Kashmiri Challenged

A boat glides across the serene Dal Lake in Kashmir
The serenity of Kashmir's Dal Lake belies the ongoing conflict.

The Indian government’s decision to revoke the autonomy of the territory of Jammu and Kashmir may also have implications for the status of the Kashmiri language. According to the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, “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.”

Written with Arabic script, Kashmiri has around seven million speakers mainly in Jammu and Kashmir. It is one of the 22 official languages of India and is taught in all schools in the Kashmir valley.

Addressing the nation on its Independence Day last month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi argued that the government was left with only one option: “to think differently,” since previous efforts to resolve the “continuing violence, agitations, underdevelopment, and the stranglehold of a few in Jammu and Kashmir over resources hadn’t worked.” Modi has been widely criticized for his Hindu nationalism.  

In his own Independence Day speech, Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik assured his people that their identity was not at stake following the abrogation of the state’s special status. The Governor said “historic changes” would open a new door of development and help various communities promote their languages and cultures in Jammu and Kashmir.

Despite fears that India is on the verge of yet another conflict inflamed by linguistic differences, Sudhi Ranjan Sen, writing in the Hindustan Times (8/22/19), contends that India has the experience to accommodate Jammu and Kashmir’s linguistic identities, “India is not new [to] managing contending identities. In the 1950s and 1960s, the founding fathers were extremely wise. Chauvinism over language led to the Bhasa Andolan [Bengali Language Movement, which advocated for the recognition of the Bengali language as an official language of the then-Dominion of Pakistan] and ultimately led to the birth of Bangladesh. Back home, India handled issues of identity with maturity. Instead of a single national language, India has as many as 22 official languages. Importantly, states in India have been formed on the basis of identity – primarily language. In addition, to accommodate the many identities the Constitution of India has special provisions for the states of Nagaland, Mizoram, Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Assam, and Gujarat.”

With Jammu and Kashmir currently under a communications blockade, it seems unlikely that the region will be granted the freedom of expression it deserves.

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