Stimulating the use of Kashmiri In
Bharat Wakhlu and Dr. Omkar N.
A Challenging Historical Legacy
There is widespread and legitimate concern
amongst Kashmiri speaking people about the future status of their mother tongue.
Those residing outside Kashmir are especially concerned; and the reasons for
such concern are not far to seek. Firstly, there is a growing tendency among
many young people not to learn or even speak Kashmiri, even while their parents
and grandparents are able to do so. Secondly, the Kashmiri language has suffered
from a grave disability, right from its "birth" : namely, it has
always been a spoken language. The ruling elite in Kashmir always chose
to write in languages that were considered "sophisticated" or
appropriate for their times. Which is why, though Kashmiri was spoken by all,
writings by Kashmiri scholars were in Sanskrit, then Persian and later in Hindi,
Urdu and English. Only the priestly class, in order to preserve some of the
rituals that were unique to Kashmir, used the script of Sharda to transcribe the
Much of the vast and rich literature of Kashmir, that was spread and conveyed
by word of mouth, has therefore vanished. Whatever little is recorded is
therefore in Sharda, Persian or the Devanagri scripts, all of which have been
modified to meet the distinct phonetic needs of the Kashmiri language. Even the
modern Kashmiri writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, whose numbers
in the latter century grew as a result of the needs of Radio (and later,
Television) relied on the Persian or the Devanagri scripts to do their writing.
While this literature is as great in quality as any other, it suffers from the
disadvantage of having practically no readers! Neither literate Kashmiris, who
comprise about fifty percent of the Kashmiri-speaking population, nor the other
half, feel inclined to read the evocative and abundant poetry, or the excellent
prose that has been written during the last half century.
Much of the absence of interest in Kashmiri, even amongst Kashmiris, stems
from the fact that the language is the only spoken tongue in the world belonging
to the Indo-Germanic class of languages, which is not taught to children from
the nursery class upwards. This problem in turn, has been compounded by the
absence of a proper script for the language. Now wonder, even children who are
willing, and intelligent enough to pick-up other languages, fail to make a
beginning and a start when it comes to Kashmiri. These factors make the
preservation of the language especially challenging.
Actions for the Future
Given this backdrop, it is heartening that a renewed and deep interest in
preserving the language is permeating the Kashmiri Diaspora. There are
suggestions that have been put forth for taking urgent steps to remedy the
situation, and to make Kashmiri a vibrant, modern language that will meet the
demands of these "cyber" times. Rapid advances in the use of the
Internet and other networking technologies, will make heavy demands on the
abilities of competent people to keep pace with times. Under these
circumstances, preserving the richness of Kashmiri would be possible only if we,
as a community, were to rise above narrow, sectarian concerns and fruitless
debates on the origin and status of the language; and move decisively forward to
address and act on the practical requirements of the issue.
We therefore propose that the following actions be taken :
Providing all children a well-designed and elegant primer for introducing the
Kashmiri language, in the Roman and the Devanagri scripts. Both scripts are now
well established and are easily picked up by all, including young, nursery-going
children. With the appropriate use of diacritical marks, the Roman script
especially provides an easy method to write Kashmiri. The primer would
familiarize young readers with the forty-four phonetic sounds that constitute
the Kashmiri "alphabet", and pave the way for a systematic process of
learning. The authors have already published such an illustrated primer in the
Roman script, under the auspices of the Foundation for the Preservation of
Kashmiri Traditions. (copies of the primer can be had from the author or from
Kashmir Sabha, Calcutta). In order to make the use of such a primer wide spread,
requires a concerted effort to stimulate the learning of Kashmiri by children
and adults alike. This is a critical need.
The second most important action is to make all prose and poetry in the
Kashmiri language, that is either written or available in the oral tradition,
available to people at the earliest in both the Roman and the Devanagri scripts.
