Language and Occupation: A study of implications of recent language policy in Occupied Jammu and Kashmir


​In the occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir, Indian colonial authority operates as a laboratory for state experimentation, whereby lawfare, certification and documentation (enabling non-Kashmiri settlers to settle in occupied Kashmir), historiography, language as colonial tools, and manifestations of all colonial modalities have transformed knowledge into power. On September 2, 2020, the Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Bill was approved by the Indian state’s Union Cabinet. The Bill grants the status of ‘Official Languages’ to Hindi, Kashmiri, and Dogri languages, in addition to Urdu and English – which are already approved as state languages. ​The motivations behind the introduction of new official languages, particularly Hindi, have arguably dark and sinister intentions of Indian colonial state that seeks to extend the occupation beyond its physical manifestations. Language is not mere a tool of communication rather it is a vibrant mechanism of shaping, reshaping and de-shaping the identities of communities and nations. The anthropology of language can never be separated from its given social spectrum in which the themes, ideas, phrases, and idioms, and more so the worldview evolves or is being engineered to evolve according to the designs of colonial policies.

​The proposed study focuses on the close connection between language engineering and a complex mechanism for broadening occupational roots. This research will examine the persistent intentions of Indian colonial mechanisms and how they promote and promote a language unfamiliar to its inhabitants to de-shape and endanger the Muslim identity and character of occupied Jammu and Kashmir. The research employs the qualitative and quantitative methods to bring forth the adverse impacts of the Language Bill and how it serves as an effective tool of furthering up and strengthening of occupation in this contentious Himalayan state. Lastly, the paper will round up with a conclusion hosting various recommendations and counter policies.

Keywords: India, Kashmir, languages, Lego-linguistic, sociolinguistics, colonialism, settler-colonialism

The relationship between language and Colonialism

Language is a natural phenomenon that enables humans to assume a distinct identity from other animate creatures. Human beings have this unique instrument whereby they can communicate, express their ideas, articulate their innermost feelings, emotions and wishes. However, the odious nature of colonialism rips the language of its natural setting and makes it a vibrant tool of substantiating the occupation at the grass root level.

Colonialism breeds nothing but cataclysmic catastrophe for the colonized in terms of their culture, religion, language, ethos, and their identity. It prepares the ground for licensed violence, monstering the humans and humanizing the monsters, robbing off the resources and finally reducing the colonized people to ‘two legged political creatures (Fanon, Sartre, & Farrington, 1963). The term colonization refers to “the act of taking control of an area or a country that is not your own, especially using force, and sending people from your own country to live there” (Cavanagh & Veracini, 2017). Of all colonial strategies and methods to stifle and hence bury the voices of oppressed for freedom is to deprive them of their proper expression and medium of communication. Colonial regime undermines the local and vernacular language to give way to new narratives that serve the colonial agenda. Theo Van Dijk has aptly remarked on dimensions of dominance involving language that:

“through special access to, and control over the means of public discourse and communication, dominant groups or institutions may influence the structures of text and talk in such a way that, as a result, the knowledge, attitudes, norms, values and ideologies of recipients are – more or less indirectly – affected in the interest of the dominant group” (Van Dijk, 2017).

The occupying military forces of India have largely failed to gain any sort of ascendency in any arena of Kashmiri society due to their selfless sacrifices and resistance. The introduction of a new language (here Hindi in Kashmiri context) or staged death of a native language, the emergence of new national identities, economic disparity, how we perceive and understand each other and how we fathom ourselves all depend either on colonization or a sustained resistance to it. The compulsive military occupation of occupied Jammu and Kashmir orchestrated by Indian repressive authority have introduced and passed a new language policy to change the popular narrative of right to self-determination duly recommended by a plethora of United Nations security council’s resolutions and recommendations. The policy makers, social and political scientists, and some of Kashmiri academicians duly working with the Indian regime, have been working on language policy for many years and finally got it legislated in 2020.

