Eroding Linguistic Legacies in Azad Jammu and Kashmir

Cultural heritage and history hold immense importance for both individuals and societies. They provide a sense of identity and continuity, linking present and future generations with their roots. Language is an essential component of national identity in multicultural societies. Ludwig Wittgenstein famously stated, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world,” highlighting the profound impact language has on our understanding and interaction with the world. He also noted, “A new word is like a fresh seed sown on the ground of the discussion,” emphasizing the dynamic nature of language and its role in fostering new ideas and perspectives.

Ezra Pound, in his book “A B C of Reading,” argues that to understand and decipher the world more deeply, we need to learn new words. This idea underscores the necessity for both language and its speakers to evolve in response to new realities. While global languages like English facilitate international communication and knowledge exchange, they can also overshadow and erode local languages, which are rich with expressions unique to their particular cultures. The globalization of language threatens to eradicate many local expressions, cultures, and worldviews, stripping communities of their unique identities and heritage. In this context, the preservation of local languages becomes crucial. These languages carry the required expressions and nuances of the cultures they originate from, providing a window into the unique experiences and traditions of their speakers.

National identity is defined by the language spoken, the customs and traditions practiced, and the shared history of the people who live in a particular place. Thus, maintaining linguistic diversity is vital for preserving cultural heritage and ensuring that future generations remain connected to their roots. Awareness of national culture and heritage is notably low among the younger generation.

Matters related to national culture and heritage are often perceived as outdated and irrelevant by youth who are immersed in the advancements of science and technology, particularly in today’s gadget-driven world. Countries such as Japan and Italy, known for preserving their cultural heritage, stand out for their effective approach to transferring these cultural aspects to their youth through education, ensuring that new generations can fully embrace and uphold their cultural legacy.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir is one of the most culturally and geographically diverse regions in the world, renowned for both its natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. This ancient land boasts a distinct ethnicity, character, language, attire, customs, and cultural legacy. Kashmir, in particular, is an extraordinary blend of numerous ethnic groups, tribes, and socioeconomic classes, all contributing significantly to its cultural diversity.

A part of Jammu and Kashmir, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), was liberated on October 24, 1947. Despite part of it being under Indian occupation, the liberated region has a responsibility to preserve the unique and rich cultural heritage and history of Jammu and Kashmir. Globally, the history and language of any country are fundamental components of school curriculums and are compulsory subjects in educational policies. This ensures that these aspects are passed down through education from one generation to the next, allowing youth to take ownership of their cultural heritage, especially languages. When it comes toin Azad Jammu and Kashmir, it has a unique place in this regard; the youth are not well-informed about their rich cultural diversity, language, and history.

Several regional languages, such as Pahari, Gojri, and Kashmiri, with various dialects, are spoken in AJK. One notable aspect is that a single language can have different dialects every 20-25 kilometers, and even within different castes and districts. The situation is particularly concerning for the Kashmiri language, which is gradually fading from the region.Several factors contribute to this lack of awareness. First, parents are not speaking their local language to their children. Secondly, there is no policy or effort to preserve these languages. The most prominent factor is the absence of these cultural aspects in AJK’s educational policy. Despite being an autonomous region for over seven decades, there is still no educational policy aimed at preserving and transferring these languages, cultural heritage, and history to younger generations. The consequences of this situation are alarming. They feel ashamed of speaking their regional languages and focus more on learning English. While learning an international language is important, neglecting their own is detrimental.

If people do not practice their languages, how can they preserve them? Preserving language isof utmost importanceto preserve culture. There should be a proper policy to reconnect the youth with their cultural aspects. As Jennifer A. Nielsen says, “How do you destroy a nation? You take away their culture. And how is that done? You must take their language, their history, their very identity. How would you do that? You ban their books.” This situation has several negative repercussions, among them one is that the youth of AJK is completely unaware of the history of Kashmir and lack a clear understanding of the Kashmir conflict, despite it being an internationally recognized issue. About 85% of the youth of AJK are not well-versed in their social-cultural dimensions and administrative system. They are also uninformed about the struggles and sacrifices of Kashmir’s freedom fighters.

As Marcus Garvey says, “A person without the knowledge of their history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.” Who is responsible for this situation? It is a significant loss, impacting the freedom movement of Kashmir. How can they fight or struggle for something they do not even know about? This unfortunate situation raises many questions for the government and educational policymakers of AJK. It is high time for authorities and policymakers to address this issue and carve out a curriculum that aligns with the culture and history of their nation. The people of Indian Illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), whether they indigenously belong to Kashmiri-speaking families or not, they speak the Kashmiri language. Even after living under Indian occupation, they are preserving their cultural heritage, especially the Kashmiri language, with pride. In IIOJK, the Kashmiri language is a compulsory subject in their schools, and their parents speak Kashmiri at home. So, why are people and educational policy makers living in Azad Kashmir, who are free from occupation, not doing the same? It can be difficult for youth to participate in cultural preservation efforts because they may not have as strong a connection to their cultural heritage as older generations do. Providing a safe space and platform for sharing perspectives, stories, and artistic expressions is important. By establishing platforms that encourage youth to express themselves freely, they should be empowered to share their unique cultural experiences, stories, and art forms. Preserving cultural heritage and history is vital for fostering a sense of identity and continuity among future generations. By integrating these aspects into education and community engagement, we can ensure that the rich cultural legacy of regions like Jammu and Kashmir is upheld. Authorities and policymakers must act now to protect and promote the cultural and linguistic heritage of their nation.

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Center for International Strategic Studies AJK, King Abdullah Campus Chatter kalas Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir