modi government’s decision in 2016 to recognise Ahmadiyya Muslims as a Muslim sect. Maharashtra’s prominent Urdu-language daily, the Urdu Times (2016a) declared that

since the Qadiyanis believe in Ghulam Ahmad Qadiyani as their last prophet, they cannot be counted among the Islamic sects. This is the unanimous decision of the Islamic world.

The liberal space in Urdu media is slowly and gradually shrinking. A review of Urdu language dailies on triple talaq, polygamy and halala prove this point. Urdu dailies are directly or indirectly influenced by Muslim clerics. As a result, most of the dailies do not give even an iota of space to contrary opinions when it comes to Muslim personal laws. They do not publish anything critical on the violation of Muslim women’s rights. Since the emergence of the triple talaq debate, most Urdu-language dailies carried all the statements of Islamic clerics criticising the government’s affidavit banning triple talaq and the Allahabad High Court’s remark on the same (Urdu Times 2016b; Roznama Khabrein 2016). The Allahabad High Court had said that the practice of “triple talaq” within the Muslim community is unconstitutional and violates the rights of Muslim women, and asserted that “no personal law board is above the Constitution” (India Today 2016). A commentary in the daily Dawat titled “this beef politics” claimed that the Indian government has “distracted” the people from its failures by triggering a debate on triple talaq (Dawat 2017).

Criticism of Modi and BJP: Urdu newspapers have been observed to be generally critical of the ruling BJP government led by Prime Minister Modi. In particular, they have sharply criticised the right-wing Hindu groups’ initiatives, such as “ghar wapsi,” and blamed the government for giving a “free rein” to such groups and creating an “anti-Muslim atmosphere” (Anjum 2015; Siasat Daily 2015n; Hindustan Express 2015c). Many outlets have also accused the Modi government of either trying to protect Hindu terror accused or turning a “blind eye” towards them (Shahab 2014; Urdu Times 2014b; Rashtriya Sahara 2015e; Sahafat 2015b).

Conclusions

India has the second-largest Muslim population in the world and is projected to have the largest by 2050. Further, a vast section of the Muslim population in India follows Urdu-language newspapers. Thus, the Urdu media is a key opinion shaper and sentiment barometer for a large segment of the community. There is no denying the fact that the Indian Urdu press, by and large, is a Muslim press (Farouqui 2009). The Urdu press gives wide coverage to political events, especially issues affecting minority interests that Urdu speakers may view as being downplayed, ignored, or misrepresented by larger media outlets. In that, they do tend to take a conservative position vis-à-vis Muslim minorities (such as the Ahmadiyyas), Muslim women and questions pertaining to their rights. This is a result of the close links between the Urdu press and Muslim clergy.

Contrary to the popular misperception that the Urdu media is a monolithic entity, it offers diverse coverage to a range of issues as well as differing opinions and arguments (Mushtaq 2008). It has also been established that India’s Urdu papers are consistently critical of the US and Western policies, which in their judgment negatively impact Islam and the Muslim world. Urdu publications strongly support cordial relations between India and its neighbouring countries—including Pakistan—and encourage close political and economic cooperation within South Asia. They back India’s adherence to the “non-aligned” path, leading the developing world at the international level in resisting what they view as the “hegemony” of the global North.

Unlike English and Hindi media, Urdu newspapers mostly view intelligence agencies’ claims about Indian-origin terrorist groups with deep distrust. However, most Urdu newspapers, like their English and Hindi counterparts, articulate strong concerns over terrorism originating from Pakistan. Urdu dailies do not carry as many commentaries on world affairs as their English language counterparts, they do comment on all major international issues and on important foreign policies of the Muslim world and South Asia.

Urdu publications are also deeply critical of the Hindu right-wing, the Modi-led BJP, and the phenomenon of saffron terror. Further, the Urdu press mostly operates within the frames of nationalism and national interest.

References

Akhbar-e-Mashriq (2014a): “Jailon Mein Band Qaidiyon Mein Musalmanon Ka Tanasub 22.5 Feesad Kyon,” 7 March, p 7.

— (2014b): “Islami Shiddat Pasand Hamare Haqeeqi Muhaafiz,” 6 July, p 1.

— (2014c): “Iraq wa Shaam Mein Amreeka Ki Lahaasil Karrwaai,” 15 October, p 7.

— (2014d): “Subah Ka Bhoola Shaam Ko Ghar Aa Jaye To Use Bhoola Nahin Kehte: Arif Majeed Aur Saathiyon’ Se Husn-e-Sulook Karne Ki Zarurat,” 1 December, p 7.

— (2015a): “Duniya Mein Dehshatgardi Ka Asal Nishana Islam Aur Musalman Hain!” 8 March, p 7.