An account of systematic implementation of language policy in J&K

The Indian colonial regime has put in place a well-knit mechanism to prepare the ground for settler colonial project including altering the foundation of linguistic graph of the occupied state of J&K. The occupying regime made changes in the constitution of India by virtue of which the special status or a kind of ‘rotten autonomy’ was scrapped. It was on August 5, 2019, the home minister of India Amit Shah announced in the Indian parliament that the special status of Indian occupied J&K has been revoked (Kanjwal, 2019). On 6th of August 2019, the President of India, through a formal Presidential decree, announced the abrogation of Article 370 enunciating that all provisions of Constitution of India shall apply to the occupied region of J&K (Gupta, 2019).

The revocation of Article 370 was designed to legitimate the central Indian government to frame the laws and draft the policies which would in due course of time change the nucleus of Kashmiri identity and their ‘consciousness’ of resistance to colonial designs.

The fresh initiative, after the abrogation of so-called special status of Indian occupied J&K, surfaced in the form of enactment of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act 2019 to set up the principles for the selection of official languages (Mohan, 2019). The Act was introduced and implemented in a hastily manner without considering the relevance of what was going to be enacted and how relevant it appeared to be with the linguistic structure of Indian occupied J&K. The principles and modalities of language legislation were specified in the Article 47 and Article 48 of new language Act which culminated in the form of including Hindi as one of the five official languages of the region (Azam, 2020). The basic objective of introducing Hindi as official language has been to erode the significance of Urdu which served to be the lingua-franca of the region.

The final step by way of language policy has been ensured through proper legal apparatus. An ambiance of hostility was created towards Urdu language by the Hindutva terrorist forces brazenly supported by ruling Bhartiya Janta Party. The current ruling party BJP initiated a campaign against Urdu and propagated that Urdu no longer will possess its official language status and shortly would be replaced by Hindi (Jaffrelot, 2001). It also came to the fore that there were many attempts before the actual passing of language Act in terms of public interest litigations asking to introduce Hindi as the official language of the region invoking Article 47 of The Jammu and Kashmir reorganization Act (Bhatt & Mahboob, 2008). The preparatory initiatives with a systemized mechanism were finally taken to its logical conclusion and The Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Act 2020 got a nod from President of India. The Act was passed by both the lower and upper houses of Parliament and an era of linguistic imperialism has been all set-in motion to achieve the agenda of Hinduization of Kashmir.

The official statement reads as:

Official languages of Union territory. —With effect from such date as the Administrator may, by notification in the Official Gazette, appoint in this behalf, the Kashmiri, Dogri, Urdu, Hindi and English languages shall be the official languages to be used for all or any of the official purposes of the Union territory:  

Provided that the English language may continue to be used, for those administrative and legislative purposes, in the Union territory for which it was being used before the commencement of this Act:

Provided further that the business in the Legislative Assembly of the Union territory shall be transacted in the official language or languages of the Union territory(the Gazette of india, 2020).”

Subversive implications of language policy at elementary level

The Indian colonial state has introduced Hindi language, besides conferring it the status of official language, at the school level. The tender minds of Kashmir’s future generation will be molded into the desired patterns of colonial dictates. The construction of Hindi language will be used in a complex and candid way to create ostensible opportunities and justifications for the exercise of power and a ‘natural’ way of strengthening the pillars of occupation. There is no denying the fact that language assumes to be the nucleus of colonial and postcolonial experience because the issues of ‘command’ and ‘control’ are inextricably intertwined with language (Britton, 1999). Dominant discourses prevalent at early childhood sheaths children within the corpus of dominant language. Therefore, it is an imperative upon colonial regime, steered from Delhi, to smoothen the way for ‘colonial language’ i.e Hindi with reference to Kashmir. Depriving people of their ‘Motherese’ have been a successful tool of occupying forces all across history of occupation and colonization. Firstly, to de-shape, de-identify, deconstruct and hence re-shape, re-identify and re-construct the identities, values, choices and preferences of occupied people (Chesher, 1994). The cognitive propensities of people of the Caribbean islands were re-shaped by their colonizers that they lost ‘the sense of belonging’ in terms of language, suggests Edouard Glissant (Glissant, 1989). The colonial regimes meticulously know the ’Art of manipulation’ and draws the patterns of thought in a newly induced language among the colonized people in a way that they are de-sensitized towards their own language (and hence from their vision of freedom) (Britton, 1999). Johan Galtung maintains that “Language is an important tool of imperialism as the domination of one collectivity over another. It limits the access of other languages to produce knowledge and discourses” (Galtung, 1974). Though, the subversive implications may not appear instantly and the top notch among intelligence and bureaucratic circles won’t let Kashmiri lay and elite to feel the implicit designs of the language policy, but the havoc it is going to create within upcoming few decades will surely be disastrous and uncontrollable. The seeds of so-called cohesion and integration of Kashmir to that of Union of India is all its way to give rise to a newly engineered patterns of thought among our younger generations.

