“Losing the language means losing the culture. We need to know who we are because it makes a difference to who our children are.”—Dottie LeBeau
Language is fundamental to culture. It is the medium through which we communicate our values, ideas, beliefs. It cultivates feelings of group identity and solidarity. It is the channel by which customs and traditions and values are transmitted and preserved. If the language of a community is gone, then the entire culture of that community will be gone forever.
Kashmir has a rich cultural heritage that goes back to the very ancient past. The Kashmiri language is mainly spoken in Kashmir valley and in the Chenab valley. It belongs to the Dardic subgroup of the Indo-Aryan Language family. It is one of 22 languages that are mentioned in the 8th schedule of the Indian Constitution. With rapid modernisation in the last few decades, the Kashmiri language is now in an endangered situation. Modern youth of Kashmir feel shy to speak in the Kashmiri language. They feel that by speaking in Kashmiri they will be considered as inferior among their peers. Most parents in Kashmir now speak in English or Urdu to their children. But why? What is so wrong with the Kashmiri tongue? It is a well-known fact that in the mother tongue a student can comprehend better than in any foreign language. In the schools and colleges of Kashmir, teachers give the main thrust on English or Urdu and teach students mainly in these two languages. The Kashmiri tongue has been utterly neglected and some teachers even compel students to speak only in Urdu and English. Even though Kashmiri language is a subject that is compulsory up to Class 8 in the J&K school education system, but very little importance is given to it. Though many people in Kashmir can speak the Kashmiri language, there is a meagre number of people who can write it.
The occupation of Kashmir by many foreign rulers has had an impact on our native culture. The Mughal regime put emphasis on the Persian language and tried to spread it to every nook and corner of the Indian subcontinent. Similarly, during the Dogra reign, Urdu was made as the official language and it further pushed the Kashmiri language to the margins. When Christian missionaries started modern education in Kashmir, they laid stress on English and many English-medium schools were established in Kashmir, which further contributed to the downfall of the Kashmiri language.
Now, it is very hard to find our language anywhere next to Urdu or English on public signboards. The authorities and the education system of Jammu and Kashmir have not given much attention to the Kashmir language but nor have there been individual efforts to promote it. To put the Kashmiri language back on track, the first and foremost responsibility is of educational institutions. To teach students in English or Urdu is not a bad thing but it will only help students to learn their native language. Schools and colleges should organise workshops, seminars, writing competitions, quizzes, drama, debates and discussions about the Kashmiri language. The same method should be applicable for teachers under their training course. Individual efforts should also be taken to preserve our mother tongue. One example to follow is that of educationalist and ex-director of education, the late Atiqa Bano from Sopore who decided to start a newspaper in Kashmiri. She also established a museum at Sopore named Meeras Mahal and organised an exhibition in Srinagar which depicts the various aspects of Kashmiri culture and artefacts.
Kashmiri as a subject must be made compulsory up to Class 10 and the same attention should be given to it as to other subjects. In addition to this, Kashmiri should be introduced in colleges and universities of Kashmir. There is a dire need for government patronage to preserve our indigenous language and culture. TV and radio channels like DD Koushar and Radio Srinagar should broadcast programmes in the Kashmiri language. Parents at home should speak, and encourage their children to speak, the Kashmiri language. Civil society organisations must promote Kashmiri language at the grassroots level. Our youth should not feel shy of speaking Kashmiri. This beautiful language is part and parcel of our culture and we should feel proud of having a rich culture. It is the responsibility of every Kashmiri to promote the Kashmiri language so that Koshur, the soul of the valley, is preserved for eternity.
—The writer is a native of Pahalgam and is studying Geography at Aligarh Muslim University.