The Case for Hindi-Urdu

For an institution that prides itself on being “internationally-oriented” with abundant opportunities for students, Tufts still lacks critical academic infrastructure.  Tufts students' development as "global citizens" is hindered by glaring curricular deficiencies, particularly with respect to South Asia. Chief among these is the absence of a Hindi-Urdu language program. Given its relevance to Tufts' curriculum, student demographics, and overall goals, SAPAC recognizes the urgency of this situation and calls for the creation of a joint Hindi-Urdu language program.


Hindi is the fourth most spoken language on the planet, behind Mandarin, Spanish, and English. When combined with its sister language, Urdu, the number of speakers rises to between 300 and 400 million native speakers, with an additional 155 million second-language speakers. While South Asia is home to a multitude of native languages, Hindi and Urdu are decidedly the most prominent of India and Pakistan, respectively. The languages have evolved from a common ancestor and are mutually intelligible, to the extent that many consider them essentially the same language. Hindi and Urdu are often taught as one language; in formal academic settings, both writing systems are introduced within the first year of study.


Due to its global relevance, the creation of a Hindi-Urdu program is an academic necessity here at Tufts. Amidst the increasing demand for opportunities to engage with the Indian subcontinent,  knowledge of its leading native languages is a critical component. Tufts' renowned International Relations program—the cornerstone of its international focus—offers a thematic concentration in the Middle East and South Asia. The absurd lumping of these two very distinct regions aside, South Asia is one of only two regions within the vast purview of the IR major without a corresponding language program. (The other is Southeast Asia, which shares a thematic concentration with East Asia.) Middle East/South Asia concentrators are subsequently urged to pursue proficiency in Arabic; for many students choosing to focus their coursework on South Asia, this does not necessarily result in the "cultural literacy and sensitivity" that the IR foreign language requirement seeks to promote.

Moreover, in keeping with Tufts' commitment to interdisciplinary education, a Hindi-Urdu program could potentially enhance the academic and professional development of students of all disciplines. Several Tufts academic departments and programs offer coursework relating to South Asia, including:

  • Arab and Muslim Americans (AMER/ARB)
  • Asian America (AMER)
  • Beijing to Bollywood (ENG/CHNS/ILVS)
  • Childhood Across Cultures (CD)
  • Contemporary South Asia (HIST) 
  • Decolonization and Postcolonial Thought (HIST/ENG) 
  • Economics of Migration (EC)
  • Gender and Sexuality in South Asia (ANTH) 
  • Health in South Asia (ANTH)
  • Indian Philosophies (REL/PHIL) 
  • Intro to Tibetan Buddhism (REL) 
  • Introduction to Hinduism (REL) 
  • Labor History Across South Asia & Caribbean (HIST)
  • Metaphors of Globalization (AMER/ENG)
  • Modern Hinduism (REL)
  • Modern South Asia (HIST)
  • Political Economy of India (PS)
  • Race in America (AMER) 
  • Racial and Ethnic Politics in the U.S. (AMER/PS)
  • Religion in Colonial India (REL)
  • Sanskrit (CLS) 
  • South Asia and the World (HIST)
  • Writing Against Empire (AMER)

Even in courses that are not intended to concern South Asia, or through independent studies, students often tailor their coursework to pursue South Asia-related interests and passions. 

NOTE: The breadth of opportunities for academic engagement with South Asia suggests the renewed need to consider introducing a South Asian Studies minor. However, that is not on the table for the foreseeable future; as a result, the short-term actualization of a Hindi-Urdu program is SAPAC's primary curricular focus at present.


A Hindi-Urdu program would certainly help Tufts remain competitive with its so-called peer institutions. At present, Tufts offers classes taught in five of the world's six most spoken languages; adding Hindi-Urdu would certainly strengthen its "international" reputation. Below is a list of schools already offering the language(s): 

  • Brown University
  • Boston University
  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • Duke University
  • Georgetown University
  • Harvard University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Northwestern University
  • Princeton University
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Wellesley College
  • Williams College
  • Yale University


From a social perspective, this is a matter of representation and expanding opportunities for students. Students from all backgrounds can benefit from learning Hindi-Urdu. There are children of South Asian immigrants like me that have been exposed to the language at home but would like to formally study the language and gain familiarity with an essential component of their heritage. There are also international students from South Asia interested in pursuing Hindi-Urdu at a higher level by studying literature and history that easily forfeit nuance in translation. And, of course, there are curious students of all majors and backgrounds, from those seeking to fulfill their distribution requirements to those with a specific interest in South Asia. Such diversity in the potential body of Hindi-Urdu learners makes the case even more compelling. In the months to come, SAPAC will be collecting the stories and aspirations of students and faculty invested in the creation of a Hindi-Urdu program as part of our campaign. 


India recognizes 22 official languages apart from Hindi and English, with an additional 100 major languages spoken on its soil; this linguistic plurality does not exist to such a degree in any other country. Pakistan is home to five major languages other than Urdu. In India, many non-Hindi speakers feel that Hindi is imposed on them through the political, economic, and cultural hegemony of the "Hindi belt," the region of the country which includes India's capital, New Delhi. As a native Marathi speaker who has witnessed the increasing suppression of my language in Mumbai, I am personally familiar with the frustrations and consequences of Hindi's dominance.

The relative ubiquity of Hindi-Urdu in academic institutions, relative to other South Asian languages, is an issue both on the subcontinent and abroad. In seeking to bring a Hindi-Urdu program to Tufts, we do not wish to ignore this injustice. Ideally, Tufts should learn from our neighbors in Cambridge and offer as many South Asian languages as possible. Yet, given the size of our endowment and the scope of our curriculum at present, Hindi-Urdu is the best place to start.


In short, Hindi-Urdu is not just the language of Bollywood and appropriative tattoos. It has profound political, professional, and cultural significance; Tufts owes it to itself and its community to provide courses that affirm Hindi-Urdu's importance and empower its students to engage even more deeply with South Asia and its diaspora(s). Though seemingly well beyond the scope and capacity of an undergraduate student group, SAPAC is committed to ensuring the implementation of this program as part of our broader mission to serve the Tufts community through fundamentally changing how South Asia exists on this campus.


At present, the most important way you can help is to fill out the student survey we have released in conjunction with TCU Senate.

In the coming months, we hope to broaden this campaign by documenting the stories of those passionate about the creation of this program, as well as hosting an event highlighting the program's importance and potential impact.

To stay up-to-date on this initiative as it progresses, remember to 'LIKE' SAPAC on Facebook. We will use this public page to highlight ways people can get involved and update the Tufts community on new developments.

Thank you!