“The union government’s recent Bill on Official Languages may turn out to be the last nail in the coffin for the already fading Urdu language in Jammu & Kashmir,” says senior editor Khursheed Wani, who works with ETV Bharat Urdu.
For the past 131 years, Urdu has been the official language in J&K, but last week, the Union Cabinet approved a Bill to introduce Hindi, Kashmiri and Dogri as official languages in J&K, in addition to Urdu and English.
Wani, while commenting on the government's recent move to remove Urdu as the exclusive official language in J&K, suggested that people should take the responsibility to preserve the language by means of reading, writing and speaking it regularly.
Why Urdu Didn’t Completely Die Out In Kashmir Valley
Talking to The Quint, 48-year-old Wani, who hails from South Kashmir, recalled that till 1990, students were taught in Urdu language only, and all books were scripted in Urdu. “But during the past 30 years, Urdu has lost its patronage, with both the government as well as the people preferring English and Hindi.”
Senior Urdu author and former Director of Iqbal Institute of Culture and Philosophy University of Kashmir, Dr Bashir Ahmad Nahvi told The Quint that Urdu had lost its position and official status a long time ago. Nahvi added that, for instance, the name plates of the officials, offices, streets and other public utilities were done in English in Kashmir, and in Hindi in Jammu.
However, the local Urdu readers believe that for three reasons Urdu did not completely vanish from the Kashmir Valley:
- the religious scriptures are written in Urdu
- the large presence of Urdu newspapers
- all official records for land, revenue, courts, and even FIRs are scripted in Urdu
Why Multiple Official Languages In A State / UT Can Cause Chaos
Urdu columnist and Director of the Centre For Career Guidance and Counselling, Mohammad Yaqoob Khan, told The Quint that Urdu, despite being the official language of the erstwhile state, had already lost steam midway, as almost every government order or circular was being released in English. “We did not do justice to the Urdu language and now it has lost its exclusive status in J&K. Forget promotion, the government has been doing everything to kill Urdu on our soil. You cannot find a government office that has a sign board in Urdu. Even the High Court, Civil Secretariat and universities do not have Urdu sign boards, which show the official apathy towards this language,” said Khan.
He added that a state or a union territory can have only one official language, but surprisingly in J&K, five different official languages have been introduced which can potentially cause chaos in government offices.
Renowned Kashmiri poet and author, 77-year-old Zareef Ahmad Zareef termed the introduction of five different official languages in J&K as a ‘conspiracy’ by the government. He argued that the Government of India considered Urdu to be the ‘language of Muslims’, and had thus, ‘let it die’.
He added that the government actually ‘wanted to destroy not just Urdu but Kashmiri language’, so that only Hindi would shine. The ‘hidden agenda’ of the government, he said, was to ‘destroy the identity and culture’ of J&K.
“But the government should know that Kashmir has 5500 years of history. In 1889, it was not a Muslim but a Dogra ruler Maharaja Ranbir Singh who introduced Urdu as the official language in J&K. He could have made Dogri as the official language but for the fact that the then state of J&K was physically divided into three heterogeneous units — Jammu, Kashmir & Ladakh, having different cultures, customs, traditions, and languages. To string these diverse units, Urdu was accorded the status of being the link as well as the official language.”
‘Step-Motherly Attitude Of Govt Towards Urdu’
Poet Zareef called the government’s decision to introduce Kashmiri as one among five other official languages a ‘hoax’. “What is the point of making Kashmiri an official language when the majority of the people do not even read or write it? Actually the idea of replacing Urdu with five different languages is to kill the identity of Kashmiris and divide the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh,” he told The Quint.
A Sahitya Akademi awardee, Zareef said that the Official Languages Bill would potentially give birth to regionalism.
“These days you can see the people of J&K getting divided over regional languages. Now we see Sikhs and Gujjars also demanding their languages and dialects to be introduced among the official languages. The future generation, unable to read or write Urdu, may lose an opportunity to benefit from tremendous literature.”
Commenting on the government’s decision, Dr Owais Ahmad Bhat, an Urdu research scholar at the University of Hyderabad, told The Quint that rich Islamic literature was available in Urdu, and due to this reason, the axe had fallen upon it. Bhat blamed the government as well as the common people for allowing Urdu to fade.
“It is deplorable that in the latest National Education Policy (NEP), there is no mention of Urdu anywhere. This clearly shows the step-motherly attitude of the government towards Urdu language.”Dr Owais Ahmad Bhat
‘Not Much Has Been Done In J&K To Preserve & Promote Urdu’
According to the 2011 Census, Urdu was the mother tongue of 5,07,72631 people in India. In J&K however, out of a total population of 1.25 crore people, Urdu, as a mother tongue, was used by just 13,351 people. Earlier in the 1961 Census, out of a total population of 36,60,976 there were only 12,445 primarily Urdu-speaking people in J&K. 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 half since 1961.
