by Dr Reyaz Ahmad

To raise awareness for International Mother Language Day, let us utilize social media platforms by incorporating relevant hashtags such as #Kashmiri and #InternationalMotherLanguageDay into our posts. By collectively embracing and promoting our mother tongue, we contribute to the preservation of Kashmiri culture and identity.

International Mother Language Day, observed annually on February 21, originates from a proposal by Bangladesh at the 1999 UNESCO General Conference. Officially established by UNESCO in 1999, the day garners support from 28 nations globally, although Bangladesh has celebrated it since the mid-1950s.

The day is a global effort to promote linguistic and cultural diversity, addressing a significant challenge. In India, it is known as Matribhasha Diwas. In line with its peace-building mission, UNESCO strives to preserve cultural and linguistic distinctions, fostering tolerance and mutual respect.

International Mother Language Day emphasises the significance of preserving individuals’ mother tongues. UNESCO reports that 40 per cent of the world’s population lacks education in their native language, emphasising the urgency of language preservation efforts.

On International Mother Language Day, various events aim to foster inclusivity, social cohesion, and cultural awareness. Educational institutions commonly host cultural programs on this day to commemorate their nation’s linguistic heritage. These events often feature literary festivals, poetry recitals, seminars, and other activities emphasising the significance of linguistic diversity.

The celebration underscores the importance of languages in preserving and enriching cultural heritage. UNESCO advocates for the use and respect of mother tongues worldwide, particularly emphasizing the linguistic rights of speakers of minority and indigenous languages. Additionally, the day recognizes the pivotal role of language in education, social integration, and development, facilitating connections to culture and personal identity.

International Mother Language Day serves as a tribute to the resilience and cultural wealth embedded within a nation’s language. As Nelson Mandela aptly stated, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

The theme for International Mother Language Day 2024 is “Multilingual education: a cornerstone of intergenerational learning,” highlighting the crucial role of multilingual education in enhancing the quality of learning. While India’s major languages have smoothly transitioned into the digital age, smaller local languages face significant challenges. This raises concerns about the fate of indigenous languages in the country.

Increasingly, there is recognition that languages are integral to development, cultural diversity, and intercultural dialogue. Multilingual education, rooted in mother tongues, facilitates inclusive learning for populations speaking non-dominant, minority, and indigenous languages.

Languages represent not just communication but also identity. Without native-language-based education and governance, languages risk stagnation and decline. For example, Sanskrit and Persian, ancient South Asian languages, now primarily serve literary and religious purposes due to lack of everyday use.

Tim Brookes, founder of the Atlas of Endangered Alphabets, echoes concerns, highlighting the risk of losing languages and writing systems. The threat of language extinction prompts calls for action to safeguard linguistic diversity and heritage.

The State of the Kashmiri Language

UNESCO consistently underscores the importance of multilingual education based on students’ first language, known as the mother language or home language, during its annual International Mother Language Day celebrations. The disconnect between home languages and languages of instruction has long been a challenge in education systems worldwide. For years, the exclusive use of dominant languages in teaching has been criticized for its detrimental effects on teaching quality, learning assessments, and overall educational and employment prospects. Scholars emphasize that simply using a foreign language as the medium of instruction does not ensure effective language learning.

The New Education Policy 2020 advocates for using regional languages, mother tongues, or local languages as the medium of instruction up to at least grade 5. However, in Jammu and Kashmir, there is a growing trend of students choosing Urdu over their mother tongue. Urdu remains the most favoured subject among the diverse range of languages. Sadly, even private schools discourage students from speaking their mother tongue. Moreover, older generations in our families discourage children from speaking the Kashmiri language, despite being the last generation to primarily communicate in it.

