On the ground in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), one of the questions being raised after the Centre’s decision to scrap the state’s special status and bifurcate the state into two Union Territories, is whether Urdu will remain the official language.
Section 47 of the J&K Reorganisation Act empowers the new Legislative Assembly of the Union Territory of J&K to “adopt any one or more of the languages in use in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir or Hindi as the official language or languages to be used for all or any of the official purposes.”
The business in the Assembly, the law states, shall be transacted in the “official language or languages of the UT of Jammu and Kashmir or in Hindi or in English.” Before August 5, Urdu was the official language of J&K state, while official transactions and orders were also conducted and issued in English.
When contacted, J&K Governor’s advisor Farooq Khan told The Indian Express: “All special provisions have been thrown into the dustbin of history where they always belonged. In the new set-up, everything will be done afresh. A child has taken birth, so it will be nurtured with all the love and care by the Government of India. The Centre’s welfare schemes, which used to be mutilated in the previous set-up, are being pursued with full vigour.”
Asked about the status of Urdu as J&K’s official language post-August 5, Khan said: “The Reorganisation Act is very clear that the new official language or languages will be chosen by the new Assembly. Hindi is the national language so it would be an official language of the Union Territory of J&K. Urdu will also be given its due place. English will also be used as it is being used currently.’’
Dogra rulers recognised Urdu as a state and official language of J&K in 1889. Before Urdu, Persian was the official language of Kashmir for around three centuries. In J&K, Urdu is the language of land and revenue records, courts (especially lower judiciary) and police (FIRs etc are all written in Urdu). It is also the mode of instruction in government schools, especially in Kashmir and the Muslim-majority districts of Jammu and Kargil.
With different languages spoken in J&K — Kashmiri, Dogri, Gojri, Ladakhi, Pahari and Balti — Urdu emerged as a link language during Dogra rule, especially because it wasn’t the mother tongue of any substantial group.
The entry of All India Services in J&K in 1962 led to a decline in the use of this official language in the higher echelons of power because the officers — majority of them non-locals — didn’t know Urdu and preferred English. Urdu, however, continued to be the main language of the government.
In January last year, the PDP-BJP government constituted the first ever State Council for Promotion of Urdu Language. It had argued that “Urdu is not just the official language and spoken in all its regions, it is also a vast repository of the cultural heritage of the Indian sub-continent known as Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb”.