The Pahari Language of Azad Jammu Kashmir

Understanding the language of British Azad Kashmiris, the Pahari cultural sphere of Kashmir

Aside from popular conventions in how we would transliterate words from one language into another, no corresponding practise exists for the Pahari language spoken throughout the so-called ‘Azad’ or the ‘Free’ Territory of Pakistan Controlled Jammu & Kashmir. Usually Pahari expressions, phrases, and words are transliterated into English through Urdu, a separate language from the North Indian Plains. Pahari has evolved from within the social ecology of the Western Himalaya, and the words we take for granted in Pahari and the subtle nuances infusing their meanings, cannot be accurately conveyed through the Urdu equivalence.

A good example of this is the actual word Pahari, (meaning, “from the hills, mountains, i.e., upland rolling terrain distinct from lowland (flat) Plains”, usually in reference but not exclusively to the Himalaya). This vocalisation is an Urdu-Hindi one, for Pahari speakers of Azad Jammu & Kashmir, the word Pahári is pronounced Pári.

So how did this happen and why is it important to know?

To know of such differences will allow us to understand and appreciate the nature of unjust power dynamics within a region, and to appreciate Occupation,

  • 1) as divergent languages are wrongly conflated under the same imposed political labels, and
  • 2) linguistic labels or linguistic identities are wrongly imagined through the vantage and priorities of outsiders for fraternities that do not exist in reality but only on paper thereby creating imagined group identities.

There are lots of reasons why this has happened, some of which are not benign or well-intentioned. Outside the political engineering of occupying forces, which is the case with the so-called Azad Kashmir Region of Pakistan, this has happened in lots of contested regions on earth, but the reasons can also be innocent. In such cases, we’re talking about linguistic scenarios conveyed through the terms diglossia or, as is the case with Pahari, triglossia. These are technical terms linguists and experts of language use when describing the use of more than one language, or dialects of the same language, by the same speakers, for a range of different purposes, socially, educationally, religiously, juridically and politically.

Because of how languages are used, people accord them different statuses; the more formal the role, the more respected the language, indirectly creating social dividends for its native speakers. Members of a group who monopolise a particular linguistic identity, may not necessarily have any social prestige on account of their personal accomplishments, even as they are keen to maintain their dominant linguistic status, which is largely the case with Urdu speakers in Pakistan. We can use a range of technical terms to understand this phenomenon. The ‘speech variety‘ reserved for official uses and formal communication in a territory is perceived as ‘prestigious’, what we call the ‘high variety‘. The every day language of informal communication would be considered the ‘low variety’.

How linguists determine the exact status of varieties (dialects/languages) for the purpose of understanding linguistic fraternities (sociolinguistics) is a separate discussion from understanding the internal mechanics of a language (which is a distinct branch of linguistics). Again, these highly complex discussions, based on competing interpretations and research tend to become conflated with politics and highly suspect agendas; political actors pontificate about the identities of people on account of the exact languages or dialects they speak, or ought to speak for the purpose of their own political narratives. They propagate linguistic or ethnic arguments for what are essentially political agendas. The ensuing claims are not linguistic or ethnic, and one can turn to any number of Pakistani sponsored narratives to see the false claims in operation. The Pakistan Intelligence Services are behind a lot of this flawed propaganda.

How a language is identified by people with different priorities, described or categorised, tells us nothing definitive or conclusive about the actual language in question, or the actual identities of its speakers. Labels imposed upon speech varieties could be very misleading, and this is especially salient when discussing the speech variety of ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir, a small area of 5000 or so square miles, of 4.5 million people, who belong to the much wider Jammu & Kashmir region.

Pahari speaking Azad Kashmiris in this respect are identified as Kashmiris, a term that is used as a territorial shorthand for a group of people originating from Jammu & Kashmir, or Kashmir State. The term Kashmiri has more than one meaning.

Because Jammu & Kashmir is a contested territory of 85000 square miles of 17 million diverse people, fought over by two outside powers, namely India (which has a legal claim to Kashmir State, but not a democratic claim) and Pakistan, (which has occupied parts of the region through military force, and also lacks a democratic claim). In effect Pakistan is an illegal interloper into the region, and the actual identity of Jammu & Kashmir is, thus, subject to the nationalistic narratives and priorities of Indian and Pakistani state actors.

