Script for Kashmiri language

By K.N. Pandita

How amusing that for the first time any minister from the Valley has publicly questioned the feasibility of existing script for Kashmiri language. One would think that doing anything of the sort is short of blasphemy. Minister for Agriculture, Ghulam Hassan Mir was speaking at a function organized in connection with ‘Fazil Day’ by the Cultural Academy in Srinagar. He asserted: “The script of Kashmiri language that is in vogue these days is too much complicated. It has got many symbols and it is difficult to understand it. It needs to be simplified so that the computer literate generation is wooed to accept it. This will make the language easy to understand. The complicated script is one of the reasons for less interest of people in reading and writing the Kashmir language.” 

The minister is no phonetician or philologist to opine on technicalities of a script. Nevertheless he seems to have raked a very important and crucial debate in local academic and literary circles. This debate should have taken place long back when populist regime came to power in 1947.  The Academy of Art, Culture and Literature, installed as a semi-autonomous institute, had the jurisdiction of initiating a purely academic debate on the choice of a script for Kashmiri language. Services of reputed experts in the branches of phonetics and philology from the country and even from outside the country should have been requisitioned to invent a scientific and technically sound and viable script for Kashmiri language. This was never done, and chauvinism blurred the vision of those who decided in favour of Arabic script with totally unscientific modifications. The result is what Minister Ghulam Hasan Mir has said candidly.

Arbitrary imposition of a script whose alphabet, even with unimaginative diacritical marks, fail to represent Kashmiri phonemes with desired precision and accuracy, is the greatest disservice done to Kashmiri language. How can we expect such a script to be the right vehicle of conveying the ideas of a creative writer? Kashmiri script has suffered the loss of historical continuity. It has become a victim of prejudice and sentimentality, both unscientific and illogical. For centuries Sharada script, borrowed and modified from Sanskrit remained the vehicle of transmission for ancient Kashmiris. It was the closest to Kashmiri vowel and consonant sounds, and a good deal of literary fund was brought out in this script. Its total rejection, motivated by myopic vision of culture and language was not only a retrograde step but also meant pulling down the blinds for further improvement of the script to make it really compatible. This is not to deride Arabic script which is one of the most perfect scripts like that of Sanskrit.

In the early decades of the 20th century, acutely nationalistic movements gripped Turkey and Iran. In a euphoria of sorts Pan-Turkic and Pan-Iranist protagonists demanded a change in the script of their written languages. While the demand was turned down in Iran, the Turks replaced the Arabic with Roman script with added diacritical marks and the new script came to stay. Excellent literature in all genres has been produced in Turkey ever since enriching her corpus of literary fund. In Iran this change could not take place owing to the reality that Iran’s enormous and rich fund of Persian manuscripts remains preserved in its Arabic script. Iranian nation could not afford to lose it. But in the case of Kashmir, there is no such fund in Kashmiri (Arabic) script (except scanty Sharada manuscripts still extent but made irrelevant). As such, a scientific change in in-vogue Kashmiri script remains facilitated to a large extent. It has to be remembered that in totality till date Kashmiri literature, quantitatively and qualitatively, is insignificant and mundane. We don’t have a single history of Jammu and Kashmir, or a biography of a world figure, or a work of philosophy or scientific discovery or technological marvel or children’s stories in this language. There is nothing to boast about its richness when we look at Persian or Arabic or Hindi or Bengali or Urdu literary treasures. This does not mean there is lack of talent.

The reason is the lack of a scientific script. Therefore Kashmir’s cultural punditry and broad literati should not lose a single day in initiating a comprehensive but dispassionate debate on the proposition of changing Kashmiri script to anything new that is scientific rational, technically sound and practically viable.  Once this stage is covered, then we will see how the existing talent makes a rich contribution to all genres of Kashmiri literature. Till then it is an exercise in futility. It is important that induction of Roman script for Kashmiri with necessary diacritical marks as in the case of Turkish is made an option for discussion at the level of Cultural Academy if it wants to react to the suggestions of Agricultural minister Mir Ghulam Hasan.

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