Padri is a Pahari dialect spoken in Paddar valley of district Kishtwar located on south-eatern side touching its borders with Pangi (Himachal Pradesh), Zanskar valley of Ladakh & Marwah-Wadwan Valley. It is the child dialect of Bhaderwahi group which includes three dialects viz. bhaderwahi, bhalesvi and padri. It has been placed under Indian Indo-Aryan language family and is one of the offshoots of western Pahari language. It has been influenced by the common speech of people living in her neighbourhood viz. Pangwali and Bhaderwahi significantly.
As far as present status of the Padri dialect is concerned, there are less than 15000 speakers who speak Padri as their mother tongue and the number of speakers is decreasing on an alarming rate. It is facing crisis mostly in the last two decades and heading towards extinction along with its culture. Given the critical status of the dialect, it has been included in vulnerable category of languages in 2014 by Ministry of Minority Affairs, Government of India.
Its status has further been substantiated by a survey conducted in 2015 by scholars of Department of linguistic studies, University of Kashmir. In the survey, it was found that 70% of the population speak in Padri at home while rest communicates in dominant and other specific languages. It is quite clear that there is significant decrease in percentage of its use. Some 60 % parents speak in Padri to their children today while communicating with grandparents it is 80%. As regards use of Padri in school, 50% of communication with the teachers in the classroom takes place in Padri, 37% in dominant language (Hindi/ Urdu) while 13 % in other language. Moreover, 80% people use Padri in market for buying/selling things. Only 5% converse in dominant language with the merchants of the same tribe/community and 5% converse in other languages. In the same way, 75% converse in Hindi/Urdu with the merchants of the other community/tribe. In temples, 85 % of praying to gods takes place in the dominant language (Hindi), 10% in Paddari while only 5% in other languages. In the paddar, Padri is the prominent language therefore most of the religious songs are composed in Padri and 75% singing of religious songs take place in Padri, 15% in Hindi and 10% in other languages. At the place of worship, different people communicate in different languages, however if people know one another, they speak in their mother tongue. Unknown ones usually speak in Hindi. It was found that 60% talking at religious places takes place in Padri and 40% in Hindi.
Many factors are contributing towards endangered status of Padri: communication with outside regions, migration of people for education and job who end up losing the connection with it, globalization, influence of dominant language (which is considered as a political symbol of nation, symbol of civilization and progress), the stigmatization of a local dialect (low prestige of the endangered dialect), lack of physical proximity among speakers, the desire for literacy, a law of compulsory education in a specific language, a lack of social cohesion among speakers, cultural destruction and neglect (medium of instruction is only the dominant language), parents switching to the dominant language because they think that their children won’t get the best opportunities learning their native dialect, too much of outside influence is diminishing the culture and tradition of Paddar, negligence and faulty provisions of the governance which have not facilitated our mother tongue to be functional and not useful outside the home domain, trend of mixing languages and this is mainly because youth think that talking in native languages will sound rural and rustic, due to the lack of intergenerational transmission and decrease in domains of its use.
This presents a frightening scenario as the dialect could be on its path to extinction. We do not seem to have woken up to the harsh reality and no proper steps have been initiated by either the community or government of J&K to save the dying dialect. This dialect has already been listed by government of India. If the current trend continues, most probably it would become extinct by the end of century.
Some might assume that the disappearance of this dialect is the concern of only a few scholars and a tragedy only for linguists. However, this view would be mistaken. Its loss will affect us and our community in acute ways. Its loss is typically a loss of our social identity. Our psychological and social wellbeing is connected with it; it shapes our values, self-image, identity, relationships, and ultimately success in life. It is the treasure house of information of our history, literature and art. Its stories, ideas, and words help us make sense of our own lives and of the world around us-of the human experience, and of the human condition in general. If it becomes extinct without documentation, it will take all its oral literature, oral tradition, and oral history into oblivion. It is great reservoir of historical information, information about how we are related, our contacts and migrations, our homeland and past culture. With its extinction, all this information and other insights into shared human experiences are irretrievably lost. The loss of literature and historical information means loss in the range of potential ways of experiencing and understanding the world. It constitutes one of the greatest treasures of our ancestors. Its loss will lead to reduction of our adaptational strength of our community because it lowers the pool of knowledge. It will leave human survival in jeopardy because of the loss of knowledge of alternative food sources. If it becomes extinct, knowledge of the medicinal plants will be lost.
It is time the community based organizations including the student wings of Paddar and Government should take steps before it’s too late. The community based organizations can play big role in this regard. They need to shed their egos and come together to work unitedly to save the dying dialect. It gives us the responsibility to act rather than sit by and watch the precipitous loss of this intangible linguistic heritage. We must: convince the community of the worth of its dialect, promote consciousness of the catastrophic effects of loss of the dialect among its speakers (and those whose heritage language it is) and among members of the mainstream population, especially leaders and policy makers, re-establish pride in and value for the dialect, obtain collaboration from many people and organizations (parents, government officials, community leaders, and even linguists) to work together for the success of dialect maintenance projects, document the dialect by way of using either Devnagri or Persian script to write grammar and multilingual dictionary of Padri dialect, establish community Radio, publish magazines and books in Padri dialect and use Padri in communication on social sites
Often a language is pushed out of use before scholars and language community have a chance to document or preserve this linguistic heritage. Our community is recognised by the padri dialect as it is a part of our custom and tradition. It is not natural but man-made and comes out of great human labour. Thousands of years have been spent before it is born. If we lose it, we are doing grave injustice to our predecessors and ancestors.
Of the estimated 7000 languages spoken in the world today, linguists say nearly half are in danger of extinction and likely to disappear in this century. In fact one falls out of use about every two weeks. Some languages vanish in a second, at the death of sole surviving speaker. According to a survey conducted by Bhasha Research and publication centre, India had in the 1960’s 1100 languages out of which 220 have disappeared by now. If we do not awake from the deep slumber, the Padri dialect is unlikely to maintain its existence in foreseeable future.