The Pahari language of Jammu & Kashmir is one language amongst many beautiful languages that have been traditionally indigenous to the region. In terms of its actual status, Pahari and its various sister-dialects have been perceived as low varieties, a fate that has been reserved for all the other low varieties too. For this reason, educated natives of the language in ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir prefer to conduct their official business and formal undertakings in Urdu, all the while Urdu offers nothing practically to Pahari speaking natives of Azad Kashmir, socially, educationally, economically and politically, where tangible dividends are sought for ordinary people. In fact, when Urdu is compared to English, a global language spoken by the elites of Pakistan whose children are educated in this language because of unequal power dynamics, Urdu is still seen as a low-variety compared to English, which offers tangible benefits to its speakers outside the socially regressive environment of Pakistan with its internationally attested culture of neo-patrimonialism and corruption.

See, Freedom In The World 2021 Pakistan Report’, Freedom House

See, ‘Freedom In the World 2020, Pakistan* Occupied Kashmir Report’, Freedom House

The prestige of linguistic speakers is thus relative, fluid but ultimately connected with power dynamics that advantage or disadvantage certain language groups. Low varieties wherever they are spoken in the world are always placed at a significant disadvantage due to no fault of their own. They are not afforded the same patronage and cultivation that are ordinarily reserved for the ‘high’ varieties, creating disparity between the fortunes of individual languages.

Linguists recognise this to be unjust and unfair to thousands of ‘low varieties’ across the world. A lot of language prejudice is borne out of these inequalities. Individual speakers with little grounding in linguistic and sociolinguistic realities, posture through their linguistic group identities, demeaning those who speak low-varieties natively. One can see this language prejudice on social media today particularly within the context of Pahari speaking Azad Kashmiris and Urdu speaking Pakistanis. Despite the latter being unaccomplished in their own command of the Urdu language, they imagine their linguistic and social status to be primordially destined, demeaning and disparaging Pahari speakers of Azad Kashmir. This holds true for lots of other dispossessed and oppressed communities in Pakistan particularly the Baluch, Pashtun and Sindhis.

There is an important point here, a low variety is not a ‘lessor-language’. It should not be subjected to derision, not least on account of those who natively speak it. All languages whether they have written scripts, or extensive literatures, perform the same function to facilitate communication between in-group members. How a language accrues its ‘low’ or ‘high’ variety status is on account of a complex history connected with power-dynamics which I hope to discuss in other posts. It has absolutely nothing to do with the intrinsic worth of a language or the people who speak it, often themselves from humble backgrounds, their forebears having adopted the high variety whilst discarding their native tongues. People who insist that certain languages or dialects are better than others are incredibly ignorant of centuries of linguistic research.

Their language prejudices tell us a lot about their attitudes and worldview, as opposed to the people they stigmatise.

See, ‘Appraising Mirpur’s documented history, the story of Kashmir before and after 1846’ by Reiss Haidar

See also, ‘International Human Rights Day in Pahaari at Maqbool Bhat Shaheed Square Dadyaal’ by Tanveer Ahmed

International Human Rights Day in Pahaari at Maqbool Bhat Shaheed Square Dadyaal – AJK 10/12/2021

Culture #HumanRights #Pahaari #AJK Being the most valuable and consequently most fiercely contested territory in the world: Jammu Kashmir & Allied areas (JKA) is striving to protect its identity as a political entity.

Dialects & Patronage; Pahari spoken throughout the Centuries

In ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir, ethnic Pahari speaking Azad Kashmiris have been generally accustomed to being multilingual on account of their mother tongue not being the language of official communication, education and media. They have traditionally preferred speaking the official languages of statecraft. This is now changing, albeit gradually, as Azad Kashmiris from the diaspora, particularly in the UK with roots to the old Mirpur Division of Jammu & Kashmir, are showing a strong inclination to celebrate their actual culture, and ancestral language. They would like to preserve their language and protect it from going extinct. They are not afraid to confront the language prejudice of Pakistanis, not least because they are native speakers of the English language, which has greater prestige than Urdu.

All languages are dialects by definition. They are related to other dialects sometimes spoken across large distances, separated by thousands of miles. Every human language on earth is related. And yet most dialects will become extinct because native speakers stop speaking them. Why some dialects receive patronage, whilst others are left at the wayside is therefore not unique to Pahari speakers wherever they are in divided Jammu & Kashmir and neighbouring areas, the Pothohar Plateau, the Hazara Hills and Himachal Pradesh.