This is a colossal task that calls for a team of researchers to work in close
coordination with experts. Despite the magnitude of the task it can and should
be done as soon as possible. With dedication and love it would be possible for
this task to be accomplished, especially in these times when there are a variety
of technologies available to make the job easy and comparatively less
painstaking. The need is for the kind of commitment and will be demonstrated by
our ancestors, who worked tirelessly in spite of hardships and a paucity of
Thirdly, over the last four decades a number of dedicated artistes and
individuals have made a significant contribution to the development and
popularization of Kashmiri folk music. Thanks to the efforts of many of these
pioneering people within the community, Kashmiri music today is available on
cassettes, CD's and can even be heard on the Internet. There is, however, a need
to popularize the lyrics of these songs, which would be available in the
"diaries" of many individuals/families who have an interest in music,
but which have otherwise remained largely confined to small groups. There is a
need to popularize Kashmiri music and lyrics to a wider, global audience, so
that universal interest in Kashmiri music and culture grows among the young and
old of all communities. For this CD's and cassettes of music, as well as pithy
stories and anecdotes must be made popular by marketing and selling these in
large volumes to Kashmiris and others throughout the world.
Finally, we must all resolve to use our mother tongue for private, cultural,
and social communication. This calls for a conscious effort to familiarize all
in the family with the language, and setting aside time when everyone
communicates only in Kashmiri. Many families have chosen certain mealtimes to
ensure that all conversations at such a time are in Kashmiri. This is a good
practice and helps youngsters in the family to develop an appreciation for the
language. Besides, children who are already familiar with other languages,
thereby begin to notice similarities between the languages they already know,
and Kashmiri. This stimulates further interest in the language and Kashmiri
Since the Internet is fast becoming a preferred means of communication, it is
pertinent to mention at this stage, that it isn't at all difficult to use the
roman script for sending email or even chatting in Kashmiri on the Internet! In
fact the authors have had the pleasure of chatting on the net in Kashmiri
written in the Roman script (dispensing with the diacritical marks). When
chatting with strangers who know Kashmiri, the results can be electrifying!
It is our firm belief that making the use of Kashmiri widespread and
fashionable is the only way to preserve it. In the Internet age if youngsters
use Kashmiri to communicate, there is no doubt that interest in the language
will continue to grow.
There is still more good news in this context. The Government of Jammu and
Kashmir has again introduced the Kashmiri language for all students from the
first primary classes. We wholeheartedly welcome this decision. The introduction
of the language in the school curriculum, will add to the vibrancy, richness and
variety of the language, which is "genetically" rooted in the rich,
beautiful and salubrious climes within the valley of Kashmir. It is important
for the preservation of the mother tongue of Kashmiris that all those who speak
or wish to speak Kashmiri, keep closely in touch with their cultural, social and
geographical roots, and add value to these by their own contributions. Another
heartening development is that fact that many learned Kashmiris across the
country and even overseas, are taking classes in Kashmiri for those who have
shown interest in the language. This is commendable, and all such efforts need
to be encouraged.
Any child of three or younger can learn any language in the world. This is so
because for little children learning a language is one of the most natural
things to do. Many adults refuse to learn new languages because they are shy.
The time is ripe for us to shed our inhibitions and make a start with Kashmiri.
All we need to do is to start to read, speak, and listen, and repeat whatever we
learn till we get fluent. Once one gets a hang of the finer points of a language
the learning proceeds smoothly.
Let us therefore not lament the fate of Kashmiri. The language will not die
as long as Kashmir lives. But it may vanish, if by a comic display of misplaced
collective will, we refuse to learn it or feel shy to speak it!
Let us also not debate about Kashmiri. Let us speak it, write in it and print
every word of it, in Roman if we can, but in any other script one might prefer.
If the vision is clear, the way ahead is bound to emerge from the thicket of
uncertainty, and might even look simpler to traverse than we think today. Our
collective will and resolve to move ahead on this path must be strong. Then and
then alone will Kashmiri flourish and thrive in this Millennium and well into
[Mailing Address : Foundation for the Preservation of Kashmiri
Traditions, Jamshedpur, Bihar.
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org]