What future holds for Koshur?
Inclusion of Kashmiri language (Koshur) into official languages and in school curriculum has a lot of promise but the survival of language exclusively rests with those who speak it.
At a time when globalization is impacting regional languages and cultural diversity across the world, many in Kashmir feel a threat to the Koshur – Kashmiri language – which has been there for thousands of years, as a widely spoken language in the region.
According to the 2011 census, about seven million people (53.26% of the population of Jammu and Kashmir) are Kashmiri speakers, mostly in the valley and in the regions of Chenab and Pir Panchal. However, the new generation of Kashmiris is now mostly being taught English and Urdu as their communicating languages, by their parents, which experts say is an alarming trend and an indication of the beginning of the slow death of the Koshur.
The inclusion of Koshur in the official languages and in the school curriculum besides the new education policy of India, that stresses the importance of mother tongue as a communication tool, are seen by many as a ray of hope. They say that these initiatives will ensure the preservation and promotion of Koshur in J&K.
Kashmir Images spoke to several experts to know the present scenario and future prospects of Koshur. They shared different opinions with us.
Here are the excerpts:
Inclusion of Kashmiri language in school curriculum and making it one of the official languages are just political gimmicks. Nothing will happen even if this language is taken out of the curriculum or removed from the official languages. Kashmiri language has been around for thousands of years and will be around as long as Kashmiri people are there. Our language has survived this long not because of any government. It has survived because it is spoken by the masses. People think and dream in this language. Whether you put it in the syllabus or remove it from there, it does not matter. A carpenter and a blacksmith and a labourer will continue to speak this language.
As long as Kashmiri language is spoken as a speech, there is no danger to it. Language is essentially speech, not writing. Written text comes later. Even in human history, writing is a recent development. Language only dies when it has no area of occurrence. For example, Latin and Ancient Greek are the dead languages because they have no area of occurrence. Similarly, Sanskrit is a great language but a dead language because you cannot identify a particular area where it is spoken.
Therefore, it does not matter whether Kashmiri is taught in schools or not. There are more than a thousand teachers who are currently employed to teach this language. They get employment, which is good, but to say that our language survives because it is taught in schools is not correct. Take the example of myself; I worked as a teacher of Kashmiri language for forty years. During that time I did not contribute anything. Except that I got my salary and taught the unconcerned students. All they needed were qualification degrees and certificates. If I contributed anything to the language, it was after I retired.
Lastly, I want to tell you that we should not compare our language with other languages, nor do we need to. English is a language of strength through out. It should be taught for all practical purposes.
Now that Kashmiri is one of our official languages, I do not know what difference it will make. What difference will it make when we have lost the ability to speak and converse in this language? The worst thing that has happened is that people back home have stopped speaking the Kashmiri language with their children. It is so sad that such a rich language, with a fantastic vocabulary with which we can express heaps of thoughts and feelings through the right words, is ignored. Kashmiri language is rich with so many proverbs and every proverb has a story associated with it. We will lose our heritage if we lose our language. We need to understand that our language is an important part of our identity. Look at the Bengalis, Maharashtrians and Tamils. They will feel insulted if they are told not to speak in their own language.
Sometimes I see little Kashmiri children who are uncomfortable with other languages, but their parents force them to speak in either Urdu or English. I do not see a Kashmiri child of three or four years who can easily answer your question in his or her mother tongue.
I would like to tell these young parents that other languages will come to their kids when they have to come to them. However, the mother tongue must be learned at the bingeing. Parents must realize that if their children do not learn their mother tongue from the beginning, it will be a burden for them. Learning Kashmiri language in school will be like learning a foreign language for them. They could have learned it effortlessly but in school they have to put so much effort to learn it. Most importantly, you cannot understand the spirit of the language unless you have spoken it as your mother tongue.
We live in a global village and there is certainly a cultural and linguistic onslaught of western culture. Globalization has given us a lot, but it is also snatching away some important things from us. However, despite all this, the Kashmiri language has been reintroduced. It has given us hope that this language has not disappeared. Kashmiri language is not a small language. It is a language with a history of more than five thousand years. Our language is deeply rooted in our ethos, our culture. This language has survived many cultural and linguistic attacks in the past. Yet, it has survived against all odds.
I am hopeful about the new education policy adopted by India. It provides a guarantee for the preservation and promotion of languages. I hope this will also help in the preservation and promotion of the Kashmiri language.
It is a big achievement that Kashmiri is now being taught in schools. You may have noticed that ten years ago people could not imagine that Kashmiri would be taught in the missionary schools and in schools like DPS. But it has been started very seriously and properly. One could not have imagined that schools like Burn Hall or Convent would introduce Kashmiri as a subject. These schools had banned students from speaking in the Kashmiri language, but now the same schools are teaching it as a subject.
Becoming one of the official languages should help this language to grow. If it does not help, then we can call it a joke. Making a language an official language means opening many doors for it to grow.
