Extracted from ‘National Integration of Sindhis’
By Subhadra Anand
The Sindhis as citizens of India have carved out a niche for themselves in the regional societies of India. Their widespread dispersal into the various linguistic states of the country, has resulted in a process of accommodation by which the Sindhi society has modified and acquired a different colour in each region, but what constitutes a problem for them is the survival of their ethnic identity. They are required, as a migrant group, to integrate themselves into the regional and national culture and at the same time retain their basic ethnicity and primordial traits of the Indus Valley.
Urmila Phadnis defines ethnicity as “a social collectivity which possesses, and is aware of, its distinctiveness by virtue of certain shared historical experiences as well as certain objective attributes such as race, tribe, language, religion, dress, diet, etc. - a combination of some of which endows it with a differentiated character vis-à-vis other groups as they perceive it and it perceives them.” The Sindhis retain some of the characteristics of their ethnicity even today. The older generation shares the historical experience of migrating from their homeland in Pakistan into India. They feel a nostalgia for Sind. They also cherish the virtue of their primordial racial and religious attributes. But the coming generation is increasingly shedding off the elements of their ethnic identity.
Scattered as they are, the Sindhis nevertheless form a definite ethnic group. The criterion for an ethnic group in a strict sense is considered to be common descent or atleast a belief in common descent whereas in a broader sense, it is common culture. This view point will apply to the generation of Sindhis who were born in Sind and could consider their land of birth as a cohesive agent, but the younger generation, born in India and scattered among different dominant cultural groups does not possess this thread-line to knit them together. If they were localized in a region, the older generation could have ingrained the common cultural pattern into the younger generation, but with the dispersion of Sindhis the common cultural argument falls apart because the Sindhis have become Marathi Sindhis, Gujarathi Sindhis, Bhopali Sindhis, etc., where identification patterns vary and the thread-line with Sind has snapped.
There is an urgent need for the Sindhis to first achieve group integration within themselves if they have to have a cultural identity of their own. The Sindhis in fact are drawing away from their culture. Thus ethno-centrism is not working as a cohesive factor as far as they are concerned. There is a general tendency to regard one's own associates as the chosen people, one's culture as the best of all cultures and one's community as “God's own country”. This preferential feeling which members of a group have for their own culture is referred to as ethno-centrism. This acts as a cohesive factor in group life. But if the Sindhis turn away from their own culture then nothing can bind them.
There is however a reason for this weak ethno-centrism amongst the Sindhis. Ethno-centrism is not strong among them because they gave faced changes and have been subjected to mobility. Sindhis have become so individualistic that they have not been able to form strong groups ties and since they settled down anywhere in India, it was not left to them to choose their associates. So a strong bond amongst them is missing. The Sindhis have, however, overcome their painful experience and have adjusted well to the new values and to the new cultural groups. But in the bargain they have allowed their own group to break up and weaken. The stable and significant part of the Sindhi culture has thus been neglected. This has led to a situation bordering on identity crisis.
Efforts towards cultural and identity preservation must come from Sindhis themselves. In this case, of course the help of the regional state governments and the central government is very essential, because they must realise that the Sindhis once had a homeland and they were victims of circumstances and have lost a land only to be dispersed. The problem of the survival of the Sindhis is closely related to the problem of integration. It is only if they survive as a homogeneous community will the question of their integration become important. Any plan therefore of ensuring their cultural survival should provide for successful organization of social order across inter-state barriers. This could be achieved by accommodation and assimilation in the regional communities in some spheres for peaceful inter-group relations and intercultural understanding. This would lead to a level of integration with the Indian national community at large. The plan should further ensure security for the community during upheavals and political convulsions of any kind. The Sindhi society will have to go through a process of restructuring of society. Since the plan envisages reconstruction without any geographical base of its own in the first instance, one can contemplate formation of only an organized society and, if necessary, the possibility of regional settlement.
This plan for the survival and better integration of the Sindhi society can be arranged under the following heads;
1. Organised Society
2. Organised Religion
3. Unified Education
4. Pattern of Culture
5. Inter-Cultural Understanding
6. Resettlement and Reorganization
A society is not an end in itself. It has a moral mission for the good of its members. Institution and processes are designed to promote a way of life and establish a cultural configuration with the object of fulfilling its goals, needs and values in ways which are compatible with their motivation, beliefs and attitudes. The first thing to be done is to examine the place of Sindhi society under the Constitution of India. The Constitution recognizes only two types of societies, viz, the assimilationist, such as scheduled castes and tribes, with the ultimate aim of their assimilation in the regional societies; and the pluralistic such as religious societies like the Parsis, Christians, Muslims and Sikhs as also the linguistic societies, which except of the Sindhis have now become regionally based; or both the types in combination.