— (2015b): “Hafiz Saeed Ki Jihad Ki Rutt; Hukumat-e-Pakistan Us Pe Lagaam Kase Aur Hindostan Ke Ehsasaat Ka Khyaal Rakhe,” 20 April, p 7.

— (2015c): “Tablighi Jamaat Shak Ke Daayre Mein, Ghair Mulki Muballigheen Ki Hawale Se Markaz Ki Riyasaton’ Ko Hidayat, Agar Aisa Hai To Thos Suboot Pesh Kiya Jana Chahiye,” 29 April, p 7.

— (2015d): “Amreeka Mein Nasli Imtiyaz Ka Ubhaar,” 2 May, p 7.

— (2015e): “Amreeka Ki Policy Use and Throw Ki Rahi Hai,” 11 May, p 7.

— (2015f): “Pakistan Par Taliban Ki Yalghaar Ke Pasmanzar Mein, Hind-Pak Muzakraat Ka Ahyaa Waqt Ka Ain Taqaza,” 19 December, p 7.

— (2017): “Wazeer-e-Aazam Narendra Modi Ka Daura-e-Israel Har Aitbaar Se Kamyaab Aur Nateeja-Khez, Lekin Filisteeniyon’ Ko Yaksar Faramosh Nahin Karna Chahiye Tha,” 7 July, p 7.

Anjum, S (2015): “Atali Mein Muslim Dushmanon Ka Hungama Aur Hukumat Ki Khamoshi,” Inquilab, 31 May, p 7.

Audit Bureau of Circulations (2017): “Highest Circulated amongst ABC Member Publications (Main + Variant),” http://www.auditbureau.org/files/JD2017%20Highest%20Circulated% 20amongst%20ABC%20Member%20Publications%20(language%20wise).pdf.

Daily Aftab (2015a): “Jung-o-Jadal Kisi Masle Ka Hal Nahin,” 8 January, p 5.

— (2015b): “Jung Nahin Amn,” 30 January, p 5.

Daily Chattan (2017): “Badgam Halaakat Par Mutazaad Bayanat,” 23 July, p 5.

Dawat (2014): “’Islamic State’ Online,” 2 December, p 1.

— (2015a): “Amreeka Ki Israel-Nawazi Ki Haqeeqat Phir Saamne Aayi,” 11 April, p 1.

— (2015b): “Kya Insidad-e-Dehshatgardi Ke Qawaneen Sirf Musalmanon’ Ke Liye Hain?,” 23 April, p 1.

— (2015c): “Amreeka Ki Dosti wa Dushmani,” 8 May, p 3.

— (2017): “Beef Ki Yeh Siasat,” 5 June, p 1.

Farouqui, Ather (2009): “Urdu Press in India,” TwoCircles.net, 6 May, http://twocircles.net/2009may06/urdu_press_india.html.

Ghatwai, Milind (2014): “Faisal’s 5: Story of Men Who Fled Khandwa Jail, Named in Terror Attacks and Bank Robberies,” Indian Express,
7 December, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/faisals-5-story-of-men-who-fled-khandwal-jail-named-in-terror-attacks-and-bank-robberies/.

Hamara Samaj (2014a): “Indresh Bequsoor?” 22 April, p 5.

— (2014b): “Daa’ish Tehreek Ke Pas-e-Pusht Amreeka wa Europee Mumaalik,” 17 November, p 5.

— (2015a): “Lakhwi Ki Rihaayi,” 15 March, p 5.

— (2015b): “Khokhla Iqtisaadi Nizaam,” 17 March, p 5.

— (2015c): “Amreeka-Israel Tanaaza,” 26 March, p 5.

— (2015d): “Qaabil-e-Sataa-ish Qadam,” 10 May, p 5.

— (2015e): “Daa’ish Ke Mazaalim,” 31 May, p 5.

Hindustan Express (2011): “Amreekiyon’ Ki Iraq Se Wapsi,” 17 December, p 5.

— (2015a): “Giraftari Aur Rihaayi Ka ‘Drama’,” 23 January, p 5.

— (2015b): “Tablighi Jamaat Par Hamla,” 6 May, p 5.

— (2015c): “Modi Hukumat Ka Ek Saal,” 13 May, p 5.

India Today (2016): “Allahabad High Court Calls Triple Talaq Unconstitutional, Says No Personal Law Board Is Above Constitution,” 8 December, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/triple-talaq-muslims-personal-law-....

Inquilab (2014): “’SIMI Par Pabandi, Lekin Bhagwa Intihapasand Azad Kyon? AIMIM Ne Kaha SIMI Par Pabandi Ghalat,” 19 February, p 1.

