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16th March '2008
Save Kashmiri Language
(Loss of language means loss of identity)

During the last half century or so Kashmir has lost many things. Dal Lake may be one of the most damaging losses as it has been a symbol of Kashmir, the “Paradise on Earth”. The lush green forest cover has been lost to the greed of both locals and outsiders. A community which had formed part and parcel of Kashmiri psyche for centuries has been virtually lost. There is only a sprinkling of them left in the valley. They may again be able to grow as there is a tradition that the valley was once left with only 11 households, yet it has survived and grown back. But still greater loss is our native language whether in Kashmir or outside. The loss of a language means loss of identity. The rate at which it is being deliberately obliterated from all sections of the society may see it gone totally in a decade or so. We hear too many sermons about so called Kashmiriyat from one and all but not a single word about the Kashmiri language. The easiest way to send a nation into oblivion is to completely erase its native language. However, the height of misfortune is that we have ourselves been a catalyst in destroying the language especially from our own homes. The more we have progressed towards so called modern education, the more we have neglected our native tongue. One of the side effects of this new trend in education has been in the form of more emphasis on English and Urdu. In almost every place all over the world people take pride in speaking one’s own native tongue. Not in Kashmir. We converse with our kids in home in Urdu or English. There are umpteen cases where children can neither understand nor speak Kashmiri thanks to their “Mod” parents. Even in day to day discussions among friends and even family members we prefer Urdu or English or a mixture of all. French will never speak in their homes and especially in a formal function outside their country in any language except French even though they may be fluent in a dozen languages. Same holds good for Russians. Nearer home, the South Indians do not use Hindi even if they know it. They prefer Telegu, Malayalam, or Tamil. In the early part of our recent history beginning from 1947, Kashmiri language had been introduced in all schools at primary level. There used to be a primer in Kashmiri with a number of folk tales. There were many stories in these books which we had been fond of hearing from our grannies every evening before going to sleep. However, immediately after deposing Sheikh Abdullah, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad is alleged to have ordered burning of a few hundred thousand primary books on Kashmiri language which was totally banished from all schools. Our native language systematically disappeared from all educational institutions over a period of time. The operation was so meticulous and well planned that no body noticed or even resisted till Kashmiri language was totally gone from the curriculum. Most tragic is the role of people who have apparently grown up in stature, position, and status on the basis of Kashmiri but have totally forgotten to do something about it on the ground. This includes professors, cultural experts, and other academicians who have initially come into limelight because of the Kashmiri language but have subsequently moved on. The most typical example of strangulation of Kashmiri is the so called Kashir channel of TV. It is anything but Kashmiri! Most of the time, it is utilised by its organisers for propaganda purposes. The channel had been initially set up to give a boost to Kashmiri culture and language and make locals feel that Delhi cares about their culture, language, and traditions. However, the programmes are all planned at Delhi by those who have no knowledge of the local traditions, culture, and language. The audio-visual medium is normally the best medium to promote a language. No doubt there appear to exist certain vested interests that are making concerted attempts to wipe out the native language, yet we cannot escape the blame as we are actively participating in achieving this goal. Incidentally some modern institutions are teaching spoken Arabic and not Kashmiri to students enrolled there. There are numerous centres, associations, and other non-governmental organisations supposed to do something about Kashmir but hardly any of these is doing something practical to further the Kashmiri language. It has often been observed that in a number of seminars or discussions held among locals on the subject of Kashmir, the medium is Urdu or English. Why can’t we have these sessions in our native tongue? Some of the most meticulous and dedicated work on Kashmiri language has been done by the British scholars like Grierson and Knowles. I sometimes enjoy reading Knowles Kashmiri Proverbs. Many of us have probably forgotten most of these! Interestingly, at present the Kashmiri Pandits (migrants and some of those who had been already staying abroad) are doing more work on Kashmiri language than most of us staying back in Kashmir. There may be a difference of opinion about the script only. Some people prefer the original Sarda script while we have the Persian script in Kashmir itself. May be the main reason for trying to save Kashmiri in whatever forms possible is the apprehension of losing their distinct cultural identity. It is interesting to note that even the famous internet search engine, Google, has introduced Kashmiri as one of the languages. There are better facilities available on the internet to learn Kashmiri language than there are in Kashmir itself. By now we should have introduced a complete audio-visual programme for learning Kashmiri. Even the foreign tourists would have loved to learn it. The State Academy of Art, Culture, and Languages off and on does some work on the subject. Theatre Festivals are held from time to time. These have been revived just a couple of years back. In between, due to problems in the valley, Kashmiri Culture had been reduced to some shows outside Kashmir. In Kashmir itself, things had come to standstill. If any Kashmiri traditions and culture including language have survived, it is only because of the efforts of the rural folk. However, there also has been a new kind of migration involving movement of rural folk into urban areas especially to Srinagar. Instead of preserving and promoting their culture, they too get swept away by the “Mod” education and culture of the city folks. Incidentally, all “popular” leaders purporting to struggle for a Kashmir identity prefer Urdu or English in their discourses. Normally, they should have been the main promoters of Kashmir’s traditions, culture, and language. For unknown reasons they depict a typical lassitude in this regard. If one is fighting for Azadi then first fight should be for the native language. If our future generations do not speak, understand, and write Kashmiri, then it is immaterial whether they are in Kashmir or anywhere else! We have all to take some urgent and solemn steps if we want our culture to endure against an onslaught which may not be entirely a forced one but a part of the global marketing trend. To save Kashmir, we have to first ensure that our language survives. Let us begin by speaking to our kids in Kashmiri in our homes. Next we have to persuade the concerned authorities to once again introduce Kashmiri in all educational institutions, whether private or public. It is said charity begins at home. Let us follow the maxim as a first step, the rest will follow!

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