More Muslims do not always produce more Urdu papers

BY ANKITA PANDEY| IN Research Studies | 05/10/2016
According to RNI data, the Muslim demographic does not have a strict correlation with the number of Urdu newspapers in a state — and non-Muslims publish them too

In some states the number of non-Muslim publishers of Urdu newspapers has gone up in recent years


The first part of this article examined the registration of Urdu newspapers and suggested that there has been an improvement in the registration of print newspapers over the past decade despite a slight decline in the share of the Urdu speaking population and the growth of internet media. This part examines the demographic correlates of the distribution of Urdu newspapers across the country.

It compares the distribution of Urdu newspapers with that of the Muslim and Urdu-speaking population across states/Union Territories. The analysis suggests that high shares of Muslims and Urdu-speakers in a state and its official language status do not guarantee the growth of the Urdu print news media. In other words, demography does not necessarily determine the fate of the Urdu press.

This part also examines the share of non-Muslim publishers in the Urdu newspaper industry and suggests that the former  seem to have made an important contribution to the revival of Urdu newspaper registrations over the past decade.


1. Religion, language, and newspapers

Muslims constitute about 13.43 per cent of India’s population and Urdu speakers constitute 5.01 per cent of the population. (I have used 2001 Census language data because 2011 data have not yet been released.) The share of Muslims or Urdu-speakers in a state’s population is treated as ‘High’ if it exceeds the respective national averages mentioned above. Demographically, states/UTs can be categorised as follow: Type I, Type II, Type III, and Type IV (Table1). For each of these types, Figures 1-5 compare the shares of states in Muslim, Urdu speakers and Urdu newspaper registrations in India.


Table 1


Muslim population

Urdu speakers

Type I (Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh)

High share of Muslim population

High share of Urdu speakers

Type II (Assam, Jammu & Kashmir, Kerala, Lakshadweep, West Bengal)

High share of Muslim population

Low share of Urdu speakers

Type III (Andhra Pradesh including Telangana, Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Karnataka)

Low share of Muslim population

High share of Urdu speakers

Type IV (Rest of the states)

Low share of Muslim population

Low share of Urdu speakers



Type I States/UTs

Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand are the only states in which the share of Muslims, share of Urdu-speakers, and ratio of Urdu-speakers to Muslim population are all above the respective national averages.

Urdu is an official language in all three states. Of these three, only Uttar Pradesh’s share of registration of Urdu newspaper exceeds its share in the country’s Muslim and Urdu-speaking populations (Figure 1).The shares of the other two in registrations are far less than their shares of Muslim and Urdu populations, which suggests that there is no straightforward demographic explanation of the success of the Urdu media. Interestingly, about 65 per cent of all registrations in Jharkhand took place during 2003-15.



Type II States/UTs

There was no registration in Lakshadweep, where 95 per cent of the population is Muslim, and only one in Kerala and nine in Assam where 25 per cent or more of the population is Muslim (Figure 2). In all the above states/UTs, less than 0.2 per cent people speak Urdu. Kerala’s only Urdu newspaper was registered in 1997. Eight out of nine Urdu newspapers of Assam were registered after 2005. Of the seven Urdu newspapers registered after 2010, five were editions of North Indian newspapers.

In West Bengal, about 2.6 per cent people speak Urdu and about 25 per cent of the population is Muslim. West Bengal has seen 175 registrations of which Kolkata alone accounts for 134 registrations. Until 2002, Kolkata dominated the Urdu media of West Bengal with 121 out of 129 registrations in the state. However, in the later period, smaller cities of the state witnessed a spectacular growth with 33 of the 46 registrations. Also, the 2012-15 period witnessed a sudden increase in registrations with the launch of 24 new newspapers. The only other comparable period in terms of the number of registrations is 1965-68.

Jammu & Kashmir with 67 per cent Muslim population and only 0.1 per cent population that uses Urdu as the mother tongue has seen 449 Urdu newspaper registrations. The strength of the Urdu press in the state might partly be explained by the fact that Urdu has been the official language of Jammu & Kashmir for more than a century. Jammu and Srinagar together account for 82 per cent of the registrations in the state.

Jammu and Srinagar have a comparable share in registrations over the entire period between 1957 and 2015. However, Srinagar’s share has been higher in recent times as it accounted for twice the number of registrations in Jammu during 2003-15. Interestingly, barely 10 Kashmiri language newspapers have been registered so far.



