Every year February 21 is celebrated as International Mother Language Day. United Nations dedicate the day to linguistic diversity in the world. Though there are over 6000 spoken languages in the world but only few hundred languages are spoken by a large number of people. In Jammu and Kashmir traditionally four languages were spoken by the majority of people, which are Kashmiri, Urdu, Ladakhi and Dogri. But with English becoming popular in urban areas of the state, it is fast replacing the other local languages. It is so because from literature in the form of books and printed material to business and trade to technology, the use of English language in our daily life has gained a lot over the years. On phone we text messages in English language, we read books, newspapers and other texts in English language and even we see hoardings, sign boards, nameplates and our identity cards in the English. The importance of this language and its popularity cannot be ignored, but at the same time the people of the state as concerned members of this society who value regional identity have to step in to preserve our local languages. Besides the concerned people, the litterateurs and academics, poets and scribes, it is the common man that has to raise the issue of saving our mother tongue and regional languages. The greater role no doubt is for the government who shares the same concern with the people and can help saving our languages that are becoming unpopular.
The history behind International Mother Language Day is that the day was chosen by the world body as on this day in 1952 four Bangladeshis were killed, people who fought for granting Bengali language the official mother language status in the country. There are people who can give up their life for their mother tongue. What are we doing for our mother tongue or Kashmiri? More and more parents in Kashmir are teaching their children English, Urdu and other language. Daily conversations in Kashmiri language have been reduced. A very wrong notion about Kashmiri language is being spread in Kashmir – that the language represents an underclass section, people who are not able to get good education or status here. Some blame falls on the faulty education system of the state. With the mushrooming of private schools where medium of instruction was primarily in English and Urdu language, these languages (English and Urdu) started to be associated with the class that could afford such education, for example the missionary schools of valley. An elitist but false stereotype around these languages got created over the years to the extent that without any doubt you could say that 7 out of 10 students of missionary schools would find a conversation in Kashmiri as uncomfortable. On the contrary, in Bengal where rich works of art, literature and culture have been produced for centuries, people consider it offensive to converse in any language. The bitter truth today is that many young people do not know how their names are spelled or written in their native language.
The state government has also repeatedly failed to save our mother tongue or local language from decline. The announcements we hear on our phones, the announcements we hear at airports, the signboards, the advisory or other public message – Kashmiri language is nowhere. When oaths are also taken in alien languages, how can we complain about the masses?
What is most unfortunate is that to plead the case for saving our mother tongue and local languages, we have to take help from English language media.
In one decision by the state government recently, Kashmiri, Bodhi and Dogri languages were made compulsory for 9th and 10th classes in the areas where these languages are spoken as mother tongue. The government order said that the three regional languages will be treated as compulsory sixth subject for class 9 from academic session 2018-19 and for class 10 from 2019-20 in all government-run and recognized private schools of the state. To bring back mother tongues at school level may be good option, but is that enough. It is more convenient for the government to pass on such orders as the people behind it don’t have to do anything practical. For example, will the government officials prefer to speak in Kashmiri language to the public? In almost every department, the higher officials prefer to speak in Urdu, again trying to take the pseudo-elitist position. Will these officials write correspondence in Kashmiri language or read newspapers, books or magazines in the same language? It is convenient to tell the others, children to learn and speak Kashmiri than practice it yourself.
Kashmiri language newspapers will soon become history, courtesy the state government. We cannot force the readers to read Kashmiri newspapers but when the choices are made at least we can inform the people to cast away their prejudices and show some social responsibility. From a common man to government agencies, we have choked the efforts of reviving the language and take pleasure in wearing the fake elitist identity. This farce should have long been eliminated from our society and state. Unfortunately, the cultural organizations nowadays are more interested in power, perks and positions than showing real concern for our native languages.
The disturbing question is whether the neglect is part of a hidden agenda to weaken the regional identity. Our younger generation will not listen to the old sufiana music and will rather detest anything in their mother tongues. The radio nowadays plays rubbish in a repackaged item that has literally no link with our local culture. This cultural intrusion may not be unrehearsed as there are many people who would take few extra bucks to dance to the tunes of an alien culture, or what is called in one of our local languages perform mujra.
February 21 is not far, let us think of something practical than lecturing on the day.