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Kashmir: Linguistic Crisis at The Doorstep

Kashmir: Linguistic Crisis at The Doorstep
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With the abrogation of article 370, the Muslim population of Jammu and Kashmir feels their identity under threat. Language is one of the factors which comprise an identity of an individual or a nation. Manzoor Ahmad Rather writes a detailed piece about the existential threat to the Kashmiri language.

Manzoor Ahmad Rather

Chronologically, on December 3, 2018, the Ministry of HRD officially tweeted that the Kashmiri language on the Bhasha Sangam program is removed in response to the raised sentiments with respect to Religion-based Version of language by Kashmiri Hindus, which had isolated the Kashmiri language at national level till today. By revoking Article 370 on 5th August 2019, Kashmiris faced Isolation, which was ensured by the government of India by deploying tens of thousands of troops, suspending telephone and internet services, shutting schools and colleges, and ordering tourists to leave. Another distressful isolation was with respect to the official language, as stated in Section 47 of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019, published by the Legislative Department, Ministry of Law and Justice the 9th August 2019.
Section 47 (1) states that ‘The Legislative Assembly may by law adopt any one or more of the languages used in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir or Hindi as the official language or languages to be used for all or any of the official purposes of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.’ The Kashmiri people here are given language options of one or more languages/Hindi as the official language/language used by all, as an official language.

47(2) states, ‘The business in the Legislative Assembly of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir shall be  transacted in the official language or languages of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir or in Hindi or in English.’ Here, the distinction has to be made regarding the official language, the language of the union territory, and Hindi, English Language as an official language. Further, it is mentioned, ‘Provided, that the speaker of the Legislative Assembly or person acting as such, as the case may be, may permit any member who cannot adequately express himself in any of the languages aforesaid to address the Legislative Assembly in his mother- tongue.’ This paragraph differentiates Mother tongue, from an official language, Hindi as well as the English Language adopted for State or Union Territory. In the Indian Constitution, the Eighth schedule defines the National Language, Official Language, and Mother Tongue, with respect to unity in the cultural diversity of India.

The two incidents which drive attention towards the status of the Kashmiri language in the recent past are Removal of Kashmiri language from the Bhasha Sangam Portal and the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by a social activist, Maghav Kohli, in the High Court Bench of Jammu and Kashmir, demanding Hindi as an official language of J&K. According to the PIL, Urdu is not the Mother Tongue of Jammu citizens. The Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Sanjay Dhar has issued the notices to the Commissioner cum- Secretary, Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Principal Secretary, and Revenue Department, directing them to reply. Let us visualize the Language of J&K: as the Mother Tongue, as an Official Language and as a Cultural Identity of Hindu-Muslims of JK in the light of the Indian Constitution and Indian Politics separately.

History of Kashmir reveals the existence of  Nagas, Buddhists, Brahmins, Afghans, Sikhs, Dogras, Mughals, and Britishers and their impact on cultural evolution and diffusion. Maharaja Pratap Singh (1885-1925 A.D.) introduced modern education and the missionary societies in 1954 developed missionary institutions. During the reign of Dogra King Pratap Singh, in 1846, Urdu was given the recognition of the official language of the state, as Urdu slowly replaced Persian. In 1948, when Kashmir acceded to India, Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah introduced Kashmiri as the official language of J&K. When Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad presided as the Prime Minister, he replaced Kashmiri with Urdu as the official language. Kashmiri Language, despite being the mother tongue of J&K citizens, never became the official language of the state.

Kashmiri Language in the Eighth Schedule: Kashmiri language, recognized as one of the twenty-two Scheduled Languages of Independent India, was constructed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India in 1950. There are no specific criteria given in this schedule, rather, the language should be spoken by a large number of people and it must have its own grammar and literature. Kashmiri language, Kashur, carries the legacy and cultural differentiation in literature and traditions of the Hindus and Muslims of J&K. Grierson placed the Kashmiri language in Aryan- Dardic-Dard group of Languages. Morgenstierne (1961) opined that the Kashmiri Language belongs to the Dardic group of Indo Aryan Languages. Chaterjee (1963) opined that Kashmiri belongs to the Indo Aryan family of languages. It is relevant to mention that Dardic is not a linguistic expression but a geographical expression. Regional and social variations further deepen the classification of languages in the valley region. It has rich literature belonging to both Hindus and Muslims of J&K.

