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VITASTA ANNUAL NUMBER: Volume XXXIV (2000-2001)

Why Kashmiri ? Is The Enthusiam Misplaced ?

(Let us self Analyse)

Dr. R. L. Shant

Who Raises The Alarm ?

A big hue and cry is being raised these days in support of Kashmiri. Articles appear regularly in our community magazines Koshur Samachar & Kshir Bhawani Times justifying preservation of this language as a vestige of the past and as an essential constituent of our identity. Ways and means are suggested as to how this language can be stopped from complete extinction in our homes. Alarm is raised in public and private meetings held anywhere in the country or abroad. Strangely, it is not the community leaders this time who underline the importance. They are busy understanding and trying to solve the dilemma of our tragedy in their own ways. It is the common people, the silent and unknown thinkers, the intelligentsia, the readers and writers, where ever they are. Our young bureaucrats, professionals, technocrats scattered all over the country and abroad seem to be in an unwritten agreement on the importance of Kashmiri language for us.

It is significant that members of our community living in the West seem to be taking the lead. Their full hearted appeals to their compatriots here ask for help in the preservation of the language in homes and mohallas for intimate communication. The appeals have come over the internet. The NRKs are coming forward extending their help, technical and financial. On almost the same lines, Kashmiris, residing far away from Kashmir (infact Jammu) are more curious and enthusiastic to devise ways and means of making this language popular among ourselves. People away seem to have risen more to the occasion than people nearer home.

Is It A Corrective Measure?

This is like a clamour to say the least. If this sudden spurt in favour of the mother tongue is monitored, recorded and analysed it will clearly look like a deliberately planned effort of a displaced community crying for a remedy to some cultural ills. So it is given out to be. Resumption of Kashmiri is suggested as one of the best corrective measures to bring our self confidence back. Let us muse over why it is so.

Since that fateful year of our permanent dispersal, we had been realising by degrees that the chances of our going back to our land are receding, given the myopic vision of our governments and the cunning doublespeak of the majority community in the valley. So a reflective mood started catching hold of us. Of the many rallying points where we converged, Kashmiri language seemed to be one. The case of the mother tongue as a refuge has since been taken up with full gusto.

Were The Earlier Migrants Less Careful ?

Let us analyse dispassionately the situation as it is obtaining now. Kashmiri, no doubt is the mother tongue of the majority of us wherever we are in the present diaspora. But let us not over look a fact, however unpalatable it may be. Over the last five or six centuries Kashmiri has ceased to be the mother tongue of so many of us may be about a lakh. (One lakh out of a total of five to six lakhs is a number that can't be neglected or overlooked. For the constraints on and difficulties felt by these people have to be kept in view to make our analysis objective oriented). Those who were hounded out of the valley or those who left according to their own volition during the times of the Sultans (Sikandar 'butshikan' & after), the Moghuls (Akbar and his heirs) & the Pathans and settled down right from the inner valleys of Kishtwar, Doda, Bhadrawah, to the cities of Amritsar, Delhi, Jaipur, Lucknow, Allahabad, Calcutta and Bombay, left their language behind for new languages of their hosts and by their intelligence excelled in them. Like in Kashmir, most of them sought jobs with Persian and Urdu speaking or patronising Muslim rulers, carved a niche for themselves and rose to being registered as super class speakers of the official tongue. That they seldom owned native dialects instead, is a moot point but is of no concern to us in the present context. Anyway, they held that Kashmiri was ceasing to have any importance in their new set ups.

It was neither the language of their employer (and employment) nor at school nor in the neighbourhood. For them maintaining language links with those staying back in the valley (or those who returned by and by over the years) was impossible given the ravages of time and distance separating them. And they knew that more and more exoduses were in the offing. What happened as a result was that history, culture and language became things of less importance to them. They surely carried some religious ceremonies (along with some culture specific vocabulary) with them, but the delight derived out of the celebrations decreased as was sure to be in diaspora, in the absence of homogeneous ethnic congregations. One can imagine the differences in the delight and rejuvenation they would feel if they had stuck to the use of Kashmiri, which carried for them permanent features of cultural renaissance viz. mystic and folk poetry, religious and devotional lyricism and a wealth of idioms and proverbs that serve against any alien cultural onslaught. Hence, they thought that linguistic identity had little to do in the development of personalty and growth of a community. To be fair to them they did try to maintain their family names (which, unfortunately, are called 'castes' or 'zaats') and refrained from intermarrying with non Kashmiri Pandits, though that was not sufficient. Perhaps they could not amalgamate totally with (in) the tight-caste-Hindu structure all over India and were constrained to live as a group, though distinct in name only. They did not take any lesson from their Bengali or Tamil neighbours while in Delhi or the Gujarati or Telugu neighbour while in Bombay, who mastared local Hindi and Marathi respectively but used their mothertongues in order not to be cut off from their roots.

