Can Dogri bind people of Jammu region?

MY LOVE for Dogri literature took roots, as I befriended Professor Ram Nath Shastri, the doyen of Dogri movement and his literature. The year was 1967. He was nearly four decades my senior. He was affectionate, but not condescending.
Many times we would come across each other in the vicinity of Mahalakshmi temple in Pacca Danga. He would, invariably, take me along to the office of Dogri Sanstha nearby. He would tell me some important things about Dogri language and Dogra culture, and also give me a few copies of Nami Chetna, the literary magazine of Dogri, published by the Sanstha.
After I joined the Government Gandhi Memorial Science College, Jammu, formerly known as Prince of Wales College, life brought me in close association with fellow students, some of whom had rural backgrounds. They had come from villages around Jammu to pursue college education.
The medium of education in the college was English. These students, however, were not comfortable with English. They were, therefore, shy of speaking English and could barely manage even good Hindi. Dogri was their language and they felt comfortable speaking it.
On the other hand, the urban students were shy of talking in Dogri, though it was everyday spoken in their homes in the city. Their elders were staunch Dogras. These boys would speak English or Hindi, but not Dogri ! That was the dichotomy. I said boys, because those days this century old educational institution was only for the male of the species.
This entire scenario provided a very conducive environment to me, though. I had just returned after doing my schooling in Hindi medium in Uttar Pradesh. I did my high school from the erstwhile Allahabad. It is called Prayagraj now.
I needed to relearn my Dogri and, therefore, I would speak the language as much as I could. My vision was clear to me. I wanted to pick up the nuances like the tonal quality of Dogri, the manner of speaking adopted by her practitioners and her vocabulary.
It was important for me to find my roots in the culture of my birthplace. I tried to imbibe the Dogra culture as much as I could. I recall my classmate Narinder Bhasin who used to sing Dogri songs for me on demand ! His Dogri is chaste. In times to follow, he became a celebrated Dogri newsreader with Radio Kashmir Jammu, later rechristened as All India Radio.
I was very fond of reading literature, doing theatre and aspiring to broadcast from the Radio Kashmir Jammu. I used to attend literary meetings of organisations like Dogri Sanstha ( also Yuva Hindi Lekhak Sangh, Dogra Mandal and Hindi Sahitya Mandal ) that aimed at promoting Dogri language and culture.
The movement for demanding official recognition for Dogri language was taking roots. People seemed real serious to ensure a place of pride for their mother tongue. Unlike the present time, Dogri was heard, and spoken, pretty often, in the shops, streets, educational institutions and homes.
There were no departmental stores or the malls. Most of the daily requirements were sourced from the shops located in the good old lanes of the old city where the shopkeepers spoke chaste Dogri.
Dogri was one of the causes for which a young Bhim Singh fought. He was a rising star in the students’ politics those days and, later, he founded Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers’ Party. He used to speak fluent Dogri with a strong rural touch. We became good friends in times to come.
A few days ago, I met his son Ankit Love who has stayed a major part of his life in the United Kingdom. He speaks English with a heavy accent that is closer to America than England. He told me he is into producing English songs and sent me a sample to enjoy on the WhatsApp application. It is a video of a song done by him. I wish him well.
If you feel strange or sorry for Dogri, please don’t. Dogri faces a malady, many regional languages suffer from. Yes, you read correct. I said many, but, not all. We come across people from Kerala, Tamilnadu, Orissa, West Bengal, Telangana, Meghalaya, Assam, and Nagaland who are proud to converse in their mother tongues. Surely, a few other states too can be added to this list.
By the way, do you know of the people who deride their mother tongue ? No ? Then let me tell you that Dogras are, perhaps, the only people who have the distinction of making fun of their mother tongue. They are on record to have laughed at her tonal quality, lampoon her diction and mannerisms of the people who speak the language. Not only that, they even laughed at and looked down upon those who spoke the language.