Diglossia is an almost universal norm across the world.


In what is today Azad Jammu & Kashmir, diglossia has obtained for generations. In previous centuries, if not for almost a thousand years, the lingua franca (a common language adopted by speakers of different languages to communicate with one another) was Persian. Persian has greatly influenced the morphology, syntax and the everyday vocabulary of Pahari, enriching the language extensively. Similarly, many Indic or Indo-Aryan languages spoken on the Indo-Gangetic Plains of India, a separate region from the Western Himalaya, particularly Sindhi and Punjabi, have also been influenced by Persian on account of this shared history.

But, aside from the fact that diglossia has crippled the chances of Pahari being cultivated for writing in both modern and pre-modern times, this does not mean that the predecessor to Pahari was afforded the same fate. Old Pahari, without making allusions to developmental or periodic stages of an evolving variety, spoken in the Gandhara and Kambojah regions of the Old Aryavarta Tribal Republics, in areas conterminous with the Pahari-cultural-sphere, was cultivated and used for writing.

In ancient times, Gandhara (1200 BCE – 800 CE) was an affluent region that benefited immeasurably from its frontier location between Central and West Asia, and South Asia. This particular language of the ordinary natives was written down for commercial reasons; traders wanted to record their transactions and commercial agreements with their internationalist partners in this language. Gandharan traders were celebrated for their personal integrity in business and otherwise good moral conduct. They were highly respected for their moral conduct.

As time progressed, the language was transported across huge distances as the Silk Road opened up new opportunities for merchants. Buddhist monks would travel the same paths to proselytise their religion, and natives of the wider areas would go to Gandhara to learn the new faith. Old Pahari was used in the ancient universities of Taxila and Neelum, a Buddhist area that had been closely connected with the Gandharan heritage. The ancestors of modern-day Azad Kashmiris came from all over the place merging into one people.

We think of this language, the forerunner to modern-day Pahari as a Prakrit which simply means the non-polished language of locals, distinct from Sanskrit, the embellished language of Brahman priests, and their Kshatriya Rulers. This is not to say that the ancient Pahari Prakrit was not refined, or cultivated, for writing purposes and the production of highbrow literature, but we use the term to distinguish Prakrit and various varieties from the Sacred Language of the Vedic Canon.

The forbears to our modern-day Azad Kashmiris in the lands we take for granted as Jammu & Kashmir were, in fact, mostly Buddhists, and not Hindus as many wrongly imagine. This state of affairs obtained for more than a thousand years until the advent of Islam around the turn of 11th century CE.

The Buddhists of this region did not share the anxieties or prejudices of their Brahman counterparts on the India-Gangetic Plains and were more egalitarian in how they interacted with various groups. They were more socially enlightened than their Brahman counterparts in North India, when we appraise modern values of human rights, equality and freedoms.

The fortunes of modern-day Pahari have massively waned from the success of its earlier predecessor. There have, however, been sporadic attempts to develop a standard script by Pahari speakers but these generally have had limited impact on changing the fortunes of the language.

No attempts have been made by either the Pakistan Government, the Occupying Power in Azad Kashmir to preserve the language. In the Pothohar Uplands, where the Pothwari dialect is spoken, a separate dialect related to Pahari, studies have shown that this variety is ‘endangered’ and will eventually become extinct within a couple of generations. Native Pothwari speakers are consciously adopting Urdu, and are ashamed of speaking their mother-tongue, contributing their own death-blows to the language of forbears by actively abandoning it.

It is usually Pothwari speaking Punjabis who insist on imposing a Punjabi identity onto Azad Kashmiris to disconnect Azad Kashmiris from Jammu & Kashmir, and when they do so, they use the term Punjabi negatively because of how they view their own Punjabi provincial identity. The associated prejudice and stereotypes prove what I am trying to say. Be that as it is, Azad Kashmir has never formed part of the Pothohar Plateau, the Punjab Plains or the Punjab Province. It has always belonged to the patronage networks of the Western Himalaya, and there is no evidence in any historical documents and attested books of scholarship that any part of Azad Kashmir was ever part of the Pothwar Region, a region, traditionally, which began westwards of the River Jhelum.

