"Kashmiri is our Identity" - Migrants strive to maintain their language and culture

Away from their homes in Kashmir and living in different parts of the world, Kashmiri Hindus (also known as Kashmiri pandits) strive to keep their language and culture alive.

In the southern city of Jammu, pandit artists sing Kashmiri songs. Three decades after they migrated from the valley when militancy errupted, the longing to return to their homes in Kashmir remains very strong. Six years ago, Pandit artists established Radio Sharda, the first community radio station of the state. Since then, the station has played an important role of uniting close to 300,000 members from all over the world to help them to reconnect with their roots.

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All of the content that is broadcast on Radio Sharda is in the Kashmiri language and is produced and presented by  pandits.

"After our migration from Kashmir, we lost touch with our roots and got exposed to different cultures. However, we have survived despite all the difficulties and Radio Sharda plays an important role for uniting our community," said Neelam Kaul, a Kashmiri pandit singer at Radio Sharda.

"We try as much as possible to reach out to our fellow pandits scattered world over through our own language and culture. We want a revival of the Kashmiri so that our children do not miss on their mother tongue," said Sarita, another Kashmiri pandit singer.

The community radio station is available on the internet and has been ranked the number one community radio station of the country by a government survey.

“If we distance ourselves from our own language, we will lose our identity.”
— Kusum Dhar, retired school principal and teacher

"Radio Sharda is not just meant for one single person or community, it is for all those who speak Kashmiri. Not just for those living in Jammu, but people across the world, including Kashmir," said Ramesh Hangloo, a Kashmiri pandit who first got the idea of starting the station. 

Hangloo migrated from south Kashmir to Jammu in 1989. He said the idea came to him from a Muslim immigrant who had etablished a similar radio station in London for the mirpuri community of Pakistani side of Kashmir. 

Migration from the valley after militancy brought a whole set of problems for Kashmiri pandits, but perhaps the biggest loss has been detachment from language and culture. 

At migrant camps for Kashmiri pandits, 20 kilometres from Jammu, on the weekends volunteers help the pandit children born and raised outside of Kashmir to learn Kashmiri language by conducting contests and quiz programs.

"The elders in my family speak in Kashmiri language, I feel I should also learn Kashmiri as I am not good at it," said a high school student named Ankush.

In the past year, such workshops have seen participation of nearly 1,000 children between the ages of 4 and 14 years old. The volunteers now plan to take the mission out of Jammu to other states.

"If we distance ourselves from our own language, we will lose our identity," said Kusum Dhar, a retired school principal who is a volunteer teaching Kashmiri language.

It is a long process. Since their migration from Kashmir, the government has made efforts to bring back the Kashmiri pandits. In 2008, 6,000 government jobs were sanctioned for pandits in the valley under the prime minister's reconstruction program.

So far, only 3,000 pandits have found jobs in Kashmir.