Indian Parliament passes bill scrapping Punjabi as official language of Jammu and Kashmir

Ignoring the demand of the sizeable population of Punjabi-speaking people of Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP-led union government of India today got ‘The Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Bill 2020’ passed by the Parliament, that scraps Punjabi as one of the official languages of the state-turned union territory.

A year after the Indian government revoked special status to the state by abrogating Article 370 and converting it into union territory, this is another anti-people and dictatorial step taken by it, which is aimed at destroying the mother tongue of lakhs of people of the state.

Punjabi is the mother tongue of all the people in the Jammu region. This is also spoken by the Sikh community living in Kashmir valley. This entire region was part of Maharaja Ranjit Singh-led Sikh kingdom. Historically, the Punjabi language was recognized in the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir earlier. With the abrogation of Article 370, that made this constitution irrelevant, the government of India got an opportunity to exclude Punjabi as an official language.

The Bill that was passed by the upper house called Rajya Sabha through a voice vote, includes Kashmiri, Dogri, and Hindi in the list of official languages in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, in addition to the existing Urdu and English. Lok Sabha, the lower house, had cleared the legislation on Tuesday.

Justifying the provisions in the bill, Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy said around 74 percent of people in the Union Territory spoke Kashmiri and Dogri languages. He said that according to the 2011 census, only 0.16 percent population in Jammu and Kashmir spoke Urdu, while 2.3 percent spoke Hindi.

It is a well-known fact that Dogri is the dialect of Punjabi. Terming Dogri as an independent language means that it will be written in Devnagari that is the script of Hindi, not Gurmukhi that is the script of Punjabi. Thus, the ultimate aim is to promote Hindi and scrap Punjabi as the script of any language is necessary to keep it alive, as per the Punjabi linguists who term it “cultural imperialism”.

The Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) MP Naresh Gujral termed it “unfortunate” that Punjabi was not added to the Bill and urged the government to reconsider it.”It hurts the feeling of those who are settled there. I would urge the government to reconsider because language is the basis of the cultural heritage of the community,” Gujral said.

Gujral said 13 lakh Punjabis live in Jammu and Kashmir. Mir Mohammad Fayaz (PDP) also demanded the inclusion of Gurjari, Punjabi, and Pahari in the Bill. “Include Punjabi, Gurjari and Pahari so that we win the trust of everyone in J&K,” he said.

Paying lip service, Reddy said the government would also take steps to encourage other local languages like Punjabi, Gurjari, and Pahari in the region.

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an announcement about such a move, outrage triggered among the Punjabi speaking people especially Sikhs. The Sikhs in Jammu and Kashmir staged scores of demonstrations in support of their mother tongue. Several organizations urged the government to review this bill. The SGPC also raised this demand. However, all the efforts went in vain as the government of the Hindu right-wing party paid no heed toward this concern of people.

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