The claim that Mirpur Division, in particular, (because of its large UK-based remittences, Mangla Dam and ex-soldiers of the British Indian Army – the actual priority to keep the region for Pakistan), was part of the Pothwar Region before it formed part of Kashmir State in 1846 is similarly a fraudulent idea. The British did not seperate Mirpur from Pothwar because the two areas belonged to different patronage networks, and that can be evidenced in how the Mughals, who came before the British, Afghans, Sikhs and Dogras identified the area. For centuries, these areas were semi-independent. They were seperate areas because the River Jhelum, on either side of which is rugged uninhabitable country separated Pothwari speaking Punjabis from Pahari speaking Kashmiris, who were separated from Plains Punjabis through the Mountains of the Salt Range Tract. What is today’s Mirpur region was part of the Kabul Province, but even before it was added to the Kabul mountainous region, it had a patronage relationship with the Valley of Kashmir that transcended the Pir Panjal Mountain complex on either side.

Thus the idea that Pahari speakers of Azad Kashmir are essentially Pothwaris, and by extension Punjabis because they originate from the Punjab, is a concoction and gross distortion of documented history. It has no basis in historical accounts and is the propoganda of the Pakistan Occupier in so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir to sow discord amongst Pahari speakers of Azad Kashmir and Valley Kashmiris. The primordialist Punjabi claim can not be sourced in any academic work on what constitutes the history of the Pothwar or Punjab regions, and worse, in any historical documents that can be used to identify ancient polities. The false idea has currency because of its circulation by naive and unthinking people, and not because of anything substantive, historically speaking.

See, ‘Potwar Plateau Region, Pakistan’, Encyclopedia Britannica

Fortunately for Pahari dialects spoken across the border in ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir, wrongfully conflated with Pothwari varieties for the purpose of occupation-politics, mostly in areas around the Mirpur Division, they are thriving. Language activists are cultivating a shared Pahari literary-standard by writing stories, poems, dramas. They are proudly using the language in their media productions. These language activists, YouTube Bloggers and singers, do not suffer from the same anxieties on display in the Pothohar Uplands with whom they are increasingly becoming distant and separated given their strong desire to preserve their Azad Jammu & Kashmir identity. Many are also involved in the Kashmir Independence Movement against Pakistan.

‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir & Pakistan’s Urdu Policy

Today’s lingua franca in all of Pakistan and Azad Jammu & Kashmir is Urdu. The imposition of Urdu on the native peoples of Pakistan has become a cancer for the indigenous languages of the wider area, not least because Urdu is connected with a political hegemony that has been gradually destroying the original character of Pakistan’s indigenous cultures.

When we criticise this state of affairs, we are not criticising the Hindi-Urdu language with roots in North India. Hindi-Urdu is a beautiful language in its own right, we are exposing the policies of unenlightened political actors who seek to create artificial fault lines between diverse ethnic peoples to further their interest group’s political priorities. They are, in fact, doing a disservice to the Urdu language itself and its native speakers.

Pakistan’s hegemonic forces demand that everyone speaks Urdu at the expense of their own native tongues, creating a culture where the indigenous peoples of Pakistan are demeaned on account of remaining true to their cultural heritage. Not even the memories of their parents and grandparents are spared, as people are made to feel ashamed of their past, all the while the architects of this inequality reserve English-Medium-Education for themselves. In doing so, they reimagine their past, promoting false origin myths about the Urdu language, now disconnected from its actual history as Hindvi and Hindustani – a North Indian Language.

Romanticising Urdu; False Origin Myths

The actual word Urdu is of Turkish origin. It is derived from the Indic phrase ‘Zuban-e-Urdu-Mu’alla‘, which translates to, “the language of the military camp”. Reference to this phrase can be found in Muslim texts from around the middle of the 12th century CE. Other phrases were used to describe Persian, but over time, the shortened phrase to the ‘Urdu’ word became a metonym for a dialect that was being cultivated for writing and locally-produced literature around the turn of the 1700s. This emerging language’s written corpus cannot be dated earlier. The natives who spoke this language referred to it as Hindi, and used variations of the term, Hindvi, Hindustani etc.

With the emergence of British Colonialism in the subcontinent, Colonial Officers sought to document and codify the native languages of India. In respect of Hindi or Hindustani, it was British colonial linguists who started the practise of calling this variety Urdu as a means of trying to locate the language in some distant Muslim past. In doing so, they were politically engineering a social sitiation. New attitudes formed around the language, even as it was the British who wrote Urdu’s first grammar books to give some insight into the actual history of Urdu, which at the time, was identitical to Hindi.

