Urdu: What does the decline of language say

As nobody cares for Urdu, the bonding between all regions will gradually weaken and can easily aid the division of the State in a distant future.”
Urdu: What does the decline of language say
Representational pic

Few months back, when the 2011 census findings of languages spoken across India were released, a particular figure about Urdu in Kashmir was both surprising and worrying. The census data revealed that out of a total population of 1.25 crore people, Urdu, as a mother tongue, was used by just 13,351 people in Jammu and Kashmir.

Despite being the official language and various efforts by different government and non-government agencies, the condition of the language is not in any case fine. Much has been talked about the loss of culture, heritage and written literature associated with the possible loss of Urdu language. However, there are other implications.

"When I first saw the figures, it was shocking for me too. I have been working on the subject and the latest figures had many connotations attached to it," said Aasif Ahmad Khanday, a PhD scholar from Selcuk University, Turkey. However, Aasif sees the decline of Urdu and its possible implications in another way.

"Regarding Urdu speakers, I think there are only few people in North Kashmir, and those non-Kashmiris who have married Kashmiris. They both speak and have listed it their primary language," said Aasif. "In urban areas there are youngsters who mostly speak Urdu but they too have not owned it and instead termed Kashmiri as their primary language."  

Together with another scholar Aabid Majeed Sheikh, Aasif recently published a paper "Urdu Language in Kashmir: A Tool of Assimilation or Means towards Segregation?" in International Journal of Research Culture Society. In the paper, the authors argue that Urdu language is turning into a dividing tool rather than a connecting bridge between varied regions of the State. 

"There has been a rise of regionalism. The thrust on promotion of local languages like Kashmiri, Dogri and Ladakhi, has made Urdu a sort of an orphan," said Aasif. "At the end of the day nobody will care for the Urdu language and there is a chance that future generation, unable to read or write Urdu, may lose an opportunity to benefit from tremendous literature in almost every subject written in Urdu. "

The Paper traces the important milestone of Urdu in the state – how it came, conquered and shaped the politics and society of Jammu and Kashmir.

It traces the genesis of the introduction of Urdu in Kashmir to sixteenth century, though in a very limited sense. "Salim Khan Gammi (Gammi, 1987) believes that it was during the time of Mughals and Afghans that the scholars and literati of Kashmir had developed close affinity towards Persian. Hamid Kashmiri (Kashmiri, 2010) traces the influence of Urdu in Kashmir from the late 15th century AD itself. With the death of Zainul Abidin, there was political uncertainty in Kashmir, many scholars and men of means began to look for greener pastures in northern Indian states, especially Punjab, Awadh and Delhi. The contacts of these people back home did popularise Urdu in certain sections of people in the state. Two important things which were responsible for the development of Urdu in due course of time were the similarity of the script and the presence of a large common vocabulary in Persian and Urdu. It was though during the Sikh period in Kashmir (1818-1846) that Urdu entered Kashmir in a significant way. The Sikh capital of Lahore was a great cultural centre with significant number of Urdu writers, poets and journalists both in the durbar and the outside. From the latter half of nineteenth century, the growing communication networks with Punjab and other northern states in British India thus popularised Urdu in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. People did begin to flock Kashmir from Punjab and the interactions between the Kashmiris and outside people called for a common language which for most practical purposes was found to be Urdu," reads the paper.

The language experienced significant presence in the state towards the end of nineteenth century. It was the British residency in Kashmir from 1885 that finally pushed the Dogra Maharaja towards the acceptance of Urdu as the official language in 1889, thus replacing Persian after centuries of use. From 1885-1925 Urdu remained the communication link between the Dogra rulers and the British. The language grew steadily in significance and was gradually accepted by the general populace. 

Interestingly, according to the paper, Urdu first showed its presence in the state in the region of Poonch and Jammu. Chiragh Hasan Hasrat from Poonch and Abdul Samih Paul Asar Sehbai from Jammu were the earliest proponents of Urdu language in the state. 

The paper says that the Dogra rulers tried hard to introduce Dogri as the official language of the State. The push by the early Dogra rulers –Gulab Singh and Ranbir Singh- however faced resistance from various quarters and some practical problems too. Dogri did not have a well-developed script and literature to get success as an official language, proved to be against the Jammu language.

Urdu won the race to become official language as it was similar to Hindi and was not associated with any religion at that time. The script similarity to Persian, which the Muslim and Hindu elite masses had been acquainted with for many centuries also made it acceptable to masses. Thus, 'Urdu played a neutral role of not being a native language among the three geo-linguistically different regions' of Kashmir, says the paper.