According to the 2011 census, Kashmiri is spoken by 67, 97,587 people in J&K, Hindi by 26, 12,631 state citizens, Dogri by 25, 13,712, Punjabi by 2, 19,193, and Urdu by 19,956 people. According to the Eighth Schedule, Kashmiri, Siraji, Kishtwari, and Dardi are major mother tongues spoken in J&K. According to the 2011 census, the ranking of Kashmiri language at the national level was 15th in 1971, in 1981 it lowered to 13th  rank and since 2001 it stayed at 15th position.  Despite a large number of people speaking Kashmiri, with its Arabic script, rich culture and literature, the language was removed from the BHASHA SANGAM portal in 2018 because Hindus of Kashmir objected saying that, the Version of language is Muslim, as the translation of certain terms like Asalam Alaikum for Hello sounded Muslim.

Nepali language, the national language of Nepal, India’s neighbouring country, is a Scheduled language included in the Eighth Schedule of Indian constitution. It is spoken by 0.28% of the population and is on the Bhasha Sangam portal, but Kashmiri language which is spoken by 0.54% of the total Indian population has been removed from the portal. The reason being its ownership on communal lines whether it is the language of Hindus or  Muslims?

Religion-based rifts in over a language might be happening for the first time in India. Hindus are demanding their official language as Hindi, as, in Jammu, they are a larger community by population, and they do not understand Urdu. Hindus are advocating that Kashmiri Pandits Generation is losing touch with their mother tongue. Former IAS officer M L Koul advocated that 95 percent of the community communicated in spoken Kashmiri in 1990, before the onset of militancy in Kashmir. After migration from the Valley, this percentage decreased. In 2002, 32% of community children were observed as Kashmiri speaking`. They are giving first preference to the Hindi language (92%) and second preference to Dogri (62%).  It will be reasonable to view this finding with varied dimensions.

Firstly, the fertility rate has not been taken into consideration. Decreasing percent of Kashmiri speaking young generation of Hindus is due to only migration or due to a decrease in births within two decades.  Secondly, the preference of the young generation for modern education through Hindi and English might have disconnected them from the Kashmiri language, as compared to the Muslims of the Valley. This argument can be supported by the Sachar Committee study and research conducted by Fayaz Ahmad Bhat and P.K. Mathur. Former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh had constituted a seven members high-level committee headed by former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, Rajender Sachar, in March 2005, to study social, economic, and educational conditions of Muslims in India. The Committee concluded that the status of Muslims in India was below the status of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe. As far as the J&K state administration is concerned, Muslim participation is at the bottom. Even though Muslims are 63% as compared to Hindus, their share in the administration, academics, home finances, planning, health, and decision making at the state level is negligible. If the number of applications for administrative services from Jammu and Kashmir is compared, Jammu leads by all means. The Valley Muslim generations due to lack in modern education are engaged in the informal sector. Consequently, their nearness to mother tongue and far-reaching from Hindi and English is obvious. According to Fayaz Ahmad Bhat and  P.K. Mathur (2017), As far as the share of Muslims in the sphere of Education and Employment in the state of Jammu and Kashmir is concerned, they have reported lower share among the population of literates, category of other workers and higher share in the occupational category of cultivators, agricultural laborers, household industry workers in comparison to all religious groups. This means that despite being in majority, their situation is similar to their co-religionists at the all India level. These reasons are sufficient enough to understand why Muslims are attached to their mother tongue at a large scale as compared to Hindus.

Status of Mother Tongue and Official Languages of other Union Territories:

The people of Andaman and Nicobar Islands majorly migrated from mainland India, speaking mostly Hindi (15%) and Bengali. Other spoken languages are Malayalam, Nicobarese, Telugu, Tamil, and Punjabi. The official language is Hindi and English. With the literacy rate of 86.0%, people of Chandigarh speak in Hindi (73.60%), Punjabi (22.03%). The official Language Act, 1969, provided for the adoption of Hindi as the language to be used for official purposes in Haryana, and English will be dominant in legal matters. Dadra and Nagar Haveli citizens speak Varli, Gujrati, Konkani, Dhodia and Hindi Languages, with official languages as Marathi. In Daman and Diu Union Territory, Gujrati and Hindi are majorly speaking languages. Gujarati, Marathi and English are the official Languages of Daman. In Delhi, almost all people speak Hindi with  Hindi and English as official languages. In Pondichery, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and French are majorly spoken, whereas, the Pondicherry Official Language Act, 1965 establishes Tamil for official purposes. English is used for convenience. In Lakshadweep, 83% of people speak Malayali, and the official language is Malayalam and English.

With respect to Jammu and Kashmir, the demand and decision of adopting Hindi as an official language must be viewed from the democratic system. All-Union territories either have Hindi speaking natives or high literacy rates so that they become familiar with English easily. Some Union Territories have given facilities to continue with the mother tongue other than Hindi and English. Southern UT, Pondicherry Malayalam, and English are their official languages. At the national level when all UT s are provided with the flexibility to exercise through their mother tongue and English, why are Jammu and Kashmir together forced to adopt Hindi as their official language?

