NEW DELHI – The Central governenmet on Wedesday decided to remove Urdu’s 131-year-old status as Jammu and Kashmir’s sole official language.
The Narendra Modi government wants to include Hindi, Kashmiri, Dogri and English as official languages of the Union Territory.
“We have decided to introduce the Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Bill 2020 in Parliament, under which five languages — Urdu, Hindi, Kashmiri, Dogri and English —will become official languages,” said Union minister Prakash Javadekar.
Javadekar, briefing the media on the cabinet decisions, linked the change to the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status last year and called it ‘long-pending public demand’.
“It is not only the fulfilment of a long-pending public demand from the region but is also in keeping with the spirit of equality, which was ushered in after August 5 last year,” he said.
The Centre had last year passed the controversial J&K Reorganisation Act, which enabled the parliament 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”.
According to The Telegraph, the Dogra rulers of Jammu and Kashmir had recognised Urdu as the official language in 1889, replacing Persian, which had enjoyed that status for three centuries. The change was largely driven by the desire that most people in the princely state understand the official language.
Although Urdu is not the mother tongue of most Jammu and Kashmir residents, a big majority of their children converse in the language, a trend that has picked up in recent years.
For more than a century, Urdu has been the language used in revenue records and the courts, and by police. English was, however, gradually allowed for official transactions.
Jammu and Kashmir law secretary Achal Sethi said the previous Constitution (scrapped last year) recognised only Urdu as the official language. “But it was written there that English will continue to be used,” Sethi said.
Union minister Jitendra Singh, who is from Jammu, hailed Wednesday’s decision. “Inclusion of Dogri, Hindi and Kashmiri as official languages in Jammu and Kashmir is not only the fulfilment of a long-pending public demand, but also in keeping with the spirit of equality ushered after August 5, 2019,” the minister tweeted.
But National Conference leader and former minister Agha Rohullah said there was never a demand here for adding other languages.
“It’s a continuation of what has been happening here and is a cultural invasion of Kashmir. Jammu and Kashmir, being a Muslim-majority state, is not an administrative issue for them. It has become a theatre for them to woo Hindutva voters and they want to demolish the cultural identity of Jammu and Kashmir,” Ruhullah told The Telegraph.
“Urdu has not been the language of one religion; people from all religions embraced it. It is the Dogras who made it the official language.”
People’s Democratic Party spokesperson Firdous Tak said: “It’s like somebody writes an official letter in Kashmiri and gets a reply in Dogri. Neither will understand what the other has written.”
Members of Jammu’s Dogri community, however, cheered the inclusion of Dogri in the list of official languages.
Other ethnic communities of the Union Territory are now expected to demand official language status for their mother tongues. Kashmiri is spoken by over 55 per cent and Dogri by around 25 per cent of the population of Jammu and Kashmir. Pahari, Gogri and other languages are spoken by the remaining 20 per cent.