Communalism

MHRD Backtracks on ‘Loyalty’ Form for Urdu Writers, But ‘National Interest’ Clause Remains

The government has modified the NCPUL declaration form for Urdu writers, but some remain wary of the vague ‘national interest’ clause.

Smriti Irani. Credit: PTI

Smriti Irani. Credit: PTI

To remove “any scope for misunderstanding,” the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL) has modified its controversial declaration form that required all those seeking financial aid from the council in the form of bulk purchase to declare that their work was not critical of government policies. The form also had to be signed by two witnesses. The Wire reported on the form and the reactions it got from Urdu writers last month.

What are these “modifications”?

Here’s a rough translation of the text of the previous form which was originally in Urdu:

“I, son/daughter of __________ do hereby declare that my book/journal/booklet _______________ , which has been accepted by the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language’s scheme for financial assistance for bulk purchase, does not contain anything which goes against the policies of the Indian government, or anything that is against national interest, or anything which promotes disharmony between the various communities.”

The modified form, which has recently been released on NCPUL’s website, does not contain the two clauses that had generated much outrage, even termed “intellectual slavery” by some. However, the clause on “national interest” remains. Here’s what the new form says:

NCPUL Declaration Form

 

What led the MHRD to backtrack?

The decision to modify the form reportedly came after Harivansh, a Rajya Sabha member from Bihar, questioned HRD Minister Smriti Irani on the issue and enquired if the NCPUL, which falls under the MHRD, had asked Urdu writers to show their allegiance towards the country. Irani had reserved her answer for April 28, and stated in a written reply to the upper house that, “Keeping in view certain complaints, NCPUL had amended the undertaking or declaration on September 1, 2015, which has now been simplified on April 22, 2016 by NCPUL removing any scope for misinterpretation or misunderstandings.”

Holes in the ministry’s justification

Irani added that this practice of an undertaking is followed in other language institutions similarly placed under the HRD ministry. The council had also offered a clarification last month that the form is not new, this had been the practice for several years for books sponsored by the NCPUL. This claim, though, has been countered by many writers. “I never received any such form in the past,” Shahnaz Nabi, head of the Urdu department at the University of Calcutta, had told The Wire. Other writers who have availed of the bulk purchase scheme from the NCPUL also corroborated this claim.

The Wire spoke to sources from the National Council for Promotion of Sindhi Language (NCPLS), Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, Kendriya Hindi Sansthan, and Central Institute of Indian Languages, and all except the Hindi Sansthan confirmed that no such form is required from those seeking assistance via bulk purchase. However, Khemchand, personal secretary to the director of the Kendriya Hindi Sansthan, failed to give details of the form. No such form can be found on their website either.

“They aren’t demanding such a declaration from writers in any other Indian language. I am the vice chairman, I have all the forms, and can confirm that this was a recent change. We have now updated the website with the modified form,” Muzaffar Hussein, vice chairman of the NCPUL, told The Wire. Hussein was one of the many writers protesting against the form and demanding its withdrawal. “It’s like imposing an indirect emergency,” he added. He also mentioned that the decision was probably not even made by the MHRD, and that the director of the council might have taken the call himself to please the government. “We have to be alert all the time, it is because of the sustained protests and alarm raised by writers that this came to light and the ministry had to backtrack,” he concluded.

Retaining the “national interest” clause becomes a bone of contention

While the writers have welcomed the decision, many remain skeptical of the “national interest” clause that still remains in the form. “We welcome the decision, they have removed the unconstitutional clauses and accepted the demand of the writers. They have mentioned ‘national interest’ though, which I think needs to be clearly defined,” Rahman Abbas, who has been leading the campaign calling for the form’s withdrawal, told The Wire.

Urdu writer Ali Javed, who teaches at Delhi University, told The Telegraph that he had a problem with the national interest clause. “Till the government or the council defines what constitutes anti-national, the provision should be put on hold,” Javed said. He also added that any piece that was critical of the government to an extent used to be censored during the Emergency, and such vague provisions could put restrictions on writers.

Echoing similar sentiments, Moin Ansar, secretarial member of the Maharshtra committee of Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), told The Wire, “What is national interest? The government can manipulate it to suit their agenda. I think they have just changed the words, but their intent remains the same. The government hasn’t clearly specified whose national interest it is referring to. This can lead to stifling of creative expression.” Ansar has also been active in the protests along with Abbas.

Muzaffar Hussein, vice chairman of the NCPUL, didn’t have a problem with the modified form. “Of course state aided literature shouldn’t be against the interest of the nation and I agree with that clause, it is a standard and legitimate requirement,” he told The Wire.

The Wire tried to reach NCPUL Director Irteza Karim at his office and personal phone, but he remained unavailable for comment.