The distinction between Jammu and Kashmir regions with respect to Kashmiri speaking people needs a proper study. According to Dr. Mohsin Shakil, (2012), 34.64% of natives speak Kashmiri Language across J & K.  In Kashmir Valley, Anantnag (70%),Budgam(91%),Baramulla (61%), Bandipora(91%) ,Ganderbal(89%), Kupwara(45%) Kulgam(94%) Pulwama(91%) Srinagar (96%) Shopian (96%) people speak Kashmiri Language. Only in Kupwara, the percentage is below 50. In this district, Pahari (35%) and Gujari (15%) are spoken. In Jammu the scenario is different. Doda (30%), Jammu(18%) , Poonch (7%) Rajouri(8%) Udhampur(1%) Reasi (15%) Ramban (10%) and Kistwar (45%). Dogri is the most spoken language in Jammu. In Kathua & Samba almost 90% ,Udhampur 83%, Ramban 70%, Reasi 55% people speak Dogri Language.

Controversial Status of Hindi- as the National Language:

After the establishment of British rule, the English Language overpowered Persian in India. Hindi and Urdu continued in courts for local residents. Thomas Babington Macaulay enforced the English Language in the Indian System by Minute of 1835, which was supported by Raja Ram Mohan Roy. Later, the national language became important in the freedom struggle. While framing the Indian Constitution, selection of the language to be referred to as the official language for India was the most challenging task for the Constituent Assembly. The Hindi, spoken by 40% people, as the official language of India, had two major challenges. First- Hindi is spoken in around 13 different dialects. And second- other regional languages of India. After the debate, the Hindi dialect of the Delhi – Agra region with Sanskrit vocabulary was adopted. But, the non-Hindi speaking population opposed Hindi on the ground that they will suffer in terms of employment opportunities, education, and public services because of their non-Hindi background. Accordingly, L.K.Maitra and N.G.Ayyangar demanded the recognition of regional language at the state level in the Constituent Assembly. Sanskrit Language, despite its antiquity and rich vocabulary, was not accepted as an official language. Urdu, when declared by Pakistan as their national language, was termed as, Linguistic Separatism, and demand for Hindi written in devnagri script came up as the National language for India.

The Constituent Assembly was divided into two linguistic groups- Hindi and anti-Hindi. Therefore, the Munshi- Ayyangar formula was adopted which stated- English was to continue as the official language also Hindi for a period of 15 years- the power of its extension was given to the Parliament. To prevent the opposition from non-Hindi speakers, the Official Language Act of 1963 was enacted. But, anti-Hindi agitation became intense when Lal Bahadur Shastri declared to consider Hindi as an alternative medium in Public Services. In 1967, Indira Gandhi’s Government amended the Official Language Act as indefinite usage of English and Hindi as the official language of courts, which was opposed by non-Hindi speaking people. Even the devnagri form of numerals was adopted after a period of 15 years from independence in India.

Even today, recognition of Hindi language as the National and official language is opposed by non-Hindi states, with the fear of not getting representation in education, administration, and public services. If this fear has not removed since independence among non-Hindi Indians, how Kashmiris are asked to get adapted to the Hindi Language?  Despite the fact that in Jammu, people are comfortable with Hindi. Why the Kashmir Valley people are forced with Hindi, where 97% of Muslim people in Valley speak Kashmiri and comfortable with the Urdu Language? Their participation in public services, academics, and decision making is already at the bottom at the state level. Making Hindi compulsory will hinder their growth more severely.

Moreover, on June 29, 2020 news was highlighted that in UP Board exam result 2020: Nearly 7.97 lakh students failed in Hindi. It further explained, Uttar Pradesh Known as the Hindi heartland- has failed in Hindi in the UP Secondary Board Examinations for class 10 and 12. A High School Teacher opined. Many of the children did not know simple words like Atmavishwas and wrote Confidence. This reflects their level of knowledge of the language. If this is the ground situation of Hindi Centered States, how can Hindi be imposed on any non-Hindi speaking State or Union Territory in democratic India?

Network of Abrogation of 370- NRC/CAA- Removing Kashmiri from Bhasha Sangam Portal- Imposing Hindi- Removing Urdu as official Language-modifying Domicile rules in Jammu and Kashmir:  After seven decades, Article 370 and 35A were scrapped on 5 August 2019, and along with Leh and Jammu, Kashmir- the most militarized zone of the world was demoted as a Union Territory of India. 35A opened doors not only to purchase land in J&K but marrying eligible Kashmiri citizens as if it was a long-awaited dream of Indians. To make the dream of Akhand Bharat a reality, the abrogation of Article 370 was included in the manifesto of the BJP Government.

