When I was a student in one of the elite schools of Srinagar long back, uttering Kashmiri words was considered to be a sin. In spite of the Kashmiri being our mother language, we were not at all allowed to speak in Kashmiri during school hours, and in-fact we would be punished for speaking in Kashmiri in the class. Our teachers wanted us to speak in English but we were allowed to speak in Hindi or Urdu as well, but communicating in Kashmiri was like a grave sin those days.
This was not only the case with my school but with other English medium schools as well. This kind of “dikat” created by elite schools in Srinagar way back in 1970’s or 80’s had a very negative impact on our society. The parents of the students also were made to believe that speaking in Kashmiri language was the symbol of timidity and backwardness. My personal assumption is that most of the boys and girls born between 1990 onwards in the well to do Kashmiri families hardly spoke in their mother language until adulthood.
The elite Kashmiris who had played a pivotal role in disrespecting and ridiculing Kashmiri language by making their children speak in Urdu especially between 1970’s to 1990s , with the passage of time started realizing they were committing a big mistake. Many of these families for more than a decade now have been communicating with their kids in their mother tongue (Kashmiri). In-fact they feel proud of it. I know many highly educated families in Srinagar, many of whom are even settled outside India make their children speak in Kashmiri. The reason is exposure of these families to the outside environment and research and analysis done globally on the importance of mother tongue.
Thanks to our Kashmiri language scholars who ensured the inclusion of Kashmiri language in school curriculum more than a decade back. The new generation may indeed not be communicating in Kashmiri for 10 to 15 years of their life but they are now able to read and write in Kashmiri as this is a compulsory language from 1st to class 10th. I feel so elated when my daughter and son read their Kashmiri lessons and then they write Kashmiri as well in a very neat handwriting.
I have never written in Kashmiri nor have been taught this language. Same is the case with my parents. But thanks to people like Dr Aziz Hajini, Dr Shujaat Bukhari, Prof Rahman Rahi, Mashal Sultanpuri, Farooq Naziki, Prof Zaman Azurdah, Prof Bashar Bashir and many others who worked a lot for the Kashmiri language during the last several decades.
My wife who never had read Kashmiri in school has also become very much familiar with Kashmiri language as she regularly teaches her kids this language for the last several years. She has fully learnt to read and write Kashmiri in the last 4 to 5 years. We have thousands of such parents in Kashmir who learnt Kashmiri language while teaching their sons and daughters. This is a revolutionary work and I would give its credit to all those people especially Dr Aziz Hajini who fought for inclusion of Kashmiri language in school curriculum in Kashmir.
Importance of Mother Tongue
The United Nations recognizes that languages and multilingualism can advance inclusion and the Sustainable Development Goals’ focus on leaving no one behind. The United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) believes that education, based on the mother tongue (first language) must begin from the early years as early childhood care and education is the foundation of learning. In-fact the United Nations has declared 2022 to 2032 as an International decade of Indigenous languages. The UN set up a Global Task Force (GTF) early this year on this. The aim of this taskforce is to set up a solid pathway to ensure the indigenous peoples’ right to preserve, revitalize and promote their languages, and mainstreaming linguistic diversity and multilingualism aspects into the efforts that will ensure sustainable development. The Global Task Force will help to prepare, plan, implement and monitor activities in the framework of the upcoming International decade on indigenous languages.
Dr Aziz Hajini’s work
The movement for inclusion of Kashmiri language in school curriculum started in late 1990s. Some workshops were held by the JK Board of school education but the Govt was not very serious about making Kashmiri language as a compulsory subject. In 1997 a resolution was passed by Adbi Markaz Kamraz (AMK) that Kashmiri language be included in school curriculum. Dr Aziz Hajini was General Secretary of AMK at that time and Mashal Sultanpuri was its President. Dr Hajini was on the forefront of ensuring Kashmiri was included in school curriculum. He was the Officer on Special Duty (OSD) in the Directorate of School Education Kashmir for several years and also headed its cultural wing. G A Peer and Mohammad Rafi the former directors of school education gave a lot of support to Dr Hajini as he did a lot of advocacy on Kashmiri language and making it part of school education. He would closely work with former Chairpersons of JK Board of school education (BOSE)and Director Academics. Former Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah constituted a team led by Farooq Naziki, Prof Zaman Azurdah for including Kashmiri as a language in school subjects . Dr Hajini was also its member. The team gave a report to the Govt, urging for inclusion of Kashmiri as a compulsory subject from class 1st to 10th. For many years the Govt sat on the recommendation but finally it was included as a compulsory subject from class 1st to 8th and as an optional subject from 9th to 11th. When Dr Hajini was posted as academic officer in BOSE, he compiled Kashmiri subject books from class 1st to 10th . Until his death he would fight for this language. During the last few years he would always advocate for the inclusion of Kashmiri as a compulsory subject in class 9th and 10th. While he was on death bed he would discuss this issue with his friends and colleagues who would come to inquire about his health.
Languages have a strategic importance in view of their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development. The languages are under threat due to globalization. Some languages are even disappearing with the passage of time. When languages disappear, the world's rich cultural diversity also fades away. With this people lose their rich culture and tradition as well. A UN study says that every 2 weeks a language disappears from the earth. This also vanishes the entire culture and heritage connected with it. At least 43% of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world are said to be endangered. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given a place in our school education system. Kashmiri is one such language which was on the verge of extinction or was an endangered language but people like Dr Aziz Hajini and his colleagues came to its rescue. There is a saying that our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them. People like Dr Aziz Hajini will never be forgotten and thus he will continue to live with us through the Kashmiri language which is part of our school curriculum now.