Do We Surrender Our Pride ?

Such is, unfortunately, the tendency among us even now. A friend's sircastic remark that we are in for having our grandchildren as Kannad or Marathi or Assamess speaking no matter if their mothers or fathers (i.e. our daughters or sons respectively) are Kashmiri speaking, because our children are sure to readily surrender their pride, their ethnic distinction to their spouses in the new dispensations seems to be coming true. Our history of compromises that started taking roots centuries ago is repeating itself in a new autarhood.

Whose Responsibility Is It Anyway ?

If this is the condition we find ourselves in, do these cries of saving Kashmiri, as the last instrument of saving our much eroded identity, not seem God inspired ? Perhaps the last exodus seems to be pulling us out of slumber. It seems that in a decade of mind churning we have understood and have come to appreciate the value of the heritage of Kashmiri. Today the world is changing faster than it ever did. We realise that the winds of change will pull our last roots (that of the mother tongue) out that bind us to a 5-millenium old history and culture. That will completely annihilate the last mark of our identity. We are facing total disregard by an insensitive Government. Previous exoduses cut away the fleeing groups or individuals from the majority who returned to their homes. This exodus is doing the same in a harsher way because nobody is returning. The onus of preserving our identity is on one and all, be they in Jammu, Delhi or Calcutta, may they have fled in the 18th century or in 1990.

Are We Highflying Birds Without Wings ?

Many amongst us argue that 'to survive' we have to be 'the fittest.' Rightly so. But how can we be considered fit without a fit and healthy genetic (read cultural) structure well nurtured by the best nutrition for culture i.e. language. If we compromise with our health in order to survive we will be cheating ourselves and our future generations. Recently an England-settled son of a very well known educationist (a muslim) in Kashmir, complained to his father about pushing him (the son) to fly in rich and fragrant skies of England without wings, for these were not allowed to grow (his mother tongue was never taught to him though he had mastered English fully while in his teens).

Is It The Only Distinctive Mark ?

Our genius in being Kashmiri Pandits first and good technocrats, doctors, scientists or professors last. A Kashmiri Pandit is the truest Kashmiri, for he preserved the best of the race without subjugating himself to religious or cultural changes over the centuries. But he is Kashmiri only till he speaks Kashmiri and keeps revitalising himself with its life force. He must learn the language now if by any historical travesty he was forced to abondon it, no matter if his fathers knew none of it. He must maintain it inside the precincts of his house if he can't do so outside. All Bengali boys and girls do not read Bengali literature while staying in Bangalore or Bombay. But they speak the language among themselves. That is what makes them Bangali and what keeps the "Bonglar gaurab" alight in their minds. No matter if our boys do not have time or reason to read Kashmiri books. But they shall keep their distinct genius alive if they can converse among themselves in Kashmiri. Afterall that shall be the only mark or quality of distiniction with them, other things remaining same.

Are We Like Driftwood ?

It is for this reason that we have to keep fuelling this sense of urgency in reviving ourselves, this wave of resurgence that we referred to at the outset. We are fortunate that the wave is real. We are thankful to those living as far as the UK or the US who write to us to prepare Kashmiri readers for them and their children. We have reached a stage where we can't afford to cut our roots and yet feign to be standing erect. We have to call a halt to those who offer themselves to non Kashmiri identities. Otherwise we are doomed. That time may not be far away when we shall be maintaining the highest standards sans the knowledge and pride of our roots. The enthusiasm of some of us to inspire love for our language in us has not flowered sooner than desired. If we do not listen to their clarion call now we will be reduced to non entities. We will be like blocks of driftwood which are valued for their decorative value and for their inability to grow because the information about their genes lies dead in them.

Dr. R. L. Shant is Hindi Editor of Kshir Bhwani Times, Jammu

Mailing Address : 904 ­ Subhashnagar, Jammu­5
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