Kashmiri as an Official Language: New Vistas

A cross section of writers, teachers and workers for the propagation of Kashmiri express their surprise and cannot hide their disbelief. It is here.
Kashmiri as an Official Language: New Vistas
Representational Pic

Dr. R L Shant

It was unimaginable. Kashmiri, along with Dogri and some other languages of the UT have been declared as an official language. Till some months back nobody, no Kashmiri writer, no lover of his mother tongue, what to speak of the common man, could have expected the government taking this momentous decision. But it is a fact now. The sudden decision has caught some enthusiasts too off guard. Who may or may not understand the ramifications of the order, about which government agencies seem seriously working now. Let’s face it. A cross section of writers, teachers and workers for the propagation of Kashmiri express their surprise and cannot hide their disbelief. It is here. Are we prepared?

Many amongst us throw the ball in the government’s court. It is a government decision, so her responsibility, they aver. Right, but let us ask ourselves too. The language is ours. As our mother tongue, have we, the activists done enough to make the neglected language rich and strong enough to carry the onerous task? perhaps not. Official language has to be a tool of competent communication in courts, offices, public and private institutions. It may be used for inter state communications also. Its usage has to be universal, which means that its reading and writing has to be universalized. We can only begin with the valley, but vast areas outside the valley and many speakers outside too have to be taken along. All know that, though many of us fight shy to accept that we are discouraging our children to use their mother tongue even in their homes and schools. We prefer they speak Hindi or Urdu instead. English, of course, is their dream language. Do we sincerely want this situation to change and effect new changes in our preferences? At all times, however, we have observed that the wise and prudent few not only encouraged and trained their wards to speak their mother tongue at home but also to be open to important languages Urdu and Hindi at school. We do understand that, the speakers need to learn to read and write Kashmiri. That is not impossible to do. Knowers of Urdu and Hindi need to learn just a few diacritical marks in Nastaliq and Devnagri to enable these scripts for Kashmiri. We know, no language comes naturally to a child by birth. It has to be taught and learnt. In the context of Kashmiri, I think our intellectual class has by now understood that post ’90 an effective chunk of Kashmiris staying in Jammu and other cities of India and abroad, is becoming fond of their art, music, culture and languages. From English translations one can know of the content only. But if the original text is made accessible to the learner, learning is complete and effective..

I realize that bracketing Nagri script with Nastaliq for Kashmiri, may rise eyebrows of some skeptics. But as pointed out above, today it is a historic moment. We have to be farsighted for the ultimate good of our mother tongue and our speakers at home and abroad. World is shrinking fast and we can not feign to be oblivious of our cultural needs in this scenario. With the historic steps of the govt., to bracket Kashmiri, Hindi and Urdu in the list of official Page languages of the UT, opening up remains a beneficial alternative with us. However, before we let prejudice creep in our thinking and attitudes, let us look at the issue of the alternative side by side with and in addition to, the existing situation in Kashmiri. Let us examine in brief, the script history of Kashmiri first and then see how a positive attitude has always benefitted our land and people.

Before we take up the issue in detail, a brief reference to the history of the various scripts used for Kashmiri is necessary. We know that for Kashmiri, Sharada (or Sharda), Kashmir’s millennia old indigenous script, continued to be used among educated Hindu and Muslim population. Then the Persio Arabic ( Nastaliq) came to be accepted followed by Roman with the advent of Dogra rule in Jammu and Kashmir in 1846. The Dogras patronized Devnagri for Dogri in Jammu, while in Kashmir, the script was traditionally preserved by Kashmiri Pandits, although they were second to none in adopting Nastaliq script and Persio Arabic scripts. Roman was easier for the British, while Indian scholars and common people followed them. Use of Nagri was also inspired by the pan Indian national language consciousness. Sir George Grierson, Director Linguistic Survey of India had published his 4-volume Kashmiri-Hindi-English Dictionary back in 1903 using Devnagri besides Roman for Kashmiri. Until 1947, even as Urdu in Nastaliq was popular among the majority of people, Devnagri continued to hold grip on the minority which was fully educated and capable of preserving the state’s historical and cultural connections. Later,even as the popular JK governments approved Nastaliq for Kashmiri and Devnagri for Dogri, the demand of the educated minorities in Kashmir, for both Devnagri and Nastaliq as optionals for Kashmiri was always there.

