Kashmiri Diaspora : Remarks on
Dr. Raj Nath Bhat
Language and culture are the two fundamental
ingredients which give a community a distinct character and build bonds of
fraternity and oneness amongst its members. A displaced community finds itself
in alien surroundings with a new kind of fauna and flora and language and
culture. Several linguistico-cultural entities are inevitably lost in this
scenario because the younger generation cannot get acquainted with the climate,
fauna and flora, and the culture of its parental (ancestral) land.
This paper aims at exploring those linguistico-cultural entities which are
lost even in the passive competence of the younger generation of the displaced
Kashmiri Pandit diaspora can be divided into three segments : GI people of
fifty years of age and above; G2 those between twenty five and fifty years of
age; and G3 those below twenty-five years of age. The urban-rural distinction is
no longer applicable, for the diaspora is scattered in several urban centers
across the country with large concentrations stationed in Jammu and Delhi.
The economically settled with their own houses are in the process of
integrating with the dominant cultures around them. Of the unsettled a small
section is housed in rented places and a large chunk is sheltered in the migrant
camps or slums in Jammu. These camps, in my view, should be considered as
authentic centers reflecting linguistico-cultural maintenance or loss, whatever
be the case, as far as the diaspora is concerned.
G1 is fully aware of the linguistico-cultural moorings of the community. It
speaks the Kashmiri language and observes traditional religious rituals, rites
and customs of the community. It is aware of the socio-cultural traditions,
viz., festivals, ceremonies, superstitions, myths, foods, clothing and so on. It
has a nostalgic longing for the valley of Kashmir and would go back if the
circumstances so permit it. The camps are full of these lonely, frail and skinny
people. In a camp a 12*7 feet chamber cannot house a joint family; so the sons
and daughters of these old people have either shifted to other chambers or
migrated elsewhere in search of some kind of a semi-employment. In places far
off where their sons have been able to find work, the parents find it tortuous
to stay home alone for the whole day when the young son(s) is out at work. So
they prefer to stay on in the camps where they at least have the company of
other community members whom they can talk to and share their sorrows with.
The joint family system has completely broken down and the young children
have no idea of a family with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins around.
G2 is struggling to root itself somewhere, although it loves the valley yet
it is unsure whether a return there would be desirable if the situation so
arises. It struggles hard to feed the family, educate the children, attend to
social obligations, negotiate its existence at its new place of work, in the
market, in the lanes and by-lanes of the alien place(s) he finds himself in.
Although he speaks Kashmiri fluently yet he lost an interest in traditional
festivals, customs and rituals and so on.
G3 is the generation of young members with little or no memories of the
valley. They were of a tender age at the time of displacement and a small
percentage was born in these new environs. (After the displacement, the
fertility has come down considerably among the members of the community. Divorce
rate is on the rise and one-child norm has become the holy mantra). For this
segment of the diaspora the Kashmir is merely a geographic entity. Their primary
language is Hindi although some have a degree of passive competence in Kashmiri
as well. For them snow is white flakes which they see on theTV screen and pheran
is a broad gown without a front cut. For them the New Year starts on the first
of January and the Diwali, Christmas and Holi are the restivals of joy and
Culture is more or less a language game as language is considered to be the
repository of socio-cultural belief systems and customs of a community. Pheran
and kangri have no importance in the plains so is the case with a
large number of other linguistic and cultural entities which have had a
socio-religious significance in the valley. All such vocabulary items are almost
completely lost with the G3. Hardly would one find these linguistic items even
in their passive competence. Listing such items would occupy a lot of space, a
few have been discussed below for illustration.
A house in Kashmir invariably has a braand 'porch' and brand livun
'porch-polishing' has a religio-cultural significance for a Hindu lady. The
phrase braandl kEny 'lit. porchstone; wife' has a cultural importance for
the whole speech community. The concepts as well as their religio-cultural
importance is lost to the G3. A Kashmiri house has voT 'ground floor', kuTh
'first floor' and kEEni 'second floor'. voT is used during winter
for sitting as well as for cooking. kuTh is the bedroom meant for use in
all seasons. kEEni is the floor used for cooking and sitting during
summer. So two social customs (i) going up to kEEni in spring KEEni
khasun, and (ii) going down to live at the ground floor voT vasun
during late autumn are no longer known to the G3. The house there also used to
have a Thokur KuTh 'prayer room', Dab' wooden veranda', panjrI
'wooden net', brEEry kEEni 'cat's top-floor', singal 'wooden roof,
tshey 'hay roof' etc., all these concepts and the terms referring to them
The onset of spring used to be marked by I sont phulay 'blossoming of
flower and fruit trees'. On the third day of the navreh 'Kashmiri New
Year day' people would go to parks and gardens to enjoy the warm sunshine and
the colourful spring flowers. Such celebrations have ceased to be a part of the
cultural life of the community in the plains and the G3 is simply unaware of
such festivities. Spring meant a lot more. Walnut, almond, apricot, peach,
cherry and all other fruit trees would flower. The flowers would gradually turn
green and become unripe fruits. The children as well as the adults would enjoy
kernels of green walnuts and almonds. The green coat of the unripe fruit would
dye the skin on one's hands dark yellow. The vocabulary items like gol
'green coat of a walnut', piirl guuly 'green kernel' referring to these
unripe fruits are not known to the G3.
