The first language that a baby learns right from his or her birth is termed as the birth language and thus, plays a crucial role in our lives for a wide array of reasons it is important to know your mother tongue well. Languages are the most important way of keeping the culture alive. Often the direct translation of one language to another might not carry the same essence as it is in the source language. Thus, the best way to thoroughly know about a culture is to know the language. Mother tongue helps us stay connected to our culture and our roots. While talking about Kashmir it has its own history, own culture, language. What I’m concerned about is how Kashmiri language is in its declining phrase. I have some instances of the same though Kashmiri language is still being used in cities, villages but what I often come across is I found people using other languages like Urdu, English to communicate even if they know Kashmiri language.
In the present day, most of the schools are Urdu medium or English medium. Although in most of the school, Kashmiri language is taught but very less importance is given to it outside that class. Recently I met a person his Kashmiri was very bad I thought he might be an outsiders but when he introduced himself as Kashmiri and when I asked the reason of not being able to speak proper Kashmiri he told me he had been in a school where they were not allowed to speak in Kashmiri till he completed 12th. Speaking Kashmiri was punishable. The case isn’t the same for all institutions but most of nowadays. In many schools teachers do use Kashmiri language to explain things because students understand it better. Most of the parents today especially in cities but now in villages as well prefer to talk with their children in Urdu or English. I’ve seen many young Kashmiri kids who speak Urdu well, but can’t speak Kashmiri that well. Another thing I’ve observed is that sadly some people think that those who speak Kashmiri are backward, and speaking Urdu is a sign of development and progress. Although I’ve said that Kashmiri language is being widely used, it’s use is quite restricted to speaking only. A lesser number of people can actually read Kashmiri. As far as writing is considered; only a small proportion of people can write it well.
Mother tongue is considered to be the essence and identity of a nation and its citizens. Irrespective of different places of their birth, religion and cultural moorings, children learn their mother tongue from their mother’s womb. However, due to various factors, Kashmiri language is dying a slow death. Analysis of data explicitly shows that as many as 32 percent of elite school children in Kashmir speak in English or Urdu because they are scolded by their parents to do so. “Nearly 17 percent do speak in languages other than Kashmiri, because teachers insult them if they hinge on their mother tongue while in class rooms. Some 23 percent of students of elite schools said that they do speak in English or Urdu because their friends do.” “Nearly about 12.6 percent have a desire to always speak in English, while 7.6 percent of school children in Kashmir do respectively consider speaking English and Urdu as modern and necessary for good prospects.”
Kashmiri language is on death bed why? As I mentioned above and from the day I started examining things I came across most of the people using other languages often instead of their own mother tongue, especially young ones. I wouldn’t had any problem if they limit these foreign languages to their respective places where they need it like schools, offices. But I had often seen elite class in our society mostly using languages like Urdu, English with their children at home and taking them far away from their mother tongue they consider Kashmiri language as inferior. I wonder how these intellectuals have become slaves of western culture, the way they are following other cultures being modern is fine but being modern it not mean to get away with your identity to loss your identity; nowadays Kashmir has loss its identity.
The language finds no mention in the manifestos of political parties in the state. It gets little attention outside the Kashmiri department of universities. Many believe it will never flourish because the people fundamentally lack the freedom necessary for cultural development. Where exactly lies the problem? Everything appears to be contributing to the decline of Kashmiri, from the indifference of its speakers to the government’s misdirected and wasteful efforts.
“Look at the pedagogy. Rather than drawing experts from various disciplines to formulate texts for better teaching of this language, what we are essentially seeing is the propagation of ignorance. And what is happening in other fields is not helping either. Look at the quality of Kashmiri serials on Doordarshan, the quality of poetry and prose produced, the quality of literary debates,” says Shauq, who helped found the Kashmiri department at Kashmir University in 1978. He draws attention to the fabled indifference of the masses towards Kashmiri literature by citing his own example.
“I have written about 50 books but I am yet to find a reader even though I have got recognition and awards. Even writers don’t read other writers, now, in the age of the Internet and supremacy of English, the future of Kashmiri looks bleak to intellectuals like Shauq, Shah and Bazaz. According to Bazaz, “nothing less than the future of Kashmir is at stake” in the question of the Kashmiri language.
“The great Kashmiri poet Amin Kamil put it aptly. He said Kaeshir-i saet Kashir saeri / Nate waeraan-ik haeraan kaav (We are Kashmir’s only because of Kashmiri / without it, crows lost in wilderness). It is not the loss of a system of spoken or written communication only but the loss of the singularity of Kashmiri experience, At the same time, he warns against fetishising ’Save Kashmiri’ efforts in nationalistic idioms or in opposition to other languages.
“Kashmiri should be liberated from the institutionalized intervention which has turned the language into a site of empty chauvinism and collaborationist opportunism,” he says. Many non-state institutions that have stepped in to ‘save Kashmiri’ have become part of the problem because, Bazaz notes, they end up as “mediators and brokers between the government’s culture industry and practitioners of the language. Such saviours are actually stifling the talent in many rural areas of Kashmir, especially the north.
There is a genuine reason why the younger generation finds it difficult to make a connection with Kashmiri, says Shahnaz Bashir, a writer who won accolades for his debut novel, The Half Mother. An overwhelming quantity of literature produced by previous generations, like insipid programmes on the DD Kashmir channel, finds no resonance with our contemporary situation. Rather than writing our own stories in English, we should have been translating the works of older generations first. It is good to be universal in the literary art but you can’t be indifferent to your immediate concerns.
The author is Mansoor Ahmad Dar, a student of Political Science department at University of Kashmir and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.