It was when minority presence in Kashmir thinned in 1990, that the demand to also consider Nagri, rose amongst the displaced Kashmiris spread all over the country and abroad. It took the shape of an educational and cultural movement of sorts, under the banner of some private and public organisations in some state capitals.. On wide ranging requests of Kashmiri writers in Jammu, Delhi, Lucknow etc., the HRD Ministry, GOI appointed a committee of linguists, scriptologists, scholars, computer engineers from C-DAC and writers to examine the problem and assist the Deptt. in examining Devnagri in a proper way. After due deliberations the committee prepared software for Devnagri Kashmiri and published a few basic books in Nagri, viz. “Let Us Learn Kashmiri”, “ Kaeshur Primer”, “Kaeshur Reader” in cooperation with a literary NGO Samprati, Jammu. The newly prepared software has just five diacritical marks for Kashmiri, in addition to those already existing in Nagri, which are used in Hindi and other Indian languages. This has made it quite easy for learners of Kashmiri, to learn and use Nagri side by side with Nastaliq. A full fledged Kashmiri (Nagri) literary journal namely “Vaakh” is being published by All India Kashmiri Samaj, Delhi for the last 17 years, besides Kashmiri sections coming out in Koshur Samachar (KSD Delhi) Vitasta (KOLKATA), KB Times (Jammu), wherein Kashmiri sections are regular features. These Nagri Kashmiri journals publish all writers, more so those from the Valley. So Kashmiri literature from Kashmir and other parts of the country and the world is easily propagated. According to a report presented in an All India Samprati Seminar in 2012, in Jammu, dozens of displaced Kashmiri writers have published on their own, over 200 books during the last three decades ,using either the Devnagri script alone or Nagri along with Nastaliq. However, the GOI initiative was practically dropped following change in the central Govt. in 2004. No subsequent step for facilitating the script was since taken thus resulting in disappointment and a discouragement for people in general and Kashmiri Diaspora in particular. The situation regarding this is in limbo since then.

Reasons which justify approving Devnagri :

1)The popular demand for Devnagri for Kashmiri has all along been on the premise that this script would only be approved as an additional alternative to the official Nastaliq script. Devnagri is NOT sought to replace Nastaliq anywhere in any capacity. The official status of Nastaliq Kashmiri is NOT sought to be disturbed in any government or non government forum. Only bracketing Devnagri with Nastaliq was demanded.

2) Maximum number (almost 100%) of displaced Kashmiris know Devnagri already. They have been reading, writing and publishing in it for centuries. A good number of educated Kashmir in the valley read and write Hindi in Devnagri, due to the vastly inseminated national language of the country in print and electronic media. The number of Hindi students in Kashmir schools has steadily been on the increase during the last five decades.

3) Authentic voices have been raised by linguists and scholars for allowing an additional alternative script for Kashmiri. Nagri has some features, which suit Kashmiri perfectly and precisely. For example, linguistically all vowel sounds in Kashmiri need to be clearly written and shown. This practice makes writing and reading easier and error free. We know that Nastaliq is different. There, all vowel marks need not be written. They are just taken as understood. So Nagri is expected to make things easy for leaners. Some notable scholars have been publicly batting for adoption of Roman to help Kashmiri reach all and just to overcome this disadvantageous situation. But previous experiments with Roman created more problems, because of Roman being inadequate even for English.

4) Most laptops and mobile phones manufactured by Indian and foreign companies for Indian users are already loaded with Devnagri software. Many of them are uploaded with Devnagri Kashmiri key boards also. The Nagri Kashmiri software, prepared by Ministry of HRD in 2000 AD as explained above is already in use and is incorporated in them. So, if the UT government introduces Devnagri as suggested, no implications of allotment of huge funds for the new scheme will be there.

Who are to gain by introducing Nagri for Kashmiri as an additional alternative script? Of course, in addition to others, advantage will accrue to thousands of young Kashmiris in Diaspora, who have been deprived of any creative contact with their mother tongue for the last three decades. Most of them, especially those who were born after 1985 or 1990 lost touch with tradition and heritage, which make us complete human beings .They will read the latest from and about what comprises contemporary Kashmiri literature. By being tossed about in search of livelihood, their contacts with language and literature were jettisoned. Devnagri along with Nastaliq Kashmiri, would definitely help them get back on the right course.

Advantage will be to writers, students and commoners in Kashmir also. They will read and communicate with their compatriots in Jammu and other parts of the country also. Learning Nagri is always advantageous to all in the country.

Nagri used for Kashmiri will bring common Kashmiri people, students, writers and scholars nearer their counterparts in Jammu, Delhi and many other parts of India as also other Indian languages and ethnic groups. First it will make thousands of readers available to Kashmiri writers in Kashmir. Writers in diaspora will also be able to keep themselves abreast with mainland sensibilities. Inter language translations will get an unimaginable flip. Linguistic and emotional nearness between Kashmiri and those Indian languages which are already using Devnagri either solely or optionally will follow. Such languages are many. Here under is given a list of such languages. As we may see, they cover quite a sizable area of our vast country….Dogri, Hindi, Rajasthani, Konkani, Marathi, Sindhi, Maithili, Nepali and Santhali.

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