These minorities enjoy cultural variability with the range consonant with national unity and security. The constitution envisages a basis for political and economic unity alongwith toleration of lingual, cultural and religious diversity. To this end, it provides fundamental rights to citizens and secures them against discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste or descent. The freedom extends to cultural, educational and religious rights as well. But as the Constitution does not provide any enforcement techniques and the minority rights are violated under local patriotism and parochial tendencies of the states, provision for safeguards will have to be made at the community level.
The Sindhi leaders feel that the Panchayats of such community settlements should function as basic social democracies in order to manage the local community institutions, as well as those that may be entrusted to them by the organisation. They feel that small Panchayat democracies should be integrated at the district, provincial, and national level, into a federal system so that the community functions as an organic complex whole. The objective of socialization control of disruptive behaviour and regulation of emotional expression could be best realized by strengthening the institution of the Panchayat. The functions of the Panchyats, in addition to the normal activity, should be to integrate the whole community through the establishment of Sindhi Bhavans, where Sindhi culture should be nurtured through the celebration of cultural days such as Sindhiat and other festivals, so that there is cohesion and communication among the scattered Sindhis. The Panchayat operating at the national level could also usefully act as an agency to arrange the marriages of Sindhis from different regions who otherwise find it difficult to communicate. In this respect the national Panchayat could work with the regional Panchayats.
Religion deals with the other world which is fixed and eternal and is based on faith and not on science and logic. It is therefore capable of absorbing all contradictions within its system. Religion being based on sentiment of the unchanging world beyond, is the most stable part of a culture. And if a cultural or its other sub-systems such as language, art, etc. are ties to religion, they become reinforced as a very solid part of religion. Therefore, religion and other elements of community which are attached to it become the best conserving agencies for the preservation of the community. Religious communities like the Parsis, Muslims and Jews have survived through the ages in all cultural climates and different environments. A language, if it is related to religion, as the in case of Jews, Sikhs or Muslims can be well preserved, even if its followers are scattered. Though language may disappear in culture contact, yet the tradition, domestic and ritual rites and ceremonies continue to survive, if language too is closely involved or interwoven with religion. Language thus assumes a sacred character because the sacred scriptures are written in that language and all sacred rituals, sermons, recitals, customs, ceremonies and moral codes are written, spoken or sung in that language. It will become as sacred as Hebrew to the Jews, Arabic to the Muslims and Gurmukhi to the Sikhs.
Though the Sindhis are not a religious society in India, they have a distinct cultural religion which is called Sindhiat. Its total and exclusive development in the Indus Valley for hundreds of years has given it a distinctive character. It is the sum total of their cultural heritage including within it the cultural personality of Sindhis. An integrated system of traits and attitudes of patience, perseverance, endurance, courage, charity, generosity, hospitality and adaptability are all gifts of the valley. It also represents a language which has been transmitted as a basic mould from generation to generation. It further includes all that was brought along by the Sindhis during migration, in the form of cultural survival-norms, symbols, traditions, rituals, etc. which constitute the Sindhiat.
Thus Sindhiat is the religion of the Sindhis. The God Uderolal is their deity and his birthday is the Sindhiat Day. Since domestic ritual is the most conservative agency for preserving the language, religion and society itself, it requires to be reconstituted in an organized way by publication of the necessary literature for domestic use on all religious occasions. It requires enormous literature on various aspects of religion, religious beliefs and rituals. Thus literature requires to be integrated in religious rituals, feats, fairs and festivals. This could be done in the form of prayer and reading of sacred texts, recitals, kirtans, arti, palan, etc. Such recitals, rites and songs should project the Sindhi religion, philosophy, ethics and moral code in an organized way. An organized religion requires organized sacred texts. A committee of experts consisting of poets, writers and intellectuals in religion and philosophy could prepare an:
1. Amar Granth for recitation
2. An Amar Gita incorporating the Sindhi philosophy and religion
3. A Prayer Book
4. A book on domestic rituals including the celebration of fasts, feast, festivals or fairs such as the Sindhiat Day
5. A book for kirtan
6. A Sindhiat Panchang or Tipna for domestic and religious use, and
7. A book enlisting the importance of Sindhu and holy places and such other books as the committee may deem proper.
The temples of Uderolal are springing up in all community settlements of the Sindhis. These temples can be organized as trust ashrams under a central system through co-ordination in the celebration of the sacred days, etc. The functions could include charitable activities and management of charitable trusts for the poor. The organization may centralize the temples in an all India community temple which can be a place of pilgrimage for the Sindhis. Arrangements could also be made for jathas to visit Pakistan on the Sindhiat Day and for all other religious purposes just as the Sikhs do. An organized religion must necessarily be centralized for which a religious cadre will have to be created with appropriate training provisions. This could go a long way in preserving the Sindhi identity and safeguarding its primordial way. And if the Sindhi language is associated with the Sindhi religion of Sindhiat, then its survival is ensured.
