Meet Nehri Sadeeq, A.K.A Sadeeq Sarazi
The CRPF soldier on a language mission
He'raa lo'ko Ket'roo Cho Sa'raaz Mai'roo Pi'ya'ro.
Bo'roo Ru'po'roo Er'noo, Aa'la'koo Cho Sa'roo.
(Look people, how sweet my Saraz is!
Every part of it is very beautiful.)
These lines are from a Sarazi poem written by a soldier, in which he glorifies his native Saraz region in the Chenab valley of Jammu and Kashmir.
Meet Nehri Sadeeq, who is also known as Sadeeq Sarazi. He is a CRPF soldier and hails from Jammu and Kashmir union territory. Sadeeq is currently deployed in Jharkhand where he is a part of anti-naxal operations. Besides performing his duty as a soldier, he is also fighting a battle to preserve his native Sarazi or Siraji language.
In Jammu and Kashmir, the Saraz region includes the northern half of the Doda district, as well as parts of the Ramban and Kishtwar districts. The two main languages spoken there are Sarazi and Kashmiri. While Kashmiri, which is also spoken in other parts of the Chenab Valley, is supposedly an import from the Kashmir Valley, Sarazi, a western pahari language, is an indigenous language.
According to the 2011 Census, there are 1,79,014 people living in the Saraz region, 77,362 of them speak Sarazi as their first language. But according to numerous surveys, the number of speakers is declining with time as a result of the government's negligence in not prioritising this language.
In Sadeeq's heart, the love for the Sarazi language dates back to childhood. He started writing poetry at an early age. He was born in the Dehrote Jatheli area of Doda district and grew up to join the CRPF in 2005. So far, he has served in Nagaland, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Kashmir, Bengal, Haryana, Chhattisgarh and now in Jharkhand.
Sadeeq was just seven years old when he wrote his first poem in Sarazi, "Cha'lay Gave ko soo Yaar me Ta'rai'taa, Wa'day Zenii Ke'ro'ray Men'ii Qasm khai'n'taa," meaning "where have you gone by leaving me, with the promises which you made for the sake of mine."
Growing up, he also wrote poems in Kashmiri and Urdu. When asked how he manages to write the poetry on duty, Sadeeq said, "usually we soldiers don't get time off from duty, so I write the poetry at night. Writing poetry as a soldier was not easy for me, as we were focused on our duty, but whenever I got a break, I spent that break writing the poetry."
Sadeeq has written nearly 500 Sarazi poems till now and also many poems, particularly ghazals, in Urdu and Kashmiri. "Writing poems is my passion now and I am overwhelmed with the support from locals of our area who promote my work in schools voluntarily," said Sadeeq.
In a publication based on literature in the Sarazi language, Vikalp Ashiqehind, a linguist trained at University College London, and Rohan Chauhan, an MPhil candidate at the Department of Modern Indian Languages and Literary Studies, University of Delhi, also interviewed Sadeeq, and hailed him for his "romantic and religious writings". This was because Sadeeq has written many prayers in both Islamic and others, which are usually recited in schools in the Saraz region as morning prayers.
He also recorded a video of Sarazi poetry and published it on his YouTube channel, Promote Sarazi, which has over 3000 subscribers. This channel, there are videos of Sarazi dramas also, which he created with his friends. "The digital world makes it easier to promote our language and we can preserve our content and share it with the world, otherwise it was not easy for us," Sadeeq explained.
When asked why there are few books or literature in Sarazi language, he said that the area's backwardness and poverty have left the artists behind. Most of them can't afford the cost of publication of books. "If any Sarazi writer has money for publication, they don't get proper resources to reach out to the publication houses," he said adding, "I think social media is a better place to promote the language, but the government should take some big steps that can uplift the language."
Sarazi, which is also spelt as Siraji, is a western pahari language which is now losing its existence as day by day its speakers are getting influenced by other languages.
The Indian Parliament passed The Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Act, 2020, which listed Kashmiri, Dogri, Urdu, Hindi, and English as official languages in the Union Territory. Many people feared that this would obfuscate other regional languages and hasten their extinction.
Many organisations expressed concerns over the non-inclusion of pahari languages, including Sarazi, Bhaderwahi, and more. Sadaqat Malik, who started an indigenous languages movement in the Chenab region, said, "It is unfortunate that the major chunk of the population is excluded who speak Sarazi, Bhaderwahi, Bhalessi, Padri, and Pogali."
According to Malik, the Chenab region in Jammu and Kashmir has a distinct culture, and the government should give priority to these languages, so that the unique culture of the Chenab region gets some boost too. "Sarazi has not yet been recognised as a language," he added.
According to GA Grierson's classification of western Pahari in his study of Indian languages, Sarazi is a pahari language. "Saraz and Sarazi: Grammatical Features", a journal written by Sadaket Malik has defined the eight demands of the Sarazi speaking population.
These include amendments to the J&K Reservation Rules, a 4% reservation in recruitment;
free admission to academic and professional colleges for Sarazi students' free admission to universities for Sarazi students and grant of scholarships (Post/Pre-matric) to school-going pahari-speaking students.
Anzer Ayoob is a journalist based in Jammu and Kashmir and is the founder of The Chenab Times.