Type III States/UTs

Delhi’s share of Urdu newspaper registrations far exceeds its share in the Muslim population and Urdu-speaking population of the country (Figure 3). Maharashtra and Karnataka are among the handful of states where more than 60 per cent of Muslims declare Urdu as their mother tongue, yet both account for a small share of Urdu newspaper registrations. In Maharashtra, Mumbai alone accounts for 48 per cent of all registrations. Likewise, Bengaluru accounts for 73 per cent of registrations in Karnataka.



Type IV States/UTs

The shares of Punjab and its adjoining states/UTs (Chandigarh, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh) in registrations of Urdu newspapers in the country far exceed their share in the Urdu-speaking population of the country (Figure 4 & 5). Odisha, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, large states with sizeable Muslim and/or Urdu-speaking populations, account for a very small share of Urdu newspaper registrations (Figure 4). It is noteworthy that only two of Gujarat’s 14 Urdu newspapers were registered before 2002. 11 out of the 12 remaining Urdu newspapers of Gujarat registered after 2010.



There was no registration in nine states - Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Puducherry, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Manipur. (Lakshadweep has been discussed above as part of Type II states/UTs.) The share in registrations of other states such as Andaman and Nicobar, Meghalaya, Chhattisgarh, and Sikkim, which are not among the traditional strongholds of Urdu, marginally exceeds their share in India’s Urdu-speaking population.




In 2014-15, five states – Delhi, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir – had more than one Urdu newspaper per 100,000 Muslims or Urdu-speakers (Figure 5.1). 



Delhi is the only state with more than one newspaper copy per Muslim/Urdu-speaker (Figure 5.2). The unusually high figure for Delhi might be explained by the fact that the Delhi editions of newspapers are possibly also sent to other states. In the other four states, there was one copy of Urdu newspaper for every two-three persons.



2. Non-Muslim publishers in the Urdu media 

In 1959, non-Muslims publishers accounted for 48 per cent of the registrations, which dropped in later years before rising to 32 per cent in 2008 (Figure 6). (This is based on the information available at the time of registration. The publishers might have changed later).The decline in the intervening period is accounted for almost entirely by the decline in registrations of Urdu newspapers by non-Muslims in Punjab and the adjoining states/UTs.



There are variations in the share of non-Muslims across periods in states. For example, the share of non-Muslim publishers in Jammu & Kashmir declined from 49 per cent during 1957-77 to 11 per cent during 2003-15 (Figure 7). The decline in the share of non-Muslims at the national level between 1978 and 2002 is accounted for almost entirely by the decline in registrations of Urdu newspapers by non-Muslims in Punjab and its adjoining states (Haryana, Chandigarh, and Himachal Pradesh).

After independence the arrival of a large number of Hindu and Muslim refugees from West Pakistan seems to have led to a large number of Urdu registrations in these states as people from the other side of the border were more conversant with Urdu or at least its script because for a long time most of the languages of Pakistan have been written in the Persian script.

Even the earlier generation of the educated among the local population of Punjab and adjoining states were more likely to be conversant with Urdu rather than, say, Punjabi written in Gurmukhi. But as the next generation of both locals and settlers from West Pakistan went to Punjabi/Hindi/English media schools, we see a dramatic drop in Urdu registrations after 1970s, i.e., a generation's time (25-30 years) since independence.


Concluding remarks

The analysis of the RNI data throws up a number of facts that seem to be contrary to popular perception. A high share of Muslim population does not guarantee a robust Urdu media. This is contrary to the myth that Muslims mechanically identify with Urdu in the public sphere irrespective of whether it is their mother tongue.

Even state patronage of Urdu as an official language and a strong identification of Muslims with Urdu does not guarantee a robust Urdu print media. The other counter-intuitive finding is that there has been a significant rise in the number of non-Muslim publishers of Urdu newspapers.

This two-part article has highlighted national and a few state level trends, but a more detailed analysis at the level of states and major cities such as Delhi, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Kanpur, Mumbai, Patna, Bengaluru, Srinagar, and Jammu is needed to better understand the Urdu print media.

RNI records only bare minimum information and annual filing is not strictly enforced. Moreover, RNI records suffer from a number of shortcomings discussed in the first part of this article. But the RNI data can be used to design field surveys to better understand the Urdu print media and, for that matter, the print media in other languages.


Part 1


Ankita Pandey is an independent researcher based in Bengaluru.



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