Urdu is essentially Hindi, it is an Indian language with a huge smattering of Persian/Arabic words. It is for this reason that linguists prefer to describe the language as Hindi-Urdu, linguistically, as opposed to calling the two varieties, Urdu or Hindi, sociolinguistically. Its roots are in North India, around the area of Delhi, but varieties of this language were also cultivated in Lucknow and on the Deccan Plateau.

Ironically, it was not the native language of the Mughals, who were very keen to speak Persian and Turkish. Persian was the official language of the Mughal Court (Darbar) and numerous Indian regional Courts that included Hindu and Sikh Rulers. Maharajah Ranjit Singh, the Punjabi Sikh Jat’s Courtly Culture was conducted in Persian, and not Urdu or Punjabi. The language of the ordinary and, even, well-to-do North Indians in Delhi was Hindi.

Erroneously, lots of Pakistanis and those with highfalutin attitudes towards the Urdu language wrongly ascribe historical importance to the language through imaginary Mughal connections which Hindi clearly lacked. They are making allusions to a past that they are imagining, possibly on account of how Pakistan’s Muslim past is constructed ideologically as the successor State to Muslim India’s past. If there was any shred of historical truth to their claims, they would be speaking Persian today, without ever having the need to speak English, the colonial language of actual power, as proof of their social class status.

In fact, the only reason why Urdu assumed an official position in the first place, outside the patronage of individual patrons, was because the British promoted the language to statecraft. In a bid to demote Persian, now deemed the language of India’s ‘foreign’ Muslims, colonial officers wanted to adopt a native Indian language which could be used in official capacities by natives, transitioning from their actual native tongues to Urdu.

This policy was then adopted by a number of British Indian Provinces and Princely States including the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir.

For those adopting Hindi-Urdu, as a distinct language from Bengali or Sindhi, even in areas that had no connections with the dialect, a number of cleavages emerged. Muslims were keen to use the language with a Persian-derived-Arabic script whilst Hindus insisted on using a native Indian script. The identity of the language was then fought over as it became a political football between Hindus and Muslims.

Gradually, self-affirming Hindus, rallying against India’s Muslim past expunged the old Hindi language of its original Persian-Arabic vocabulary replacing Persian words with Sanskrit derived words in a bid to make the language sound more authentic. Self-affirming Muslims did the complete opposite, relying almost entirely on Persian-Arabic words for the language’s higher lexicon in a bid to make the language sound more Muslim and foreign to India. Eventually, the evolving varieties of Hindi and Urdu were artificially engineered, a stark contrast to how the earlier but shared dialect naturally evolved.

Today, speakers of these two distinct lexicons speak their respective dialects whilst mutual-intelligibility becomes greatly hampered when they deliberately resort to their respective variety’s higher lexicon.

Once Pakistan came into existence, and Urdu was legislated as the official language of the new country, new ethnic fault-lines emerged. The attitudes of Urdu speakers did not help. They began to denigrate speakers of other languages, languages and dialects that had been native to the lands of East and West Pakistan for centuries. They looked down at the Bengalis and exploited them. They opined that the Bengali language and its use of its Indian script was not sufficiently Muslim in character. They demanded that the Bengalis use Urdu and not their mother tongue, an indigenous language with a much older pedigree to Urdu, with an even older extensive literature. It was from this cleavage, that the Bengal Independence Movement finds its seed, not as an Independence Movement, but a struggle to protect the native language of ethnic Bengalis.

Astute social commentators in Pakistan have observed the fault-lines caused by the State’s imposed language policy and the prejudicial attitudes it creates. They have observed the hypocrisy of a Punjabi Elite that insists that every Pakistani learn Urdu for the purpose of national cohesion, whilst educating their children in English. They argue that this policy will stop the country from imploding given its huge ethnic diversity. The irony of this position couldn’t be more poetic, not least because it is this social class that benefits directly from denying the indigenous ethnic groups of Pakistan the right to preserve and enjoy their culture, personally availing themselves of opportunities by employing English in official capacities, and not Urdu.

The Urdu-language policy disconnects local people from state patronage. It guarantees a small class of Urdu speakers government jobs all the while they maintain their grip on the country as privileged English speakers conducting the affairs of the country in English, a reality denied to the majority of the population, who are encouraged to learn Urdu to compete for scarce resources.

