Our Fast Vanishing Mother Tongue
International Mother Tongue Day (IMLD) is observed every year on 21 Feb. The day was declared as such by United Nations in 2000, as United Nations Education, Social Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had recommended that 21 Feb be declared as a day to observe and celebrate mother tongue of all peoples who live on this earth, a year earlier.The day is observed to promote awareness of one’s mother tongue and Multi-culturism that the diversity of the would represents.On this day in 1952, Bengali youth (mainly students & teachers of Dhaka University) were mercilessly killed in Dhaka by the Pakistani Army, when they were protesting against the imposition of Urdu as the official language, side-stepping Bengali, their mother tongue. It may be mentioned that at that time, Dhaka was the capital of East Pakistan and the protest, then onwards, came to be known as Language Movement. Insubsequent years, this movement, after passing through many phases and ups and downs, became the voice of Bengali people to demand independence from Pakistan.
The importance of ‘mother tongue’ cannot be over emphasized. It is the most basic element of one’s identity through which each individual establishes his or her uniqueness. It is only the mother tongue through which one can transmit cultures, values and traditional heritage for promoting sustainable future.Needless to say, mother language is the greatest weapons known to mankind to express one’s feelings.For achieving literacy and preserving traditional knowledge, promotion of mother tongue is absolutely necessary.
It is for these reasons that many countries in the world continue to use their mother tongue for education, research and official purposes. These countries do not have to spend time and resources on first teaching their children a different language and then their basis lessons in various subjects.If one looks around, one can easily see Japan, Russia, Germany, France, China and many other countries much ahead of us in many fields. It is not to say that the standard of their development is only because of this reason, but certainly what mother tongue can teach, no other language can.
Language plays a significant role in preserving distinct identity of any ethnic group. It is not merely a medium of communication but a repository of the critical nuances of cultural moorings of a community. One of the biggest casualties of the exodus has been the Kashmiri language. Use of Kashmiri language by the children as a means of communication within their homes after exodus, has been on the decline. Another issue that has impacted this aspect has been that our children cannot learn this language because no commonly acceptable script exists. A demand had been made that Kashmiri language in another alternative script, Devanagari, be taught, so as to enable the young generation to learn the language of their forefathers. This demand was accepted by the Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry in the NDA government (1998-2004), but was subsequently annulled by it when the new government came into power at the center in 2004. This was done to appease the majority community of Kashmir, that had demanded the recognition of Nastaliq script for teaching the language.
This has dealt a serious blow to the aspirations of the young generation and pushed them further away from their roots. Bulk of the children living in refugee camps in Jammu, who used Nastaliq for reading and writing while in Kashmir, continued to prefer the same. However, the same cannot be said of refugees living outside the State. They now prefer to communicate in Hindi, which is the official language of a number of states, where refugees live and where it is the most commonly used medium of written and spoken communication. In the years immediately after exodus, use of Kashmiri language for communication was used by children and grandchildren living in refugee camps. However, even here, 30 years after the exodus, the language has undergone significant changes.
For us in exodus, the near extinction of our language has dealt a serious blow to our efforts to preserve and develop our tangible and intangible heritage. Our cultureand world-view too, as in the case of others, is deeply connected with our language. And since religion, culture, philosophy and value systems depend upon and are sustained by mother tongue, its disappearance has unequivocally and adversely affected our culture too. Our rituals, music, dance folklore and marriage ceremonies too are deeply ingrained in our language. We are seeing all this evaporating in front of our eyes. Under the circumstances, “When a particular group comes through quirks of history into social interaction with any other alien group, the former tries to absorb some traits from the latter. Loss of identity of a well-defined ethnic group can result in the speedy disintegration of the group character,” writes, G L Jalali.