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VITASTA ANNUAL NUMBER: Volume XXXIV (2000-2001)

Kashmiri Language, Kashmiris and New Millennium

Dr. Soomnath Raina

Kashmiri language is one of the major Indian language included in the 8th schedule of the constitution of India. Unfortunately this language did not receive that attention from Kashmiris in general and J&K govt. in particular as other major Indian languages of different states did receive. That is why the children of those Kashmiri parents who have migrated and settled in different corners of the country and abroad have gone and are in the process of going into a great loss of their mother tongue. It is this mother tongue loss of Kashmiri children which has necessitated me to open a debate on this crucial and painful issue through this article. Why Kashmiri speaking parents are not worried at all about the mother tongue loss of their children and what we teachers, researchers, writers, poets, critics, scholars and above all the lovers of Kashmiri language should do to retain the language loss of Kashmiri children and develop it like other major languages, is a question of great importance. We can answer this question only when a detailed and thorough discussion is held on the core issues of the problem, which are; the will of Kashmiris to learn their mother tongue, the language policy of the State Government and the teaching of Kashmiri as L1 and L2. The main issue that I want to discuss in this article is the mother tongue loss of Kashmiris migrated and settled in the different parts of India and abroad. That is why this study will include the issues like the will of Kashmiri people to learn their mother tongue and the teaching of Kashmiri as L2 only.

The Will of Kashmiris

In the last more than five decades it has been observed that Kashmiri people in general lack the will to teach their children in their mother tongue, most probably because after reading Kashmiri as a subject they cannot think of a prosperous future of their children which to a great extent is not correct.

Teaching of Kashmiri as L2

Teaching a language as L2 simply means to teach a language to non-natives in formal and informal situations both. This kind of teaching, in short; involves teaching of four skills of language learning namely speaking skill, comprehension skill, reading skill and writing skill there by, more emphasis being laid on teaching of a spoken language, rather than teaching about a language or teaching literature of a language. The recent research and experiments in class room have proved that non-native learners learn a language as L2 in a very short span of time.

I personally am of the opinion that the children of Kashmiri parents born and settled in the different parts of the country and in foreign countries in different geographical, social, cultural and linguistic situations are more or less non-natives. For the purpose of teaching their mother tongue they need to be recognized and treated as non-natives and thus must be taught formally in the classroom and informally at home, which of course is possible at present only and not in future. In this peculiar situation teaching of Kashmiri as a mother tongue and teaching Kashmiri as L2 are two labels used for the same purpose irrespective of their deeper linguistic variations. Hence in the present context when I say teaching of Kashmiri as L2 it means teaching of Kashmiri as mother tongue.

Kashmiri is being taught as L2 since 1971 in Northern Regional language Centre, Patiala which is one of the seven Regional language Centres of the Central institute of Indian languages, Mysore. Central Institute of Indian languages is under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Department of Education, Govt. of India. Kashmiri is taught as L2 to non native in-service teachers. The course, which is taught, is called Diploma course. This Diploma course is of ten months. Besides teaching Kashmiri as L2 the Kashmiri Department in the centre is engaged in the production of text books, teaching materials, supplementary materials and laboratory lessons for all the language learners in general and L2 learner in particulars.

After drawing a brief sketch of the past and present status of teaching Kashmiri as L2, a few questions are but natural to arise :

Is it necessary for the Kashmiri children of new millennium to acquire Kashmiri as their mother tongue?

Is it not possible for these children to acquire their mother tongue while building a bright and prosperous career in the isolated situations they are living?

What role parents can play in helping their children to acquire their mother tongue?

What role the intellectuals of Kashmiri language can play for teaching of Kashmiri language to those Kashmiri children who because of one reason or another are deprived of their mother tongue?

Last but not the least; will not the loss of Kashmiri language lead to the loss of Kashmiri culture and there-by pose a threat to the very existence of very rich and wonderful heritage, which is called Kashmiriyat?

With regard to the first question there are three opinions. According to the first opinion acquiring / learning of Kashmiri as mother tongue is not necessary because it has no utility. The followers of this opinion argue that when we can do without the usage of this language, why should we worry about it? The second opinion insists on the parents to help their children to learn their mother tongue and the third opinion pleads for a community or organizational approach to motivate and teach their children so that they do not loose the color and fragrance of Kashmiri language and culture in the new millennium.

As a linguist and a language teacher I do not agree with the first opinion where as the second and third opinions are quite relevant both for present and future generations of Kashmiris.

In my view the main task of Kashmiris in new millennium is to concentrate on the remedial measures of mother tongue loss of their children who are deprived of natural language learning environment because of migration and consequently settlement at the places where their mother tongue remains confined to their homes only. It is here that the parents/elders at home have to handle the problems psychologically, skillfully and above all affectionately. In addition to the day to day conversation in mother tongue only; the parents must spare some time from their busy schedule for spending with their children in chatting, playing, singing and telling stories etc. etc. Parents have to make these dedicated efforts only in the early age during their primary education and afterwards teaching will automatically turn into self-learning by the imitative and curious children. The result will be that the Kashmiri children will learn Kashmiri language wherever they will be and shall remain tied with the silken thread, of Kashmiriyat and thus retaining their identity of being Kashmiris.

Now the question which remains to be answered is what we Kashmiris as a community should do if the parents fail to perform their first and foremost responsibility of making their children to acquire their mother tongue? It is particularly in this context that we must launch a united movement for the retention and development of Kashmiri language and culture both in India and abroad.

Outside the valley at different places in India and abroad the community organizations must take the assignment of Kashmiri teaching on the priority basis so that its survival does not fall in danger in the course of coming generations. I am happy to learn that Kashmiri Pandit Association Mumbai and Kashmir Sabha, Calcutta have taken the lead in organizing Kashmiri classes for their children. I hope other organizations working at other places will also follow the suit.

Nip the evil in the bud. We are not late, we are in time. Let us not waste the time waiting, watching and simply discussing. We must march unitedly with a purpose; the purpose of accepting the challenge to save Kashmiri language and culture. This challenge is to be taken seriously, handle it cautiously and educate those who are not conscious of the danger of the survival of Kashmiri language and culture. We must remain ready to offer our voluntary service, for the cause if and when the need arises. Let us resolve that we all will work hard to teach Kashmiri language to develop it and its culture from today so that in new millennium Kashmiri language and culture touches the new heights of attraction and prosperity.

Mailing address : Northern Regional Language Centre, Patiala­147002
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