“Shina, while itself fairly homogenous, is spoken in a linguistic environment of striking diversity, ranging from dialects of Tibetan in the east, to Kashmiri in the south, Burushaski in the north, and Pashto and Indus Kohistani in the west” (Schmidt and Kaul 2008: 236). While drawing a comparison of Shina and Kashmiri vocabularies based on some 280 core vocabulary items, Schmidt and Kaul (2008) also note that Shina might have been affected [through language contact] by Persian as well since it [Persian] was in the past ‘influential as an administrative language in the old Kashmir State” In Kashmir, Shina language is spoken by people scattered over a vast mountainous region stretching from northern areas of the state and in the east through the territories in North-Western province of Pakistan into the north-eastern parts of Afghanistan. In J&K, the language is spoken in Gurez valley of district Bandipora of Kashmir division and Dras area of Kargil district in Ladakh division. The two varieties of Shina have been named after the regions that they are being spoken in; Gurezi Shina and Drasi Shina respectively. The total number of Shina speakers in J&K, as per 2001 census of India was 34390. A majority of them is resident to the Gurez area of the state.
Gurez used to be a district under Ahmad Shah of Skardo and has, since its conquest by Gulab Singh, come under the permanent rule of the Maharaja of Kashmir. It was the bone of contention between the Nawabs of Astor and the Rajahs of Skardo, each wanting to possess it, thus it never had a real government of its own. People are of Shina origin and appear manlier than their counterparts in Kashmir. The older geography used to extend up to Kuyam or Bandipur on the famous Wullar Lake. Women are reputed to be chaste and beautiful. Gurezis speak three languages Kashmiri, Gurezi (a corruption of Shina), and Punjabi, the latter because of its occupation by Maharajas officials. Shina is a Dardic language spoken by a plurality of people in Gilgit-Baltistan of Pakistan and Dras in Ladakh of India. The valleys in which it is spoken include Astore, Chilas, Dareil, Tangeer, Gilgit, Ghizer, and a few parts of Baltistan and Kohistan. It is also spoken in Gurez, Dras, Kargil, Karkit Badgam and Ladakhvalleys of Jammu and Kashmir. There were 321,000 speakers of Gilgiti Shina as of 1981, and an estimated total of 550,000 speakers of all dialects of Shina. Many Shina speakers are also found in Pakistan’s major urban centers of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Abbotabad, Hyderabad and Karachi etc. The valley of Gurez, where Shina is the principal language of the people, is a picturesque one. Charles Ellison Bates reflects: “Gurez valley is extremely picturesque as the river comes dashing along through a rich meadow, partly covered with lindens, walnut and willow trees, while the mountains on either side present nothing but a succession of most abrupt precipices and Alpine lodges, covered with fir trees”.
Shina is spoken over a wide extent of the country. The eastern part of its southern boundary is the mountain range lying immediately to the north of the valley of the Kashmir, i.e. the range to the north of the Sind River. The boundary follows this chain of mountains eastwards to about longitude 75-30. To the east of that is the Dras River. From a point a little to the west of Dras, the eastern boundary follows a line northwest to the Indus, crossing the Indus a few miles above the junction of the Indus and Gilgit Rivers, and continuing as far as latitude 36-15 or 36-20. From the north of Gilgit, the northern boundary goes southwest to the mountain crests lying to the north of Chilas, and then follows the line of the Indus valley down past Sazin, Tangir, Jalkot and patus to a point a little more than half way between Chilas and Amb which is a town to the west of Abbotabad. The western part of the southern boundary may be said to be the mountain chain to the south of the Indus from this point back towards Chilas, keeping north of the Kagan valley. From the head of the Kagan valley, a straight line to Haramuk will join the eastern part of this boundary. The Shina country may thus be said to include the Gures (Gurez) and Tilel valleys on the south drained by the Kishenganga River, the valley of the Burzil River to Burzil, the districts of Astor, Gilgit, Chilas and Kohistan down the Indus. Within these limits, Shina is the only language spoken, but one must remember that the Gurez and Tilel people are bilingual and speak Kashmiri well (Bailey 1924: xiii).
Shins are the people of Chilas Astor, Dareyl or Darell, Gor, and Gilgit. All these people do not consider Gurezis- inhabiting between Chilas and Kashmir- as Shin although the Gurezis themselves think that they are shin. The Gurezi dialect, however, is undoubtedly Shina, much mixed with Kashmiri (Leitner 1886: 59). Shins call themselves Shin, Shina lok, Shinaki and are very proud of the appellation and in addition included in it are the people of Torr, Harben, Sazin,Tangir belonging to Darell; also the people of Kholi-palus whose origin is Shin, but who are mixed with Afghanis. Some do not consider the people of Kholi- Palus as Shin. They speak both Shina and Pakhtu (pronounced by Shin as posto). The Baltis and little Tibetans call the Shin and Nagyr people ‘Brokhpa’ or as a term of respect, ‘Brokhpa babo’. Shins inhabit Dras near Zojila pass on the Ladakh road en-route Kashmir. In stature pure shin are tall, blonde (at times) big jawed and well-structured almost matching their counterparts in Europe. “I have little hesitation in stating that the pure Shin looks more like a European than any high caste Brahmin of India.

Tanveer Habib