Urdu was the official language of Indian Army during the British era. The need to promote Urdu Language and adopt it for official use arose as people from different races and tribes were included in the British Army at various cadres and levels.
British officers felt that a common language was needed to communicate with them. “Armies must have a common language and Indian Army uses Urdu for all enlisted men, be whatever their home language”, said Frank Brayne, Adviser of Indian Affairs to the Indian Army during 1941–1946.
Urdu was ‘Lingua Franca’ of Indian army, the common language to connect all officers and soldiers in British armed forces during pre -independence India.
All British officers in Indian regiments and all Civil Servants in India were required to learn Urdu and pass an exam in Urdu at proficient level. The British Indian Army compiled and published text books in Urdu, as well as a military Urdu-English dictionary for its officers and Soldiers.
Monier Williams, in 1887, described Urdu as the common language of ‘Lashkar’ or Army.
He said,“Urdu or Hindustani, is the mixed or composite dialect, which has resulted with the fusion of Hindi, the indiums of Hindus, with the Persian and Arabic of Muslims. It is not only the regular spoken language of Delhi, Lucknow and at least 50 million residents of central India, the North West Provinces, Punjab, but is also the common medium of communication of Muslims throughout India.
During the British era, a British Army Officer posted to an Indian regiment usually had to spend a year with an English regiment, where he had to learn Urdu. The new officers were also expected to spend considerable time with their men, learning about their customs, traditions, faith, culture and background, as they were to join that particular regiment.
Many British officers wrote that it was wrong to say that British Army Officers needed translators, when they used to communicate with their native Officers or Soldiers.
According to B.Parret, the thought that British officers needed translators to talk to their Indian troops is wrong. British officers in Indian regiments learnt Urdu, which was ‘lingau franca’ of Indian Army, consisting of members from many different races, castes and religion.
History thus stands proof to the fact that Urdu is an Indian language and not of any particular community or religion, as a common perception nowadays.