Kargil, Ladakh and Kashmir: Role of Urdu and divisive politics

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Jun 14 13:50:34 UTC 2007

Kargil, Ladakh and Kashmir: Role of Urdu and divisive politics*
*By Dr Kunal Ghosh*

In India we usually call the Pakistan occupied part of the state of Jammu
and Kashmir PoK. Baltistan is that part of PoK that is contiguous with the
Kargil region of north western Ladkh. In turn the north-eastern part of
Laddakh is contiguous with the western Tibetan plateau. The status of
Baltistan and western Tibetan plateau are disputed between Pakistan and
India and India and China. Baltistan, Ladakh and western Tibetan plateau are
now under the control of three different countries, but peoples of these
three regions are of the same race and speak the same language. Baltistan
was part of Ladakh district before 1947. Fig 1 shows a map of the state of
Jammu and Kashmir in which these three regions can be seen. The original
Laddakh district is shown by a double line boundary. The approximate map of
25-year-old Kargil district is shown south of the Line of Control (LOC) by a
single line. The town of Skardu that lies north-west of Kargil town across
the LoC is the capital of Baltistan. Pakistan's tourism promotion website
refers to Baltistan as "Little Tibet" (see Fig 2, a page from Pakistani
tourism website). Fig 3 shows an enlargement of Pakistan's depiction of PoK
and Baltistan within it. Baltis call their land by a Tibetan name "Baltiyul"
which is derived from the original Tibetan script called 'Balti' that was
prevalent in the area before Islamization (to Shia faith) took place in the
16th century during the reign of king Ghota-Cho-Senge. Islamization took
place late in these parts, about three centuries later than in Kashmir
valley. Thereafter the Arabic Nasq script was introduced. A Buddhist
minority exists even now in Baltistan of PoK, although very thin on the
ground. The part of Ladakh district that came to India has in its
north-western part, around the town of Kargil, a Muslim majority. As one
moves in the south-easterly direction the Buddhist population increases and
in Zanskar and Leh they become a majority. Buddhists of Ladakh retained the
traditional script called Bodhi (alternatively, Ladakhi) of Tibetan origin
and they call their language Ladakhi. The Nasq (Arabic) script became
popular with Muslims, and since it came to India via Persia, it is often
called Persian script. The language written in Nasq is called Balti. In a
sense the relationship between Nasq-Balti and Bodhi-Ladakhi is similar to
that between Nasq-Urdu and Devnagari-Hindi.

Initially the sparsely populated Ladakh region consisted of a single
district called 'Ladakh' (as shown in Fig. 1) with its capital at Leh. When
Sheikh Abdullah was brought out of imprisonment and re-instated as the Chief
Minister in the later half of the 1970s, he created a few new districts and
sub-divisions along communal lines in different parts of the state. A
Muslim-majority sub-division called Gool was carved out of composite Reasi
sub-division in Jammu region and Ladakh district was bifurcated into
Muslim-majority Kargil and Buddhist-majority Leh. Further, Buddhist-majority
Zanskar subdivision was mischievously included in Kargil district instead of
in Leh district. So now there remains no district called Ladakh, which was
the original name. However, the whole composite region is still called
Ladakh, as before, and that has significant legal implications.

*Language and script*
Between Balti and Ladakhi all verbs and 90 per cent of words are in common
(Kazmi 1996). The following tables from Kazmi (1996) give an illustrative

These tables serve to illustrate two important features. Firstly, the
languages of Baltistan. of PoK and Ladakh of India are practically identical
and should be classified as two dialects of the same language. They are
given two different names because they are written in two different scripts.
Secondly, they are a world apart from the north Indian languages such as
Kashmiri, Urdu, Hindi etc of the Indo-European family. The centre of Balti
is the Skardu town of POK and the centre of Ladakhi is the Leh town of
Laddakh. The Kargil town of Ladakh lies in between geographically. Hence its
language too should be somewhere in between Balti and Ladakhi. This implies
that the Kargil speech and Leh speech are practically indistinguishable.

Traditionally, the Buddhist Gompas taught one son of every family how to
read the scriptures. Western education was started first by Moravian Mission
in Leh in 1889. The subjects taught were Ladakhi, Urdu, English, Geography,
Nature Study, Arithmetic, Geometry and Bible Study. It is to be noted that
mother tongue Ladakhi and two other useful languages were included in the
curriculum (Wikipedia 2006).

