Koshur: The language forgotten

When people are enslaved, as long as they hold fast to their language, it is if they have the key to their prison.

Ever since the Mughal invasion of Kashmir, the violent upheavals and unrest have been part of the valley. Most of the Kashmiri’s date back the theft of their sovereignty to the 1586 Mughal invasion. The identity no doubt is facing an existential threat. Language plays an important role in preserving culture and it is this language that carries strands of one’s etiquette and history. However, the Koshur or the Kashmiri language has never felt the patronage of being the official language of Kashmir, given the recent developments in the political dynamics of Kashmir and the enforcement of Dayangri script to replace the Nastaliq script that Koshur is written in, it has brought us back to one important question;

Why are we not speaking in our mother tongue? Whether that be Koshur or any other native language? Why are we emphasizing on Urdu when it serves us no purpose on any international platform? This same energy can be utilized in learning languages like Arabic, Spanish, Persian, or French. That will serve more purpose than this. The only place where Urdu is used is at the checkpoints.

Many of the schools are promoting Urdu/Hindi with Koshur as an auxiliary language. The language that forms one of the basic components of our history has been widely forgotten and downplayed. There is little or no effort to revive the literature and the majority of the population can’t even write it. The blame has to be shared by our society that has outsourced a foreign language on us that incorporates a sense of elitism among its speakers as compared to the Koshur speaking population. The younger generation, despite not knowing how to write it, is discouraged or looked down upon by certain disillusioned people for speaking their mother tongue in public places. The same way English colonists established English as a language of the educated and native language that of a ‘savage’.

If one was to travel back to 1800 or 1900s or just fifty years back, not many of the Kashmiri’s would know how to converse in Urdu/Hindi. The language they picked up watching Hindi movies and Hindi speaking armed personals. Koshur – the only Dardic language that has a literature that is also distinct from the Hindustani languages – is losing its grip and speakers. The blame of which falls upon all of us. Though there have been various attempts by young singers and rappers to revive the language, there is a lot of work that needs to be done and the responsibility is on us.

Parents can start teaching their kids their language first and then move on to other international languages. Those who want to study any Indian language can do that by adding that to their additional languages. Kashmiri can act as a Lingua Franca between various communities in Kashmir and when it comes to conversing with outsiders, English is a better choice. The overzealous emphasis on Hindustani languages serves no purpose neither academically nor professionally. The first step to do is to stop conversing in Urdu altogether and use English where the receptor doesn’t know the native tongue.

 There is a wide variety of Kashmiri languages like Shina, Pashto, and Highlanders, which is part of Kashmir as much as Koshur language is. Languages like Farsi, that have always been part of the Socio-politico-religious environment of Kashmir are also an important part of our culture given the close affinity we share with Central Asian culture like Persian and Uzbekistan. Language is a link that connects the strands of history; it is a fabric that keeps together your history and heritage and speaking in it when your identity is in danger is itself an act of resistance.

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