In Kashmir, the axe likely to fall on Urdu as the official language  

By replacing Urdu as the official language, BJP will strike at not just the language and culture but also at Urdu media and jobs

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Representative Image
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Gulzar Bhat

Madhav Kohli, a Jammu based social activist, struck a hornet’s nest with his Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking Hindi as the official language of the newly carved Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir. On July 8, a Division Bench of the High Court issued notice on the UT administration and posted the next hearing on October 7, 2020. “Official records are in Urdu but we do not have proficiency in the language and don’t understand what exactly goes into such records,” Kohli explained.

On August 5, 2019 when the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was withdrawn, uncertainty prevailed over the fate of Urdu. According to section 47 of the J&K Reorganisation Act, it is up to the new Legislative Assembly of the Union Territory of J&K “to adopt one or more of the languages in use in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir or Hindi as the official language or languages to be used for all or any of the official purposes”.

Urdu has been the official language of Jammu and Kashmir since 1889, when Maharaja Pratap Singh, the third Dogra ruler of the erstwhile state of J & K had replaced Persian with Urdu.

“The Maharaja had then faced resistance from Persian knowing people. But Urdu was touted as a more convenient language for communication across various language groups and communities in the region”, recalls Zaffar Iqbal Manhas, former Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages.

Although eight major languages--Kashmiri, Dogri, Urdu, Gojri, Ladakhi, Pahari, Balti and Hindi--are spoken in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, Urdu has served as the lingua franca over the last 131 years.

Prominent Jammu based Urdu bard Pritpal Singh Betab, who has also written half a dozen books, says Urdu has been a language-of-connect among people in all the three regions of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir. “Urdu has become a part of our culture. Replacing it is a frivolous exercise”, he adds.

In the 2011 census, the Valley had a population of 68,88,475 while the population of Jammu stood at 53,78,538. The percentage of Urdu knowing people was substantially higher. “Around 90 percent of the people could speak Urdu while more than 70 percent could read and write in Urdu in J & K”, points out Manhas.

A day before Jammu and Kashmir was poised to split into two federally controlled territories on October 31, 2019, BJP national secretary Tarun Chugh was quoted as saying, “The best thing is that Urdu will no longer be the first and official language of state”.

The official website of the Department of Information and Public Relations suggests that 59 Urdu daily newspapers are published from Kashmir division and 24 from Jammu. The number of Urdu weeklies from Jammu is higher at 39 compared to 29 in Kashmir.

“Urdu newspapers enjoy good readership across Jammu division and over the last several years, several new Urdu language newspapers hit the stands”, says Sohail Kazmi, editor-in chief of Jammu based Daily Taskeen. “Some Urdu newspapers and magazines published from Punjab and Delhi are also widely read in the region,” he added.

But both British rulers and the Bharatiya Jan Sangh have been prone to identify Urdu as the language of Muslims. BJP has amplified the communalisation of the language.

Valley based writer Mohammad Yousuf Taing feels it is unfair to identify Urdu with only Muslims. A large number of Hindus in the region continue to write in Urdu, he points out.

Bahar-e-Gulshan-e-Kashmir is a multi-volume anthology of poetry and prose in Urdu written by Kashmiri Pandits settled outside Jammu and Kashmir. Published in the early 1930s, the book carries poems of prominent poets like Anand Narayan Mulla, Pandit Brijnarayan Chakbast, Pandit Brijlal Nehru Watan, Dewan Amarnath Madan and Brij Krishan Koul.

Last year, on Hindi Diwas, Home Minister Amit Shah claimed that Hindi alone could unite the country. Although the statement drew flak from different quarters, it was in sync with RSS and BJP’s doctrine of ‘One nation, one culture, one language’.

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