The Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister has approved the introduction in Parliament of the Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Bill 2020 in which 5 languages will be official languages. These are Urdu, Kashmiri, Dogri, Hindi, and English. Union Minister Dr Jitendra Singh said inclusion of Dogri, Hindi, and Kashmiri as official languages in Jammu and Kashmir is not only a fulfilment of a long-pending public demand but is also about keeping with the spirit of equality.
Language is important in every aspect of our lives because it allows people to communicate in a manner that enables sharing of common ideas. Needless to say, language also plays a very important role in the functioning of state and empowering different cultural groups because it can be called as the face of a cultural identity, especially in a country like India that has a large variety of cultures diversity and their faces, numerous. This is why the purpose of an “official language” is of utmost importance in every state because countries and states use the official language designation to empower indigenous groups by giving them access to the government in their native languages.
For this very reason, the Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Bill 2020 has created quite a stir and difference of opinion. Will it keep up with the spirit of equality? Will it lead to the dissolution of the language that has been the official language of the union territory for the last 131 years? Or will it label the other languages commonly spoken in the valley but not included in the bill, inferior?
Motive Behind The Bill:
The Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy pointed out that 53.26 per cent of the population of Jammu and Kashmir speak Kashmiri and 26.64 per cent of the population speak Dogri and 2.36 per cent population in the UT speaks Hindi while only 0.16 per cent population there speak Urdu.
Fulfilment of public demand:
This bill is considered to be fulfilment of a long standing demand of the citizens of the valley that the language they speak should be included in the list of official languages. Stressing on this fact, Union Home Minister Amit Shah has also tweeted, “With this historic Bill…Long-awaited dream of the people of J&K comes true! Kashmiri, Dogri, Urdu, Hindi and English will now be the official languages of J&K.”
Promotion and development of regional languages:
One of the most notable motives behind the bill is to promote regional languages. Kashmiri and Dogri are scheduled languages under the eight schedule of the Constitution of India the government considers the Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Bill 2020 as a step to promote such regional languages .Shah also said that special efforts will be made for promotion of other regional languages spoken in the valley like Pahari, Punjabi and Gojri even though the bill does not consider them as official languages.
Apart from the above mentioned, the bill also takes a step in providing for the spread of the Hindi language to develop it so that it may serve as a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India. As per article 351 of the constitution of India.
These can be said to be the main motives of the government behind the bill along with elevating the sense of equality.
Concerns raised against the bill:
As praiseworthy as the government’s claims to encourage regional languages and uplift equality can be, there has been quite an uproar of opposition when it comes to the bill, mainly considering the fact that it takes away the exclusivity of Urdu that has been the official language for 131 years.
Effort to ruin identity
The bill has received a lot of scrutiny on whether these additional official languages taking away the exclusivity of Urdu as the official language is an attempt to the dissolution of culture in the valley and whether it will succeed in doing so. Sahitya Akademi awardee, poet Zareef Ahmad Zareef, said that government considered Urdu to be the ‘language of Muslims’ and there is a rising assumption that the bill is just a ‘conspiracy’ by the government to let Urdu die so that only Hindi would shine.
The relevance of adding Kashmiri as an official language has also been questioned when 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 the united identity and culture of the valley being ruined.
Gradual dissolution of Urdu language in the valley
During the past 30 years, Urdu has lost its importance and is in the verge of being extinct with both the government and the people preferring English and Hindi. A simple but apparent example for this is the fact that name plates of the officials, offices, streets and other public utilities were done in English in Kashmir, and in Hindi in Jammu.
The main reasons that Urdu hasn’t died yet is because the religious scriptures are written in Urdu, the large presence of Urdu newspapers and because all official records for land, revenue, courts, and even FIRs are scripted in Urdu. Even the High Court, Civil Secretariat and universities do not have Urdu sign boards, which show the official apathy towards this language.
The addition of three more official languages will without a doubt further reduce the usage of Urdu in the valley. If the government claims that the main aim of the Jammu And Kashmir Official Languages Bill 2020 is to protect and promote regional languages why is the government, instead of trying to promote Urdu using the same bill to threaten it?
Opposing the bill, National Conference MP Hasnain Masoodi questioned accuracy of the data put forth by the government He said, “It is not a fact that only 0.16 per cent population of the UT speaks Urdu which is a link language between Jammu region and Kashmir.”
Masoodi said if only 0.16 per cent of people in the UT speak Urdu, then why would the government include it as an official language.
Too many official languages for a state
Masoodi had also pointed out that no other state has 5 official languages. This unusually high number of official languages for one state/ UT can possibly cause chaos and disorder.
The logic that this bill is for the benefit of 70 per cent people who speak Kashmiri and Dogri in the UT completely contradicts the fact that there is a total 121 languages spoken across India and yet there is only one national language. And it is that way for a reason for a reason. It is 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 it can be considered a smaller India in itself and the presence of 5 official languages will seize a homogenous medium for functioning and communication.
Languages not included in the bill inferior?
Partaking in the debate on the Bill, Naresh Gujral (SAD) called it “unfortunate” that Punjabi was not comprised in the Bill and insisted that the government to reconsider it. The J&K Constitution included Punjabi and the first Chief Minister of J&K was a Punjabi, he said, and added: “It hurts the feelings of those who are settled there. I would urge the government to reconsider because language is the basis of cultural heritage of the community.”He said 13 lakh Punjabis live in Jammu and Kashmir. Mir Mohammad Fayaz (PDP) demanded inclusion of Gurjari, Punjabi and Pahari in the Bill, saying that the motto of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas was lacking in the State.
It looks like the government’s claim to satisfy public demand and fulfil the demand of the citizens of J&K that the language they speak should be made official languages has not been executed. And the goal seems to be an impractical one as there are about 8 languages spoken in Jammu and Kashmir.
The mixed opinion regarding the Jammu and Kashmir Official languages bill 2020 is very justifiable. On one hand the promotion of Dogri and Kashmiri to official languages and the government’s effort to uplift these regional languages and cultures and to bring about a sense of equality is appreciable but at the same time may have all the chances to prove unnecessary and inefficient. Not only are 5 official languages for a union territory inadvisable but the sense of equality and unity can be disturbed along with the following changes brought about in a medium that is supposed to be as homogenous as possible such as an official language. Not to mention that the government not considering of the potential endangerment of Urdu in the future and its failure to promote the language is questionable to say the least.
This bill has clear flipsides. 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 take away another reason why Urdu is still thriving in the valley by taking away it exclusivity?
Chances are, the latter.
Author: Ms. Nazneen Binu Bashir