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SMOKERS’ CORNER: THE EDUCATED ILLITERATES

SMOKERS’ CORNER: THE EDUCATED ILLITERATES

An often-used Urdu expression ‘parrhay likhay jaahil’ means an educated man or a woman who talks or behaves the way an ‘illiterate’ person does. Such an expression is not as common elsewhere in the world as it is in Pakistan and India, and perhaps even in Bangladesh. Its usage is not found before the 19th century in literature produced during Mughal rule in the subcontinent. So one can assume it was not used before the 16th century. 

The expression largely emerged in the 19th century. It is mentioned in John T. Platts’ 1874 book, A Grammar Of Hindustani and Urdu Language. The 19th century Urdu poet Altaf Hussain Hali is known to have used it for educated people who refused to agree with the thinking of Muslim reformer Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. 




One can thus assume that the expression became prominent when Indians began to gain ‘modern’ education introduced by the British colonialists, and the idea of being parrha likha (educated) began to carry weight. It meant a person who was now not only eligible to serve in colonial institutions, but had also gained a modern and rational outlook. Nevertheless, according to Hali and other supporters of Sir Syed, there were still Indians who, despite attaining modern education, had refused to adopt a progressive outlook and were thus parrhay likhay jaahil

The strands of education introduced by the British in India were largely engineered to produce local talent to man the vast colonial bureaucracy set up by the colonialists. According to an essay by Indian sociologist Karuna Chanana in the April 11, 1964 issue of The Economic Weekly, the middle-classes in India were formed by colonial social policies, of which the need to get modern education was a major plank. 

Gaining modern education to enter the civil service, become a lawyer or join the judiciary by the early Indian middle-classes also paved the way for them to enter politics in British India. This then led to demands for self-rule, formulated mainly by educated Indians who insisted that they were now educated enough to run a modern state of their own.

Who are the ‘parrhay likhay jaahil’ everyone seems to keep talking about? And why are they almost always drawn from the middle class?

However, in the 2017 edition of the Journal of Contemporary South Asia, Simantini Krishnan writes that, even after Partition, education was still engineered to produce an apolitical elite which could run the bureaucracy and, later, provide doctors and engineers. 

But over the decades, as the middle-classes in both the countries expanded and acquired increasing economic influence, they became weary of any form of politics that advocated left-leaning economic reforms. They believed such reforms would not impact the economic elites but instead try to appease the lower classes at the expense of the middle-classes. So an established elite as well as the lower-classes both became forces to be wary of. 

In a letter published in the April 1970 issue of the now defunct English daily, The People (published from former East Pakistan), a supporter of the ‘modernist’ and ‘pro-business’ Ayub Khan regime (1958-69) described religious scholars who had opposed Ayub’s social reforms, as ‘parrhay likhay jaahil.’ He writes, “They pose to be educated and learned about our faith, but their thinking is backward. They are the educated illiterate.” 

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