Language, Identity & Multiculturalism

Our roots and values in a changing, dynamic world



Kashmir, like most Muslim societies with rich legacies of culture and history, is traversing an exciting and contrasting journey between traditionalism and modernity. Like most Muslim societies in such phases in the past and present, most of our impetuous, early-bird perceptions of modernity are in fact hurried imitations of westernization. Westernization, an oft spoken about phenomenon in the aftermath of rapid, incessant economic interdependence of contrasting western and eastern societies, has provided our generation with numerous conscious and subconscious cultural shocks. In the way we adapt to different lifestyles, different places and situations – as students and professionals living elsewhere, our perceptions of our own cultural roots and social values invariably defines the friction and struggle we as individuals face in our now hybrid social lives. With our own society traumatized by an unrelenting conflict that has obvious social and cultural ramifications, we have more often than not found ourselves polarized to the extremities of cross-cultural adaptation between blanket stigmatization and blanket assimilation. And with an unprecedented rush of our youngsters bee-lining to societies quite different than ours, our self-image as the youth of a regretful, confused and trend-impulsive society; that has lately failed to be socially and economically conducive, comes into sharp, painful focus. 
Language is perhaps the most potent and comprehensive channel through which societies pass on history, culture and social values from one generation to the next. In a modern, culturally assimilative Kashmir where speaking Kashmiri is now considered a crass symptom of social backwardness if not illiteracy, this indispensable channel of cultural transmission – a rather timeless umbilical cord – has been severed. The costs of this ruthless severing are many and varied, ranging from the rapid and comprehensive abandonment of socio-cultural values to the now emerging symptoms of a debilitating cultural vacuum. Charlemagne, King of the Franks famously stated, “To have another language is to possess a second soul”. And in a world where one can sleep in Delhi and wake up in Paris or where destinations and lifestyles are ever accessible – there is inherently nothing shocking in having a second or a third soul when it comes to language or our cultural experiences and identity in general. However, having additional souls is one thing and abandoning our own is quite another. In shying away from our language at our homes, in conversations with friends, family and colleagues – apart from the string of jokes and abuses one cannot actually translate – have we as a society abandoned our soul? 
A string of intertwined factors in our society have resulted in a weakened interest and pride in our history and culture – be it our handicrafts, our literature or the symbols of Kashmir. The preservation of culture, anthropological studies suggest, is more often than not affected by the struggles faced by a society. Just as much as the economic sanctions imposed on us by our own successive governments has weakened the resolve of a bright, hardworking and industrious generation have resulted in the erosion of a sense of economic dignity and hope, the growing rate of crime is also – in some traceable and other untraceable ways – a derivative of alarming, unprecedented unemployment. All these realities make it hard to nourish a multifaceted national and cultural identity. And when it comes to our mother tongue – not just as an imposed academic requirement in schools – but as a robust medium of expressing our dreams, our disappointments, our tribulations and anguish as a society – we are now witnessing a phase of gradual erosion and cosmetic preservation. 
Multiculturalism has changed the world as we knew it. It has changed the way we perceive the world, the opportunities it offers and the challenges we face in our personal and professional lives as Kashmiris of today. Multiculturalism and the evolution of the world into a global village connected in interdependence has widened the contours of our knowledge and our perspectives. Yet, our own language, our culture and our self-image as a nation doesn’t have to be a collateral damage. The strength of a confident, vibrant and progressive nation lies in its roots, in the pride that we take to be Kashmiris. To safeguard and nourish that strength we need to pass on what we perhaps didn’t inherit quite as we should have. They say history has all the answers to the questions that confront us in the present. Our language and our culture will lead us to those answers and to a reinforced collective national pride.

(Junaid Azim Mattu is the Srinagar District President of Peoples’ Conference. Ideas expressed as personal. Feedback at   

Lastupdate on : Fri, 1 Jun 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 1 Jun 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 2 Jun 2012 00:00:00 IST

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