After Independence, the Jammu and Kashmir government started opening schools
that taught the pupils in Urdu medium till age 14 and thereafter switched to
English medium. It is obvious that the Jammu and Kashmir government made a
deliberate policy of dropping the mother tongue. On the other side of LoC
Pakistan government was doing the same thing by imposing Urdu on the
Balti-speaking people of the so-called 'Little Tibet' of Baltistan (Kazmi
1996). Students' Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) was
started in 1988 that campaigned to shape public opinion for education
reform. As a result of their movement, the mother tongue started replacing
Urdu as the medium since 1993. The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development
Council (LAHDC) came into existence in 1995 after the act concerned was
passed in the Legislative Assembly.

Urdu and the Arabic script have had a long spell since 1947, owing to the
language policy of the state government. Hence it is likely that in Kargil
district the script is Arabic (Nasq) in the Muslim-majority north-western
parts and Bodhi in Zanskar, the Buddhist-majority south-eastern
sub-division. The language is either called Balti or Ladakhi, depending on
the script used. Since 2001 a series of steps have been taken, which spells
doom for the language of Kargil, and makes separation of Kargil from Ladakh
and its merger with Kashmir almost inevitable.

*Impending separation*
Since 2001 the Indian army has been opening Urdu-medium primary schools in
Kargil to promote literacy, as a part of its Sadbhavana (meaning goodwill)
program (Jha 2001). Evidently this was on advice from Jammu and Kashmir
government, while the Central government was oblivious and lacked any
coherent language policy. It should be noted that SECMOL's
mother-tongue-first policy, which was supported by LAHDC, had been in place
for previous 8 years. Yet the Indian army followed a policy that ran counter
to SECMOL's. Why didn't the army start schools in Balti medium in Kargil?
There is only one answer to this question. There is an all pervasive
language ideology permeating the Central government, Jammu and Kashmir
Government and the Indian Army. It says, "Urdu is the language of the

(The author is a Professor and can be contacted at Aerospace Engineering,
IIT Kanpur; email: kunal at iitk.ac.in)

(To be continued)
  *Balti Words* *Ladakhi* *English* mGo mGo Head Mik Mig Eye Laqpa Lagpa
Hand/Arm Khap Khap Needle Skutpa Skutpa Thread Karfo Karpo White Naqpo Nagpo
Black Marpho Marpo Red Shing Shing Wood/Timber Chu Chu Water Khi Khi Dog
Bila Bila Cat Kha Kha Mouth Chharpha Chharpha Rain Khnam Nam Sky Sa Sa
Soil/Earth bZo Zo Cross of Yak and Cow Da Da Arrow Gju Gju Bow Kangma Kangpa
Leg/Foot Zermong Sermo Nail Api Api Grand-mother/Old Woman Ashe Ache Elder
Sister Bang Balang Cow Byango Chamo Hen/Chicken Ong Yong Come Mendoq Metoq
Flower Nang-Khangma Nang-Khangpa House (holds) Shoq-shoq Shugti Paper Garba
Gra Blacksmith Shingkhan Shingkan Carpenter Bras Das Rice Bakhmo Paghma
Bride Nene Ane Aunt Khlang Langto Bull/Ox Stare Stari Axe Zorba Zora Sickle
Khshol Shol Plough Baqphe Paghphe (Wheat) Floor. Skarchen Skarchhen Star
(large and bright) Namkhor Namkhor Cloudy

  *Balti Verbs* *Ladakhi* *Meaning* Zo Zo Eat Thung Thung Drink Ong Yong
Come Zer Zer Speak/Say Ngid tong Nigid tong Sleep (go to) Lagpa Lagpa
Hand/Arm Khyang Khyorang You

  *Balti Verbs* *Ladakhi* *Meaning* Diring ngima tronmo yod Diring ngima
tonmo yod The day/sun is warm today. Ringmo thaqpa gnis khyong Ringmo thagpa
gnis khyong Bring two long ropes. Ra lug kun tshwa kher Ra lug kun tshwa
kher Take the goats and sheep. for grazing Zgo karkong kun ma phes Zgo
karkong kun ma phes Don't open the doors and ventilators Kushu chuli yod na
zo Kushu chuli yod na zo If there is (some) apple and appricot eat (it). Ragi
phali yod na khyong Ralgri phali yod na khyong If there is (any) sword and
shield (please) bring them.


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