More than official status, Dogri needs promotion in daily lives

By Prabodh Jamwal. Dated: 10/16/2020 10:49:32 AM

Local language or mother tongue is the most intrinsic part of a culture in any geographical region around the world. It is not only a means of communication but also gives a sense of identity, deeply connected with local nationalism, enabling assertion of small as well as large communities to seek recognition from the powers that be since the evolution of nation-states. The linguistic aspirations of local communities thus give recognition to native languages or dialects in a democratic governance system committed to recognizing, promoting and working towards scientific development of local languages amidst fears that some of these are disappearing fast from the face of the earth, particularly due to fast paced globalization.
Jammu and Kashmir with its rich diversity of languages is no exception. The announcements by the central government to promote Dogri and Kashmiri as official languages through an amendment in the Parliament in J&K, however, infuses little hope and could end up engendering more complexities than resolving existing ones. A recent act by the parliament called the J&K Official Languages Act will now add Hindi, Dogri and Kashmiri to English and Urdu which were being used as the official language of the erstwhile state of J&K, before reading down of Article 370 of Indian Constitution on August 5, 2019. Linguist activists for long have made the case for promotion of different languages including Dogri and Kashmiri, the most widely spoken local languages in Jammu and Kashmir.
Is an official status sufficient for promoting any language?
Dogri writing has not developed as a scientific language over the past more than half a century after they adopted Devnagri as a script. Before this shift, it was written in Landey and Takri alphabets. Only a miniscule population adopted Persian script for their writings. Its nuances and vocabulary differ in South i.e. plains than the Shivaliks and both have different meaning in hilly areas of Dogra heartland. Secondly, huge volumes of Dogri literature is unavailable. So, the medium of teaching even at the primary education level has not evolved over the past seven decades in the post-independence period of India. Thirdly, absence of medium of instruction and teaching at the middle, high-school and under-graduate levels has not allowed this language to develop in a scientific manner. The teaching and research at the post-graduate level, which does not have a long history, does not serve the desired purpose in a milieu when more than half a dozen dialects are spoken or in practice.
The case of Kashmiri language is no different. It has never been taught at school and college levels in J&K. The writers have been practitioners of this language in literature only. There has been contradiction in the adoption of the script. Kashmiri Pandits have been using Sharda script, which is fast becoming extinct, while most of the Muslims adopted Persian script in their writings. Its evolution over the past few centuries has always exposed the variations and differences in the culture in all the three regions of Kashmir i.e. South, central and north Kashmir. The scientific evolution with common nuances and vocabulary are missing links across the length and breadth of Kashmir Valley. With more than half a dozen languages including, Gojri, Pahari and Shina being spoken and practiced in Kashmir, Kashmiri is a dominant language as a major means of communication. Then suddenly, Kashmir being taught only at the pos-graduate level does not suffice the purpose of fulfilling the aspirations of the people.
In this context, it is important to note that the past experiments of publishing broadsheet newspapers in both the languages - Dogri and Kashmiri - has been a miserable and utter failure despite contrary claims by propagandists of these languages and the inclusion of both languages in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. The support from the established institutions to these newspapers has been missing not only in their recognition but also in practice. Secondly, a young generation of readers having the ability to read and write these languages is missing. Thirdly, in the absence of news agency support every news has to be translated into these languages from English, Hindi or Urdu. Despite Dogri and Kashmiri newspapers producing good literature, their circulation has been limited due to above specified reasons.
My own experience as Editor of the only Dogri newspaper in Jammu for over a decade is a case in point. In Jammu, the major initiative of Kashmir Times Publications to publish a daily newspaper in Dogri, “Jammu Prabhat”, the only one of its kind, was forced to shutdown after eleven years. “Jammu Prabhat” in its lifetime of eleven years produced more literature in the form of poems, songs, short-stories and narrations than the combined publications of organisations promoting Dogri language including Dogri Sanstha and other bodies in Jammu.
After the inclusion of Dogri and Kashmiri languages in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution on December 22, 2003, the onus of promoting and patronizing the language was on both J&K and central governments. But despite the policies to promote local language newspapers, the governments and their aided institutions did not come forward. The DAVP, central government organization charged with responsibility of distribution of advertisement to the extent of reserving 40 percent for local languages included in the Eighth Schedule, did not release even a fraction of the budgeted advertisements to publications of either of the recognized languages. In our own case, several representations and meetings did not yield any result. The new policy unveiled in 2010 clearly stated that more than 35 percent of the advertisement budget is reserved for the newly included languages in the Eighth Schedule. But on the ground, Dogri and Kashmiri language newspapers never got their share.
The state government of J&K also did not give due recognition to the local language newspapers. The annual budget spent on advertisement release to Dogri and Kashmiri language newspapers never exceeded Rs 1.25 lakh per annum, which was too meagre to support the effort and hard-work involved in publishing a daily newspaper. In the year 2011, the DAVP totally stopped forthwith release of advertisements to Jammu Prabhat arbitrarily.
Apart from failing in its commitment to release advertisements due to the only Dogri newspaper, the institutional support from the J&K government in the form of introducing the newspaper to students at the primary, middle and secondary education level never came. The Directorate of School Education circular for regular subscription to the Dogri newspaper never materialised. Barring few takers among the teachers and students, there was no subscription for the Dogri newspaper on regular basis. The promoters of Dogri language, the organisations including government-funded groups, practitioners and supporters of Dogri books also did not support the cause of the newspapers by contributing or offering feedback or promoting its readership.
If inclusion of Dogri in the Eighth Schedule could not ensure promotion of the language, an official status can hardly make a difference as long as apathy at the top forbids its promotion at the ground level in the daily lives of the people.



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