K B Jandial
Enactment of Jammu & Kashmir Official Languages Act, 2020 by the Parliament to declare Dogri and Kashmiri along with Hindi as official languages of Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir is yet another momentous move that makes the people of the region proud with the spirit of equality. It fulfills long-pending aspirations of the people that had roots in their culture and heritage. Modi Govt’s historic decision has unleashed a wave of gratification with a sense of pride mixed with excitement among the Dogras & Kashmiris for finally recognising their glorious linguistic attributes. Last year, the Parliament had scrapped the controversial Article 370.
For the first time in the centuries old history of J&K, Dogri and Kashmiri that are collectively spoken by 74% people and part of their socio-cultural heritage, have now got a rare recognition as official languages. Surprisingly, no ruler in the past had ever thought of doing what Modi Govt did quietly. They failed to recognise significance of these two widely spoken rich languages and never made these as official languages, not even in hundred years’ of Dogra rule or even before, much less in last 73 years of Independence.
Urdu had replaced Persian as language of the Darbar in 1889 during Maharaja Pratap Singh rule and the same was carried forward by the J&K Constitution (Section 145) besides continuing English language for official purposes. Hindi, the national language, too is spoken and understood widely in both the regions. All these five languages have now become official languages of J&K. Kashmiri was among the 14 languages initially included in the Constitution while Dogri found a place in 2003.
Dogri language is traced to Indo-Aryan language which comes from Vedas and Sanskrit. Its first mention is found in Amir Khusru’s list of Indian languages while few inscriptions were there in 13th century. There is no consensus on the genealogical classification of Kashmiri with one school of thought claims it to be a Dardic language while other places it in Indo-Aryan group. Sanskrit undisputedly was its base with Kashmir Census Report, 1911 treating it of Sanskrit origin. It has rich literary tradition, particularly its poetry, dating back to 12th century A.D.
Language is the vehicle of communication and expression besides identity of a particular group or community. It is an important attribute of a population having significance in a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic and multi-religious State. Language and culture are interrelated because the language and regions possess certain homogeneity of culture that is characterized by common traits in history, folklore and literature. Among various cultural symbols-religion, race, language, traditions and customs, etc. that differentiate an ethnic group from the other, but the language is the most potent cultural marker providing for group identity. Existence and preservation of diversity, be it cultural, linguistic, religious, or ethnic labels, have always been a part of Indian traditions.
As per 2011 census, Kashmiri language is spoken by 66, 80,837 persons (53.26 % of the population) and Dogri by 25, 13,712 persons (26.64%) in the undivided State while 26, 12,631 persons had recorded Hindi as their mother language. Even though a large number of residents in all regions speak and under understand Urdu language but only 19,956 persons had opted to record Urdu as their mother tongue. English is hardly anybody’s mother tongue which is evident by listing of 967 persons for English language.
In line with the Constitution of India, Section 47 of J&K Re-Organisation Act, 2019 empowered the UT Legislative Assembly to make law for adopting any one or more of the languages as the official languages. It says, “The Legislative Assembly may by law adopt any 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 of the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir”. Since UT of J&K is currently under President Rule, the power of the UT Assembly vests in the Parliament which has passed the legislation on 22nd & 23th September.
Making five languages as official languages for J&K, the law has been framed in line with the Pondicherry Official Language Act of 1965 where too five languages were made official languages. With one language used for administrative business others were declared official language as per their area of influence like Malayalam and Telugu are official languages in Mahé and Yanam regions of the UT respectively while Tamil is the main official language. Similar provisions are incorporated in J&K Act.
The J&K law authorizes Lt Governor to appoint Kashmiri, Dogri, Urdu, Hindi and English languages as official languages with effect from such date as by notification in the Official Gazette, “to be used for all or any of the official purposes of the Union territory and different dates may be appointed for different areas in the Union Territory”. The Lt Governor can appoint either of these languages to a specific area or cluster of the areas as has been done in Pondicherry.
The law also provides that English language will continue to be used, for those administrative and legislative purposes, in the Union Territory for which it was being used before the commencement of this Act. It means that administrative business and communication would continue to be in English as hitherto.
Conscious of growing linguistic aspirations of other groups, Section 4 of the Act seeks to address these by empowering Lt Governor “to take necessary steps to strengthen the existing mechanism such as Academy of Art, Culture and Languages” for promotion and development of regional languages of the Union Territory. The Lt Governor shall be responsible for taking special efforts for the promotion of Gojri, Pahari (non-scheduled languages)and Punjabi. Such legal back-up would pave way for promotion and development of these important local languages in J&K. Meanwhile, the Education Department has begun an exercise to create additional posts of Dogri and Kashmiri languages along with many more posts of old and new subjects. Both Dogri and Kashmiri languages have got focus with demand for creation of 166 posts for Dogri and 122 posts of Kashmiri. However, the proposal for creation of 3348 additional posts in Jammu and 2225 for Kashmir for 42 subjects in both regions is under consideration of the UT Govt.
While the Law has made Dogri & Kashmiri official languages, the challenge is to draw up pragmatic roadmap for translating it on the ground to benefit the common man and future needs.