By Zeeshan Rasool Khan & Eyram Hamid Khan
Wilhelm von Humboldt has aptly said: “Absolutely nothing is as important for nation’s culture as its language”. Culture and language have a deep-rooted relationship with language constituting an indispensable element of culture. The latter is a key component involved in nation building and can be termed as the oil that keeps nation and society functional. However, the transmission of culture from one generation to other is possible only through the language. For preserving a culture and identity, safeguarding the mother language is of utmost significance. Having said that, in Kashmir; there was a time when terms like ‘Poen’ and ‘Nabb’ were used in lieu of existing, originally Persian Urdu words, ‘Aab’ and ‘Aasmaan’, meaning water and sky respectively and are no longer heard from any corner. Slowly and steadily, we are turning disloyal to our cultural and native language, that is, Kashmiri. Our ancestors, educationists, scholars of the past who were committed to protecting our language, and who always favoured putting their ideas, thoughts forth through local language and even translated religious scriptures into Kashmiri, but ruefully, the scenario has changed a lot. We prefer Urdu and English over our native language, prioritize schools with “English Medium” tag over others.
Teaching other languages is the need but this should not come at the expense of the mother tongue. The present generation is incapable of putting anything on paper in the language they have inherited. The situation has worsened to the extent that speaking Kashmiri symbolizes illiteracy and backwardness for many. People nowadays converse mostly in languages other than Kashmiri. In some homes, parents stress children to talk in non-native languages; they sometimes react against the child for going native. Even the discourse of our religious preachers is largely based on non-native languages so that they will be deemed well-learned. Sometimes, we speak Kashmiri but that too seems to be hotchpotch of words from different languages. Now , except when (spoken) by veterans, Kashmiri writers and many Kashmiri Pundits, Kashmiri in its original form is hardly spoken anymore, anywhere.
Some educationists, religious scholars, and common people are taking pains to keep our language alive. Some institutions confer awards with this motive. All this is encouraging and awe-inspiring. Many daily newspapers are published in the Kashmiri language in addition to books on diverse issues especially poetry. A positive development that has taken place is that some youth have started playing the role. Many youths have taken to the pen to gather their opinions in the mother tongue. Some have produced award-winning collections, inspiring others to return back to roots. The education department has introduced the Kashmiri language in the school curriculum and declared it a compulsory subject at secondary level. The overall results are good; students have started showing interest again which is encouraging. But , all said and done, a lot more has to be done to cope with existing challenges.
Teaching Kashmiri in schools is laudable. It has caught the attention of students towards this language. However, there is a need for further improvement. In most of our schools, teachers who have been assigned to teach Kashmiri are from varied academic backgrounds. At some places, a science teacher teaches Kashmiri; at another an Urdu teacher. The cumulative effect is that, they fail to comply with the requirement of students and the latter remain almost untutored. This problem can be solved with ease but it warrants sincere action. We have no dearth of Kashmiri knowing people. Many youngsters are holding a Master’s degree in Kashmiri but the state of affairs has let them down. Their qualification has never been valued instead they are mocked by so-called scientists and philosophers of the era. The better strategy is employing them productively. This will not only be a boost for students but will provide an incentive to others to choose Kashmiri as their subject of choice thus furthering its promotion. Other school teachers and administrations need to be concerned about the matter and must not force children to use other languages; rather they must translate what they teach and encourage students to do projects on different themes in their own language. This will bring about more clarity in concepts and eliminate confusions.
Similarly, organizations making efforts for the promotion of our language need to intensify their activities. Besides encouraging Kashmiri-literary people, organizing awareness programs to educate general masses about the importance of native language is also the need of the time. Organizing seminars, essay and quiz competitions, debates within schools and colleges on the importance of mother tongue can be constructive. Creation of web pages in Kashmiri language, devising Kashmiri language keyboard apps for computers and cell phones can also be advantageous. Use of signboards, advertisement boards, posters and hoardings written in Kashmiri may also help in the long run. Parents who believe that by speaking Kashmiri, their progeny cannot compete with others must understand that credible research suggests that a child needs to attain a critical level of mother tongue proficiency which, in turn, leads to increased success in second language acquisition, i.e., Perfection in “First language” will lead to excellence in acquired languages; so there is no question of incompetence. Parents have a crucial role to play as they are the ones, who can carry it (Kashmiri language) on to the next generation. They need to realize the significance of the mother tongue and make serious efforts for its persistence.
Moreover, the positive and collective approach of all individuals belonging to every section of society is decisive for future of the Kashmiri language. Let’s us all take the initiative to protect our language, the integral part of our culture and identity. Otherwise if this vehicle of intangible cultural heritage is lost, it will have serious repercussions on our society and nation as well.
—The authors are Postgraduate students in Life-sciences and write on current socio-political issues. They can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org