When any language is on the threshold of extinction, it is considered that people who spoke it no longer find it convenient to talk in their native language for most communication. Private schools in Kashmir are a revealing example. Students are often directly or indirectly punished for talking in Kashmiri; instead, the language mostly acceptable is Urdu.
If we look carefully at the ongoing stir in the Kashmiri culture, our adults are groping for replacement words when they cannot recall the exact syllable from their mother tongue. Moreover, it can be said that cultural globalization and mass media has glorified the strongest languages, English for instance.
Sarah Grey Thomason and Terrence Kaufman, American linguists, in their ten-year-long studies on “Contact-induced language change” stated: In situations of cultural pressure, a subordinate population many shift abruptly to the dominant language, leaving a native language to a sudden linguistic death.
Although Kashmiri, or what natives called Koshur, is not on the verge of extinction but odds against the language are stacking. Our youngest generation should have been taught Kashmiri right form the beginning, but parents first infuse them with English and Urdu before they learn their mother tongue.
Pakistani writer on Kashmir affairs, Mir Abdul Aziz had then said Kashmiri [Language] remains stranger in its own country. Ghulam Ahmad Mahjur considered Kashmiri a “backward language” though he played a very important role its literary revival.
It is apparent from the existing situation, and authors have come out clear on it, that the regional shifting and bifurcation of Kashmir has upended the language, and riddled it with the onslaught of strangeness and decay.
One Kashmiri parent I met, whose two daughters are studying in Delhi Public School, has no reason to educate them with Kashmiri. At home and at school, they talk in Urdu and write in English. Therefore, for them, Kashmiri is a ‘useless’ language.
But parents like these have no idea that what they actually are inducing in their children is an impetus to relinquish their culture and replacing it with a foreign culture of dominance.
Much of this language shift has arisen from the incapacity of politicians who would haggle on many trivial issues but ignore the importance of the native language that is almost on a brink.
According to reports by UNESCO, half of the world’s languages may become extinct by the end of this century.
In his research on the ‘Dying Linguistic’ Braj B. Kachr says that, “in this interplay of language, politics and power, the Kashmiri language never received patronage from the powerful and the court, except for a short duration during the reign of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin.”
The government has, after much awaiting and public debate, introduced Kahmiri as a subject in schools. But that is unlikely to help the already burdened students who must learn English, Urdu and Hindi simultaneously. One of the teachers I met in Linton Hall School here said that many students are still going through a tough time to learn their own language. School classrooms Classroom often reflect frustration among the students who feel burdened by the addition of yet another subject to their syllabi.
Software giant, Microsoft has recently launched an application “Learn Kashmiri” which is available at $2.49. It is not even known in online market due to the reasons that adults in Kashmir are seen using only apps that are free. The other reason could be that why should anyone learn Kashmiri grammar when we are not writing in the language. In Kashmir there are no signboards in Kashmiri!
Dina Nath Nadim, a prominent Kashmiri poet, in 1974 candidly confessed, “my language was Kashmiri, but we were ashamed of writing in Kashmiri. We were not just ashamed; we didn’t know how to write in the language.”
One student squarely said in Urdu to me that he only wanted to pass the Kashmiri language paper to move on to the other class, and has no plan in future to do degree in it. Most of the today Kashmiri students don’t understand Kashmiri, and the teachers have to instruct them in Urdu, as a more convenient form of communication.
Maharaja Pratap Singh introduced Urdu in Kashmir during the Dogra autocracy in eighteen century. Today, it is the official language of the State. Kashmiri does not have the status of the state language!
In all intuitions, Urdu is spoken vibrantly. “The reason why our present generation is too shy to talk in their native language in public is because of inferiority complex,” said Shad Ramzan, head of Kashmiri department at the University of Kashmir. “Our language is rich and dynamic, and its literature can be compared with English literature. Our generation is ignorant of it,” he lamented.
There is no doubt that our literary resources like the mystic poet Laleshwari, the Bhakti poets Parmananda, Zinda Kaul “Masterji”, the pioneers of modernism Ghulam Ahmad Mahjur and Abdul Ahad Azad, and the major initiators of the Renaissance in Kashmiri literature, Dina Nath Nadim and Abdul Rahman Rahi, have emboldened and awakened the Kashmiriyat.
Rahi was awarded Gyanpeeth by the President of India in 2013 for his contribution in Kashmiri literature. He said, “the concept of Kashmiriyat is incomplete without Kashmiri language. Whosoever is playing the tune of Kashmiriyat without talking of Kashmir, its language and culture is either foolish or does it for his own benefit.”
But still, most of the works by our ancestors remain un-translated to other languages, even today. Professor Ramzan explains that although we have many research scholars in Kashmiri studies but they only translate according to syllabus set by the department. A voluntary translation of very important works is, therefore, scarce.
To endorse and rekindle our lost language, the younger generation of Kashmiris should have access to the major studies and debates about Kashmir and Kashmiris as chronicled and represented in the published and oral sources from Srinagar before and after the 1980s. These include, for example, the daily Martand, representing one articulate voice of the Pandits of the Valley, the Hamdard, edited by a provocative and often controversial political activist Prem Nath Bazaz.
On 2 October 2012, BBC reported that Bobby Hogg, 92, was the last still fluent speaker of Cromarty Fisherfolk dialect that was spoken in a part of Britain.
It is extremely important that we initiate steps to preserve our language. If nothing is done, an obituary note shall be written no far from now relegating the language to the realm of the dead.
In 1942, a major poet of Kashmiri, Zinda Kaul recited a poem at a mushayira (poetic symposium) at Sri Pratap College, in Srinagar. In the poem entitled, “Panin Kath” (About ourselves) a Kashmiri remorsefully laments that “we have lost our mother tongue, whither can such men go?”