The Central government’s decision to add Kashmiri, Dogri, Hindi and English to the list of Jammu and Kashmir’s official languages has irked Sikh and Gujjar groups in the Union Territory.
Currently, Urdu is J&K’s only official language, but most of the official work done here is in English, which is taken as a workable language as a vast population in the UT is unable to read or write Urdu.
On Monday, the Union Cabinet at a meeting presided over by Prime Minister Narendra Modi had approved the Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Bill, 2020, proposing to also make Kashmiri, Dogri, Hindi and English official languages of the Union Territory. The Bill will be introduced in Parliament during its upcoming Monsoon session.
Union Minister Jitendra Singh had described the decision as the government’s acceptance of a “long-pending demand of the region” and “keeping with the spirit of equality ushered after August 5, 2019”.
However, protesting over the exclusion of Punjabi language from the Bill, various Sikh organisations took out a procession in Jammu city. Gujjar groups sought Modi’s intervention, asking him to include Gojri in the list of official languages, saying it “deserved inclusion” in view of its being the “oldest, significant and third largest spoken language of Jammu and Kashmir”.
Jammu and Kashmir Sikh Gurdwara Parbandak Board chairman T S Wazir claimed that while there were lakhs of Punjabi speaking people shown to be living in Jammu and Kashmir during the 1941 and 1981 surveys and the language was a compulsory subject in schools till 39 years ago, its total neglect has created doubts in the minds of minority Sikh community.
Describing it “another onslaught on the identity of the Sikh community” in J&K and against the spirit of Modi’s slogan of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’, he said his organisation will intensify its agitation if Punjabi was not given its due place in the Union Territory.
Sudershan Singh Wazir, the chairman of Sikh United Front — another organisation that protested in Jammu —described the proposed Bill as “BJP government’s attempt to demolish minorities and ethnic groups so as to bring a new spiritual, cultural and emotional couchant in the country as per an RSS agenda”.
The All-Party Sikh Coordination Committee also criticised the move to exclude Punjabi, describing it as “anti-minority”.
Meanwhile, Gojri writers, tribal elders, and students at a meeting organized by Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation held under the chairmanship of tribal researcher Dr Javaid Rahi stated that Scheduled Tribe Gujjars-Bakerwals cannot understand Kashmiri and read and write Dogri — two regional languages included in the list.
They demanded that Gojri be included in the Bill, claiming that it is the second-most spoken language after Dogri in Jammu and Kashmiri in Kashmir Valley.
Rahi pointed out that Gojri is taught in schools and universities and has also been recognized as an independent literary language by the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages, the Sahitya Akadami, the Central Institute of Indian Languages in Mysore, and the Union Education Ministry.