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The heart is where the mother tongue is

Breaking down the walls of shame surrounding Kashmiri language
01:00 AM Jan 18, 2024 IST | Mahoor Haya Shah
the heart is where the mother tongue is

Language is not just a means of communication. It's a sacred part of cultural identity, heritage, and history that carries a nation’s tales of struggle, victories, and hopes for a brighter tomorrow. Such is the undeniable legacy of our very own mother tongue - the melodious and rich Kashmiri.


While every culture across the world is fiercely fighting to safeguard their vernaculars, it is really unfortunate and breaks my heart to note a contrary tendency prevalent among some Kashmiris.


A peculiar paradox exists where certain people of our society are inadvertently devaluing this language, ashamed of their authentic accent and pretentiously adopting an alien accent.

Regrettably, this phenomena seems to have ensnared our young Kashmiri women predominantly. Today, an alarming section of Kashmiri youth feels the need to hide their linguistic identity under artificial accents. As quoted by Nelson Mandela, "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart".


Our Kashmiri language binds us with invisible threads of unity, solidarity and pride. If we relinquish our linguistic heritage, we also cede control over our identity. Hence, why there is the historical adage: 'If you want to rule over someone, take away their language.'


One grave misstep taken today is infusing this sense of shame about our language in our young minds. This detrimental behaviour would result in the erosion of the beautiful language we so possess.




We must introspect and ask ourselves if we are deliberately disconnecting from a significant part of our identity or merely caught up in the sham of sounding ‘ so-called cool’?


Why have we reached a juncture where fake accents are embraced to mask our roots, indicating an ill-conceived embarrassment or worse, an unfamiliarity with our mother tongue?

The origins of the Kashmiri language, according to linguistic historians, are believed to be steeped in a vibrant amalgam of several distinct languages. Rooted primarily in the Dardic branch of the expansive Indo-Aryan linguistic family, it is said to have also borrowed heavily from a diverse mix of languages including, but not limited to, Perso Arabic, Indo-Iranian, and the ancient Sanskrit.

In some theories, the influence of other linguistic patterns has also been noted. Yet, despite its deep cultural roots and enriched historical relevance, a growing apathy towards our native language,  particularly amongst young girls( I repeat), is troubling.

This unfortunate desire to shed our vernacular skin hints at a bigger issue; a desperate pursuit of a flawed notion of ‘modernity’ which compels one to erase the ties with our linguistic past. In reality, speaking in our mother tongue does not make us archaic…it doesn't make us uneducated…it doesn't make us unsophisticated…!  Rather, it reinforces our sense of identity and provides a means of connection to our ancestors and their stories.

By devaluing our own language, we disconnect ourselves from our roots, and ultimately our identity. Speaking in a foreign tongue doesn't upgrade our social status but rather masks our authentic selves. It’s high time to correct this warped notion and uphold the Kashmiri language with pride.

Renowned scholars have been working assiduously to preserve our language. Government and non-government bodies are diligently focusing on keeping the flame of Kashmiri language alive. Yet, efforts at preservation can be futile if our own perception towards the language remains flawed.

Therefore, a call for change must come from within our society. We need to unmask our pride in our roots and stand firm against the global winds of homogeneity, celebrating our uniqueness.

Kashmiri literature is a cornucopia of scintillating verses and intriguing prose. Much of it is suffused with Sufi philosophy and mysticism. Poetry rendered in Kashmiri holds an aesthetic and soulful charm. It is incumbent on us to reverse the growing wave of linguistic chauvinism. No language is superior or inferior to another. And if anything should, and indeed, is inherently superior, is one's mother tongue.

Accepting other cultures is appreciable but undermining one’s own can lead to an identity crisis and dilute our rich cultural heritage. Thanks to passionate linguists and cultural enthusiasts who are keen to salvage the prestige of the Kashmiri language. But the responsibility doesn’t solely rest upon their shoulders; it’s a collective endeavour. The paradigm shift can start at an individual level by instilling in children a sense of pride and fascination for the Kashmiri language.

Parents must understand that passing on their native language to their children is among their fundamental duties. Revival can only come when the misguided mindset is rectified.

Let us breathe life into our 'Maji Zev' everyday. Let's remember that forgetting one’s own language is akin to losing one’s soul. To lose the beauty and heritage of the Kashmiri language would be an irreparable loss to our cultural wealth. It’s high time we turned our collective attention to safeguarding our language heritage, making earnest endeavours to pass it on to the younger generations. Our Kashmiri language whispers tales of our legacy in our ears.

The essence of the Kashmiri language needs to be appreciated and valued more than ever in the global mosaic. Let's wear our language with pride and bask in its captivating beauty and profound depth.

Let us show the world the undiluted glory and depth of the Kashmiri language and culture. Let's reconnect with our roots, cherish our language, and ensure that the Kashmiri language thrives not just within our homes and communities but across borders and beyond. Let's say it loud and say it proud: We are Kashmiris, and we are proud of our language!

By Mahoor Haya Shah

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