Subversive implications upon the religious identity of Kashmiris

The arrival of Syed Sharafuddin, popularly known as Bulbul sahib, changed the course of Kashmiri history (Akbar, 2018). The Sufi Sheykh introduced Islam in a clear and candid way to the people of Kashmir and the then Buddhist ruler Rinchin Shah embraced Islam and put an end to the Hindu rule in Kashmir (Sikand, 2000). Since then, the state of Jammu and Kashmir retained its Muslim majority character despite all anti-Muslim policies of erstwhile non-Muslim rulers like Sikhs and Dogra along with their ruling class of minority Hindu accomplices. Jammu and Kashmir Religious census 2011 reveals that the majority religion of the state of Jammu and Kashmir is Islam. The official website of census department reveals that:

‘As per census 2011, Muslim are majority in Jammu and Kashmir state. Muslims constitutes 68.31% of Jammu and Kashmir population. In all Muslim form majority religion in 17 out of 22 districts of Jammu and Kashmir state… ….

Muslim Population in Jammu and Kashmir is 85.67 Lakhs (68.31 percent) of total 1.25 Crore. Christian Population in Jammu and Kashmir is 35.63 thousand (0.28 percent) of total 1.25 Crore. Hindu are minority in Jammu and Kashmir state forming 28.44% of total population. Hinduism is followed with majority in 4 out of 22 districts(Census, 2011).’

The arrival of Islam in Kashmir witnessed a shift in terms of linguistic structure as Persian language replaced the Sanskrit and attained the status of being ‘Court language’ or in modern jargon it assumed the place of official language of the state (Mukhia, 2008). Since Persian was widely spoken and written language, after Arabic, in the Muslim world, a vast Islamic literature was produced therein. Sensing the importance of Persian language, Kashmiri minority Hindus also started learning and producing the literary works in Persian language so that they could have access to key administrative positions (Keddie & Matthee, 2011). Persian language championed a long marathon for upcoming 500 years and retained its official status all through Mughal, Afghan and Sikh rule in Kashmir.

The last quarter of 19th century is not less than a catastrophe in the blood stained history of Kashmir as Hindu Dogra made their inauspicious entry to rule Kashmir under British suzerainty (Dar & Nengroo, 2015). One of the important decisions made by Dogra rulers was to replace Persian language with that of Urdu language. The aim of Dogra regime was to stripe the majority Muslim population of their religious roots. There was a vast Islamic literature prepared in Persian language that served to be an essential part of developing their worldview based on Islamic onto-episteme foundations. However, the politically motivated move of replacing Persian with Urdu proved to be counterproductive. A vast religious literature had already been prepared by the scholars in different parts of India and Pakistan like Bhopal, Hyderabad, Allahabad, Lucknow, Mumbai, Delhi, Rampur, Bareilly, Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Gujrat and other parts of both the sides.

