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Politicisation of Balti Language in Kargil

Balti Purgi Kargil

The politicization of languages is common in the sub-continent. Urdu-Hindi controversy began in the 19th century to replace Urdu with Hindi as an official language. The same happened with the Balti language in the Ladakh region in the state of Indian controlled Jammu and Kashmir.

In the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir according to the 1944 official census, Balti was the third largest language, but after partition, it became a victim of political conspiracies as Baltis in Kargil Ladakh have been declared ethnically related to Baltistan. Historians say that most of the people of Kargil and Nubra, and most of the Muslims of Leh, were considered as Balti. Buddhists in Leh refer to all Shi‘a Muslims in Ladakh as Balti.

The creation of a new ethnic group in the form of a formal ethnic identity among the people of Kargil was originally intended to break Kargil’s ethnic connection with Baltistan and to keep the locals away from the Balti ethnic affiliation. The Balti language is an important part of the social and religious life of Shia and Noorbakhshi Muslims in Kargil. But declaring the Kargili dialect of Balti language as a separate language is part of a political conspiracy of the Indian government to break the linguistic and ethnic continuity of the Muslims of Kargil with Baltistan.

In India’s 2011 census, the number of Baltis was 13,774. While the number of Baltis in Jammu and Kashmir was 48,498 in 1981, the reason for this decline is to declare the Purgi dialect as a separate language. Before independence, only Balti and Ladakhi were officially recognized as two Tibetan languages. So all people living in Kargil were considered as Balti in the official census. Later, the Purgi dialect was declared a separate language. Due to which people who used to consider themselves as Balti now consider themselves as Purgi.
The language spoken by Baltis in Khaplu and Chorbat valley is still very different from the Western Balti dialect of Rondo Shigar. However, the people of Khaplo, Chorbat, Rondo and Shigar call themselves Balti instead of Khaploi, Shigri or Chorbati.

According to linguists, a dialect is generally a particular form of a language that is specific to a region or social group and usually has differences in pronunciation and vocabulary. Purgi dialect has 97% similar vocabularies with Balti dialects spoken in Khaplu, Skardu and Nubra, while Ladakhi is hardly intelligible with Balti. The Modern Balti language can be divided into four variants/dialects.

  1. Eastern accent of Chorbat and Nubra valley
  2. The central accent of Khaplu valley
  3. The western accent of Kharmang Skardu Shigar Rondo
  4. The Southern dialect of Kargil/Purig.
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