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Language and Politics in Jammu and Kashmir: Issues and Perspectives

- by K. Warikoo

Prof. K. WarikooK. Warikoo (born in Srinagar, 1951) is Associate Professor of Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His major publications include:
1. Central Asia and Kashmir: A Study in the Context of Anglo-Russian Rivalry;
2. Ethnicity and Politics in Central Asia;
3. Afghanistan Factor in Central and South Asian Politics;
4. Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh: A Comprehensive Bibliography;
5. Central Asia: Emerging New Order, and
6. Society and Culture in the Himalayas.

Language is the most powerful means of communication, vehicle of expression of cultural  values and aspirations and instrument of conserving culture. As such language is an important means to acquire and preserve identity of a particular group or community. Language and culture are interrelated because the language regions possess certain homogeneity of culture and are characterized by common traits in history, folklore and literature. Among various cultural symbol-religion, race, language, traditions and customs, etc. that differentiate an ethnic group from the other, language is the most potent cultural marker providing for group identity. Its spatial spread over a fixed territory makes language more important than religion as a basis of ethnic identity formation.

In the emerging world order, when rise of ethno- nationalism is posing a major challenge to the nation state, political assertion of language or religious identities has assumed importance. However, events in Pakistan which was established in 1947 as an Islamic state on the basis of religious factor, have demonstrated the inherent conflict between language and religious identities. It was the language variable that led to the break-up of Pakistan in 1971 and the creation of a new independent nation- Bangladesh. Bengali language proved to be more powerful an ethnic factor than common Muslim identity. Similarly political manifestation of language rivalry has now gained primacy in the ongoing ethnic conflicts between Sindhis, Punjabis, Saraikis, Baluchis and Urdu speakers in Pakistan, even though all of them belong to the Muslim umma. Ironically, it is religion rather than language that has been the key motivating and mobilizing factor in the present secessionist movement in Kashmir. Yet there have been frequent though vague references by the political and intellectual elite to propose various solutions to the problems on the basis of 'Kashmiriat'. Since language and particularly mother tongue forms the core of this much publicized concept of 'Kashmiriat', this study has been undertaken to analyse the complex dynamics of language and politics in the multi-lingual state of Jammu and Kashmir. Often described as a three-storeyed edifice composed of three geographical divisions of Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh and Baltistan, bound together by bonds of history and geography and linked together by a common destiny, Jammu and Kashmir State presents a classic case of linguistic and ethno- religious diversity.

Language Demography

An in-depth and objective study of the language situation in Jammu and Kashmir State calls for an understanding of the language demography of the State which would indicate the spatial distribution of various linguistic groups and communities. This in turn reflects the variegated ethino no- cultural mosaic of the State. The language and cultural areas are not only correlated but are generally specific to a particular area (See Map at the end of this chapter). For purposes of this study, J&K Census Reports of 1941, 1961, 1971 and 1981 have been relied upon. (No census has been carried out in the State in 1951 and 1991). The population of various linguistic groups as detailed in each of these Censuses, is given below in Tables 1 to 4.

Table 1
J&K: Major Linguistic Population Groups, 1941
Total Population of J&K (1941 Census)= 40,21,616
Language  J&K state  Kashmir Province  Jammu Province  Ladakh*  Gilgit, Gilgit Agency, Astor etc
Kashmiri  15,49,460[1]  13,69,537  1,78,390  1174  323
Punjabi (Dogri)  10,75,273[2]  73,473[3]  10,00,018  453  1329
Rajasthani (Gujari)[4]  2,83,741  92,392  1,87,980  Nil  3369
Western Paharis [5]  5,31,319  1,70,432[6]  3,60,870[7] 12
Hindustani[8] (Hindi & Urdu)  1,78,528  10,631  1,67,368  22  507
Lahnda (Pothwari)  82,993  82,975[9] 5
Balti  1,34,012  352  184  1,33,163  313
Ladakhi  46,953  230  299  46,420  4
Shina (Dardi)  84,604  7,888[10]  114  13,562  63,040[11]
Burushaski[12]  33,132  Nil  244  32,885
Tibetan  503  26  145  317  15

* Before independence, Skardo/Baltistan (now in Palk-occupied Kashmir/ Northern Areas) was a Tehsil of Ladakh District.

1. In the 1941 census, persons speaking Kishtwari (11,170), Siraji (17,617), Rambani (1,202), Poguli (5,812) and Banjwahi (747), totalling 36,548 persons have been included under the head Kashmiri.
2. Dogri has been taken as a dialect under Punjabi, thereby enumerating 4,13,754 Punjabi speaking persons mainly in Mirpur together with 6,59,995 Dogri speakers.
3. Out of this figure, 48,163 persons are form Muzaffarabad (now in POK).
4. Gujari, the language of Gujars has been included with Rajasthani.
5. Pahari, which is enumerated separately, is closely connected with Gujari and is spoken in much the same areas.
6. Includes 1,55,595 persons in Muzaffarabad (now in POK).
7. Includes 2,36,713 persons in Poonch, Haveli, Mendhar.
8. Hindi and Urdu have been combined and enumerated as Hindustani.
9. Nearly all (82,887 persons) are concentrated in Mirpur.
10. Includes 7,785 persons in Baramulla (Gurez area).
11. Shina language is spoken chiefly in Gilgit area.
12. It is mainly spoken in Hunza, Nagar and Yasin.
Table 2
J&K: Major Linguistic Population Groups, 1961
Total Population of J&K, (1961 Census) = 35,60,976
Language  J&K State  Kashmir Province  Jammu Province  Ladakh District
Kashmiri  18 96,149  17,17,259  1,78,281 (Mainly in Doda)  609 
Dogri  8,69,199  1,784  8,67,201  214
Gojri  2,09,327  64,493  1,44,834  Nil
Ladakhi  49,450  79  42 49,829
Punjabi  1,09,174  32,866  76,308  Nil
Balti  33,458  514  38  32,905 (Miainly in Kargil)
Hindi  22,323  2,494  19,868  61
Urdu  12,445  3,504  8,941  Nil
Dardi/Shina  7,854  7,605 (Mainly in Gurez area of Baramulla)  30  219
Tibetan 2,076  Nil  148  1,899