Pakistan’s education system is two-tiered, one designed for the elite where the language of instruction is English, and the other designed for the masses, where the language of instruction is Urdu. The elites pay for private education, rely on the old school network set up by the outgoing colonial administrators, and oftentimes send their children abroad. The poor have to rely on poorly financed government schools, and if you understand how tiny budgets are allocated between Pakistan’s impoverished Ministries to cater for nearly 210 million people, you’d realise that the poor always get the short end of the stick. In their minds, to get ahead in Pakistan, they think they must deny their ethnic heritage whilst adopting Urdu, a language that has no native constituency in any of the indigenous lands of Pakistan. They then confuse Urdu with an older Islamic heritage courtesy of the Pakistan Project that fabricates its history to the chagrin of professional historians across the world.

Lessons to be learnt

As British Azad Kashmiris of ethnic Pahari descent, we should have no qualms with speaking Urdu, or any other language for that matter. Urdu, like Punjabi, are beautiful languages that should be accorded respect, according respect to all languages. We do not make fun of other people’s native languages. We are not ignorant bigots.

But, we must accept that Urdu is not our native tongue, English has become our native tongue in the UK. In Azad Kashmir, Pahari is our native tongue. Because we were born and raised in Britain, we think in the English language. According to linguists, the language you dream in, i.e, think in, is your mother tongue. As for the Pahari language, it is our ancestral language, and we must protect and preserve it. It will connect us with the memories and life stories of our forebears, their cultural past and region in Azad Jammu & Kashmir.

We are not invested in Urdu in the way Pakistani Nationalists are when they seek fraternity amongst themselves. They are a seperate community to us because our interests are more humane and people-inclusive. Pakistan belongs to an elite, and not 210 million people.

So what does the word Pahari mean?

As I explained in the introduction, when Pahari speakers transliterate Pahari words into a modified Perso-Arabic script (‘nastaliq’) for the purpose of giving expression to their language, they resort to Urdu conventions of spelling, which distort the pronunciation of the original Pahari words. Without an established and agreed standard script, this is difficult to avoid and we should be aware of such conventions.

Also, the term Pahari for the purpose of our discussion is being used ethno-linguistically for the nationals of Azad Jammu & Kashmir, an ethnic group that resides on both sides of the Line of Control (de facto border) that separates Indian/Pakistan-administered-Kashmir. In its original connotations, it refers to geography and typography, but not ethnicity by way of an ascribed ethnic identity. Some colonial linguists used it for a particular branch of Indo-Aryan languages, categorising the Pahari spoken in Jammu & Kashmir as Chibhali. They subsumed it within a distinct language branch called North Lahnda, a separate and distinct language from Eastern Panjabi and Hindi-Urdu.

The word ‘Pahari’ is connected with the word ‘Pahar’, which of the two is a derivation of the other is not clear and can be difficult to ascertain for all sorts of reasons not worth discussing. That said the word ‘Pahari’ is categorised as an adjective and literally translates to ‘being of, or belonging to the hills and mountains; hilly, mountainous.’ The English distinction between hills and mountains has no equivalence in any of the Indo-Aryan languages, and this also applies to the Pahari language.

The upland terrain of the Pahari homeland is remarkably uniform and stands in stark contrast with the lowland plains of neighbouring regions most notably the Punjab Plains and the Pothohar Plateau, (plateaus are flat uplands distinct from hills-mountains). For obvious reasons, Pahari also implies an inhabitant of the ‘upland-hilly-mountainous’ region, as in ‘hillman’, ‘mountaineer’, ‘uplander’.

The word ‘Pahar’ on the other hand is categorised as singular masculine and translates to ‘mountain, hill’ or any environment that is ‘mountain-like, hill-like’, which in the typographical sense means ‘rocky, steep or undulating’ in the sense of an ‘undulating countryside’.

Linguistic derivations from the root-word that ‘Pahar’ originates include the words ‘pára’, (adj., ‘heavy’), ‘pár (n., ‘load’, ‘weight’), ‘rrna’ (vb.,‘to rip, to tear to pieces’), ‘pár’ (adv., ‘over there’, ‘on the opposite side’).

The physical characteristics of the Pahari region has clearly impacted these derivations. To contextualise these derivations metaphorically within the context of the landscape, they capture wonderfully extra-territorial, but popular nuances that cohere in the related words. The Pahar is thenceforth seen as an ecology that is ‘hard, rugged, broken, uneven country’ that produces ‘rugged, strong people’ in the sense of a community of uplanders possessing strong physical constitutions. Historical accounts of the Hillmen, who lived in the region bear out these descriptions.