Summer meant paddy and vegetable plantations and other agricultural
activities associated with it. The linguistic items like thal kar In
'seeding plantation' and the names of agricultural implements like allbEEny 'plough',
beel, Tongur, livan, droot 'sickle' and so on are
not known to the G3. Similarly, there are a number of other linguistic terms
which are associated with paddy harvesting like daani loonun, daani chombun,
daani ganDun, daani munun, etc. which the G3 is unacquainted with. Kaanglr
'fire pot' used by every Kashmiri during winter to keep him/herself warm has
several components, viz., konDal 'earthen pot inside the kaanglr'
kaani 'dried willow twigs', tshaalan' a wooden or metallic spatula
tied to the fire pot' which are naturally lost to the G3 for Kaanglr has
no place in the warm plains. During autumn when trees shed their leaves, people
broom those into piles, pan Duvun 'brooming leaves', and put those on
fire pan Zaalun 'burning leaves' to prepare tsInI 'coal' for use
in the KaangIr. Over use of a KaangIr would burn the skin on one's
thigh naarI tot 'skin burn'; one would put a little zetI/tengul
'live coal' into tshIni kaangIr 'fir pot full of wood/leaf coal' to
ignite it. All these terms have lost significance, hence are lost to the G3.
Pheran 'a woolen gown without a front cut' has a special place in
Kashmiri attire. Associated with it are the terms like pootsh 'cotton
lining of a pheran' pheran laada'a fold at the bottom of a pheran'
which terms are not in the repertoire of the G3. Similarly the Hindu women's
traditional head-gear tarIngI and its components like zuujy, puuts,
shiishlaTh etc. are completely lost as far as the G3 is concerned.
Traditionally the community has been celebrating birth days of the family
members according to the Hindu lunar calendar. People would remember their
respective dates of birth accordingly. But not now. Preparation of tEhar
'yellow rice' as part of the birth day celebrations is losing ground and instead
cutting of a cake according to the Christian calendar has replaced it. Due to a
lack of knowledge of the traditional calendar, the significance of the
religious/auspicious days like the EETham '8th day of a
fortnight; punim '15th day of the moonlit fortnight', kah
'11th day of a fortnight' is gradually being lost. The religious
festivals/rituals like gaaDI batI 'fish-rice for the house god', kaavI
punim 'crow's purnima', manjhoor tEhar 'yellow rice of Magar
month' heerath salaam' 2nd day of the Shiv Ratri' are
least understood by the G3. The rituals like sontI thaal 'spring plate', kaavI
potul 'crow's cup' etc. are simply lost. Same is the case with such
superstitions like zangi yun 'to be the first to cross some one on
his/her way out of home', buth wuchun 'see somebody's face in the
morning', saatI neerun 'to leave a place on an auspicious day' etc. are
not known to the G3.
One could add several socio-cultural vocabulary items to the list here. For
instance, the terms related to such like professions/trades like carpentry,
masonry or the terms employed by iron/gold smiths, barber, cobbler, butcher, and
so on which are not known to the G3. Similarly, such holy places like tulImul,
khrIv, shEEdpur, Ekingom, shenkracaar, parbath, maartanD etc., Which have a
sacred place in the hearts of the devout Hindus of the valley, do not denote
anything to the G3.
G3 is deeply concerned about its individual progress. It does not see any
benefit accruing from learning Kashmiri. It converses with its parents and peers
in Hindi, Kashmiri is a burden it can well do without. With the language loss,
cultural loss is inevitable. The trend looks difficult to reverse. Kashmiri is
not taught at the school anywhere. It has not been a subject even in the Kashmir
valley. G2 does not have the requisite resources to arrange for the teaching of
Kashmiri language and culture to the G3 nor is the latter interested or inclined
to appreciate its parental tongue and the ancestral culture. Hence, the demise
of a community's identity seem inevitable within the next two generations when
both the G2 & G3 would cease to be around on the scene.
The preparation of video, audio and print materials in Kashmiri language and
culture may prove helpful at a later stage when a mature and settled G3 may,
like the Jews, develop an inclination to learn and know about its roots,
ancestral language and culture.
Author is reader in Linguistics, Kurukshetra University.
Mailing address : 434, Sector 13, Kurukshetra-136118.