Table 3
J&K: Major Linguistic Population Groups, 1971
Total population of J&K, (1971 Census) = 46,16,632
Language  J&K State  Kashmir Division  Jammu Division  Ladakh Division
Kashmiri  24,53,430  21,75,588  2,75,070  772
Dogri  11,39,259  8,161  11,30,845  253
Hindi* (Gujari)  6,95,375  1,80,837  5,14,177  361
Ladakhi  59,823  1,446  1,562  56,815
Punjabi  1,59,098  46,316  1,12,258  524
Lahanda (Pothwari)  22,003  109  21,894 (Mainly in Rajauri)  Nil
Urdu  12,740  4,521  8,209  10
Balti  40,135  822  280  39,033 (Mainly in Kargil)
Shina  10,274  9,276 (Mainly in Gurez area of Bramulla)  251  747
Tibetan  3,803  867  Nil  2,936

* Gujari, the language of Gujars has been included with Hindi.

Table 4
J&K: Major Linguistic Population Groups, 1981
Total population of J&K, (1981 Census) = 59,87,389
Language  J&K State  Kashmir Division  Jammu Division  Ladakh Division
Kashmiri  31,33,146  28,06,441 (Mainly in Doda Dist.)  3,28,229  1,476
Dogri  14,54,441  2,943  14,51,329  169
Hindi* (Gujari)  10,12,808  2,55,310 (Mainly in Baramulla and Kupwara Districts)  7,67,344 (Mainly in Doda, Punch and Rajauri Districts)  155
Ladakhi  71,852  471  1,190  70,191
Punjabi  1,63,049  41,181  1,21,668  200
Lahanda (Pothwari)  13,184  21  13,163  Nil
Urdu  6,867  3,830  3,019  18
Balti  47,701  811  Nil  46,890 (Mainly in Kargil)
Shina (Dardi)  15,017  12,159 (Mainly in Gurez area of Baramula)  Nil  2,858 (Mainly in Dah Hanu)
Tibetan  4,178  796 (Mainly in Srinagar)  Nil  3,382 (Mainly in Leh Tehsil)

* Gujari, the language of Gujars has been included with Hindi.

The people of J&K State, whether Kashmiris, Dogras, Gujars-Bakarwals, Ladakhis, Baltis, Dards, etc. have in all the censuses unambiguously identified their indigenous languages as their 'mother-tongues' thereby consolidating their respective ethno-linguistic and cultural identities. This is particularly important in view of the fact that the Muslims of the State have thus acted in a manner quite different from that of Muslims in most of the Indiar states.

It is also in stark contrast to the experience in Punjab, where Hindus though speaking Punjabi at home earlier claimed Hindi as their mother tongue during the census operations. Similarly, the Muslims in various Indian States such as Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala etc. who registered local languages as their mother-tongues in 1951 Census, opted for Urdu in 1961 and afterwards, thereby leading to a dramatic rise in the number of Urdu speaking persons in India. Same is the case with the Muslims of Uttar Pradesh, who registered their language as Hindustani in 1951 Census, but have been claiming Urdu as their mother tongue subsequently. This demonstrates the urge of the Muslims in other Indian states to identify themselves with Urdu rather than with Hindustani (the basic substratum of Hindi and Urdu, it does not have any communal and politicised connotation) or the indigenous mother tongues, in a bid to consolidate themselves as a distinct collective group linked together by common bond of religion and Urdu which they believe to be representing their Muslim cultural identity. Clearly these Muslims have moved away from regional towards the religious identity.

It is precisely for avoiding any such communal polarisation between Hindus and Muslims on the issue of Hindi and Urdu languages, that the J&K State Census authorities decided in 1941 to club Hindi and Urdu together and use Hindustani. This, however, resulted in inflating the number of persons claiming Hindi and Urdu speakers to 1,78,528 (mostly in Jammu province). R.G. Wreford, the then Census Commissioner admits it in his report, saying that "The figures for Hindustani are inflated as the result of the Urdu-Hindi controversy. Propapanda was carried on during the Census by the adherents of both parties to the dispute with the result that many Hindus gave Hindi as their mother tongue and many Muslims gave Urdu quite contrary to the facts in the great majority of cases. The dispute is largely political and so to keep politics out of the Census, it was decided to lump Hindi and Urdu together as Hindustani".