The social linguists have prescribed several conditions for preservation of the minority language. The three main conditions are settlement in community groups, unified education and a utility base. Any language can survive and become useful only when the speakers live in self-sufficient groups where they can communicate in the mother tongue in all spheres, and also follow their own pattern of life. The second condition of unified education is necessary because the fragmentation of the lingual society and its ultimate disappearance cannot be prevented without a standard pattern of language for all the regions. It is only through emphasis on the standard pattern of education that the organic unity of language will be maintained. Not being the official language of any state, the Sindhi leaders feel that since Sindhi has a peculiar status in Indian society and also since the Sindhis neither have a kin state nor a status of national minority, there should be some definite and positive move by the Government towards the preservation of their language.
Article 29 (i) of the Constitution emphasizes that speakers of a language having a distinct script and culture of its own have the right to conserve the same. Sindhi leaders feel that in the linguistic field, more than any other community, Sindhis have proved their bilingualism by readily learning other languages. In order to promote national integration a three language formula was envisaged in which there was a need to learn the regional language or mother tongue; Hind in Hindi-speaking areas, or another Indian language; and English or any other modern European language. Efforts on both sides, by the Sindhi community itself and by the state and Central Government, are required for the development and preservation of the language. The community can help by encouraging the younger generation to read and write Sindhi and the Government can help be setting up a Sindhi University and Sindhi Vikas Board.
Pattern of Culture
The culture pattern should be sufficient and comprehensive to give identity to the community and the rest should be open for adjustment and accommodation with regional societies and the Indian national community. The Sindhis are not lacking in any positive attitude for identification with the people of the receiving state or linguistic societies as the ethos has fully witnessed the existence of a distinct trait of quick adaptability in the Sindhi character. However, as regional societies are drawing towards separatist tendencies the Sindhis stand out as an example of a people with adaptive and accommodating tendencies. The Sindhis, however, must further strengthen their core factors. It is only when they have a strong cultural base will their identity be preserved.
Prejudice in inter-group relations arise out of frustrations. In the economic field the Sindhi, being predominantly urban and successful, have inevitably invited hostility. This was specially evident in the period immediately after partition. But over the years, as the Sindhis imbibed regional ways, they reached out to the local communities. But adjustment cannot be a one-way traffic. The local communities must also know what Sindhi culture is all about. There is a general feeling that Sindhis have no culture. Their adaptive tendencies have been mistaken for a “cultureless” background. The Sindhis must on their part, take pride in and propagate their culture inviting the local population to take part in Sindhi festivals, etc. They should also translate books on Sindhi poets and saints in the regional languages so that people become aware of the Sindhi history and culture.
Resettlement and Reorganization
Many Sindhi leaders have expressed apprehensions about the community's cultural survival. At no stage has any leader advocated a separate state for the Sindhis. They all feel that Sindhis have integrated very well in the regional and national mainstream of the country. However this integration is a political and economic integration. Cultural integration has yet to be achieved. Sindhi leaders are sad about the fact that the Sindhis do not have a cultural abode. Some advocate a planned resettlement of Sindhis in areas suitable for a cultural base. They feel that if the community could organize itself to take up the constructive programme of resettlement, then greater emphasis should be placed on the activities and investment of funds in a single contiguous area. This would provide in itself not only a development potential sufficient enough for colonization, gradual rehabilitation and economic growth, but would also be capable of accelerated process of assimilation and fusion in culture, leading to the emergence of a new unilingual integrated community.
The region that seems most suitable for this settlement is the region all along the Sind border on the western side of Rejasthan and Kutch. The Sindhis have had age-long social, economic, linguistic and cultural affinities with people of this region. This region comprises the erstwhile states of Jaisalmer and Kutch and the two districts of Barmer and Jalore of Jodhpur. That this border region possesses historical, geographical, ethnic and linguistic affinities with Sind, of which it formed a part in ancient times, is evident from the fact that the Sindhi language predominates in this area. To the east of the district of Thar and Parkar lies the Marwar state of Malani. In the common frontier of Malani with Sind, there is a narrow tract in which the language is said to be Sindhi, the dialects spoken in these regions are Dhatki and Thareli. Dhatki comes from Umarkot in Sind and Thareli from Thar. Thus the presence of the Sindhi language in Kutch and the border district of Western Rajasthan clearly brackets Sindhi and cultural affinities.
