Volume - 7 : Issue - 2

Published : April - June 2008

Group : Language


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by Dr. Manohar Matlani

Since time immemorial, various countries extending from Iran, Afghanistan including India had been enticed by the rich natural resources of Sindh, and tried and occasionally succeeded in bringing it under their territorial jurisdiction. It has been common practice among victorious countries to impose their culture & civilization on the subjects of the countries they have overwhelmed, and what better way could be of achieving their goal, than imposing their language. It has been stated in the history books of Sindh, that before the advent of Islam in 711 A.D., the official language of Sindh was 'Sindhi'. The Arabs imposed 'Arabic' on Sindh, which gave way to Persian, when the centre of power changed from Arab Caliphate to the rulers of Iran, Afghanistan or even Delhi.

The advent of the British into Sindh, in 1843 A.D. helped the indigenous language 'Sindhi' tremendously. Sir Bartle Frere, the then Commissioner of Sindh made knowledge of Sindhi compulsory for government employees through a government circular, issued in 1851. As Sindhi was written in various scripts by different people, the then British government appointed a committee to formulate a cohesive and common script for the same. The efforts of the committee bore fruit and resulted in the formation of the Persio-Arabic script, extending the twenty nine letters of Arabic to fifty two letters of Sindhi to accommodate the pronunciation of every sound in the Sindhi language. This happened in July, 1853. The move triggered a wave of establishment of Sindhi educational institutions, the Sindhi printing press and the publication of Sindhi books. Around twelve centuries of intervening period after the defeat of indigenous Sindhi rule, the official language of the country had once again become Sindhi.

The honeymoon of Sindhi language with the government didn't last long, and the independence of India, accompanied with creation of Pakistan in 1947, stripped Sindhi off its official status in Sindh, as the country of Pakistan opted for an alien and imported language Urdu in place of Sindhi as the official language of Pakistan, including Sindh.

On the other hand, Hindu Sindhis had to leave Sindh and settle in various corners of India. The apathy of the then Hindu Sindhi leaders among Congress left the language of Sindhi, out of the VIII Schedule of the newly formed Constitution of India, in 1950. At that time, Sindhi Hindus had to think about their livelihood, as they had left behind everything and come to India virtually empty handed.

Sindhis took it as a challenge for themselves. It was an alien land, unknown language, different environment and above all their first priority at that time was to make both ends meet. They were not shy of doing anything. No job was mean, for them. The nawabs and landlords of Sindh had to sell fruit and confectionary in suburban trains, join the state transport as bus conductors and even work on daily wages. Businessmen started business from humble beginnings and worked on very low margins and created a niche for themselves amongst the established business communities of India. Others could have lost their mental balance under such trying circumstances, but Sindhis didn't lose heart. They not only established themselves economically but even paid attention to their intellectual needs. Sindhis established many literary organizations and encouraged budding litterateurs to write more, and held literary meets. They toured throughout the length and breadth of India and held cultural shows to resurrect the interest in Sindhi fine arts.

Just when they thought that the difficult times were over, there came a bolt from the blue. The government issued a G.R., which acknowledged Devnagari as the script for Sindhi language. It proved to be a heavy blow for Sindhis and succeeded in dividing them into two factions. Many Sindhi writers joined hands and launched an agitation and eventually after a long haul, they secured another G.R., permitting the use of the Persio-Arabic script alongside Devnagari. The Indian Constitution was promulgated in 1950 and when it was published, the Sindhi language was nowhere to be found in its eighth schedule. Once again, Sindhis had to fight for their right. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru declined the request on the grounds that it would open up a pandora's box and every other community would press for their language to be included into the eighth schedule of the Constitution. Instead, as compensation, he ordered the inclusion of Sindhi language into the list of approved languages entitled for distribution of various Sahitya Academy awards so as to give a fillip to Sindhi language. Sindhis did not rest with this dollop, but kept on pressing for their demand and continued holding rallies, conventions and representations to the leaders of those times. At last, their persistence paid off and Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister acceded to their request and as per representation of a senior Congress leader, Jairamdas Daulatram, she directed her party to introduce the bill in Parliament, which was passed with a majority on April 10, 1967 and Sindhi language became the fifteenth language in the eighth schedule of the Constitution.