In the 1961, 1971 and 1981 censuses, usage of the term 'Hindustani' has been discarded in favour of separate enumeration for Hindi and Urdu speaking persons. The 1961 Census, which has treated Hindi and Gujari language separately, (unlike the 1971 and 1981 censuses, where Gujari in included into Hindi), should be taken as authentic base for calculating the number of persons claiming Hindi as their mother tongue. Yet there is no denying the fact that though respective mother tongues are spoken universally by various ethnic groups in their households or among themselves, the people of the State are generally bilingual or even trilingual in some cases. Thus if a Kashmiri uses his mother tongue within his group, he uses Urdu, Hindi or Hindustani in his conversation with the people from Jammu Province, Ladakh division and from the rest of India. Similarly, a Dogra would use Dogri within his group, Punjabi with his counterparts from Punjab and Delhi and Hindi or Hindustani with others. Ladakhis would use Ladakhi among themselves and Hindi, Urdu or Hindustani with others. English has also become popular, due to its common usage in administrative offices, trade, industry, and educational institutions.

The prevalence of Urdu as a link language is not only due to its being the official language, but also due to its popularisation through the publication of books, newspapers and periodicals in large numbers. Besides, the close socio- economic contacts between the people of the State and rest of India, plus the impact of tourism, modernisation and educational development have contributed to the use of Urdu and Hindi in the State, in addition to the mother- tongues.

The Census Report of 1941 for Jammu and Kashmir, provides an insight into the language situation in the State before independence, i.e. before a large chunk of the State in Mirpur, Muzaffarabad and Frontier Districts (Baltistan, Astore, Gilgit etc.) was occupied by Pakistan in 1947-48. This area is not known as Pak-occupied Kashmir/Northern Areas. The 1941 Census has listed Kashmiri, Dogri, Punjabi, Rajasthani, Western Pahari, Balti, Ladakhi, Shina/Dardi and Burushaski as the main languages, spoken in the State. The 1941 census has followed the general scheme of classification, whereby Dogri and Gujari have been included as dialects under Punjabi and Rajasthani respectively, which is likely to create confusion to the non-discerning reader. However, the Census has provided a solution by indicating the actual number of Dogri and Punjabi speakers as 6,59,945 and 4,13,754 respectively. Whereas the Dogri speakers were concentrated in Jammu, Udhampur, Kathua and Chenani Jagir districts, most of the Punjabi speakers were settled mainly in Mirpur and also in Muzaffarabad (48,163 persons). Similarly out of 82,993 Lahnda speakers (including those speaking Pothawri dialect), 82,887 persons were concentrated in Mirpur district.

Gujari, the language of Gujars and Bakerwals (now declared as Scheduled Tribes), was included as a dialect under Rajasthani due to its close affinities with that language. But Pahari which is closely connected with Gujari and continues to be spoken in much the same areas, was enumerated separately. Thus we have 2,83,741 Gujari speakers and 5,31,319 Western Pahari speakers (including those speaking Bhadrawahi, Gaddi, Padari, Sarori dialects). Reasi, Jammu, Poonch, Kaveli, Mandhar, Baramulla, Anantnag and Muzaffarabad districts were shown as the main concentration points of Gujari and W. Pahari speakers, thereby testifying to their widespread distribution throughout the State. The subsequent Census Reports of 1961, 1971 and 1981 have removed this anomaly of enumerating Gujari and Pahari separately. However, the Census reports of 1971 and 1981 have followed a new anomalous practice of including Gujari (Rajasthani), Bhadrawahi, Padri with Hindi. This has not only inflated the numbers of those claiming Hindi as their mother tongue but also camouflaged the actual strength of Gujari speakers, thereby causing disenchantment among this tribal community.

As most of these Hindi albeit Gujari speakers have been shown as concentrated in Baramulla, Kupwara, Punch, Rajouri and Doda districts, their Gujar identity becomes obvious. The 1961 census, which does not mix up Hindi with Gujari, puts the number of Gujari speakers at 2,09,327 and that of Hindi speakers at 22,323. Urdu is placed next with only 12,445 persons claiming it their mother tongue.

Tables 1 to 4 make it amply clear that Kashmiri commands the largest number of speakers, with Dogri at second and Gujari at third positions respectively. The number of Punjabi speakers in 1961, 1971 and 1981 Census Reports, actually reflects the number of Sikhs who have maintained their language and culture, and who are concentrated mainly in Srinagar, Budgam, Tral, Baramulla (all in Kashmir Province), Udhampur and Jammu. In case of Ladakh, several ethno-linguistic identities emerge on the basis of mother tongue and area of settlement. Ladakhis (people of Buddhist dominated ladakh district and Zangskar) have claimed Ladakhi, popularly known as Bodhi as their mother tongue. Interestingly Tibetan language has been consistently identified as distinct language/mother tongue in all the Census Reports under review, and it is spoken by the small group of Tibetan refugees settled in Srinagar and Leh. As against this, the Shia Muslims of Kargil have claimed Balti, another dialect of Tibetan language. The Baltis of Kargil are separated by the Line of Actual Control from their ethno-linguistic brothers in Baltistan area of 'Northern Areas' in Pak-occupied Kashmir who also speak the sam. Balti dialect. There are some Dardic speaking pockets in Gurez area of Baramulla in Kashmir, Dras and Da Hanu in Ladakh. The people of Hurza, Nagar and Yasin in the 'Northern Areas' of Pak-occupied Kashmir, speak the Burushaski language. The State of Jammu and Kashmir thus presents a classic case of linguistic and ethno-religious diversity.