In February 2018, the PDP-BJP government constituted the first ever State Council for the Promotion of Urdu Language based on the argument that “Urdu is not just the official language and spoken in all its regions, it is also a vast repository of cultural heritage of the Indian sub-continent known as Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb”.
Since the coalition’s break-up in 2018, not much has been done for the preservation and promotion of Urdu.
The Centre had passed the J&K Reorganisation Act in 2019, which enabled the parliament to “adopt any one or more of the languages in use in J&K or Hindi as the official language, or languages to be used for all or any of the official purposes”.
Minister of State in the PMO, Jitendra Singh said: “It is not only a fulfilment of a long-pending public demand of the region but also in keeping with the spirit of equality which was ushered after 5 August 2019.”
Is Govt Trying To ‘Destroy’ Urdu & ‘Promote’ Hindi?
Singh, a member of the Lok Sabha from Udhampur, tweeted: “Spirit of Equality honoured through the Union #CabinetDecision about #JammuAndKashmir Official languages.” He said in another tweet that Dogri, Hindi and Kashmiri “can also be used now as medium of language in official documents” in Jammu & Kashmir, and that “earlier it was only English & Urdu”.
J&K BJP General Secretary, Ashok Koul, talking to The Quint, said that the motive of the government to introduce five official languages was to promote and uplift mother tongues.
“Our thrust is that people should read, write and speak their mother tongue. The latest National Education Policy also stresses upon learning through mother tongue.”J&K BJP General Secretary, Ashok Koul to The Quint
When asked if the government was trying to ‘destroy’ Urdu language and ‘promote’ Hindi, Koul denied it, and said that the government was committed to preserving all languages.
Why Introducing Dogri As An Official Language Is A ‘Healthy Sign’
The inclusion of Kashmiri, Dogri and Hindi as new official languages has drawn flak from several quarters, including members of minority communities, activists and leaders.
Former Minister for Forest, Environment, Ecology (during the PDP-BJP coalition government) and Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan (DSS) Founder, Choudhary Lal Singh, talking to The Quint, accused the government if ‘ignoring’ other languages on the list of official languages.
“The government must know that in Jammu province, Dogras speak 13 dialects and languages, and I do not know why those are being omitted. All those languages and dialects should be included in the list of official languages which will promote and preserve our identity and culture.”‘Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan’ Founder, Choudhary Lal Singh, to The Quint
Suresh Chander, who is an Assistant Professor of Dogri language at Government Degree College Ramnagar, Jammu, told The Quint that introducing Dogri as an official language is a healthy sign, but it should not remain confined to the government order only. The language, he said, should be officially implemented in letter and spirit in all government offices of Jammu region. “Only time will tell if the government is serious about making Dogri an official language of J&K. Let us see if the government, in the real sense, makes use of Dogri while dealing with official work,” said 42-year-old Chander.
Why Minorities Like Sikhs & Gujjars Are Protesting Against J&K Official Languages Bill
Reacting to the inclusion of Kashmiri as an official language in J&K, Professor Mehfooza Jan, Head of Department of Kashmiri Studies at Kashmir University, told The Quint that no doubt the move would promote Kashmiri language, but it was already one of the 22 scheduled languages of India. Besides this, it was a part of the Eighth Schedule in the Constitution of the J&K. “It is time that the people of Kashmir leave their inferiority complex aside and promote the mother tongue by speaking, writing and reading it regularly,” said Jan, who has authored 28 books in Kashmiri language.
Meanwhile, minor protests were carried out by Gujjar and Sikh communities across J&K, over the exclusion of Pahari, Gojri and Punjabi among the official languages of the new union territory.
They termed the government’s decision as an ‘anti-minority’ move, and have insisted that their dialects and languages be included in the list of official languages.
All Party Sikh Coordination Committee (APSCC) Chairman and J&K Apni Party leader Jagmohan Singh Raina, also described the exclusion of Punjabi language from J&K’s Official Languages Bill 2020 as an ‘anti-minority’ move.
While addressing a press conference at Srinagar Press Club, Raina said that Punjabi was “part and parcel of the Constitution of J&K” – even before the abrogation of Article 370. He said Punjabi was a recognised language, duly certified by the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir. But the move has badly bruised the sentiments of minorities, especially of those belonging to the Sikh community.
Senior Gujjar leaders also expressed resentment over the neglect of Gojri and Pahari languages. They demanded that the most backward communities of J&K be given opportunities to improve their culture and languages.
(Irfan Amin Malik is a journalist based in Jammu & Kashmir. He tweets @irfanaminmalik. Views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)