The relationship between Sind and Rajasthan is ancient. The invaders of the Indus Valley were ultimately checked in their march by the inaccessible deserts. Those who were driven out by the invaders always sought refuge in the adjoining desert and spread over to Kutch, Kathiawad and the border areas of Rajasthan, maintaining the Sindhi character intact. From Rajasthan, during times of drought, the people migrated to Sind. This was an annual event. Thus the people of Kutch and border Rajasthan never went back and got assimilated into the Sindhi population. The ancient Indus cities extending from beyond the present day limits of Sind covered the land of the ancient Saraswati which disappeared in the tectonic disturbances that destroyed the Indus Valley civilization. The cultural affinity between the two regions can be seen from the similarity between Uderolal of Sind and Ramdev Pir of western Rajasthan.
This abode could be in the Jaisalmar region extending up to Barmer, and joining with Kutch. Gandhidam in Kutch is already an established township where a large number of Sindhis have settled. However, its development has been rather tardy because initially this area did not have the required infrastructure for settlement. Despite the blessings of Gandhi, Patel, and Kripalani, Gandhidham was slow to get facilities like railways, and roads to connect it to the rest of India. Every new settlement must be linked with the development of the area. Despite private investments by Sindhis, Gandhidham was plagued by certain problems, mainly arising out of the apathetic approach of the State and Central Governments.
If the Sindhis had been resettled in these areas after 1947 when they were on the run, it would have become their cultural abode. But in 1947 the Government did not have the infrastructure of rehabilitation in such desert areas. The question now is can this areas stretching from Jaisalmer to Gandhidham via Barmer, Jalore be converted into a land for the Sindhis today? Sindhi scholars and intellectuals are hopeful and feel that the Government policy since the 1971 war has been to settle the refugees in border areas. Even during the Indo-Pak war many Sindhi refugees crossed the border and are still living in this area. They feel that the Central and not the State Government should handle the Sindhi problem. The Union Government should appreciate the effect of dispersion on the community. The fact that Sindhis are the only socio-linguistic community in India without a region should impel the Union Government to take up the issue more seriously. It is estimated that after the region of Jaisalmer, Barmer and Jalore is irrigated, it can accommodate and support at least thirty times its present population level. Part of this population could be the Sindhi population. There will be no competition with the local population as the Sindhis are neither agriculturists nor artisans. In fact as traders they can complement the farmer. The moment the Sindhi community has a sense of belonging and involvement, which is possible only if the region becomes a union territory or is at least centrally administered, they will work towards the development of the area. There is no doubt that Sindhis settled in Bombay and Delhi and in other major cities would not like to uproot themselves and settle in this area. But others from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh could move out to the new area if they were given proper incentives. These incentives could come in the form of adequate infrastructure.
How far the plan could succeed would depend on the active participation by Sindhi leadership. For this the Sindhis must be made aware of their cultural needs and not allowed to forget their roots. But unfortunately the scattered Sindhi community is saddled with a disunited leadership who are trying more to curry favour with regional leadership for their personal glorification rather than for the Sindhi cause. Even the Sindhi intellectuals are a disunited lot. Each Sindhi organization presents a different demand. The Akil Bharat Sindhi Boli Ain Sahit Sabha put forward some political demands in addition to cultural demands. The representatives of this Sabha met the Prime Minister and presented their Charter of Demands, principal amongst which was reservation of seats in Parliament and in the State Legislatures of those states where the Sindhis are settled. They have compared their status to the Anglo-Indian community and feel that while the latter was given representation after partition, the Sindhi population was entirely ignored.
The memo urged for a special linguistic minority status to be extended to Sindhis. For their political rights the memo stipulated the following conditions:
1. Six seats, one each from the States of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and one from the Union Territory of Delhi be reserved in the Indian Parliament for the Sindhi community and such amendment be effected in the Constitution of India;
2. On the basis of the same principle, a constitutional provision be made in the Indian Constitution for reservation of seats of the Sindhi community in the legislatures of the above states-Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and also the Union Territory of Delhi, on the basis of proportion of population of the Sindhis in each state.
