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Jammu and Kashmir official languages bill 2020- Cultural equality or dissolution?

Updated: Nov 21, 2020

Vishnu Menon

11th November 2020

Kashmiri, Dogri and Hindi have been included as the official languages in the bill (Source- Kashmir Sarovar)

New Delhi: The parliament on September 22 approved the J&K official languages bill. The bill seeks to include Kashmiri, Dogri, and Hindi along with Urdu and English as the official languages in the newly established union territory, as reported by The Hindu.

The inclusion of these languages looks to empower Jammu and Kashmir’s ethnically diverse population by giving them access to the government in their native languages. The difference of opinion arises with Urdu’s possible dissolution- the official language for over 131 years in the region and the discrimination of the other indigenous languages spoken in the valley as inferior.

The Minister of State for Home, G Kishan Reddy, pointed out to The Economic Times that 53.26 per cent of the population of Jammu and Kashmir speak Kashmiri and 26.64 per cent of the population speak Dogri while only 2.36 per cent population in the Union Territory speaks Hindi and 0.16 per cent population there speak Urdu.

According to The Economic Times- This bill is considered to fulfil a long-standing demand of the citizens of the valley that the language they speak should get included in the list of official languages. One of the motives behind the bill is to promote regional languages. Kashmiri and Dogri are scheduled languages under the eighth schedule of the Constitution of India. The government looks to promote regional languages spoken in the valley like Pahari, Punjabi, and Gujari even though the bill does not consider them as official languages. The bill also takes a step in promoting Hindi so that it may serve as a medium of expression for all the elements of India’s composite culture, as per article 351 of India’s constitution.

As praiseworthy as the government’s claims to encourage regional languages and uplift equality can be, there has been quite an uproar of opposition regarding the bill- reports The Hindu. The addition of more official languages has come under a lot of scrutinies because some feel that taking away the exclusivity of Urdu will cause a possible dissolution of Urdu and the pre-established culture in the valley. There are rising assumptions that the bill is a conspiracy by the government to let Urdu die to establish Hindi as the most prominent language.

The relevance of adding Kashmiri as an official language is also questionable when the majority of the people do not even read or write it. This move by the government can potentially divide the people of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh and lead to the united identity and culture of the valley being ruined.

Over the past 30 years, Urdu has been on the verge of becoming extinct in the valley, with both the government and the people preferring English and Hindi. A simple but apparent example of this is that the nameplates of the officials, offices, streets, and other public utilities were done in English in Kashmir and Hindi in Jammu.

The main reason that Urdu hasn’t died yet is that the religious scriptures are written in Urdu, the large presence of Urdu newspapers and because all official records for land, revenue, courts, and FIRs are scripted in Urdu. According to reports by The Economic Times- the addition of three more official languages will, without a doubt, further reduce the usage of Urdu in the valley.

No other state/UT has five official languages. And the logic that this bill is for the benefit of 70 per cent of the people who speak Kashmiri and Dogri in the UT completely contradicts the fact that there are 121 languages spoken across India, and yet there is only one national language. And it is structured as such for the smooth functioning of administration and to provide a homogenous medium for communication and expression. Considering the linguistic and cultural diversity found in Kashmir, the presence of 5 official languages will seize a homogenous medium for smooth functioning and communication, states The Economic Times.

Does the bill also pose the question- are the languages that are not included in the bill inferior? Over 13 lakh Punjabis reside in J&K, yet languages like Punjabi, Pahari, and Gujari have been excluded from the bill. This further sways from the claim of the government of satisfying public demand.

The mixed opinion regarding the Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Bill, 2020 is very justifiable as per The Hindu. On the one hand, Dogri and Kashmiri’s inclusion to the official languages list and the government’s effort to uplift these regional languages and cultures to elevate a sense of equality is appreciable. But on the other, the move seems implausible and leaves a lot of ambiguity and inconsistencies. There are five official languages for a union territory inadvisable. Still, the sense of equality and unity can be disturbed along with the following changes brought about in a medium supposed to be as homogenous as possible such as an official language. Not to mention that the government is not considering the potential endangerment of Urdu in the future, and its failure to promote the language is questionable, to say the least, states the Hindu.

This bill has clear flip-sides. Will the bill promote regional languages and equality? Will it leave the citizens of union territory and their demands satisfied like the government claims will happen? Or will the population that speaks languages other than those that the government has made official remain dissatisfied? Will this bill remove another reason why Urdu is still thriving in the valley by taking away its exclusivity? These are some of the questions surrounding the bill that only time can answer.

(Sources- The Hindu, The Economic Times)

Edited by- Nivedita Dutta

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