Akhand Bharat is followed by the Hindu Rashtra concept, to make India a Hindu dominant country. Accordingly, on 11 December 2019, the Citizenship Amendment Act (Bill) was passed by the Parliament. CAA along with the National Population Register (NPR), for the nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) was implemented. Other than Muslims, all religious minorities who migrated before December 2014 were given Citizenship of India. In this light, if Jammu and Kashmir has to be transformed from Muslim dominant to Hindu dominant, there are two possibilities. First, without disturbing the Muslim population, if more Hindus are given citizenship of J&K, by raising the Hindu population to more than 65% in J&K and 97% in Kashmir Valley, the newly formed UT can be made Hindu Dominant.  Secondly, denying some Muslims their Citizenship under CAA, and allowing Hindus for the domicile of J&K, will result in exceeding the Hindu population, specifically in Kashmir Valley.
If more Hindus are given citizenship from outside, it may result in population pressure or artificial population explosion causing a serious impact on population- resources balance. During Coronavirus Lockdown on 31 March 2020, Government of India modified the domicile Law as, Who has lived in the region for 15years or has studied in the region for 7 years and passed his class 10 or class 12 examination in J&K UT, and who is registered as migrant by the Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner (Migrants), Children of Government officials who have served J&K for a total period of 10 years, will be domiciles. This Law facilitated the Hindi speaking or educated generations outside the valley region to enter into public services, academics, and higher job profiles. Already at the bottom place, the Muslims in the government sector or academics or higher jobs will easily be alienated in the near future. By the end of June 2020, within three months, the Doda district issued the largest number of domiciles that is 8500, where Hindu comprise 45% and Muslims 53.81% according to the 2011 census. Clearly, the religious composition is going to alter in the Doda district. Rajouri district-issued 6213 domiciles where Muslims are 62.71% and in Poonch district, 6123 domiciles were issued where Muslims comprise 90.44% of the population. In Assam, where 2 million people are waiting to get their domicile, in J&K within 14 days domiciles have been issued. New citizens of J&K are Hindus, Hindi speaking, with modern education degrees, and will be benefited by the decision of Hindi as an official language.
Along with opening doors to Hindus by Domicile Law, CAA closes doors for Muslims. It is going to affect the Muslim population specifically in the Valley.  Kashmiris perceive their situation as systematic displacement like that of Palestinians which started even before the May 15th, 1948 implementation of the UN Partition Plan. The Palestinians who were displaced in 1948 and 1967, are still not granted permission to return to their homes and villages. Had they been allowed, their population would have come into the majority. Shrinking of Muslims in the valley of Kashmir will obviously cause a threat to the Kashmiri Language. As a mother tongue, majorly Muslims speak Kashmiri. Similarly, replacing official language Urdu by Hindi will cause difficulty to valley people in the execution of their official work. These decisions do not seem to be even gender-sensitive.  Dogra King Pratap Singh, Hindu ruler, in 1846, recognized Urdu as an official language of J&K, which has been discarded by the government today under the impression that religion needs to be rethought. Moreover, it is the co-official language of Uttar Pradesh, National Capital Delhi, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Telangana.

To sum up, Kashmiri Language has got divided in Religion -Version crisis of Jammu Hindus and Valley Muslims. Despite the fact that Hindus and Muslims both speak Kashmiri Language, with little cultural differences, Jammu welcomes all the decisions by the Government right away from abrogation of 370 to domicile Law and removal of Urdu as an official language. On the contrary, Valley Muslims perceive these transformations as threats to their existence.

Based on religious dominance, Jammu may be offered English with co-official Hindi Language, and Valley may be offered English with co-official Urdu Language. Kashmiri Language along with English shall be compulsory at primary school level so that mother tongue and modern education can run parallel in Valley. Secondary and higher school levels must introduce Hindi and Urdu Languages. In Jammu, Dogri can be placed as an option to other languages, to preserve Dogri culture. Its the responsibility of society to inculcate modern English education among generations to come up with global competition and preserve the mother tongue and its glorious literature and culture. Kashmiri language, known to 0.54%, Dogri known to 0.22% of the total population of India should not die in the religious battle.

The author is a Ph. D Scholar. His research area is the Partition of India. He is fond of reading literature, cinema, and cultural studies. He can be reached at

Disclaimer: Views expressed are exclusively personal and do not reflect the stand or policy of Oracle Opinions.

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