Innovations and Reproductions in Cultures and Societies
(IRICS) Vienna, 9 - 11 december 2005

<< Postcolonial innovations and transformations: Putting language in the forefront

Kashmiri today: Death, survival, or revival?

Ananya Jahanara Kabir (School of English, University of Leeds)



This paper examines discourses and representations surrounding the Kashmiri language (Koshur) today, which overwhelmingly declare the language to be ‘endangered’, ‘threatened’, ‘dying’ or ‘backward.’ However, it does so by returning Koshur to the arena from which it is routinely elided by contemporary sociolinguistic examinations of the language: the political conflict in which it is embedded. Kashmiri, spoken as a mother tongue of the indigenous inhabitants of the Kashmir Valley, is entangled with the complications of the Kashmir issue, which, to put it very simplistically, is one of the many by-products of the long process of colonial experiments, unplanned decolonisation, and failed postcolonial promises that contemporary South Asia is faced with today. The region of Jammu and Kashmir is claimed by Pakistan, India and Kashmiris; it is for all purposes partitioned between India and Pakistan today, with that part of the region which is also the home of Koshur, the Kashmir Valley, administered by India since 1947. The political wranglings over Kashmir have had a far-reaching impact on the collective psyche of Kashmiris, and the status their mother tongue is accorded today by Kashmiris themselves is an index to this impact.

On fieldwork in Kashmir for the past three years, I have routinely encountered elite assertions of the dying Kashmiri language. This state of near-death is also registered in certain anomalies of pedagogy and patronage, whereby the language is taught at university, for instance, but not at school level, and whereby the state felicitates modern Kashmiri writers but there is no promotion of Kashmiri literary modernity within India at large. Poets and writers in Kashmiri and the other languages of the Kashmiri elite (Urdu, Hindi, English) also routinely turn to tropes of the dying and neglected mother tongue to express their responses to the long-drawn political conflict in which they are enmeshed.

But is the dying Kashmiri language the whole story? Earlier versions of my work on Kashmiri have suggested that this is so, and I have drawn on the history of Kashmiri elite multilingualism and its relationship with the political conflict to support my arguments. However, I have also become increasingly aware of the oral survival of the Kashmiri language despite elite assertions of the death of the language. In this paper, therefore, I propose to extend my own work on the representation of Kashmiri as a dying language to suggest that the language survives, but in ways that may escape our radar, which is still attuned to colonialist binaries between the written and oral domains. In this context I shall examine the impact of Radio Kashmir on the continued life of the language. Finally I shall assess very recent moves by groups of Kashmiri individuals to revive the language, and suggest some ways in which this revival could alter the current psychological profile of Kashmiri.

Innovationen und Reproduktionen in Kulturen und Gesellschaften (IRICS) Wien, 9. bis 11. Dezember 2005

WEBDESIGN: Peter R. Horn 2005-10-06