— (2015a): “Naseehat Bar Naseehat,” 7 February, p 7.

— (2015b): “Koi Hai Daa’ish Ko Rokne Wala,” 19 February, p 7.

— (2015c): “Yeh Kahani Gadhi Hui Hai Aur Is Ki Script Bahut Hee Khaam Hai,” 29 April, p 1.

— (2017): “Filisteen Dosi Ki Rivaayat Aur Hindostan,” 6 July, p 8.

— (2018): “Juma Magazine,” 11 May, p 9.

Jain, Sreenivasan (2014): “Truth vs Hype: Political Ads or Religious Appeals?” NDTV, 11 April, https://www.ndtv.com/elections-news/truth-vs-hype-political-ads-or-religious-appeals-556959.

Kashmir Uzma (2016): “Naujawanon’ Ko Pusht-Ba-Deewar Na Kiya Jaaye,” 22 April, p 6.

Mishra, Sumit (2014): “The Political Economy of the Mainstream Media,” Mint, 6 June, https://www.livemint.com/Opinion/DWXGHP6TgH3kHxahEp6KoK/The-political-economy-of-the-mainstream-media.html.

Munsif Daily (2013): “Shankar Singh Vaghela Ke Inkishafat Ki Sarkari Tehqeeqaat Zaroori,” 18 November, p 4.

— (2014): “Hindostan Mein Al-Qa’ida,” 8 September, p 4.

Mushtaq, Mubasshir (2008): “26/11 and Urdu Press,” Daily News and Analysis, 20 December, http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/comment-2611-and-urdu-press-1215592.

Pandey, Ankita (2016): “Urdu Newspapers: Growing, Not Dying,” Hoot, 4 October, http://www.thehoot.org/research/research-studies/urdu-newspapers-growing-not-dying-9683.

Rashtriya Sahara (2014a): “9 Muslim Naujawaan 11 Saal Baad Ba-Izzat Bari,” 21 November, p 1.

— (2014b): “Sydney Par Hamla,” 16 December,p 7.

— (2015a): “Aakhir Aur Kitne Sabaq Darkaar Hain?” 18 January, p 7.

— (2015b): “Cricket Diplomacy,” 16 February, p 7.

— (2015c): “Hind-Pak Wuzraa-e-Kharija Mulaqat,” 4 March, p 7.

— (2015d): “Israel Mein Saf-e-Maatam Bichh Gayi,” 5 April, p 7.

— (2015e): Sadhvi, Purohit Ke Haq Mein Faisla,” 17 April, p 7.

— (2015f): “Muta-Assib Soch Ka Khaatma Zaroori,” 28 April, p 7.

— (2015g): “Mazhabi Tafreeq Qabil-e-Saza Honi Chahiye,” 24 May, p 7.

— (2015h): “Insidad-e-Dehshatgardi Par Dohra Ravayya,” 14 June, p 7.

— (2017): “Ab Kaarrwai Bhi Zaroori,” 30 June, p 7.

— (2018): “Mazhabiyaat,” 11 May, p 7.

RNI (2015): “Circulation of Publications,” 30 December, http://rni.nic.in/pin2014_15/pin-04.pdf.

Rizvi, Mumtaz (2013): “Indian Mujahideen Khud Hukumat Ki Paida-Karda Tanzeem, Ulma-e-Ikraam Ne Sawal Uthaya, Kaha Agar IM Hai To Ab Tak Uske Sadr Daftar Ka Pata Kyon Nahin Lagaya Ja Saka,” Inquilab, 23 July, p 7.

— (2014): “Secular Shabeeh Banane Ke Liye Modi Ne Urdu Akhbarat Ka Sahara Liya,” Inquilab, 7 May, p 2.

Roznama Khabrein (2016): “Modi Sarkar Chahti Hai Ki Muslim Personal Law Khatm kar Diya Jaaye,” 11 December, p 1.

Sahafat (2013): “Ek Mu-Amma Hai Samajhne Ka Na Samjhaane Ka,” 24 July, p 6.

— (2015a): “Sadr Obama Ki Haqeeqat Pasandi Aur Muslim Dushman Anaasir,” 21 February, p 6.

— (2015b): “Hyderabad Ke Mutalliq Naya Ilzaam,” 2 June, p 6.

— (2017): “Gaaye Ke Naam Par Dehshatgardi,” 2 July, p 5.

Shahab, Azam (2014); “Kolhapur Ke Bamsaazon’ Ki Giraftari,” Inquilab, 15 April, p 1.

Shamsi, Shakeel (2013): “Indian Mujahideen Aur Indian Muslimeen,” Inquilab, 24 July, p 7.

