Ultimate magazine theme for WordPress.

English: Kashmir’s Growing Craze

Hidden tales of perseverance and passion as we unravel the profound influence of Christian missionaries on Kashmir’s educational and linguistic landscape


“When a Kashmiri individual flares up, regardless of their educational background, their impassioned outbursts such as ”Who the hell are you?”, ”Get lost!”, ”Watch your mouth!”, ”Nonsense”, and more can be heard echoing in the air. The English language has taken on a significant craze in the Kashmir Valley, where it is not merely considered a means of communication but also proudly showcased like a precious jewel. It is used to impress one another and to express both reprimand and rage. English: Kashmir’s Growing Craze

English, which originated in England around fifteen centuries ago, made its way to Kashmir only a century ago. Despite its late arrival, the residents of the valley have embraced it at an astonishing pace. With approximately seven thousand languages spoken worldwide, some have billions of speakers, while others are limited to just a few thousand. The most widely spoken languages include Chinese, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, French, Arabic, Hindustani, Japanese, and Bengali. Conversely, the languages with the most extensive entries in dictionaries (vocabulary) are Korean, Portuguese, Finnish, Kurdish, Tamil, Swedish, Icelandic, English, Italian, and Japanese. Although dictionary entries can be counted, the exact number of words in a language remains elusive.

The history of language traces back to the appearance of the first human beings on Earth around 300,000 years ago, who began speaking about 50,000 to 150,000 years ago. The development of writing emerged much later around 3000 BCE. Hence, the art of speaking precedes writing by thousands of years. Throughout history, languages have emerged, evolved, reached their zenith, and then gradually declined and vanished, much like their speakers. There is no guarantee that a language immensely popular today will survive into the next century. Languages like Sanskrit and Latin, which were once spoken by millions, are now officially considered dead languages.

English: Kashmir's Growing Craze

The English language, despite its widespread craze in Kashmir and around the world, did not even exist fifteen centuries ago. England is the birthplace of the English language, now spoken by about two billion people globally. The region that is now the United Kingdom / England was initially inhabited by a group of Indo-Europeans known as the Celts, who settled there around the 6th or 7th century BC. The language they spoke was also referred to as ‘Celts.’ Romans invaded the Celtic lands in 43 CE and ruled until 410 CE, during which their Latin language had some influence on the Celts. Following the departure of the Romans, Germanic tribes such as Angles, Saxons, and Jutes were called upon to assist the English people in resisting Viking invasions. These tribes spoke different languages, necessitating a common means of communication, which led to the birth of the English language. The unification was further solidified when the people converted to Christianity in 597 CE.

The Norman Conquest in 1066 CE marked the end of the Old English period and the beginning of the Middle English period in England. The Normans, who were also of German origin and settled in France (Normandy), defeated the English army and brought feudal systems to England. They spoke French and Latin and significantly enriched the vocabulary of the English language, influencing its syntax and grammar. By 1362 CE, English became the language of the English Parliament. The modern English period began with the reign of Queen Elizabeth-I, the works of William Shakespeare, the publication of the King James version of the Bible, and the start of the reformative movement known as the Great Vowel Shift, which aimed to improve the spelling and pronunciation of the English language.

As the British Empire expanded, English spread across the globe through colonial and missionary activities, reaching places like the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, parts of Africa, and beyond. While the British did not directly colonize Kashmir, they arrived as missionaries, establishing hospitals, churches, and schools, especially around Srinagar, the main city of the valley. The English language found its way to the Valley in the late 19th century, and the first English medium school, Tyndale Biscoe School, was established by missionaries in 1876 CE at Lal Chowk in the heart of Srinagar. J Hilton Knowles served as the first principal from 1876 CE to 1880 CE and authored works such as ‘A Dictionary of Kashmiri Proverbs and Sayings (1880)’ and ‘Folk-tales of Kashmir (1893).'”

Moreover, during the rule of Maharaja Pratap Singh, Sir Walter Roper Lawrence assumed the role of the Settlement Commissioner for Jammu and Kashmir from 1889 to 1894. It was during this time that he authored the book ‘The Valley of Kashmir’ in 1895 CE, regarded as the first encyclopedia of Kashmir written in the English language. A significant step in providing modern education and facilitating English language learning for the people of Kashmir was the establishment of Saint Joseph School in Baramulla in 1903. Over the years, several other renowned English medium schools emerged, including Mallinson Girls School (Est. 1912), Presentation Convent High School (Est. 1936), Burn Hall (Est. 1956), Muslim Educational Institute Pampore (Est. 1970), New Convent (Est. 1986), Srinagar British School (Est. 1998), and Delhi Public School Srinagar (Est. 2003).

It is essential to acknowledge that the advent of modern education and the English language in Kashmir can be attributed to the dedicated efforts of Christian missionaries. Their endeavors in the valley resulted in the establishment of schools, hospitals, and churches, many of which continue to function today. Currently, there are approximately fifteen thousand schools spread across Jammu and Kashmir (as of 2021). Additionally, the first college in Kashmir, Sri Pratap College in Srinagar, was founded in 1905 CE by Dr. Annie Besant. In 1942 CE, the college was divided into Amar Singh College and Sri Pratap College. At present (as of 2021), there are more than 66 colleges in the valley. The first university in the region, ‘The Kashmir University,’ was inaugurated in 1948, and ‘The Jammu University’ followed in 1969. Today, the Kashmir University has several campuses scattered throughout various parts of the valley. Furthermore, other universities providing higher education in Kashmir include SKUAST – Kashmir (Est. 1982), IUST – Awantipora (Est. 2005), Central University of Kashmir (Est. 2009), Cluster University Srinagar (Est. 2016), NIT Srinagar (Est. 1960), and GMC Srinagar (Est. 1959), among others. The number of operational universities in Kashmir now exceeds a dozen, providing technical, vocational, and advanced education opportunities to the youth.

According to the 2011 census, the literacy rate in Jammu and Kashmir stood at 67.16%. The male literacy rate was higher at 76.75%, while the female literacy rate was 56.43%. A rough estimate suggests that around 5% of the Kashmiri population can fluently speak English, while about 20% can read and comprehend books and newspapers written in simplified English. The region boasts a considerable number of 171 newspapers (including dailies, weeklies, fortnightlies, etc.), and a substantial portion of them are published in the English language.

Notably, Kashmiri authors who write in English have gained national and international recognition. Some of the well-known authors include Aga Shahid Ali (1949-2001), Hari Kunzru (born in 1969), Basharat Pir (born in 1977), Mirza Waheed, Shahnaz Bashir, Shafi Ahmad, Nayeema Mehjoor, Zooni Chopra, and many others.

Despite English’s relatively late introduction in Kashmir, it is rapidly establishing itself in various facets of life. The day is not far when books authored by Kashmiris in the English language will be available in the international market, and Kashmiri-English literature will be embraced worldwide. English is on track to become the dominant language in the valley, as the indomitable spirit of the people propels them forward, surmounting any obstacles in their path and excelling in all endeavors.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of this newspaper.

Comments are closed.