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Kashmiri Diaspora : Remarks on Linguistico-cultural Erosion

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 community.


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 The urban-rural distinction is no longer applicable, for the diaspora is scattered in several urban centers across the country with large concentrations stationed in Jammu and Delhi.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 merry-making.


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 are lost.

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


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