Neglect of Mother Tongues

It is established that Kashmiri ranks first among the mother tongues of the State commanding the largest number of speakers, with Dogri in second and Gujari in third position, followed by Punjabi, Bodhi, Balti, Shina/Dardi in succession. Whereas Kashmiri has been included in the VIII schedule of the Constitution of India, the demands of similar treatment for Dogri and Bodhi are yet to be conceded. Conscious of the ethno-linguistic heterogeneity of the State, the 'New Kashmir' Programme adopted by the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference under the stewardship of Sheikh Abdulla as early as 1944, had envisaged the declaration of Kashmiri, Dogri, Balti, Dardi, Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu as the national languages of the State Urdu was to be the 'lingua franca' of the State. It was also laid down that:

"The state shall foster and encourage the growth and development of these languages, by every possible means, including the following:


(1) The establishment of State Language Academy, where scholars and grammarians shall work to develop the languages,
(a) by perfecting and providing scripts,
(b) by enriching them through foreign translations,
(c) by studying their history,
(d) by producing dictionaries and text books.
(2) The founding of State scholarships for these languages.
(3) The fostering of local press and publications in local languages."
The Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir has recognised Urdu as the official language of the State, treating Kashmiri, Dogri, Balti, Dardi, Punjabi Pahari and Ladakhi as regional languages. But the State Constitution has not taken cognizance of the need "to protect the right of minorities to conserve their distinctive language, script or culture; to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother tongue, to the children of linguistic minorities", as has been explicitly provided in the Constitution of India in Articles 29, 30 and 350.

What was laid down in the original manifesto of the National Conference, has been fulfilled only to the extent of setting up of the J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages. Circumstantial evidence indicates that there has been an organised effort by the State political-bureaucratic elite to stifle the growth of Kashmiri language and other local mother tongues. It becomes obvious from the following facts:


(i) Teaching of Kashmiri has not been introduced at the primary or secondary school levels in the State. Not only that, no textbooks in Kashmiri are available even though a set of such books was prepared by experts. The Post Graduate Department of Kashmiri has been created as a super structure without any ground support at the primary and secondary levels. This is despite the general desire among Kashmiri masses to have Kashmiri as a medium of instruction particularly at the primary and middle levels of education. This gets amply reflected in a survey, in which 83 per cent of the respondents showed their preference for use of Kashmiri as a medium of instruction at primary levels and 48 per cent preferred the same at middle level of education, whereas 49 per cent wanted to have English at high or higher secondary levels.

(ii) Notwithstanding the publication of hundreds of newspapers and periodicals mostly in Urdu and some in English, hardly any newspaper or periodical is published in any local language in the State. The journal Sheeraza, which is brought out by the J&K Cultural Academy in Kashmiri, Dogri, Gujari and Bodhi languages, has a limited circulation among the literary circles. Local masses have to rely exclusively on Urdu and English newspapers/periodicals published locally or coming from Punjab or Delhi, though the people of the Valley would like to have Kashmiri newspapers. A socio-linguistic survey in Kashmir revealed that 47 per cent of the respondents reported their preference for local newspapers in Kashmiri language. J&K State is perhaps the only Indian state where local language press and publications are virtually absent.

 (iii) Usage of Urdu has received official patronage, it being the medium of instruction in primary and secondary levels. Persi-oArabic script has been adopted for Kashmiri language. The functional role of Kashmiri in the domain of written communication has been reduced to minimum, as all personal letters, official correspondence etc. are written in Urdu, English or Hindi languages. The Sharda script, though indigenous to Kashmir, has been totally ignored. Not only that, the treasure of ancient MSS in the Sharda script is decaying in various libraries/archives in J&K State and needs immediate retrieval. Sharda script was used for preparing horoscopes, though its usage is now restricted to a few practicing Brahmins. With the result, this ancient tradition has gone into oblivion. Similarly, the demands of ethno-religious minority of Kashmiri Hindus, presently living in forced exile, for adopting Devnagri as an alternate script for Kashmiri language have been ignored. With the result this sizeable minority of Kashmir, has not only been deprived of access to the rich fund of Kashmiri language and literature, but their right to preserve and promote their ancient cultural heritage has also been denied. This is in clear contravention of the Article 29, 30 and 350 of Indian Constitution. On the other hand, the State government has adopted Persio- Arabic script as an alternate script for Dogri and Punjabi in addition to thereby displaying their motivated double standards. That Devngari script has been in prevalence for Kashmiri is obvious from the publication of several Kashmiri books/journals in this script. Not only that, Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir while conceding the demands of both the Hindu and Muslim Communities, issued orders in late 1940 allowing the usage of both Persian and Davnagri scripts in schools, even while the common medium of instruction would be simple Urdu. Students were given the option of choosing either of the two scripts for reading and writing.

