language policy in Kashmir

Anonby stan-sandy_anonby at
Thu Mar 24 13:20:16 UTC 2005

You say there is a large number of ethnic groups, each speaking its own
language. Is there any literacy in these ethnic languages?

Stan Anonby

----- Original Message -----
From: "Harold F. Schiffman" <haroldfs at>
To: "Language Policy-List" <lgpolicy-list at>
Sent: Thursday, March 24, 2005 11:41 AM
Subject: language policy in Kashmir

> From
> Take up the challenge and make English official
> This language alone can level us up with the rest of the world, so why
> wait?
> The state of Jammu and Kashmir has been blessed or cursed, choose as you
> wish, with a large number of ethnic groups each speaking its own language.
> There are Kashmiris who speak the ancient Kashmiri language with a rich
> literature spanning more than a millennium. Ladakhis speak a dialect of
> Tibetan written in the Tibetan script whereas the people of Southern Jammu
> speak Dogri - a dialect of Punjabi. Apart from these major languages there
> are a large number of minor languages spoken mainly in the various hill
> tracts and fastnesses, such as Gojri, Pahari (a dialect of Hindi), Shina,
> Balti and various other Punjabi dialects. The presence of so many
> linguistic communities makes Jammu and Kashmir a very colourful and
> attractive place, especially from a tourist point of view. If you look at
> the tourist guides on Kashmir dating from before the militancy youll find
> J&Ks linguistic diversity clearly emphasised.
> However, unlike the situation in other states, such as Maharashtra or the
> Southern States, the official language of the State Government is Urdu.
> Urdu was chosen as the official language by Maharaja Pratap Singh. This
> decision was not based on the will of the people or on any democratic
> consultation - it was the typical arbitrary edict of a Dogra despot. Most
> people in Kashmir at that time could not read or write so the decision had
> little effect on them. However, it did mean that their officials spoke to
> them in Urdu, a language they could scarcely understand. There has always
> been a tendency in Kashmir, and also in South Asia, on the part of rulers
> to speak to their subjects in an alien language. Language has been
> exploited as a tool for imposing elitism and exclusivity by South Asias
> moguls, past and present. In the Ancient times the official language was
> invariably Sanskrit - unintelligible to the vast majority of people who
> spoke the various Prakrits. When the Muslim sultans took over they changed
> the official tongue to Persian - a language even more alien than Sanskrit,
> which no-one but a handful of theologians could understand. Persian
> continued to be the official language in Kashmir until 1906 or thereabouts
> when the Maharaja decided to replace it with Urdu. Urdu has remained the
> official language ever since, remaining undisturbed by Sheikh Abdullahs
> overthrow of the Maharajas regime.
> The linguistic situation since independence has been in a constant state
> of flux. The introduction of English in Kashmir and its growing popularity
> has run in tandem with the steady decline in the fortunes of Urdu. English
> was originally introduced by the Maharajas as the medium of instruction in
> the higher institutions of education. It continued to grow in popularity
> and was soon adopted by all sectors of public life. The government began
> using it in administration and legislation. The High Court was already
> using it even before 1947. The only sphere where Urdu continued to be used
> was in state-run school education. The situation today is worlds apart
> from that in 1947. English has now attained the status of a de facto
> official language. Despite attempts by Urduwallahs and other obscurantists
> to promote it in education, business and government the language has
> receded more and more into the background, dying a slow death and destined
> to be supplanted by English sometime in the future. So far as India is
> considered Urdu is virtually a dead language - at best a language still
> used for composing mawkish poetry (for which it is eminently suited). In
> Kashmir the use of Urdu is confined to school education in the ramshackle,
> zabar zachi schools of the valley. It is also used in many official
> documents such as ration cards (when will we see an end to them?).
> The government now uses English in most, if not all, of its documentation.
> The commissioner-secretaries, deputy commissioners and other mandarins who
> run the administration prefer English in their official paperwork and
> communications. Legislation is invariably drafted in English. The
> universities and higher colleges use English for all bachelors, masters
> and doctors level courses (other than courses in the languages for obvious
> reasons). All the major private schools - which perennially face a huge
> scramble for places - employ English as the medium of instruction. No-one
> in Kashmir wants their children educated in Urdu. Everyone wants them to
> speak fluent English so that they can take part in the 21st century. All
> the professions, without exception, use English. In the private sector the
> only use of Urdu is found in the newspapers. This must be attributed to
> the fact that many Kashmiris have not yet acquired a sufficient grasp of
> English to enable them to read an English newspaper. Although nearly all
> shops and outdoor advertisements are in English, even in the remotest
> village, most ordinary Kashmiris are still able to read only Urdu - a
> result of the governments disastrous language policy. However, even this
> is fast changing: English is catching up in the mass media as the rising
> circulations of the English dailies testify. It is not improbable that one
> day all the Urdu dailies will lose their readership and find themselves
> out of business.
> The purpose of this article has not only been to paint a linguistic
> picture of Kashmir. It is also to pose an important question: why has our
> government failed to respond to the transformed tonguescape? Why doesnt
> the government realise that its all up with Urdu and that it is time for
> English to be recognised officially for what it already is? If the
> government decrees English to be the official language it is not going to
> make much difference to the administration or the courts - English is
> already in use there. However, there is one sector where the callous
> linguistic policy of the government is perpetrating an atrocity on the
> people, and that is the schools. The state-run schools still continue to
> use Urdu as the medium of instruction. This is in spite of the fact that a
> students knowledge of Urdu leads them to nothing but a dead end in the
> world of the professions. To become a good doctor, engineer or professor
> one needs a good command of English. Why then are we forcing the poor
> young students of our state-run schools to study in Urdu only to switch to
> English after their 8th standard?
> The rural poor cannot afford the luxuries of a private education for their
> children, however much theyd like to. They too want their children to
> learn English and succeed in decent professions and vocations. Even if
> their children end up in menial occupations such as farming theyd still
> like them to be able to speak English. They want their children to speak
> with the pride and self-assurance that English inspires and not in the
> obsequious, ingratiating manner which Urdus large supply of stale,
> sycophantic addresses (e.g. jenab, huzur) habituates them to speak. This
> perverse policy of forcing Kashmirs poor people to learn Urdu is
> condemning them to a second-class status. It is saying: only the rich can
> secure an English education for their children. The poor, on the other
> hand, must be burdened with having to master Urdu, only to pick up a
> smattering of English if they wish to pursue higher studies. Besides, it
> is difficult to see the wisdom of an education policy that requires
> teaching in one medium of instruction up to 8th standard and then switches
> to another. If youre so concerned with Urdu then why not make it the
> language of teaching all the way up to doctorate level? Any particular
> reason?
> Making English the medium of instruction in all government schools would
> work a revolution in Kashmirs educational system. It would give our
> youngsters the chance to excel in this world language, a language in
> comparison to which Urdu is nothing. It would remove the unfair advantage
> which students of private schools enjoy by their better knowledge of
> English. It would also make accessible to the people of Kashmir the great
> gems of literature in English - not only the titans of fiction like
> Wordsworth, Shakespeare or Dickens but also the almost limitless ocean of
> non-fiction books on philosophy, history or science. Therefore, I urge the
> government to take up this important challenge, and follow the example of
> the whole world which is busy embracing English. We seldom get to witness
> any significant policy or programme being enacted by the government. This
> is one ripe opportunity that has always been waiting in the wings: a
> chance to show that the government cares about the people and their
> children. The Mufti government - which has already taken the laudable step
> of introducing English as a second language in state schools - would do
> well to seize this chance.
> Thursday, March 24, 2005
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