People loved the writings of famous Indian Urdu poets and literary giants like Ghalib, Mir, Chakbast, Hasrat Mohani, Prem Chand and others thus making Urdu popular. Secondly Iqbal and his connect with Kashmir raised the level of popularity. According to the paper, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah would often start his sermon or political addresses with the lines from Iqbal.

After Iqbal it was Maulana Maudoodi who popularised and made Urdu the language of common masses in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, especially among the Muslims. People loved to read his beautiful translation of Quran in Urdu and every other house even now houses one such copy.

The paper says that the formation of State Subject category was all thanks to the Urdu language.  With Urdu becoming language of officials and elites, there was an inflow of Urdu speaking North Indians particularly Punjabis into the state administration. The outsiders dominated the state services, triggering an alarm among Kashmiri pandits who started the movement of 'Kashmir for Kashmiris.' The Muslims sensing the gravity of the situation supported the Pandits in this movement. "This led to the formulation of 'state subject' category by the Maharaja Hari Singh and many laws were passed to limit the presence of Punjabis in the state administration. And with the 1931 political turmoil, the struggle for administrative jobs and government service began to involve Pandits and Muslims of the state, with outsiders gradually pushed out by both," reads the paper. 

Despite its contribution, Urdu is owned by fewer people as their primary mother tongue. After 1947 the voluntary and forced emigration of Kashmiris to Pakistan also took toll on the language speakers. "In 1961 census, out of a total population of 36,60,976, there were only 12,445 primarily Urdu speaking people in the state, a majority of them (72%) in the Jammu region. In the census of 1981, out of a total population of 59,87,389, Urdu speakers were listed as 6,867 only, down by almost a half since 1961. These were roughly spread over the state, in Kashmir and Jammu regions. This might signify that the Urdu speaking population of Jammu –mainly its Muslim population- continued to decline during the period from 1961 to 1981 owing to migrations out of the state, both to India and the Pakistan," explains the paper. 

Coming to the challenges of the language, the paper says, "In Kashmir, there is a growing crisis of identity in the masses to either identify with Kashmiri or with Urdu as their language of preference in their day to day activities. Those who took up education early in Kashmir, like in the city of Srinagar, found it very easy to accept Urdu as their chosen language of preference –both inside and outside their private realm. People from Kashmir continue to opt for Urdu as their primary language apart from English, and in the case of Jammu region, Hindi has increasingly taken its place."

The paper says that the government would have started the change with abolishing Urdu as requirement for posts like Tehsildar, Naib-Tehsildar and Patwari, but it finds it difficult due to the fact that revenue records have been stored in Urdu for more than 100 years.

Urdu being labelled as part of religious identity is making Hindus from Jammu to opt for Hindi whenever they have a choice at their hands. "Over the last two decades Kashmiri and Dogri have found an upsurge in the production of their literature and their courses have been introduced in more colleges and in universities all over the state. Apart from these primary regional languages, other smaller regional languages like Pahari, Punjabi and Balti have also been given prominence in order to save them from extension," said Aasif. 

Even in Kashmir, the language is becoming a divisive force particularly between urban and rural youth. "In Kashmir, there is a growing crisis of identity in the masses to either identify with Kashmiri or with Urdu as their language of preference in their day to day activities. Those who studied in Srinagar city, find it very easy to accept Urdu as their chosen language of preference –both inside and outside the realm of their private spheres. Those from the rural areas unequivocally consider Kashmiri as their primary language. But there are many between the two exclusively urban and rural groups who remain torn in their devotion to either their primarily local language or the official one that is Urdu."

According to the paper, the government efforts to promote regional languages –especially Dogri and Kashmiri- in the last two decades has only deepened the sense of regionalism and identity crisis among the people, with Urdu facing backlash many a time in Jammu and Ladakh provinces

Urdu language had a lasting impact on the State both geographically and politically. It brought everybody together and even made Muslims and Hindus fight for their rights and thus obtain PRC category.  "Now the situation is such that Ladakh demands UT Status, some sections in Jammu demand full integration with India and Kashmir remains embroiled in their separatist struggle. There is not a single leader with pan state popularity. Thus it seems no single entity remains a commonality among the people," said Aasif. "Apart from few occasional protests in support of Urdu, the language faces a bleak future. As nobody cares for Urdu, the bonding between all regions will gradually weaken and can easily aid the division of the State in a distant future." 

A couplet of Hafiz Jalandhari perhaps aptly describes the status of Urdu. Jalandhari had a unique relationship with Kashmir and was instrumental in popularizing the language in the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state under the Dogra rule. He wrote

Is tarah oonche pahadon main ghiri hain vadiyan

Jis tarah devon ke ghar main keyd hon shehzadiyan

(Amidst the high mountains, the valleys are embedded in such a way

As if,  princesses imprisoned in the house of giants!)

haroonmirani@gmail.com

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