India’s new language law triggers linguistic anxieties in Kashmir
By Sarwar Kashani
Srinagar, India, Sep 23 (efe-epa).- India’s parliament on Wednesday approved a controversial legislation that ended Urdu’s 130-year reign as the only official language in Kashmir, a disputed region controlled in parts by New Delhi and Islamabad.
This development is being viewed by local residents as the latest in a series of moves by the federal government to disempower people in the politically fraught Himalayan region.
The Rajya Sabha or the upper house endorsed the Jammu and Kashmir Languages Bill 2020, which makes Hindi, Kashmiri, Dogri, and English as the official languages of the region apart from Urdu.
The Lok Sabha or the lower house had approved the contentious bill on Tuesday, weeks after the Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi drafted it.
The legislation recognizes the other four languages for official documents and records.
The federal government, which rules the region directly since last year, defended this latest decision as fulfilling the long-pending public demand of the people of Kashmir.
It was done “in keeping with the spirit of equality which was ushered after Aug.5, 2019,” said federal Minister of Personnel Jitendra Singh, who is a parliamentarian from the region.
The Modi government last year in August revoked Kashmir’s constitutional autonomy and split it into two federal territories to integrate it fully into India.
Central government-appointed administrators now rule the divided parts of the erstwhile semi-autonomous state.
The Kashmir administration has, during the last one year, approved a string of controversial measures.
It also annulled the long-held hereditary special rights for permanent residents over the region’s land and government jobs.
Residents and experts see the linguistic legislation as part of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) alleged project to disenfranchise people of the Muslim-majority region.
They fear the move was to marginalize Urdu, which had been the sole official language of Kashmir for the last more than 130 years.
“The Indian government considers Urdu as the language of Muslims and their purpose is to push the language in a corner and thus kill the identity and culture of Kashmir and divide the people on a linguistic basis,” renowned Kashmiri poet and satirist Zareef Ahmed Zareef told EFE.
Zareef, also an oral historian, said introducing Kashmiri as one of the official languages was a “mere eye wash” because “it is, of course, a daily spoken language in the Kashmir Valley but there are only very few people who know how to read and write Kashmiri.”
He said the decision was in line with Modi’s “consistent Kashmir, or you can say, anti-Kashmir policies.”
“They want to dismantle everything associated with Kashmir and Kashmiris. They took away our flag, our constitution, our land, our jobs. Now our language is the latest victim of the oppression. Urdu is more like a symbol of our existence, our identity. I am not surprised at all,” he said.
Ameenul Bhat, a writer, alleged that “the Hindu rightwing government’s main is to popularize Hindi, a language barely spoken by just two percent of the population here.”
“They think Urdu is a Muslim language but perhaps they forget that Urdu originated in India. They have been trying to kill the language because they identify it with Muslims. They are trying to push Hindi as a national language,” Bhat told EFE.