By Amir Sultan Lone
It is said that “if you want to kill a nation; the only way to do so is to kill its language”. Language, it should be noted, is not just words uttered meant for merely conversing. It is an identity, an idea inside that relates how we think and how we see each other and how others see us. Our own state, Jammu and Kashmir has a distinctive identity of being a state which has accommodated people of diverse ethnicities and where more than ten languages are spoken. The language spoken by the majority in the Vale of Kashmir is Kashmiri (or Koshur, to be exact) which has the privilege of being one of the 22 languages mentioned in the 8th schedule of the Indian constitution.
Language is a vulnerable aspect of cultural heritage. It behooves people to make great efforts to preserve this aspect of culture. Merely having large number of speakers does not put a language away from the risk of getting extinct. Any language is at risk when it is not taught to the younger generation. Thus, owing to its lost patronage, the status and longevity Kashmiri language is surely a huge concern and worry.
Occupation of a land by foreign rulers has its effects on the native culture. The same holds true for Kashmir. The subjugation of Kashmir by foreign rulers and the incessant change of regimes, subjected the culture of Kashmir to political slaughter. Therefore, the culture of Kashmir underwent a remarkable change. Language, being an important cultural aspect, thus bore the brunt of this occupation. The introduction of Persian as the court language due to the unfamiliarity of rulers with the native language and due to their own interests rendered Kashmiri without patronage.
Language, as we know, is not set in stone. It changes all the time. Thus, the interaction with Persian led to the imposition of many Persian words into Kashmiri language. The introduction of Urdu as official language during the Dogra period pushed our native language into background. Similarly, the coming of English into Kashmir too had its effects on the native culture of Kashmir. The frequent interaction with English and the resultant acculturation polluted the Kashmiri language by the introduction of many English words in their corrupt form since Kashmiris were unable to speak those English words in their proper pronunciation e.g., the use of words like Noon gargar (Eng. Gargle), Matras (English: Mattress ) and so on.
At a time, when states are being carved out on linguistic basis, Kashmir is losing the essence of its language. The Kashmiri we speak now is the hodge-podge of words from Urdu and Hindi and to some extent the corruption of English words and is thus no Kashmiri at all. Our minds are colonized to such an extent that we consider those people inferior whose Kashmiri words end up with the letter ‘d’ as in Kupwod,(Kupwore) , Hodyod (Horyor).
The result is that the people from rural areas, when they move to Srinagar temporarily or for that matter permanently, are compelled by circumstances to surrender their dialect and accent before the so called standard dialect. We should, however, understand that these are only the different dialects and there is no superior Kashmiri and inferior Kashmiri. We don’t have to be ashamed of our regional dialects. As a matter of fact, we as Kashmiris, love our language and are obsessed with it to the extent that we wouldn’t even bother to switch to lingua franca even if in the company of non-Kashmiris but the matter of the fact is that we are rendered handicapped by the circumstances that we are unable to speak it properly.
Truth be told, not many Kashmiris are now able to deliver a good speech in their mother tongue and even if somebody manages to deliver, not too many will be able to understand him. The case is no different with Kashmiri songs. The old melodious songs of Hassan Sofi and his likes are stilled loved by the people; even the younger generation finds solace in their songs, and yet they are hard to understand because of our unfamiliarity with the vocabulary. Having a rich literary and cultural tradition a plethora of literature has been produced by our iconic Kashmiri writers in the past but ironically only a little percentage of people is left who take interest in reading it or who actually can read it and unfortunately rare attempts are being made to revive that literally tradition of writing and reading Kashmiri literature.
Ironically, this condition has rendered most Kashmiris more or less lacking in every language. The case is no different with Urdu—our official language. We are unable to speak it in its originality, not to talk of writing. The embarrassing situation is when we transliterate Kashmiri words to form a sentence into Urdu. “Darwaza de do” (Darwaz di), Mai wahan mat nagayatha(Ba maaosusgumout),gadh́imai overload tha phir mai khada baithgaya(Gaadimanzoos overload, pat byuthus ba khada] and so on constitute examples of this parody.
Of late, we are however, trying to encourage our children to speak Urdu at home and in their school, which is a good thing unless it is done at the cost of their mother tongue. This could have helped them learn an extra language but due to the fact that we don’t speak Urdu properly, we end up teaching our children wrongly.
The question now is what needs to be done?
Both, at the individual and the collective level, we need to strive for the amelioration of this situation. Besides, there is a dire need of the government patronage to preserve our indigenous language and in turn the whole cultural makeup of the state. Government should make sure that Kashmiri is taught in schools not as a subsidiary but a primary subject. Seminars and workshops on language skills should be made an important part of the school curriculum. Equal importance should be given to the teaching of other languages with focus on pronunciation. More and more newspapers and literature should come out in Kashmiri. An enthusiasm should be instilled among the younger generation to preserve their rich cultural heritage. All these interventions can help us preserve our language and thus our culture.
The author is a PhD Research Scholar, Department of History, Aligarh Muslim University , can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org