The Jama’at has co-opted the ideas and speeches of Jinnah to justify its own program of Islamisation, even though Jinnah was a staunch nationalist (and a secularist as well). Recently, a leading Kashmiri leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, claimed that Urdu was the ‘national language’ of Jammu and Kashmir. This implies that Jammu and Kashmir is a nation, hence contradicting a fundamental Islamic principle that the whole Muslim ummah is ‘one nation’.
The importance of language to separatist movements and to colonial efforts to suppress such movements can be seen throughout the world today. Take, for example, the cause of Kurdistan. The Kurdish people are the largest nation in the world without a country. They number about 25 million and are currently spread over four countries: Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran. Promised a state by the British in the 1920s, the Kurds were cheated and oppressed by nearly ever major power in the region. The British gassed them using chemical weapons in the 1920s, when they rose up in revolt. The same policy was followed by Saddam in 1989 when he massacred over 5000 Kurds in the village of Halabja. Currently, the Kurds face the severest oppression in Turkey, where the Kurdish language was banned up to 1991. The language is still banned in schools, colleges and government offices, with the result that it is dying out and being replaced by Turkish. Kurdish parents are prohibited by Turkish law from giving Kurdish names to their children. The colonisation of the Kurds in Turkey is proceeding so fast that in a few decades the whole of the Kurdish population in Turkey (currently some 13 million) will have lost its language and with that its distinct identity.
The same policy has been followed by China in suppressing its minorities. The first step to be taken by the so-called communists of China (who were in fact nationalists) was to adopt Mandarin as the ‘national language’. This was followed by a massive program of teaching this language to all the ethnic minorities of China. The result of this devastating campaign of cultural genocide was the eradication of a number of minority languages, such as Manchu and Jurchen. The Chinese authorities also flooded the regions of Tibet and Sinkiang with ethnic Chinese speakers and forced the native Tibetans and Uighurs to learn Chinese. This was accompanied by extremely brutal and savage treatment of separatist politicians and activists or anyone who raised their voice against China’s colonialist policies. In a few decades, the whole of the Tibetan and Uighur population will have been Sinicised and two ancient nations will have been destroyed for ever.
Language policy has also been deployed as a weapon by America’s occupation forces in Iraq and by the puppet regimes of the Arab world. One of the first measures to be taken by the American colonial administrator in Iraq was to make English a compulsory subject from class 1. There was a research paper last year in the US journal Foreign Affairs where the American author argued that teaching Arab students in English as opposed to Arabic made them more likely to support the West. Another article by a leading American policy-maker recommended setting up English-language colleges and universities in Iraq to train a native puppet elite that could easily do the bidding of its colonial masters, much like the elite of half-literate ‘babus’ set up by the British in India (who still pretty much control things in Kashmir).
This brings us to Kashmir. The so-called nationalists of Kashmir, the JKLF, have never formulated their vision for a future independent Kashmir, nor have they dealt with questions of national identity and how it is to be constructed. The Hurriyat Conference issues all its communiques in Urdu and its leaders also give interviews and statements in Urdu. On the other hand, the leaders of the LTTE give statements in Tamil: they expect the foreign journalists to translate them! The National Conference was supposed to be the guardian of Kashmiri nationalism back in the 1950s, and took some steps to promote Kashmiri as a language in education. However, in their 2000 Autonomy Report, the National Conference too emphasised Urdu as the “national language” of Jammu and Kashmir. The party is committed to the unity of Jammu and Kashmir, but has horrendously discriminated against backward regions like Ladakh or Kishtwar for the last six decades. The lack of any political program or any manifesto setting out their vision for Kashmir, which is found in all the parties of Kashmir (except perhaps the Islamic parties which at least envision an Islamic state), shows that they are all opportunists and are motivated only by a desire to grab power. Otherwise, one would have expected these self-styled leaders of the nation to comment publicly on the wretched state into which Kashmir’s native language has descended. Had they been aware of the happenings in other parts of the world such as China, Iraq, Kurdistan or Bangladesh, they would have realised that language matters when it comes to claiming a national identity for oneself. Their failure to understand the political role of language is thus a reflection of their immaturity and lack of political wisdom, and it is something for which Kashmiris will pay dearly.
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