Do you know Dogri language was lampooned in Ramlila performances in Jammu, during the interludes between two scenes ? I am a witness to the popular Ramlila performances at the Dewan Mandir in the old Jammu city. Right upto the early seventies. Those were the days of the radio waves and we were not invaded by the idiot Box. Ramlila performances were popular and attracted most of the populace. Such lampooning, therefore, made adverse impact on the young Dogra minds.
Dogra artists themselves made fun of Dogri language, her vocabulary, tone and accent. The result has been disastrous. Such mimicry made people feel shy of using the language in their day -to-day conversations.
Even the Dogra rulers did not give any patronage or encouragement for promotion of the language. During the Dogra rule, Dogri lived a dormant existence. Urdu was the flavour of the times. This was the scenario for our dear mother tongue Dogri right upto the 1940s. Thereafter, the Dogra dynasty laid down her arms in the year 1947 when the State of Jammu and Kashmir joined the Indian part of the partitioned British India.
Now, if Dogras themselves were shy of speaking Dogri, who will write in Dogri and create her literature ? They are still not proud of their language, culture and heritage. The decline has not begun recently; it simply continues, since times long gone by.
I am a witness to the times when there used to be protest marches, traffic jams and gheraos to get official recognition for Dogri. There were people who sat on dharnas and fast unto death for introducing the language in the school curriculums.
Official recognition has since been achieved for the language and vacancies have been sanctioned for school teachers who should be teaching Dogri in schools, colleges and the universities. There are vacancies sanctioned for a few hundred school teachers to teach Dogri in our schools. It shocks me to learn that nearly 60 percent of the vacancies remain unfilled.
Should we not ask for the reasons for such callous behaviour ? Who is responsible for such nonchalance ? Why are these vacancies not utilised to employ the suitable teachers ? Who will bell the cat ? Dogri Sanstha, Dogra leaders or the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages ? It is incumbent on each one of them to promote Dogri language, art, culture and literature. Each one of them has failed us. Each one of them is answerable to us, the people of the region who claim Dogri is their mother tongue.
I will illustrate this with the example of Lahore. Almost all the people of the city or the region are followers of Islam, exceptions would amount to no more than two percent. Urdu is their national language.
But, unmindful of Urdu, every Lahori speaks in Punjabi, his mother tongue. They all know good Urdu. So much so that they even write Punjabi in the Persio-Arabic script that is used for Urdu. But, above all, their pride vests in their mother tongue Punjabi. Whenever I interacted with thespian Dilip Kumar, this Pathan preferred to speak in Punjabi. His Punjabi was a mix of Punjabi, Hindko and Saraiki. The last two are akin to our own Dogri.
Famed Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz was a Punjabi Muslim from Sialkot, near Lahore, a part of the Western Punjab area of Pakistan. This renowned Urdu poet was so fond of speaking in his mother tongue Punjabi that he spoke even Urdu in perfect Punjabi tone !
I have visited Lahore several times and feel perfectly at home there. Why ? Because I speak fluent Punjabi. Nobody there gives a damn if I am a Hindu, an Indian, or belong to Jammu and Kashmir. I speak Punjabi, so they consider me their own. That is the power of a language over religion and nationality.
Let us not forget that language was a very strong reason why East Pakistan separated from West Pakistan. There were economic, ethnic and political differences between the two parts of the same Islamic state. Besides, imposition of Urdu as the national language on the erstwhile East Bengal of the British India was summarily rejected by the Bengalis of the region. They all are Muslims too ; but Bengali Muslims. They love their mother tongue Bengali and refused to accept imposition of Urdu as their language. The world witnessed how East Pakistan separated from her western counterpart to give birth to a new nation called Bangladesh. Today, Bengali ( or Bangla as they call it ) is the national language of Bangladesh.
Friends, let us understand that language and culture bind people stronger than religion. So, how about promoting Dogri as the lingua franca of Jammu part of the Jammu and Kashmir, call it a UT or State ? All the languages or dialects spoken in the region are, more or less, a variation of Dogri. If you don’t agree to the word “variation”, then, perhaps, we may agree to the word “akin”. No ? Just a food for thought.