Nastaliq to Devanagari: After Language, Kashmir Watching Script Campaign

“This demand would create a rift between the Hindus and Muslims in the Kashmir region. It is a surprise that AIKS is asking for Devanagari script and not Sharda script.”

AFTER the Jammu and Kashmir Official Language Act was implemented by New Delhi recently, there has been a concern amongst civil society in Kashmir over the promotion of the Devanagari script over the Nastaliq style for the digitization of data.

Lately, in a letter issued to J&K government, the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology mentioned that the Centre wants to digitize materials of Kashmiri language in Devanagari script.

Reacting to this, the Group of Concerned Citizens (GCC) expressed its concern over the promotion of Devanagari script instead of Nastaliq style for the Kashmiri Language.

GCC is a Kashmir-based civil society body of former vice-chancellors, bureaucrats and academicians.

In a joint statement, the GCC members stressed that the Common Locale Data Repository (CLDR), a project of the Unicode consortium for preparation of required data, is using the Devanagari script instead of its Persian script.

“The introduction of Devanagari script in the digitized official repository raises genuine apprehensions about the future of the Persian script, which need to be allayed through an explicit order about retention of Persian script in Nastaliq style,” the civil society group said.

Pandit Push

Recently, a letter issued by All India Kashmiri Samaj (AIKS), an apex body of Indian and Overseas Kashmiri Pandit organizations, justified the use of Devanagari as additional/co-script for the Kashmiri language.

“The biggest advantage will accrue to thousands of young Kashmiris in the diaspora, who have been deprived of any creative contact with their mother tongue for the last three decades,” mentioned the letter, adding, “most of them, especially those who were born after 1985 or 1990 lost all that tradition and heritage give us to make us complete human beings and good citizens of this great democracy. By being tossed about in search of livelihood, their contacts were jettisoned. Devanagari Kashmiri would help them to get back on the right course.”

Nothing New

According to Yasir Bashir, a resident of Bandipora and a former PhD scholar from Jamia Milia Islamia University, the demand of AIKS or “some other Kashmiri Hindu organization” to introduce Devanagari as the script for the Kashmiri language is not new.

In 1938, the Dogra Raj appointed a committee called the Education Reorganization Committee to make the necessary recommendations for the reorganization of the existing system of education in the state at that time, explained Bashir.

He said, among numerous other issues, the committee also examined the scripts and the medium of instructions in the schools.

In this regard, the committee recommended, “If this State… had actually two scripts in use, we would have accepted the existing situation and recommended the compulsory teaching of both scripts in the state. The introduction of the controversy of the second script will be a distinct disservice to the cause of national solidarity.”

Knowing that Persian had been the official language in the state for centuries and both Muslims and Hindus were well versed with it, N. Gopalaswamy Ayangar, the then Prime Minister of J&K, ordered at the behest of the Maharaja, the introduction of two scripts-Devanagari and vogue Persian script.

It gave rise to a long controversy that also led to a crisis in National Conference where the opinion was split along religious lines, Bashir told Kashmir Observer.

The communal forces had failed to get their way and introduce Devanagari which is a way to make Hindi the main language of J&K and impose it on the 70 per cent Muslim majority so that their culture, tradition, literature is destroyed, the scholar added.

“To preserve our culture, our language, our way of life, our own stories and respond to this cultural onslaught effectively, we will have to document all such assaults in the past so that we can resist the current onslaught on us,” he said.

A Larger Plan

Changing Kashmiri script is a part of larger plan to boost the radical Hindu chauvinistic political narrative, said Mir Tariq Rasool, former Secretary J&K Adbe Markaz Kamraz (AMK) and Patron Kashmir Literary and philosophical foundation.

According to him, the changing script would not only add to the destruction of India’s secular fabric but also outdate and make all the literary treasure irrelevant for the future generations.

“Besides it will damage the etymological fabric of Kashmiri langue because a huge chunk of words cannot be fitted in the Devanagari script,” Rasool told Kashmir Observer.

The move of changing script of Kashmiri language is nothing but an effort to kill the basic living Kashmiri literary and linguistic thought, he said.

Against Kashmiri Sentiments

People in Delhi should read between the lines, said Dr. Rafiq Masoodi, former additional director general Doordarshan, adding that people guiding the Centre do not know the ground reality of Kashmir.

“The AIKS is asking for Devanagari as an additional script but it is already there,” Dr Masoodi told Kashmir Observer.

“They want Devanagari to be constitutionally added and it would somewhere or the other touch the sensitivity of Kashmiri people.”

There is an apprehension amongst people that the demand for the additional script would ultimately replace Nastaliq with Devanagari, he said.

All religious books are in Nastaliq and the conversion of these books would hurt the sentiments of Kashmiris, he added.

“When the Kashmiri language was born it was read in Sharda script and even the AIKS know Sharda script but they demand Devanagari, not Sharda,” he said.

Masoodi has been the secretary of Cultural Department for four years and during his tenure, he released many books in Devanagari script but the books didn’t find any reader, “so ultimately, they had to shift to Nastaliq,” he said.

‘Saffronisation’ of the Script

The use of Devanagari is tantamount to a kind of “saffronisation of the script”, said Rao Farman Ali, a Kashmiri based author.

“This demand would create a rift between the Hindus and Muslims in the Kashmir region,” Ali said. “It is a surprise that AIKS is asking for Devanagari script and not Sharda script.”

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