In India we usually call the Pakistan occupied part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir PoK. Baltistan is that part of PoK that is contiguous with the Kargil region of north western Ladkh. In turn the north-eastern part of Laddakh is contiguous with the western Tibetan plateau. The status of Baltistan and western Tibetan plateau are disputed between Pakistan and India and India and China. Baltistan, Ladakh and western Tibetan plateau are now under the control of three different countries, but peoples of these three regions are of the same race and speak the same language. Baltistan was part of Ladakh district before 1947. Fig 1 shows a map of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in which these three regions can be seen. The original Laddakh district is shown by a double line boundary. The approximate map of 25-year-old Kargil district is shown south of the Line of Control (LOC) by a single line. The town of Skardu that lies north-west of Kargil town across the LoC is the capital of Baltistan. Pakistan'stourism promotion website refers to Baltistan as ?Little Tibet? (see Fig 2, a page from Pakistani tourism website). Fig 3 shows an enlargement of Pakistan'sdepiction of PoK and Baltistan within it. Baltis call their land by a Tibetan name ?Baltiyul? which is derived from the original Tibetan script called ?Balti? that was prevalent in the area before Islamization (to Shia faith) took place in the 16th century during the reign of king Ghota-Cho-Senge. Islamization took place late in these parts, about three centuries later than in Kashmir valley. Thereafter the Arabic Nasq script was introduced. A Buddhist minority exists even now in Baltistan of PoK, although very thin on the ground. The part of Ladakh district that came to India has in its north-western part, around the town of Kargil, a Muslim majority. As one moves in the south-easterly direction the Buddhist population increases and in Zanskar and Leh they become a majority. Buddhists of Ladakh retained the traditional script called Bodhi (alternatively, Ladakhi) of Tibetan origin and they call their language Ladakhi. The Nasq (Arabic) script became popular with Muslims, and since it came to India via Persia, it is often called Persian script. The language written in Nasq is called Balti. In a sense the relationship between Nasq-Balti and Bodhi-Ladakhi is similar to that between Nasq-Urdu and Devnagari-Hindi.
Initially the sparsely populated Ladakh region consisted of a single district called ?Ladakh? (as shown in Fig. 1) with its capital at Leh. When Sheikh Abdullah was brought out of imprisonment and re-instated as the Chief Minister in the later half of the 1970s, he created a few new districts and sub-divisions along communal lines in different parts of the state. A Muslim-majority sub-division called Gool was carved out of composite Reasi sub-division in Jammu region and Ladakh district was bifurcated into Muslim-majority Kargil and Buddhist-majority Leh. Further, Buddhist-majority Zanskar subdivision was mischievously included in Kargil district instead of in Leh district. So now there remains no district called Ladakh, which was the original name. However, the whole composite region is still called Ladakh, as before, and that has significant legal implications.
Language and script
Between Balti and Ladakhi all verbs and 90 per cent of words are in common (Kazmi 1996). The following tables from Kazmi (1996) give an illustrative sample.
These tables serve to illustrate two important features. Firstly, the languages of Baltistan. of PoK and Ladakh of India are practically identical and should be classified as two dialects of the same language. They are given two different names because they are written in two different scripts. Secondly, they are a world apart from the north Indian languages such as Kashmiri, Urdu, Hindi etc of the Indo-European family. The centre of Balti is the Skardu town of POK and the centre of Ladakhi is the Leh town of Laddakh. The Kargil town of Ladakh lies in between geographically. Hence its language too should be somewhere in between Balti and Ladakhi. This implies that the Kargil speech and Leh speech are practically indistinguishable.
Traditionally, the Buddhist Gompas taught one son of every family how to read the scriptures. Western education was started first by Moravian Mission in Leh in 1889. The subjects taught were Ladakhi, Urdu, English, Geography, Nature Study, Arithmetic, Geometry and Bible Study. It is to be noted that mother tongue Ladakhi and two other useful languages were included in the curriculum (Wikipedia 2006).
After Independence, the Jammu and Kashmir government started opening schools that taught the pupils in Urdu medium till age 14 and thereafter switched to English medium. It is obvious that the Jammu and Kashmir government made a deliberate policy of dropping the mother tongue. On the other side of LoC Pakistan government was doing the same thing by imposing Urdu on the Balti-speaking people of the so-called ?Little Tibet? of Baltistan (Kazmi 1996). Students? Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) was started in 1988 that campaigned to shape public opinion for education reform. As a result of their movement, the mother tongue started replacing Urdu as the medium since 1993. The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) came into existence in 1995 after the act concerned was passed in the Legislative Assembly.
Urdu and the Arabic script have had a long spell since 1947, owing to the language policy of the state government. Hence it is likely that in Kargil district the script is Arabic (Nasq) in the Muslim-majority north-western parts and Bodhi in Zanskar, the Buddhist-majority south-eastern sub-division. The language is either called Balti or Ladakhi, depending on the script used. Since 2001 a series of steps have been taken, which spells doom for the language of Kargil, and makes separation of Kargil from Ladakh and its merger with Kashmir almost inevitable.
Since 2001 the Indian army has been opening Urdu-medium primary schools in Kargil to promote literacy, as a part of its Sadbhavana (meaning goodwill) program (Jha 2001). Evidently this was on advice from Jammu and Kashmir government, while the Central government was oblivious and lacked any coherent language policy. It should be noted that SECMOL'smother-tongue-first policy, which was supported by LAHDC, had been in place for previous 8 years. Yet the Indian army followed a policy that ran counter to SECMOL?s. Why didn'tthe army start schools in Balti medium in Kargil? There is only one answer to this question. There is an all pervasive language ideology permeating the Central government, Jammu and Kashmir Government and the Indian Army. It says, ?Urdu is the language of the Muslim?.
(The author is a Professor and can be contacted at Aerospace Engineering, IIT Kanpur; email: [email protected])
(To be continued)