(iv) During the past two decades or so, there have been organised efforts by the Islamic fundamentalist social, cultural and political organisations, often receiving assistance from foreign Muslim countries, to saturate the Kashmiri language and culture with aggressive revivalistic overtones. It is not a mere coincidence that all the names of various militant organisations in Kashmir, titles of office-bearers, their slogans and literature are in the highly Persianised-Arabicised form. Similarly, names of hundreds of villages and towns in Kashmir were changed from ancient indigenous Sanskritic form to Persian/Islamic names, by the State government. To quote a Kashmiri writer, "Language was subverted through substitution of Pan-Islamic morphology and taxonomy for the Kashmiri one. Perfectly Islamic person names like Ghulam Mohammed, Ghulam Hassan, Abdul Aziz, Ghulam Rasool which were abundantly common in Kashmir were substituted by double decker names which were indistinguishable from Pakistani and Afghan names". In this manner linguistic and cultural subversion was carried out to "subsume the Kashmiri identity of Kashmir by a Pan-Islamic identity" after "tampering with the racial and historical memory of an ethnic sub-nationality through a Pan-Islamic ideal". Kashmir was thus projected as "an un-annexed Islamic enclave" which should secede from the secular and democratic India.

 (v) Films Division of the Government of India, which used to dub films in 13 Indian languages including Kashmiri for exhibition among the local masses, stopped doing so at the instance of the State administration. They were instead asked to do it in simple Urdu.

(vi) That the State bureaucracy even foiled the attempts by Progress Publishers, Moscow, to start translation and publication of Russian classics in Kashmir, is established by the following information provided to this author by Raisa Tugasheva who was actively associated with this programme.

 "It was in 1972 that the Progress Publishers, Moscow (successor to Foreign Language Publishing House which published in 13 languages) decided to start publication of Kashmiri translations of Russian literature. Some Urdu knowing scholars were recruited for the task. Ms. Raisa rugasheva (who had worked as Urdu announcer at Tashkent Radio for twenty years) was made Head and Editor-in-Chief of the Kashmiri Section of Progress Publishers. Besides two Assistant editors and one Kashmiri Muslim student at Moscow were associated with the Project. At the first instance, a few books of Russian literature were taken up and later translated into Kashmiri. One assistant editor Lena was sent to Kashmir for further study. When a delegation of Progress Publishers visited Kashmir to survey the potential and prospects of circulation of these books, their proposal met with a hostile State government response. It was found that the State administrative machinery was against publication and circulation of Kashmiri translations of Russian books. With the result the whole project was quietly wound up".

 (vii) Central government grants provided to the State Education Department from time to time for development of Kashmiri language and literature have either been spent on other heads or allowed to lapse. Similarly the 100 per cent financial assistance provided by the centre for translation of Constitution of India into Kashmiri was not availed of. Instead these funds were diverted to promotion of Urdu which was misleadingly projected as the regional language of the State.

 (viii) Dogri which is spoken in Jammu region and the adjoining areas of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, has been recognised as one of the regional languages in the VI Schedule of the State's Constitution. Though the Sahitya Academy started giving its awards for Dogri in 1970, the people of Jammu have been demanding inclusion of Dogri in the VIII Schedule of Constitution of India. When in mid-1992 the Central government was taking steps to include Nepali, Konkani and Manipuri in the VIII Schedule, the Dogri Sangharsh Morcha started a movement in Jammu pressing for acceptance of their demand. Though the matter was raised in Parliament, nothing happened. The Jammu people point to the rich literary heritage of Dogri, its wide prevalence in J&K, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab and also the usage of easy Devnagri script for this language, and their contribution to maintain national integrity, as sufficient grounds for inclusion of Dogri in the VIII Schedule. They are peeved at the discriminatory attitude of the Central government in not accepting their demand which they allege to be under the political interference of the Kashmiri politicians.

 (ix) In Ladakh too Urdu was imposed as a medium of instruction, though the majority of people there speak and write Ladakhi (Bodhi), a dialect of Tibetan and which has a script of its own. It was during the latter years of Dogra rule that Urdu was introduced as the official language throughout the State including Ladakh. Even at that time the Ladakhi Buddhists had resented the 'infliction of Urdu' as a medium of instruction in primary schools. The report of the Kashmir-Raj Bodhi Maha Sabha, Srinagar (1935) provides an insight into the sharp reaction evoked by this practice among the local people. It states:

 "The infliction of Urdu-to them a completely foreign tongue-on the Ladakh Buddhists as a medium of instruction in the primary stage is a pedagogical atrocity which accounts, in large measure for their aversion to going to school. Nowhere in the world are boys in the primary stage taught through the medium of a foreign tongue. And so, the Buddhist boy whose mother tongue is Tibetan must struggle with the complicacies of the Urdu script and acquire a knowledge of this alien tongue in order to learn the rudiments of Arithmetic, Geography, and what not.... This deplorable and irrational practice is being upheld in face of the fact that printed text books for all Primary school subjects do exist in Tibetan and have been utilized with good results by the Moravian Mission at Leh". Ironically even after the end of Dogra Raj, Urdu continues to be the medium of instruction. Though Ladakhi and Arabic have also been introduced in government schools alongwith English, private Islamic schools teach Urdu and Arabic only. This educational policy has led to building up of segmented religious identities as against a secular one, thereby polarising the traditional and tolerant Ladakhi society on communal lines.

 (x) Instead of recognising Gujari, the mother tongue of more than six lakh Gujars, the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir has included Pahari, as one of the regional languages in its VI schedule. This anomalous situation is a result of the impression that Gujari is part of Pahari, though it is actually more akin to Rajasthani. And the Census or 1941 has included Gujari under Rajasthani. Whereas the subsequent Censuses of 1961, 1971 and 1981 have not mentioned Pahari at all. This is one of the contributory factors that have led to the Gujari-Pahari controversy, which has been explained in the following pages. Gujars of Jammu and Kashmir have been demanding their identification and enumeration by the Census authorities on the basis of their tribal rather than linguistic identity, so as to avoid overlapping with the Paharis and the consequent underestimation of their population.

