On Kashmiri Language: Losing one’s language is like losing one’s soul

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When any language is on the threshold of extinction, it is considered that those people no longer find it convenient to talk in their native language for communication. An example may suffice: in private schools in Kashmir, where students are punished for talking in Kashmiri, the only language acceptable is Urdu. 

It can be said that, at least, 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 study on “Contact -induced language change” state: “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 the possibilities are awakening. Our next generation should have been taught Kashmiri by birth, but are penetrated by parents by education of English and Urdu, and never to spoke of an odd language- as they call it now days.

There are divergent views by the cultural elite on Kashmiri language.

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 the most important role its literary revival.  

One parent I met here, whose two daughters (Ai’noor and Budoor) 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 invalid. 

But parents like these have no idea that what they actually are inducing in their children- relinquishing the culture and embracing foreign culture in dominance.

Much of this language shift has arisen from the incapacity of politicians who would haggle on many trivial issues but ignoring the importance of language that is almost on brink. 

According to reports by to UNESCO, half of world’s languages may become extinct by the end of this century. 

In a research on Dying Linguistic by Braj.B.Kachrn, has referred 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.”

Government has, after much awaiting and public debate, introduced Kahmiri as a subject in schools. But that won’t help already burdened students to 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. Classroom would reflect constant uproar and frustration from students who are enduring the new subject so difficult. 

Recently, Microsoft has 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 social apps that are free. Other reason could be that why should anyone learn Kashmiri grammar when we are not writing in it, and that even no sign boards are in Kashmiri. 

Dina Nath Nadim, a prominent  Kashmiri poet, in 1974 candidly confessed that his 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”, he added.

 One student squarely said in Urdu to me that he only wanted to pass the Kashmiri subject to move on to other class, and has no plan in future to do degree in it. Most of the students don’t understand Kashmiri, and the teacher’s have to make them understand in Urdu, as more convenient form of communication.

Urdu was introduced was Maharaja Pratap Singh during Dogra period in the eighteen century. Today, it is the official language of State. Kashmiri does not have the status of the state language, and thereby hangs yet another linguistic tale.

 In all institutions, Urdu is spoken vibrantly. “The reason that why our present generation is too shy to talk in native language in public is because of inferiority complex,” said Shad Ramzan, head of Kashmiri department at Kashmir University. “Our language is rich and dynamic, and its literature can be compared with English literature. Our generation is ignorant of it,” he explained.

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  Kashmiriyat.  

Rehman Rahi, was awarded Gyanpeeth by President of India in 2013 for his contribution in Kashmiri literature. He said that, “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 who would only translate according to syllabus set by department. A voluntary translation is, therefore, scarce.

To comprehend the present atmosphere of Kashmir, which is attracted more towards modernization and cultural shifting, can still be salvaged from the lost hope of recovery. 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.

Therefore, we have to initiate a step to preserve our language. If nothing is done, an obituary note shall be written no far from now, and the language would be cremated, and no one would even come on weekends to pay tribute and offer sympathies. 

In 1942, a major poet of Kashmiri, Zinda Kaul recited a poem at a mushayira (poetic symposium) at Sri Pratap College, in Srinagar. The poem entitled, “Panin Kath” (“About ourselves”) a Kashmiri remorsefully laments that “we have lost our mother tongue, and whither can such men go?”

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