Time up for Urdu as Official Language of UT

Rajan Gandhi
Dogra rulers recognised Urdu as a state and official language of J&K. Before Urdu, Persian was the official language of Kashmir for around three centuries. It was the British residency in Kashmir from 1885 that finally pushed the Dogra Maharaja towards the acceptance of Urdu as the official language in 1889. From 1885-1925 Urdu remained the communication link between the Dogra rulers and the British. Earlier Dogra rulers- Maharaja Gulab Singh and Maharaja Ranbir Singh tried hard to introduce Dogri as the official language of the State but faced stiff resistance from various quarters and some practical problems too like Dogri did not have a well-developed script and literature to get success as an official language and being Jammu based language resisted tooth and nail by Kashmiris. So as one can see Urdu was an intermediate language to keep Dogri out rather than language by choice. However, once forced upon, Urdu as language grew steadily in significance and was gradually accepted by the general populace as it wasn’t the mother tongue of any substantial group speaking Kashmiri, Dogri, Gojri, Ladakhi, Pahari and Balti – Urdu.
The entry of All India Services in J&K in 1962 led to a decline in the use of this official language in the higher echelons of power because the officers – majority of them non-locals – didn’t know Urdu and preferred English. Urdu, however, continued to be the main language of the government keeping in view of sentiments of Kashmiris. In J&K, Urdu is the language of land and revenue records, courts (especially lower judiciary) and police (FIRs etc are all written in Urdu) and practically a nemesis as now a day’s very few people can read or write Urdu in Jammu region, time and again courts have to order for a translated script in English which causes unnecessary delay and of course monetary burden on the litigant. Maximum HC judges are from outside state and as such all revenue related cases get delayed for want of transcripts in English. In the 2011 census findings of languages spoken across India were released, a particular figure about Urdu in Jammu and Kashmir was really surprising as the census data revealed that out of a total population of 1.25 crore people, Urdu, as a mother tongue, was used by just 13,351 people in Jammu and Kashmir. Earlier in 1961 census, out of a total population of 36,60,976 there were only 12,445 primarily Urdu speaking people in the state. In the census of 1981, out of a total population of 59,87,389, Urdu speakers were listed as 6,867 only, down by almost a half since 1961. These were also spread all over the state, in Kashmir and Jammu regions. People from Kashmir continue to opt for Urdu as their primary language apart from English but mother language remains Kashmiri and in the case of Jammu region, Hindi has increasingly taken its place. Interestingly, Urdu first showed its presence in the state in the region of Poonch and Jammu with Chiragh Hasan Hasrat from Poonch and Abdul Samih Paul Asar Sehbai from Jammu were the earliest proponents of Urdu language in the state.
Despite being the official language and various efforts by different government and non-government agencies, Urdu somehow lost the steam midway and despite official language almost every government order or circular has been in English only. The PDP-BJP government even constituted the first ever State Council for Promotion of Urdu Language with an argument that “Urdu is not just the official language and spoken in all its regions, it is also a vast repository of the cultural heritage of the Indian sub-continent known as Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb”, but for whom no one knows as with exodus of KPs even Kashmiriat got lost in jihad. Much has been talked about the loss of culture, heritage and written literature associated with the possible loss of Urdu language. However, there are other factors also. There has been a rise of regionalism. The thrust on promotion of local languages like Kashmiri, Dogri and Ladakhi has made Urdu practically an orphan. And there is other side of the story as well. Initially, Urdu won the race to become official language as it was similar to Hindi and was not associated with any religion at that time. With Urdu becoming language of officials and elites, there was an inflow of Urdu speaking North Indians particularly Punjabis into the state administration. The outsiders dominated the state services, triggering an alarm among Kashmiri Pandits who started the movement of ‘Kashmir for Kashmiris.’ The Muslims sensing the gravity of the situation supported Pandits in this movement which ultimately led to the formulation of ‘State Subject’ category by the Maharaja Hari Singh and many laws were passed to limit the presence of Punjabis in the state administration. And with the 1931 political turmoil, the struggle for administrative jobs and government service began to involve Pandits and Muslims of the state, with outsiders gradually pushed out by both.
As per section 6 of The Official Languages Act of 1963, a State can prescribe any language other than Hindi for use in Acts passed by the Legislature of the State or in Ordinances promulgated by the Governor of the State, a translation of the same in Hindi, in addition to a translation there of in the English language as required by clause (3) of article 348 of the Constitution has to be there. Another section 7 of ‘Optional use of Hindi or other official language in judgments, etc., of High Courts’ states that as from the appointed day or any day thereafter, the Governor of a State may, with the previous consent of the President, authorised the use of Hindi or the official language of the State, in addition to the English language, for the purpose of any judgment, decree or order passed or made by the High court for that State and where any judgment, decree or order is passed or made in any such language (other than the English language), it shall be accompanied by a translation of the same in the English language issued under the authority of the High Court. But the most astonishing part is due to Article 370 both section 6 and 7 were not applicable to State of Jammu and Kashmir. Ideally government should have started the change by abolishing Urdu as requirement for posts like Tehsildar, Naib-Tehsildar and Patwari, but finds it difficult due to the fact that revenue records have been stored in Urdu for more than 100 years. With digitisation of record in process it’s a golden opportunity for administration to forego Urdu and adopt Hindi or English as standard language. Ironically DC Jammu’s official site has still Ration Card Form uploaded in Urdu only which majority of Jammu people can neither read nor fill up and the other two forms of Centralized Personal Information System and Tenants Information Form are in English. Over the last two decades Kashmiri and Dogri have found an upsurge in the production of their literature and many courses have been introduced in more colleges and in universities all over the state. Apart from these primary regional languages, other smaller regional languages like Pahari, Punjabi and Balti have also been given prominence in order to save them from extinction but the government efforts to promote regional languages-especially Dogri and Kashmiri-in the last two decades has only deepened the sense of regionalism and identity crisis among the people and in this race Urdu has been left far behind.
Now out of one State, two UTs of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh have been carved out but the question of official language has been left unattended as Section 47 of the J&K Reorganisation Act empowers the new Legislative Assembly of the Union Territory of J&K to “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.” It would have been an easy option right now to brazen this out as well as all other special provisions have been thrown into the dustbin of history where they always belonged. With now UT cadre for even elite services and Section 7 now implemented in High Court of UT, Urdu as official language has outlived its shell life unless GoI wants it otherwise to keep this last icon of Pakistan’s National Language as a symbol of sore in eyes of all nationalists or victory symbol for radicalised jihadi elements.