 (xi) Balti, a dialect of the Tibetan language, used to be written in the Tibetan script before the advent of Islam in Baltistan in the sixteenth century. Numerous rock inscriptions which still exist in Baltistan (in Pak- occupied Kashmir), are a living testimony to this fact. Following the conversion of Baltis to Islam, indigenous Tibetan script for Balti language was discarded "as profane". Instead, Persian script was introduced even though it did not "suit the language due to certain phonological differences". But after Baltistan was occupied by Pakistan in 1948, Urdu has prevailed in the area. With the result the indigenous Balti language has been further weakened due to heavy influence of Persian and Urdu. The same is true of Baltis living in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir. Baltis in Pakistan are deeply disturbed over the loss of their inherited culture, particularly during the past two decades due to "onslaught of religious fanaticism". This change is ascribed to the Islamic Revolution in Iran, following which Maulvis flush with money entered the area and banned singing, dancing and all forms of traditional cultural activities. Interestingly, the Shia Muslims in the Kargil area of Ladakh, who too speak the Balti language and share same culture with Baltis of Baltistan, have been subjected to similar change. They have been allowed to be swayed under the pernicious influence of Mullahs and Mujtahids, most of whom receive theological training and support from Iran.

These mujtahids, have stripped the festivals and ceremonies in Kargil of their traditional music and fanfare. The traditional musicians-Doms, who used to play drums and wind pipe instruments on all festive occasions, have been rendered jobless. This situation has resulted in the destruction of rich folk, linguistic, literary and cultural heritage of Baltis. The only saving grace is that most of the Balti folk literature is still preserved in the oral unwritten tradition. Besides, there is an organised effort inside Pak- occupied Baltistan, by Balti intellectuals led by Syed Abbas Kazmi to revive the Balti heritage including its Tibetan script. The Baltistan Research Centre, Skardo is doing a commendable job on this subject. Similar efforts need to be initiated by J&K Cultural Academy inside Kargil area.

Foregoing discussion of the state of affairs of mother tongues in Jammu and Kashmir State throws up important political issues. It becomes clear that despite the local urge to preserve and promote their mother tongues, whether it is Kashmiri, Dogri, Gujari, Bodhi or Balti, the same have been denied their due place. This has been done as part of the calculated policy of the Muslim bureaucracy and political leadership to subvert the indigenous linguistic and ethno-cultural identities which inherit a composite cultural heritage. Thus a supra national Muslim identity has been sought to be imposed in different regions of the State, which essentially are different language and culture areas. Simultaneously a whispering compaign was launched in Kashmir alleging the central government's apathy towards Kashmiri language, which is, however, belied by facts. Apart from inclusion of Kashmiri in the VIII Schedule, Sahitya Academy has been giving awards for Kashmiri right from 1956 though it started doing so for Dogri only in 1970. What is needed now is to remove the existing imbalances and introduce Sahitya Academy awards for Gujari, Ladakhi (Bodhi) and Balti, besides officially recognising Devnagari as alternate script for Kashmiri.


The language geography of the State has changed after 1947 when a large chunk of the State was occupied by Pakistan, what is now known as Pak-occupied Kashmir/ Northern Areas. The new ground situation is that all the Kashmiri, Dogri, Gujari and Ladakhi speaking areas falls within the Northern Areas. Yet some small pockets of Dardi speaking people-Buddhist Brukpas in Da Hanu area of Ladakh, people of Dras (Ladakh) and Gurez (Baramulla) lie within the Indian part of Jammu and Kashmir. Similarly, all the Pothawri (Lahanda) speaking areas in Poonch, Mirpur etc. remain within the Pak-occupied Kashmir. As regards the Baltis, they are divided between those living in Kargil in Indian Ladakh and across the Line of Actual Control in Baltistan (Northern Areas). From within the Kashmiri speaking community, the entire Kashmiri Hindu minority of more than three lakhs has been forced out of the valley in 1980-90 by the Islamist militants. Thus this significant and indigenous minority community has been deprived of its ancient habitat and language culture area in the Kashmir valley. Given the precarious condition of these displaced persons living in forced exile in various parts of India and struggling for survival, their language and culture are likely to be the worst casualty of their ethnic-religious cleansing. The question of resettlement of this displaced minority in their ancient birthland in a manner that ensures their ethnic- linguistic and territorial homogeneity and adequate constitutionaliadministrative safeguards for protection of their human rights, is directly linked to the permanent solution of the Kashmir imbroglio.

A study of the language demography of Jammu and Kashmir State establishes the fact that the Lahnda (Pothwari) speaking area falls almost entirely across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Pak-occupied Kashmir. That the LAC on the western side coincides with the specific language culture area, provides a natural permanence to the Line of Actual Control on ethno-linguistic lines in this sector. This should provide a key to finding lasting solution to vexed Kashmir problem between India and Pakistan. However, this is not true of Balti speaking area, which remains divided by the Line of Actual Control between Kargil area of Jammu and Kashmir in India and Baltistan region of Pak-occupied Kashmir. That there is a renewed urge among the Baltis in Pak-occupied Kashmir to revive their ancient Balti language and heritage only demonstrates their cultural roots in Ladakh.