3. At least one outstanding figure from the Sindhi community be nominated on the Legislative Council of each of the above mentioned states, to give representation to the Sindhi community of the concerned state. Such provision also be effected in the Constitution.
4. At least one outstanding figure from the cultural field in the Sindhi community be appointed by nomination by the President of India in exercise of his powers for nomination of twelve members to the Rajya Sabha under clause 80 (1) (a) of the Constitution, to represent the cultural interests of the Sindhi community. This practice should be continued permanently.
But these demands do not solve the problem of integration of the community. For integration, some thread line must exist to knit the scattered community together. If small tribes like Ladakhis, Bodos, Santhals and Ghorkhas are anxious to preserve their cultural identity, it would be shameful if Sindhis lost their identity and merged themselves completely with regional identities.
The linguistic and cultural identity of Sindhis has no doubt, been recognized in the Indian Constitution. The Sindhi language has been included in the Constitution and a sum of Rs. 1 crore annually has been sanctioned for its development. The provinces in which the Sindhis are concentrated have provided for Sindhi Academies for their linguistic and cultural growth. The Union Government has further sanctioned the establishment of a Vikas Board and the question of setting up of a Sindhi University is under contemplation. Article 29 of the Constitution of India gives everyone the right to preserve his language and culture. Sindhi language has become decomposed and the Sindhi culture dispersed due to a historical reasons. The Sindhi leaders feel that it is the political and moral obligation of the nation to ensure preservation of Sindhi identity. They feel that their language and culture has been sacrificed for the freedom of the nation and that they must be compensated for it. However, the process of developing a distinct ethnic identity is slowed down by the provinces owing to their political apathy towards Sindhis.
Provincial antipathy and prejudices have weakend the pluralistic status of Sindhi society and has contributed to its reduction to the level of an assimilationist society. What is also important is that by migration and wide dispersal the Sindhis have lost their political status because their distribution is so wide that they have no representative character and their voice is unheard, both in the state Legislatures and in the Parliament.
Once the Sindhis are able to preserve their ethnic and cultural identity it would not become too difficult to mobilize them to work for the betterment of their community. The stronger the ethnic identities the greater are the loyalties attached to it. Asking for an atmosphere for the preservation of cultural, linguistic and ethnic identity in a plural society is a legitimate right. The nature of the nation-state to be evolved in free India was one of the major concerns of the founding fathers of the Indian Constitution. Fully realizing the fact of linguistic, cultural, religious, ethnic and regional diversities, they succeeded in striking a balance between Unitarian and pluralistic polity in the Constitution which in its Articles 25, 26, 29 and 30 implicitly accepts the corporate identities of the minorities. Secularism was conceived as a very potent instrument of pluralism.
Identity is an emotional group feeling which develops over a period of time. The individual develops his identity through social links both within the family or through other primordial units. Language and religion are equally important in this. Nevertheless it is not possible to treat identities in purely primordial terms. As David Taylor and Yapp observe, “cultural traits are constantly changing and the direction of such change can be consciously manipulated, although the room for manoevouring may be severely limited by broader social and economic developments which may occur simultaneously. The individual, particularly in times of technological or demographic upheaval can choose how to adapt to new cultural practice, or can try to adapt to another pattern of culture, altogether different from the one in which he was brought up”. The Sindhis have no doubt adopted new cultural practices, but the fact still remain that their roots must not be abandoned. The primordial loyalties and the Sindhi culture must be the basis of a Sindhi identity.
When a tree is transplanted, it grows according to the nourishment given to it, but the tree remains the same. Its roots give it the stability that it requires. Equally, Sindhis as a transplanted community must not forget their roots and must relate to their primordial ways.
Any group which is not given enough room or opportunity for the nourishment of its cultural identity can prove to be a threat to national integration. A nation is like a mother who must give equal and enough attention to all her offspring. If she neglects any and shows favoritism to some, then the danger of the neglected ones turning into rebels is more pronounced. No child, however, must change himself so much that he ceases to be an individual personality but accommodates others for the development of their personality. Sindhis as children of India need to be accommodated so that they feel totally integrated with mother India. They need a cultural climate in which they can safeguard their primordial identities and retain their own cultural ethos.
Subhadra Anand, was born in Hyderabad (Sind) in 1947 into a Sindhi Brahmin family. She opted for the teaching profession and is the Principal, National College, Bandra, Mumbai. Besides a Ph.D. she has a degree in Education Management from S.N.D.T. University, Mumbai. She has presented several research papers at various local and national seminars and her articles have appeared in journals and newspapers.