Let me also assure you that the children who do not seem to speak Kashmiri know the language very well. I will tell you how. Every word has many meanings. A word has a dictionary meaning. It has a cultural and historical meaning. It also has an emotional meaning. Emotional, cultural and historical meanings of words are understood only in the language of atmosphere. When you learn the foreign languages, you learn only the dictionary meaning of the words of those languages. Kashmiri is a language of life for us and our children, we live this language. Our children may not understand the dictionary meaning of the words, but they understand the emotional meaning of those words. Moreover, when they grow up, they will even learn the dictionary meanings of the words.
That said, I would like to emphasize one important point. We need to get people out of the complex. We have lost our self-confidence. It is because; we have lived our lives under many regimes and outsiders. So we have lost our confidence. We have to get our confidence back. We cannot do without that.
In the global era, there is a phenomenon that small languages are under threat and it is also true that numerous regional languages have disappeared over the years.
However, this is not the case with every language. A couple of years ago, a survey conducted by a reputed organization revealed that Kashmiri is one of the languages that have a survival tendency. Though I know that surveys never reflect the absolute truth on the ground, there are also many other reasons that give hope for the preservation and promotion of Kashmiri language.
There are several positive indicators. For example, this language will now be part of the curriculum at the higher secondary level as well, with already being taught in primary schools. The new education policy coming in will also have a positive impact. Moreover, Kashmiri is now one of the official languages in Jammu and Kashmir. It is clear that employment prospects are now assured to some extent.
I agree that when we look at the urban perspective, we find that many of our children do not speak the Kashmiri language. However, we must not forget that in Kashmir, as in the rest of the subcontinent, the mass of the population lives in the villages. Secondly, and more importantly, the mother tongue is always an environmental language. It is the language spoken by the shopkeepers, bus conductors, shikara walas and street vendors. They are the people who make our mother tongue an atmospheric language. My observation is that speaking in Kashmiri language is becoming a trend these days and this needs to be encouraged. We have a new generation of young writers in Kashmir. I am also confident that young writers who write in other languages will also bring in their mother tongue later or sooner as our veteran writers like Rahi, Nadim, Khayaal and even Mehjoor have done. All these writers wrote in Urdu initially but eventually they contributed immensely in their mother tongue. Hakeem Manzoor had more than 12 books in Urdu, but when he wanted to talk about his identity, he chose his mother tongue to pour out his heart.
Mirwaiz Muhammad Yusuf Shah, who had gone to the other part of Kashmir, translated Holy Quran into Kashmiri language in the last phase of his life. I think it was a message from him that we need to protect our language and keep it alive. It is important to understand that our language is our identity and I am sure we are capable enough to keep our identity alive.
The official language status for Kashmiri will not make any difference unless people step forward to bring the language into their routine official work. The government has done its job, now it is up to the people whether they use the newly acquired privileges for this language or not. A few decades ago, we did not hope that the doors will open for the promotion of our mother tongue. It took us years of struggle to convince the government to include this language in the school curriculum as the education department had buried it. It was taught only at the university for the PG students. Now it is in our schools and has the status of an official language. I am hopeful about these developments and the current state of the language.
At present, we have hundreds of poets who publish their works regularly. I hope that the situation with this language will continue to improve. We are organizing a conference on “Nov taleemi policy ta Kash’er zuban (new education policy and Kashmiri language) on 10th of this month. I am sure that at this conference, we will get some ideas on how we can benefit from this new education policy.
We should all be proud of our mother tongue. It is a language rich in literature. From Sheikh Noor-ud- Din Noorani to Lal Ded we have numerous saintly poets who have gifted us with great poetry, full of massages that benefit all humanity. Then we have a long list of Sufi poets like Rahim Sopori, Niyam Sahab, Rehman Dar, and Ahad Zargar, who have given us rich literature and poetry. Among contemporary poets we have Mehjoor, Azad, Rahi, Gulam Nabi Firaq, Gulam Nabi Khayal, Amin Kamil, Gulam Nabi Aatish, and Shafi Shouq, and many more. All these great people have contributed a lot to our mother tongue. Late Hakeem Manzoor Sahib provided a platform to young poets and prose writers through its weekly newspaper Khabar o Nazar. Today we know many of them as brilliant poets like Shahnaz Rashid, Shabir Ahmad Shabir, Izhar Mubashir, Nadim Nisar, Shahid Dilnavi, and many more. Seeing this whole scenario, we find hope for the promotion of our mother tongue.
As long as there are Kashmiris, the Kashmiri language will be alive. Our language has been alive and vibrant for thousands of years. Our shopkeepers, vendors, laborers and Molvi Sahibaan who deliver Friday sermons in this language have kept it alive. Even today, it has the ability to adopt and absorb new words from other languages, a clear sign that our mother tongue is not dying. Languages only die when people stop using them. The masses preserve and promote languages.
We also need to limit our expectations. English is a global language with a larger canvas. All subjects are contained in it. No other language can be compared to English. However, we need to preserve and promote Kashmiri language because it is the most important part of our identity.