Regarding the evolution and affinities of various mother tongues in Jammu and Kashmir, it is established that most of the languages are rooted in or have close affinities with the Indo-Aryan languages. Whereas Dogri is closely related to Punjabi, Gujari is akin to Rajasthani. Grierson's theory of Kashmiri belonging to the Dardic branch of languages has been disputed by the insider view emanating from Kashmir and e]sewhere. Most of the linguistic researches conducted in Kashmir during the past forty years, have established that Kashmiri bears close resemblance to Sanskritic languages, thereby testifying to the close civilisational contacts and ties between Kashmir and India since ancient times. Grierson who has misleadingly adopted the religious distinction between 'Hindu Kashmiri' and 'Muslim Kashmiri' has actually followed the colonial approach towards non-European sccieties. Ironically Grierson's theory has been used as premier by an American geographer, J.E. Schwartzberg has advocated the merger of Kashmir valley with the Dardic speaking areas of Pak- occupied Kashmir on the basis of linguistic and cultural affinity. Grierson's theory has since been disputed. Besides, the fact remains that the people of Kashmir valley are not only linguistically different from those living across the Line of Control in Pak-occupied Kashmir, but also have different cultural moorings and social ethos. Though Ladakhi and Balti belong to the Tibeto-Burman group of languages, the presence of Sanskritic impact among the Garkuns of Ladakh is a living example of the extent of Indian cultural presence in this remote area. Given the importance of the subject, it is incumbent upon the linguists and anthropologists in India to unravel the mysteries of evolution and affinities of various mother tongues of Jammu and Kashmir State, in the broader context of race movement and civilisational evolution in north and north western India.

Kashmiri is the main language spoken in the State, its spatial distribution being limited to the central valley of Kashmir and some parts of Doda. Though Kashmiri has no 'functional role as a written language' now, it is "overwhelmingly the language of personal and in-group communication. It is the medium of dreams, mental arithmetic and reflection, of communication within the family, with friends and in market places, in places of worship etc.'' According to a survey, the Kashmiris view their language as "an integral part of their identity" and want it to be accorded its due role in the fields of education, mass-media and administration. The neglect of mother tongues by the State is the most salient language issue in Jammu and Kashrnir, and the earlier it is remedied, the better. However, the only silver lining is ihat both Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims have identified Kashmiri as their mother tongue.

Though Pahari has not been enumerated as a separate language in the J&K State Census Reports of 1961, 1971 and 1981, of late there have been demands for grant of some concessions to 'Paharis' in the State. The Pahari versus Gujar issue is a potential source of ethnic conflict as both the Pahari and Gujar interests are in conflict with each other. Both the Pahari and Gujar identities overlap in certain aspects particularly their hill settlement pattern and some common language features. The grant of Scheduled Tribe status on 19th April 1991 by the central government, entitles the Gujars-the third largest community in the State, to preferential treatment in government services, educational, professional and technical education etc. Gujars also claim propotionate representation in the State Assembly. The non- Gujar Muslims of the State have been peeved at the conferment of Scheduled Tribe status and its benefits to the Gujars. They have now demanded similar concession and the privileges associated with it for the 'Paharis' of Rajouri, Poonch, Kupwara and Baramulla districts, i.e., where the Gujars are in sizeable numbers. The central government decision to meet the demand of Gujars has also evoked some reaction from the local press. The new 'Pahari' demand has been backed by the valley dominated political and bureaucratic Muslim elite, which has succeeded in persuading the State Governor to take a few steps in this direction. On 17 May 1992, the non-Gujar 'Pahari Board' was set up, with eight Kashmiri Muslims, eight Rajput Muslims, two Syeds and four non-Muslims as its members. On 18 December 1993, the State Governor, General K. V. Krishna Rao issued a statement urging the central government to declare the Paharis as Scheduled Tribes.

Obviously, the J&K State administration is trying to construct new identities such as 'Paharis', in a bid to undermine the Gujars and their ethno-linguistic identity in the areas where they are dominant. That is why the demands of 'Paharis' of Rajouri, Poonch, Kupwara and Baramulla, (where Gujars are concentrated) are raised, whereas the backward and neglected hill people of Ramban, Kishtwar, Padar and Bhadarwah, who speak distinct dialects of Rambani, Kishtwari, Padari and Bhadarwahi, have been excluded from the purview of the so called 'Pahari'. This is a subtle move to deprive the Gujars of their numerical advantage and fully marginalise them in the political, administrative and other institutional structures of the State.

The existing spatial distribution of Gujar speakers, does provide some sort of linguistic territorial homogeneity, which however, needs to be further consolidated to help in preservation and promotion of Gujari language and ethno- cultural heritage and fulfilling their socio-economic and political aspirations within the State. Inclusion of Gujari as one of the regional languages in the VI schedule of state's Constitution and the Sahitya Academy awards for Gujari writers, are basic steps that need to be taken urgently.

That the Gujars are concentrated in specific border belts surrounding the main Kashmiri speaking area, which mostly fali within the Indian side of Line of Actual Control, is yet another aspect of political importance. It is not only a physical obstacle in the way of attaining the goals of the ongoing secessionist movement based on Pan-Islamic- Kashmiri identities, it also demonstrates that barring some possible minor adjustments here and there, the present LAC provides the best possible solution to the Kashmir problem.