One can argue if Kashmiris were able to face the challenge of replacing Persian language with that of Urdu and successfully thwarted the sinister designs of Dogra regime by promoting and articulating religious discourses in newly introduced Urdu language, why can’t they do same with the Hindi language? How come newly introduced language policy appears to be monstrous tool of occupation in Indian occupied J&K? The simple answer is that Kashmiri Muslims are neither logophobes nor do develop any animosity against any language of the world. Kashmiri Muslims do believe that all languages are a sign of understanding the marvelous artistry of the Great Creator Allah (swt) if language is perceived and embraced in its natural setting. However, when external elements are entwined with imperialistic ambitions, one of the noble human characteristics serves to be a brutal and ferocious tool of colonization. Unlike Urdu, Hindi language is predominantly spoken in Hindu dominated regions. Moreover, national language policy of BJP has set the stage for declaring Hindi as official language of India. The underlying objective is to use Hindi language as a means of comprehensive integration of people of diverse languages and ethnicities. The adverse repercussions upon the religious identity would be at stake as the stage of Hindi has to be grounded on the debris of Urdu. The promotion of Hindu culture and practices are subservient to the promotion of Hindi language in Kashmir which in turn deeply depends on the erosion of Urdu language. The mythological and superstitious discourses have already been inculcated into the educational curricula and recent forcible chanting of Hindu polytheistic hymns in our Kashmiri Muslim schools speaks volumes about the adverse effects of Hindi language upon the religious character of majority Kashmiri Muslims.  Therefore, the language Act appears to be a strong deterrent and an impediment in retaining and preserving the religious identity of Kashmiri Muslims.


Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir has a complex language ecology wherein national identity is deeply rooted in the religious and linguistic orientation of the people. The odious designs of Indian colonial regime have played a well calculated move to re-create the religious-cultural ethos of occupied Kashmir by introducing recent language policy. Language policies host a multitude of comprehensive factors in terms of religion, national identity, politics, cultural ethos and needs of people. Any move to undermine the indigenous language of people and planting a new sapling will create more alienation rather binding the hearts of people together. The main agenda of the language policy is to create a huge gulf between the people of Kashmir and Pakistan as stated earlier, Urdu serves to be an instrument of unification between the occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir and the Islamic republic of Pakistan besides strong religious affinity. Currently, the main objective of Indian government is to put in place settler colonial project whereby the Hindi speaking Hindus from different parts of India will be translocated and subsequently be settled down in Kashmir, though in a gradual process. Hindi as official language will be showing its subversive and disastrous affects therefrom. It won’t be a wrong estimation that the colonial regime of India will come up with a set of legal apparatus to connect the job opportunities with that of Hindi language as the experiment has worked well in erstwhile Brussels where French language (though the French speaking community were majority in Capital city Brussels but were a minority in over-all country i.e Belgium) promotion undermined the Dutch speaking majority people and limited their scope to have access to high-profile jobs. Historically speaking, linguistic ideology was one of the important factors that resulted into the division of India. Indian leadership always identified itself with that of Hindi whereas the Muslim leadership do identify themselves with that of Urdu language. The dichotomy of linguistic ideology has helped sustain the Muslim identity among Muslims even after the partition of India on religious cum linguistic lines. Therefore, the colonial sinister plans are evident to erase the linguistic line of demarcation so that it forges a vibrant and coherent Hinduized identity of Kashmiri Muslims by assimilating them into the canvass of Hindi language. The linguistic imperialism of Indian colonial authority has structurally set the stage for harnessing the potential of Hindi language by making it resourcefully and infrastructurally rich. The vampire of linguicism will erode any other language that may potentially ignite the sentiments of rising against the colonizers. Hence, the ardent need of hour is to devise effective strategies to thwart the colonial dictations by intensifying our resistance at all possible levels.  Some of the recommendations given as under, according to researcher, will help to counter linguistic imperialism.

  1. Urdu language clubs and fora need to be set-up in the length and breadth of Jammu and Kashmir.

  2. The respective Mohalla and Masjid committees must get involved in teaching Urdu language to kids in morning and evening Madrasas.

  3. The awareness programs be conducted through seminars, workshops, symposia, and conferences.

  4. The branches of National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language need to be set-up in nock and corner of the state.

  5. There is already a huge amount of resistance literature available in Urdu language that needs to be published massively and circulated especially among youth.

  6. Efforts should be made to discourage non-locals’ presence in Kashmir as it is the only vehicle, of course currently, to substantiate the settler colonial designs including the promotion of Hindi.


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Maria Shifa

The author is from Indian occupied Kashmir and has recently completed her Masters in Sociology from Sourbonne France

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