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Stimulating the use of Kashmiri In Cyber Times

Bharat Wakhlu and Dr. Omkar N. Wakhlu

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 language.

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 resources.

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 culture.

Supporting Factors

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 the future.

[Mailing Address : Foundation for the Preservation of Kashmiri Traditions, Jamshedpur, Bihar.

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Views expressed by authors in Vitasta Annual Number are not necessarily of Kashmir Sabha, Kolkata.


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