The Persian language served as the court language of Kashmir for nearly five centuries until its decline due to lack of state support and discontinued usage. Urdu supplanted Persian in the late nineteenth century, posing a threat to regional languages and cultural heritage. The gradual decline of Kashmiri, especially among the youth, demands immediate attention. Media outlets’ preference for Urdu or English further marginalizes regional languages, weakening social cohesion. Even government officials, predominantly using English and Urdu, perpetuate the notion that Kashmiri is unsuitable for formal communication. The dwindling number of Kashmiri speakers, particularly in urban areas, highlights the challenge faced by youth in preserving their mother tongue. This linguistic erosion undermines authenticity in family conversations and cultural practices, fostering a homogenized discourse.

Kashmiri, one of the oldest languages in the subcontinent, remains excluded from platforms like Google Search and Google Translate due to our collective indifference. Stakeholders, particularly Adbi Markaz Kamraz, a literary organization, launched successful online campaigns urging Google to include Kashmiri in its translation services. Once implemented, this service will enable users to translate content into Kashmiri and vice versa, giving the language broader recognition and accessibility.

Language Preservation Concerns

The Kashmiri language has undergone influence from other languages, incorporating numerous non-Kashmiri words. Many words used in daily routines lack their typical Kashmiri meaning, posing challenges for native speakers. Despite the efforts of a handful of Kashmiri writers in poetry, fiction, and novels, they struggle to find publishers willing to disseminate their work, leading to a dearth of literature in the language. The decline of languages diminishes cultural diversity, eroding opportunities, traditions, memory, and unique forms of expression. Learning from the preservation efforts in South Indian states can offer valuable insights into safeguarding linguistic heritage.

Media Organizations

Social media platforms such as Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram serve as avenues for raising awareness about endangered indigenous languages and cultures through user-generated content. Users often emphasize the significance of heritage and cultural diversity, fostering greater appreciation for languages and encouraging people to embrace their mother tongue. On International Mother Language Day, it is crucial to recognize the contributions of young individuals creating Kashmiri content on social media platforms, aiding in the language’s survival amidst evolving technological and media trends. These youth play a vital role in adapting and updating the language to contemporary contexts. Additionally, platforms like Kashir Channel, Radio Kashmir, the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture, and Languages, Adbi Markaz Kamraz, Adbi Markaz Sangam, Fiction Writer’s Guild and select newspaper publications contribute to the promotion and preservation of the Kashmiri language. Their efforts deserve acknowledgement and support in fostering the language across various mediums.


The mother tongue is integral to a nation’s identity, and the preservation of the Kashmiri language is crucial for safeguarding centuries-old Kashmiri civilization. To uphold this heritage, Kashmiri should be mandated as a compulsory subject up to the 10th standard in schools and offered as an elective stream up to the 12th class in higher secondary schools. It is imperative to integrate Kashmiri into daily life to enhance its relevance and foster literacy among children and youth.

Despite influences from Sanskrit, Persian, Urdu, and English, Kashmiri has endured, serving as a symbol of the collective identity of Kashmiri culture and civilization. Concrete measures are needed to promote and preserve Kashmiri civilization, with the promotion of the language being paramount to staying connected to our roots.

Dr Reyaz Ahmad Ganai

Kashmiri culture embodies its distinct values, and it is essential to question why other language speakers, such as French, Spanish, Portuguese, or Arabic, do not abandon their mother tongue. As Kashmiris, it is incumbent upon us to keep the Kashmiri language alive for future generations. Let us each do our part by speaking Kashmiri, particularly at home with children, as emotions are best expressed in one’s mother tongue.

To raise awareness for International Mother Language Day, let us utilize social media platforms by incorporating relevant hashtags such as #Kashmiri and #InternationalMotherLanguageDay into our posts. By collectively embracing and promoting our mother tongue, we contribute to the preservation of Kashmiri culture and identity.

(The author is a researcher, independent writer, and poet. Ideas are personal)


  1. Indeed a well observed debate on the subject. The author has rightly invited the attention of one and all towards the neglect of the mother tongue. We all need to debate and discuss the subject matter honestly to reach an efficient system that can bring improvements to this otherwise fallen state of Kashmiri as a mother tongue.


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