Kashmiris: Facing it on Facebook

One of the supreme bastions of networking in the modern virtual world, Facebook has shown an amazing power in not only keeping friends glued but also to rejuvenate lost causes. Take the case of Kashmiris, there are numerous groups cropping up everyday on Facebook with names and missions that would not even be spelled under the disturbed areas act ridden air of the ailing valley. But anyway here we are – Network of Kashmiris for Independence, Republic of Kashmir, Free Kashmir and such like. Everyday new ones are added with bolder names and much bolder sentiments the ones that can send the armed forces thundering into our homes were it the real world. The fact that Facebook is a virtual country where everyone enjoys basic human rights of virtual freedom does not diminish the intensity and fervor of the people who are setting up these forums. This virtual airing of deepest sentiments is akin to thinking in the mind or aloud at the most, or amidst the close friends with doors and windows closed but nevertheless its venting of real Kashmiri spleen and angst.
The oft neglected Kashmiri sentiments between the real world and the virtual echo political dilemmas, solutions for Kashmir, poetic ruminations, paens to the wazwaan, sufi quests, lamenting the lost paradise, and something that I want to talk about today – advocacy for the Kashir Zabaan. Yes, there are virtual torchbearers out there whose protests echo those we have been witnessing recently for the slow death of Kashmiri language.
Talk of parallels between the virtual and real! The significant point at the heart of these endeavors is the protest for restoring the dignity of Kashmiri language intellectually, politically and socially; and is commonly shared by all Kashmiris strewn across the world and the valley – in the real grassroots battle and the virtual combat.
Kashmiri language has been wallowing in negligence for as long as I can remember and the demand to restore its status has been incessant as well. It has been relegated from being our mother tongue to a medium reserved for haggling with the sabzi vendor or admonishing a domestic help; when it comes to speaking “finesse and decorum”, its Hinglish (not even Urdu) that become the favorite of the masses. Urdu sadly has a story of its own. I edited an Urdu magazine for years, realizing with every new issue how uphill the task was – not only garnering subscriptions and breaking even but also finding able readers for complimentary copies.
Kashmiri faces onslaughts of two killer languages, Hinglish and English, and the bloodletting administrative tactics that will see to it that Kashmiri reading and writing never takes off. Kids, are taught Hinglish with gusto and look around, the school and college going crowd are comfortable in speaking Hinglish and dare you find a modern couple, especially the ones in the betrothal stage conversing in Kashmiri – no Hinglish it is, speckled with Kashmiri words used to direct the Autowallah (mind you he knows Hinglish too!) as he navigates the trysting couple.
There is an ongoing clamor from activists, most recently from the members of Kashmiri Language Front who are asking for introducing Kashmiri in all schools and colleges. This demand is a steady fixture no doubt as is the administrative stoicism to such pleas. The reasons for slow extinction of Kashmiri stems from the fact that it has no official status. There is no actual worldly need in the context of progress, modernization, and globalization to learn Kashmiri. The future of any language is with children, and in case of Kashmiri language, they don’t need it to ensure their academic and professional growth. Its English foremost and Hinglish they need to succeed the competition.
As far as the traditional esteem and respect of heritage reposing in a language is considered that has been long shorn by the occupying forces ruling Kashmir. On the other hand, it’s not even a surprise since indigenous languages around the world are being lost at an increasing rate. From amongst 7,000 and 8,000 distinct languages, half have less than 10,000 speakers, a quarter have fewer than 1,000 and more than 500 languages are considered nearly extinct. Linguists face a race against time since the killer effects of English and rampant globalization leave little time for conservation.
Then what can keep a language alive rather what keeps strong and spoken languages other than English, thriving around the world?
The answer lies in the constant reinforcement of identity. Administrative and intellectual support is needed to preserve a language and by implication the culture and heritage of a people. The bane of people living under incessant occupation is their constant alienation from their sense of self, identity and language. In case of Kashmir, the administration is psyched to eradicating it. There is no doubt about it. This trend continues from the period Persian was coveted to the time Urdu was made the lingua franca of the state. In contemporary times, coupled with media onslaught and brisk erosion of traditional values, Kashmiri seems bound for extinction if drastic measures are not taken to save it. And the movement for restoring it to a semblance of glory has to start in the grassroots.
Although many still disagree, yet I have kindred’s who agree that in order to consolidate whatever Kashmiri speaking skill or inclination is still left in our children and in order to harness their mastery on English we should strive for writing Kashmiri in Roman script. We have already put this into practice by starting with emails and letters and which one of our proponents furthered by devising a blueprint for the Roman script usage for Kashmiri.
I am hoping that it will catch up. I know the purists might be alarmed at the prospect but the fact remains that consolidation of what is remaining is the first step towards conservation. In that if piggybacking on English expertise of our adult masses and children is what we have to do in order to propagate Kashmiri that is what we must do.
And yes, we can all celebrate that on the Facebook.
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About AtherZia

Ather Zia is a political anthropologist working on militarization, gender and Kashmir. Currently she is a faculty at the Anthropology and Gender studies program at the University of Northern Colorado Greeley. She is also a poet, writes short fiction and is the founder-editor of Kashmir Lit at www.kashmirlit.org.

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