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Sikh and Gujjar groups in Jammu and Kashmir are irked over the exclusion of Punjabi and Gojri from the J&K Official Languages Bill.
The groups have threatened to launch an agitation if the government does not review its "discriminatory move" against the minority community.
At present, while Urdu is the only official language of J&K, a vast majority of the population in the union territory is unable to write or read Urdu, most of the official work here is done in English. Urdu was adopted as the official language of the princely kingdom of J&K by Dogra ruler Pratap Singh in 1889.
At a meeting presided over by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday, September 2, the Union Cabinet had approved the Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Bill, 2020, under which Kashmiri, Dogri and Hindi, apart from the existing Urdu and English, will be the official languages in the UT. The same will be introduced in Parliament in the upcoming Monsoon session.
Announcing the move after the cabinet meeting in New Delhi, Union minister for information and broadcasting Prakash Javadekar had said, "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."
Union Minister and Udhampur MP Jitendra Singh had said the government has accepted the "long-pending demand of the region" for the inclusion of Dogri, Hindi and Kashmiri as official languages in the UT.
"It is not only a fulfilment of a long-pending public demand of the region but also in keeping with the spirit of equality which was ushered in after August 5 last year (when provisions of Article 370 were repealed)," he had said, adding that the Cabinet approval will end the grievances of discrimination on the basis of language.
"The Cabinet decision today will not only bring ease of governance, but also ease of citizen participation in governance in the newly created Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir," the Minister added.
However, various Sikh organisations took out a procession in Jammu city, in protest over the exclusion of Punjabi language from the Bill. Seeking PM Modi's intervention, Gujjar groups said Gojri should be included in the list of official languages.
According to a report by The Indian Express, the group said that the language "deserved inclusion" in view of its being the "oldest, significant and third largest spoken language of Jammu and Kashmir."
"Gojri and Pahari languages should be included in the proposed legislation of official languages as these are spoken across J&K and even in the neighbouring states like Himachal Pradesh and Punjab," Choudhary Zulfikar, former minister in the PDP-BJP government, was quoted as saying by The Wire.
"It is the aspiration of millions of people that due credit should be given to this ancient language that is serving their motherland for centuries," he added.
T S Wazir, Jammu and Kashmir Sikh Gurdwara Parbandak Board chairman, claimed that there were lakhs of people speaking Punjabi shown to be living in Jammu and Kashmir during the 1941 and 1981 surveys and that the language was a compulsory subject in schools till 39 years ago. Hence, the total neglect of the language has created doubts in the minds of the minority Sikh community, he said.
Wazir described it as "another onslaught on the identity of the Sikh community" in J&K and against the spirit of Modi's slogan of 'sabka saath, sabka vikas', and said that his organisation will intensify the agitation if Punjabi was not included in the list of official languages.
Meanwhile, Sudershan Singh Wazir, the chairman of Sikh United Front, said that the proposed bill is "BJP government's attempt to demolish minorities and ethnic groups so as to bring a new spiritual, cultural and emotional couchant in the country as per an RSS agenda."
Sikh United Front is another organisation that had protested in Jammu. The move to exclude Punjabi was also criticised by the All-Party Sikh Coordination Committee, which described it as "anti-minority".
"Exclusion of Punjabi from the Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Bill 2020 is an anti-minority move," APSCC chairman Jagmohan Singh Raina said.
Meanwhile, at a meeting organized by Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation held under the chairmanship of tribal researcher Dr Javaid Rahi, Gojri writers, students, and tribal leaders said that the Scheduled Tribe Gujjars-Bakerwals cannot understand Kashmiri and read and write Dogri.
The group demanded the inclusion of Gojri in the Bill, claiming that the language is the second-most spoken language after Dogri in Jammu and Kashmiri in Kashmir Valley.
Rahi further said that Gojri is not only taught in schools and universities but has also been recognized as an independent literary language by the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages, the Sahitya Akadami, the Central Institute of Indian Languages in Mysore, and the Union Education Ministry.
"Enforcing more than two languages in J&K will lead to linguistic polarisation with genuine demands for the inclusion of Gojri, Pahari and Punjabi," said former bureaucrat, Lateef-ul-Zaman Deva.
Meanwhile, Aga Ruhullah Mehdi, National Conference leader and three-time legislator, said this "is the continuation of the BJP's onslaught and offensive against the people of Jammu and Kashmir that has been happening since August 5, 2019."
"They are imposing and forcing decisions on us to satisfy their Hindutva vote bank. They don't only have political and administrative designs vis-à-vis Jammu and Kashmir; they have also launched an offensive against us on the cultural front," he added.
Many groups also see the move as trespassing on the Jammu & Kashmir Re-Organization Act, 2019, which empowers the J&K legislative assembly to decide on the adoption of official languages.
"They are behaving in an authoritarian manner and belittling the mandate of the assembly. Did they consult anybody before taking the decision? We are not against any language, we want every language to be promoted and get its due right and respect," said Muhammad Yosouf Tarigami, four-time MLA from southern Kashmir's Kulgam segment and Communist Party.Also Read: Srinagar: 16-Yr-Old Loses Vision After Police Fire Pellets On Muharram Procession, Nearly 40 Injured
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