The People's Voice

How Kashmiris are resisting linguistic exclusion

01 June 2019
Kashmiri was made compulsory in schools up to the eighth standard only in 2008.
masrat zahra for the caravan
Kashmiri was made compulsory in schools up to the eighth standard only in 2008.
masrat zahra for the caravan

Half a decade ago, when I was in school, I faced a penalty of five rupees every time I spoke in my mother tongue—Kashmiri. The principal reprimanded us if her ears detected a syllable of the Kashmiri language.

I never paid the fine. Neither did any of my classmates. In spite of this regular admonishment, we believed that speaking our own language was neither a mistake worthy of punishment, nor a mark of humiliation. The school must still be following the same policies, but today, I see hope and resistance. Kashmiri, the only Dardic language—a branch of Indo-Aryan languages spoken across Pakistan and Afghanistan—that has a literature, is fighting its extermination.

“The story of the resistance of the Kashmiri language is not a recent one,” Zareef Ahmad Zareef, a Kashmiri poet renowned for his satire and humour, told me on the telephone. “It’s been resisting right from the day Mughals invaded the valley. They implemented Persian here, and it was used for official and trade purposes. After the Mughals came the Afghans, after them the Sikhs, later on the Dogras, and now India is ruling over it. Yet the Kashmiri language never succumbed to this foreign duress. All the outside rulers forced their own language upon the people, but the values, traditions, its literature, and the richness of its history became its pillars of support, and it has strived to maintain its existence for more than four hundred years since then. In its struggle for survival, the language has seen tough times, but it never gave up.”

Mehdi Khawaja is from Srinagar, Kashmir and studies at Jamia Millia Islamia.

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