Understandably, these extra-territorial nuances can and do produce positive and negative connotations and, oftentimes, lead to stereotypical representations. For instance, Pahari women are considered attractive, whilst the men are seen to possess sturdy constitutions. Collectively, the population is considered simpleton and uneducated. These are crude stereotypes borne of prejudice and bias for an incredibly diverse population, and are the anxieties of outsiders, and not the natives of the region. Although this has not stopped some upwardly-mobile Azad Kashmiris internalising such anxieties.

Etymology of Pahari

Turning to the etymology of the words ‘Pahar’/‘Pahari’, we learn that they are of Indo-Aryan origin with cognates, or words that originate from the same linguistic source in other related languages including Panjabi (MSP) and its various dialects; ‘Dogri’, a speech variety akin to ‘Pahari’ in debates about its exact status but generally accorded an independent language status. In classical Sanskrit, which is closely connected and contemporaneous with the linguistic forerunner to Pahari, (Prakrit spoken across the ancient Gandharan region, or Middle Indo-Aryan, 600 BCE – 1000 CE), we learn of the cognates ‘párvata’, ‘being in or growing on or coming from or consisting of mountains; mountainous, hilly’; ‘párvatika’, ‘a multitude of mountains, mountain-range’; ‘párvatíya’, ‘living or dwelling in the mountains; mountainous; a mountaineer’; and ‘Párvatí’, ‘a mountain stream’, ‘a kind of fragrant earth’; personal name of the God ‘Shiva’s’ wife (as daughter of Hima-vat, the personification of the Himalayas, King of the snowy mountains).

It should not come as a surprise to then learn that these meanings underpin usages in a host of languages that have descended from Indo-Aryan, the parent language of all North-West and North Indian languages. The cultural ecology of these languages include vast upland terrains, hilly and mountainous areas that stretch for vast distances right through the North West regions of the subcontinent to its North East regions. This long belt of terrain (that includes the Siwalik Hill Regions) is conterminous with the foothills of the great mountain complex of the Himalayas.

And so, in popular usage, the term Pahari can and has been used by lots of unrelated Indo-Aryan peoples more often in a colloquial fashion to describe the ‘ecology, culture and language’ of communities living on hills or mountains. Some of these unrelated ethnic groups have used the term as a self-ascription although its usage can vary greatly in application from the vantage of those using it to describe others from within their own cultural-spheres.

In other words, whether “X” are Pahari speakers from the vantage of “Y”, “Y” may feel that “Z” are actually more Pahari than themselves, creating a highly malleable and fluid situation where the term is passed around with no definitively ascribed communities.

Historically, these communities self-ascribed on the basis of their tribal caste/clan based identities, a norm that was quite common throughout the world prior to the advent of nation states post 1800 CE. Regional designations did exist and people were identified on the basis of the regions they hailed from, whether as independent polities or polities controlled by an Empire located elsewhere. However, throughout this period in history, regional designations did not form the basis of identities we take for granted today especially nation state or nationalistic identities.

That said, the homogenous community of Azad Kashmir speaks Pahari. It is a Pahari speaking community with roots in Jammu & Kashmir, it’s actual homeland. This is region is not Pakistan, and English and Pahari speaking Azad Kashmiris must mobilise to protect their ancestral language, culture and memories from Pakistan and Urdu-speaking domination.

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Equality & Human Rights Campaigner, Researcher, Content Copywriter and Traveller. Blogger at Portmir Foundation. Liberal by values, a centrist of sorts, opposed to authoritarianism - States must exist for the welfare of people, all of them, whatever their beliefs or lifestyles. People are not "things" to be owned, exploited, manipulated and casually ignored. Political propaganda is not history, ethnicity, geography or religion. I love languages and cultures - want to study as many as I can; proficient in some. Opposed to social and political injustice anywhere in the world. I believe 'life' is a work in progress, nothing is fixed even our thoughts! Feel free to contact me - always prepared to widen my intellectual horizons and stand corrected - don't insult me though. Be grown up. Tell me why you think I'm wrong. If you make sense, I'll change my views. My opinions are not necessarily those of the Portmir Foundation; the Foundation does not do censorship; if you disagree with any of us, and you espouse liberal values, write your own opinion piece, and we'll publish it even if we disagree with it. It has to be factual and original. You can contact us at