A Case for Punjabi in the North
By: Perminder Kaur
Recently the Rajya Sabha passed the Jammu and Kashmir Languages Bill 2020 in the Monsoon Session of the Parliament. The move includes Kashmiri, Dogri, and Hindi as official languages in the newly-created Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. There was no mention of Punjabi.
English and Urdu were the only two official languages in the former state, which was bifurcated on 5th August 2019. Dogri - along with Bodo, Maithili, and Santhali - was added to the scheduled languages under the Eighth Schedule by the 92nd Amendment Act of 2003, which consists of the 22 official languages. Punjabi has been an important language of the state as it is virtually spoken more than any other language. The new Bill has started a communal debate around why a language is being classified as it belongs to one category of people and one state only as if it was an intentional push by the government to create a communal divide in the newly formed UTs.
All those opposing the move see it as a breach of democracy and cultural rights. In 1889, Dogra ruler Pratap Singh adopted Urdu as the official language of the princely kingdom of J&K. Urdu was later on replaced by Persian language which had enjoyed that status for more than three centuries. The government is also facing criticism for putting an end to the 131-year-old status of Urdu as the sole official language.
Meanwhile, a seemingly united opposition has termed the exclusion of Punjabi is an anti-minority move which has triggered the demand for the inclusion of more languages. Earlier, under the sixth schedule of the constitution of the erstwhile state of J&K, Kashmiri, Dogri, Balti (Pali), Dardi, Punjabi, Pahari, Ladakhi and Gojri were regional languages of the state.
Despite its outright exclusion from the latest Bill passed by the Rajya Sabha, the fact is that Punjabi remains a widely spoken language in Jammu and Kashmir, especially Jammu, where 3 out of every 5 people know how to speak the language. However, if not promoted, the language faces the risk of losing its ethnicity and value in the newly formed UTs. The local minorities need to have a sense of belonging to their native state so that the imbalance in cultures and languages is perfectly blended together.
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