By Syed Asif Iqbal
Srinagar: More provocation of Kashmiri Muslim sentiments is in the offing as the government of India reportedly plans to use its resources to promote Devanagari and Sharda as scripts for the Kashmiri language.
The HRD ministry headed by Smriti Irani is expected to seek cabinet approval for the constitution of a National Council for the Promotion of Kashmiri Language. This council will be mandated to encourage and popularise the use of Devanagari as the script for Kashmiri, and to revive the near-extinct Sharda script in which some medieval Kashmiri literature was written.
The proposal of the ministry of human resource development (MHRD) comes at a time when the state is simmering with resentment over government plans to establish housing colonies for Kashmiri Pandits and give businessmen from outside Kashmir land on lease for industry.
Apart from research and documentation of Kashmiri literature, the proposed council will undertake the translation of Kashmiri writing into various national and international languages. The council will be an autonomous body reporting directly to Smriti Irani, media reports said.
News of this proposal has led to outrage in Kashmiri literary circles. The department of Kashmiri at the Kashmir University, the Adbi Markaz Kamraz and a host of literary organisations have expressed opposition and termed the move divisive.
“The Kashmiri language is one of the oldest and richest languages of the subcontinent. It has a rich literature that goes back hundreds of years. Any move to change the script will mean ruining of a seven-hundred-year-old cultural treasure,” said Professor Shad Ramzan, head department of Kashmiri at University of Kashmir. The professor said that Kashmiri literature is mostly available in the Nastaliq script and this script has been adopted by constitutional bodies as well as universally practised by all Kashmiri-speaking people.
“Any move to alter this script will invite serious repercussions and will be looked upon as cultural aggression,” Ramzan said. He said that such proposals were also mooted earlier but were opposed tooth-and-nail. He said that the Kashmiri language in its present script had emotions attached with it irrespective of religion or creed.
“Muslims in Kashmir hold this language in reverence and take guidance from teachings of Sheikh-ul-Aalm, Lalla Ded, Shamas Faqeer, Rehman Dar and numerous other Sufi saints. For Kashmiri Pandits, this language is divine as emphasised by Krishan Joo Razdan in his work ‘Pamposh Paadan’.”
Similar views were echoed by Adbi Markaz Kamraz in a statement. “If the alternative script is thrust on us, it will be seen as an attack on our cultural sensitivities,” the statement read.
At present, Nastaliq or Perso-Arabic script retains the official status for Kashmiri language. “Nastaliq script is the only official script of Kashmiri language which was approved by state legislative assembly in 1947,” former HoD Kashmir department at KU, Professor Shafi Shauq said.
He said that the ancient Sharda script was not Kashmiri specific but was common to all Himalayan languages.
“Sharda is an ancient script which is known to only a few individuals. As long as it is introduced as an alternate script, there seems no harm. Those elements that are trying to play linguistic politics with it should be kept at bay,” Shauq said.
When asked whether the PDP-BJP coalition government will support such a proposal, Dr Haseeb Drabu who holds the additional charge of culture ministry of J&K, said that any move to replace Nastaliq script will not be supported.
“As long as Sharda or Devanagari is introduced as an alternate script, there seems no harm. But it should not be at the cost of the official script of Kashmiri language which is Nastaliq,” Drabu said.