After independence, Sindhis worked hard during the initial twenty years for the preservation and progress of Sindhi language, but the moment their request for inclusion of Sindhi in the constitution was accepted, a sense of fatigue crept in, and the community turned their attention towards their economical sustenance and revival. Under suspect notions and impressions, they allowed the use of Hindi or English (even mutilated) into their domestic confines, with the result, that not only their second generation was deprived of the sweetness of their mother-tongue Sindhi, but it began dissociating itself from the community. One after another, Sindhi medium schools began shutting down and the institutions which used to offer Sindhi language as an optional subject, removed it from the list of languages offered in their curriculum. Those very persons, who were in the forefront of agitations for grant of constitutional rights to Sindhi language, stopped conversing with their wards in Sindhi and instead pushed their younger generation to not only learn alien languages but even speak them too. There was one time, when they used to dream of going back to Sindh and vowed to lay their lives for the interests of their mother-tongue Sindhi and then came a time, when they rubbished the very idea of salvation of the Sindhi language. In 1950, Mangharam Malkani had warned of forcibly including words of other languages into Sindhi and predicted that the move would simply prove to be the last nail in the coffin of the language. That prophecy of doom has proved to be very much correct and we witness it in every state of India, as Sindhis in every state have imbibed a great use of local words, so much so that Sindhi residents of one state find themselves unable to comprehend the Sindhi language of another state. One has to use the dictionary of local languages to understand the meaning of that state's Sindhi language. One cannot blame our younger generation for this sorry state of affairs, but the whole blame must be taken by the older generation, who under the wrong notion of fear of their economic demise, pushed the younger generation to use the local languages or English. During seventies, some of our so called great writers, predicted that Sindhi language would not last for more than another decade. They used to raise a hue and cry at various fora at the decline of status of Sindhi language, but they blamed it upon others for the same.

The history of various languages tells us, that a language takes a large time to establish itself and likewise it is not easy for anyone to remove it from the face of the globe. During eighties, the institutions run by minorities were permitted to have fifty percent reservation for their own communities. The Non-Resident Sindhis have greater affinity for their language as compared to the Indian Sindhis. Fresh discoveries in the fields of science and technology have also helped a lot. The use of computers and internet helped in the resurgence of Sindhi language. The disappearance of treadle compositors of Sindhi language was more than compensated by the creation of Sindhi software and composition with the help of computers. A strange phenomenon has occurred. After more than half a century, our younger generation has posed a question to their elders pertaining to their ancestry and identity. Presently, Sindhi Sammelans are being held at all levels -  state, national and even at international levels. It looks like there is a ray of light at the end of a dark tunnel. The electronic media has also helped us to a great extent. The telecasting of Sindhi programmes by satellite channels has facilitated the entry of Sindhi language, Sindhi music, drama etc. into every Sindhi household of the world.

The Department of Sindhi, University of Mumbai, which had limited its activities up to classroom teachings till 1992, encouraged research activities from 1994, when Dr. Baldev Matlani joined it. Since then, many students have completed their M. Phil. and Ph.D. in Sindhi literature. I was appointed there in 1996. I would like to exhort upon each & every Sindhi, that there should be no halting of this caravan. We have started in-house publication of Sindhi books. We introduced short term Certificate, Diploma and Advanced Diploma courses in Sindhi, for the people of cosmopolitan Mumbai, as they lacked even a basic knowledge of their mother-tongue. We also approached other institutes to offer some courses from their platform. The National Council for Promotion of Sindhi Language (NCPSL), established by the Central Government of India, took a cue from our work and began offering similar correspondence courses, throughout India. The Sindhi Department of University of Mumbai, despite having a meager budget at its disposal held various national as well as international seminars, providing a common platform to the writers of India and Pakistan. It is a matter of great satisfaction, that the NCPSL has also begun holding such programmes, sammelans and music concerts of writers and artists from both the countries. Writers from India have also started visiting Sindh. These moves have created a highly conducive environment for Sindhi language in India. With the optimal usage of internet, a global association can be constituted and various steps be taken in the preservation and progress of Sindhi language. The Sindhis of India have made their mark in every walk of life, be it education, trade, industry, films, health or fine arts. At present, the most pressing need for Sindhis, is to encourage and ensure that Sindhi is spoken in their homes. We must also ensure that our wards take Sindhi language as an optional subject in their courses. This way we can hope, that our children will not forget their Sindhi origin, rather they would work for the preservation and promotion of the same.

Every Sindhi writer has to play his part in the preservation & progress of Sindhi language. They have to create a national fervour in the minds of our younger generation, and make them understand that only our mother-tongue can make us stand apart from other communities. It is not an easy task, as even other vernacular languages of India are facing heat during these days, due to the internet and increased usage of English, worldwide. Just as others are trying to save their mother-tongue, we should also play an active part, to do so!

Presented on the occasion of the 24th Annual SANA (Sindhi Association of North America) Convention held in Dallas, Texas - July 3 – 6, 2008