As already stated, all the Census reports have made a clear distinction between the Ladakhi (Bhotia) and Tibetan speaking persons in Ladakh, former being indigenous Ladakhis and the latter being Tibetan refugee settlers. Interestingly, various political activist groups such as "Himalayan Committee for Action on Tibet", "Himalayan Buddhist Cultural Association", "Tibet Sangharsh Samiti" etc. which have been spreaheading in India the campaign for Tibet's independence, and have opened their branches in various Himalayan States of India, have been demanding the inclusion of Bhotia language in the VIII Schedule of the Indian Constitution. At the same time, there have been sustained efforts by the Tibetan scholars at Dharamshala or abroad, towards preparing a unified system of Tibetan language so that the same script, dialect etc. is applied to all the Bhotia/Tibetan speaking peoples whether in Indian Himalayas or elsewhere. This raises the question of Tibetanisation of society, culture and politics of the Indian Himalayas partieularly in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Kalimpong, Darjeeling etc. It has been noticed that Tibetan refugees living in these areas never use local dialect and seek to exercise their cultural hegemony over the local Buddhist inhabitants. Due to divergent modes of economic activity being followed by the Tibetan refugees and the indigenous Buddhists in this Himalayan region, the former being engaged in marketing and industrial activities and the latter being involved in primary agrarian economy, there have been social conflicts between these two culturally similar groups with the locals viewing the Tibetan refugees as exploiters. Such a conflict has been experienced in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh etc. It becomes imperative for the concerned government and non-government agencies to ensure that the indigenous Bhotia/Ladakhi and even Balti ethno-linguistic heritage is preserved and promoted.

State government's policy towards local mother tongues including Kashmiri, reflects the political dynamics of Muslim majoritarianism, in which supra-national religious ethnicity has been artifically superimposed over the linguistic ethnicity. This has been done with the object of bringing Kashmiri Muslims closer to the Muslim Ummah in the subcontinent, and particularly with the adjoining Islamic State of Pakistan. This task has been carried forward by numerous Islamic political, social and cultural institutions particularly the Jamat-i-Islami, Ahl-e-Hadis, Anjuman Tableegh-i-Islam etc. and the madrassahs or even public schools run by these organistions, all of which have been preaching and promoting Islamic world view both in political, social and cultural affairs. With the result a firm ideological base has been prepared to mould the political and cultural views of Kashmiri Muslims on religious lines rather than ethno- linguistic/cultural basis, thereby negating the idnigenous secular and composite cultural heritage. The same thing has happened in Pak-occupied Kashmir (including Northern Areas), where Urdu-the national language of Pakistan, has been imposed and popularised, and local mother tongues- Pothwari, Khowar, Burushaski, Dardi/Shina and Balti remain neglected. Whereas adoption of such a policy by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is understandable, it is quite ironical and unthinkable as to how such a state of affairs has been al]owed in Jammu and Kashmir State, part of the secular and democratic Republic of India which has otherwise provided specific constitutional safeguards for promotion of mother-tongues and protection of rights of linguistic and cultural minorities.

It is surprising that the neglect of Kashmiri has never been a theme of unrest and anti-Indian movement in Kashmir. It is mainly because the Kashmiri Muslims have been swayed by their intellectual elite and political leaders of all hues (whether in power or out of it), most of whom have been educated at the Aligarh Muslim University, thereby imbibing the spirit of Aligarh movement which regards Urdu as the symbol of Muslim cultural identity. This policy is derived from the Muslim League strategy adopted so successfully by M.A. Jinnah, "for political mobilization of the Muslim Community around the symbols of Muslim identification-Islam, Urdu and the new slogan of Pakistan". that explains why primacy has been given to Islam instead of language, thereby consolidating the religious divide between Kashmiri Muslims and Hindus who otherwise inherit same language, habitat and way of life. True spirit of Kashmiriat can be restored only after giving rightful place to the indigenous Kashmiri language and culture. Besides steps need to be taken to promote other mother tongues of the state-Dogri, Gujari, Bodhi (Ladakhi) and Balti. Whereas the case of Dogri for inclusion in VIII Schedule of Constitution of India needs to be considered favourably, Sahitya Academy should give awards for literary works in Gujari and Bodhi as is done by it for Maithili and Rajasthani which are not listed in the VIII Schedule. Devnagri should be recognised as alternate script for Kashmiri language which will meet the long standing demand of the sizeable ethno-religious minority of Kashmiri Hindus. The Linguistic Survey of India and the Census Commissioner of India need to review Grierson's classification and evolve a suitable enumeration code and proper classification marks for various languages and mother tongues prevalent in Jammu and Kashmir, so that the linguistic and cultural aspirations of numerous ethnic- linguistic groups in the State are duly reflected and protected.

Jammu, Kashmir & Ladakh
Ethno-Linguistic Areas
Legend (Top to bottom):
Kishtwari/Poguli, Kashmiri, Dogri, Gojri, Ladakhi, Balti, Dardi/Shina,
Burshaski, Punjabi/Lahenda/Pothawari, Rambani/Bhaderwahi/Siraji,

Excerpts from:
Jammu, Kashmir & Ladakh - Linguistic Predicament
Edited by: P. N. Pushp and K. Warikoo
Himalayan Research and Cultural Foundation
Har-Anand Publications

Kashmir History and Politics



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