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VITASTA ANNUAL NUMBER: Volume XXXIV (2000-2001)

Adoption and Recognition of Devnagri as an Alternative Script for Kashmiri Language

Memorandum by Vikalpa (Forum of Emigree Kashmiri Writers)

As everyone knows, one of the prime targets of terrorism in Kashmir has been the Kashmiri ethos or the peculiar Kashmiri sense of values and ideals as represented by Lalleshwari and Sheikh Nur-ud-Din and nurtured over the centuries by the saints and the Sufis. With the Kalashnikov culture penetrating every walk of life in Kashmir and terrorists calling all the shots, all literary activity, and, in fact every form of creativity, has been abruptly disrupted, resulting in a stunning silence that has continued for the last three years. One of the most tragic dimensions of the situation is that non-Muslim Kashmiri writers and intellectuals the whole lot of them and perhaps a few Muslim writers too have been forced by fundamentalist Muslim insurgents to flee their homes in the Valley together with their entire community. Cut off from their natural, soil, these writers are struggling today to save their identity as well as their language as a relevant medium of statement.

In such circumstances, challenges have to be faced squarely and crucial decisions taken without any delusions, for one false step can spell disaster for a culture in exile. It is in this context that the question of adopting Devnagri as an alternative script for Kashmiri has assumed supreme importance. The officially recognised Perso-Arabic script was adopted as a compromise to placate Muslim sentiment at the cost of the age old indigenous Sharda script. But this script is no longer suitable in the situation that has emerged, particularly when it will be the diaspora Kashmiris who will form the main audience of the displaced Kashmiri writers in the years to come. Not only is the Perso-Arabic script defective and incapable of rendering Kashmiri sounds correctly, but it is also solely dependent on scribes and calligraphers a fast dwindling tribe which is likely to become extinct soon even in the Valley. This script, it must be pointed out, has failed to take advantage of even elementary typography, not to speak of advanced technology in the field, with the net result that the number of books published in Kashmiri has been decreasing year after year in direct proportion to the decreasing number of calligraphers.

The adoption of Perso-Arabic script for Kashmiri has deprived most of the non-Muslim Kashmiris, especially womenfolk, of the readership of Kashmiri literature, old and new. To benefit this vast section of Kashmiri-speaking people, both inside the Valley and outside, a demand was raised in some quarters for allowing the use of Devnagri as an alternative script, but it was met with stiff opposition from fanatical elements among supporters of the Persio-Arabic script on grounds more religious than academic. Strangely, however, these very elements pressed for and succeeded in getting Persian adopted as an alternative script for Dogri and Punjabi in addition to the officially accepted Devnagri and Gurmukhi scripts just to appease a handful of people reluctant to learn the Devnagri or Gurmukhi scripts.

With the onset of the present militancy, none among the known or unknown Kashmiri writers living in the valley has been able to come out with anything in print. The reason for this may be the fear of the terrorists and fundamentalists to a great extent. But non-availability of skilled calligraphers has also been an important factor.

Paradoxically, it is in areas outside Kashmir Valley where writing in Kashmiri is going on at present. Apart from well known Kashmiri writers who have been forced to migrate from Kashmir, some young and up-coming Kashmiri writers have also appeared on the scene.

Devnagri, in fact, has been in use for writing Kashmiri for a long time now, not only by Kashmiris settled outside the valley during the earlier exoduses, but in the valley itself. Among its prominent protagonists have been people like Pandit Ishwar Kaul who wrote the first Kashmiri grammar and compiled the first Kashmiri dictionary (subsequently edited by Grierson). Professor S. K. Toshakhani who wrote the first Kashmiri novel besides several text books in the script for use in the schools run by the Women's Welfare Trust, and the renowned Kashmiri poet Master Zinda Kaul who was the first Kashmiri writer to have bagged the Sahitya Akademi award. The first Kashmiri drama by Pandit Nand Lal Kaul and the Kashmiri Ramayana as also several other Kashmiri classics have already appeared in the Devnagri script catering to a substantially large readership.

Considering the issue in all its aspects, this forum of displaced Kashmiri writers, Vikalpa, has come to the conclusion that it is high time that Devnagri was adopted as an alternative script for Kashmiri as a practical necessity dictated by the times and also with a view, to preserving the cultural identity of diaspora Kashmiris of which Kashmiri language forms the most important and inseparable part. To pursue this objective Vikalpa feels it necessary to raise its voice for the fulfilment of the following demands :

1 Recognition of Devnagri as an alternative script for Kashmiri by the State and Central Governments, State and Central Academies, Universities and other official / semi-official bodies.

2 Kashmiri books and manuscripts written in Devnagri script should also be considered by the State and Central Academies for grant of awards, prizes and financial assistance on the basis of their literary merit.

3 In keeping with its policy of encouraging use of Devnagri script for other regional languages also, the central government should provide liberal financial assistance to institutions / individuals who will undertake the task of transcribing Kashmiri classics (old and new) into Devnagri script.

[Excerpted from, "Jammu, Kashmir & Ladakh, Linguistic Predicament pgs. 213-216 (1996), Edited by
P. N. Pushp and K. Warikoo & published by Har-Anand Publications"]
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