— (2014): “9/11: Jis Ki Saza Mili Lakhon’ Musalmanon Ko,” Inquilab, 11 September, p 7.

— (2015): “Filisteeniyon’ Ko Maslaki Tanaaze Mein Uljhane Ki Saazish,” Inquilab, 13 June, p 7.

— (2017): “Mere Naam Par Nahin….,” Inquilab, 30 June, p 6.

Siasat Daily (2013): “Siyasi Partiyan’ Aur Dehshatgardi,” 22 July, p 3.

— (2014a): “Jung-Bandi Ki Khilaafwarzi,” 8 October, p 3.

— (2014b); “Rihaayi Aur Giraftari Ka Tamasha,” 31 December, p 3.

— (2015a): “Shehar Mein Police March Past,”22 January, p 3.

— (2015b): “Hindostan Mein Obama Ki Aao Bhagat,” 28 January, p 3.

— (2015c): “9/11 Hamlon’ Ki Haqeeqat,” 14 February, p 3.

— (2015d): “Hind -Pak Muzakraat Ki Ummeed,” 16 February, p 3.

— (2015e): “Lakhwi Ki Rihaayi Ke Ehkaam,” 14 March, p 3. 

— (2015f): “Wazeer-e-Aazam Israel Aur Amreeka,” 24 March, p 3.

— (2015g): “Iran-Aalami Taaqaton’ Ka Nuclear Muaahida,” 4 April, p 3.

— (2015h): “Encounter ya Qatl,” 9 April, p 3.

— (2015i): “Hindostan Ko Naraaz Karne Wala Amal,” 12 April, p 3.

— (2015j): “Daa’ish Ka Tash-Heeri Harba,” 29 April, p 3.

— (2015k): “Gulf Cooperation Council Aur Iran,” 7 May, p 3.

— (2015l): “Mamlikat-e-Filisteen Aur Vatican,” 15 May, p 3.

— (2015m): “Musalmanon’ Ke Saath Imtiyaz,” 22 May, p 3.

— (2015n): “Modi Hukumat Ka Ek Saal,” 24 May, p 3.

Sinha, Rakesh (2013): “Most Urdu Papers Offer a Broken, Divisive Picture,” New Indian Express, 24 November, http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/Most-Urdu-papers-offer-a-broken-divisive-picture/2013/11/24/article1907341.ece.

Srinagar Times (2015): “Obama Ke Daura-e-Amreeka Ke Asraat,” 8 February, p 3.

Srivastava, Piyush (2014): “‘I am Not a Terrorist!’: SIMI Founder Reacts as Centre Bans Student Group For Another Five Years,” Daily Mail, 4 March, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2573170/I-not-ter....

Suroor, Hasan (2014): “Half-truths and Lies: A Biased Urdu Press Can Harm India’s Secular Image,” FirstPost, 19 July, http://www.firstpost.com/india/half-truths-and-lies-a-biased-urdu-press-can-harm-indias-secular-image-1624723.html.

Times of India (2015): “Urdu Media Needs to Evolve,” 19 March, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/Urdu-media-needs-to-evolve/articleshow/46615455.cms.

Urdu Times (2013): “Islam Khatre Mein Hargiz Nahin,” 14 May, p 3.

— (2014a): “Firaunon’ Aur Qaroonon’ Ke Khilaaf Ittihaad Ka Muzaahira Zaruri,” 8 March, p 3.

— (2014b): “Yarqani, Qarooni Sarmayadaariyat Ka Raaj,” 17 May, p 3.

— (2014c): “Indian Mujahideen Ke Baad Al Qa’ida,” 11 September, p 3.

— (2014d): “Sangh Parivar Jaldi Mein Hai!,”24 November, p 3.

— (2015a): “Duniya Tez Raftar Tabdeeliyon’ Ke Shikanje Mein Hai,” 5 March, p 3.

— (2015b): “Hashimpura, Malyana, Gujarat…!,” 26 March, p 3.

— (2016a): “Modi Hukumat Ki Jaanib Se Qaadiyani Islam Ke Firqe Ke Taur Par Tasleem,” 5 August, p 1.

— (2016b): “Sharia Bachao Tehreek Shuru Karne Ka Faisla,” 11 October, p 1.

— (2017): “Hujoom Ke Hathon’ Halaakat Ke Khilaaf Mulk Bhar Mein Muzaahire,” 29 June, p 1.

Zafar, Abu (2011): “Urdu Media Modernises, but Declining Readership a Worry,” TwoCircles.net, 4 July, http://twocircles.net/2011jul04/urdu_media_modernises_declining_readersh....

Updated On : 12th Jun, 2018

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