WE THE SINDHIS
By Dr. Nandlal Jotwani
In a recent Seminar on “Our Heritage”, organized in collaboration with the National Council for Promotion of Sindhi Language (NCPSL), by Ms. Veena Shringi , Convener, “Maruee”, a socio-cultural NGO in New Delhi, I was asked to Chair a Session on 'Our Heritage', which I did, with a proviso that organizers would muster presence of the Sindhi youth in addition to the oft-repeated, oft-observed, superannuated, ageing Sindhi audience.
In my presidential remarks, I dwelt upon the question of the Sindhi Identity as much as on the laurels of our ancient civilization and great heritage. I disagreed with the thesis of a known Sindhi scholar that 'you take care of the culture and the language will be taken care of'. My thesis was that Language, Literature and Culture are intertwined. The language is the mighty means of Literature and the vehicle of expression and articulation of our thoughts, heritage and culture, handed down from generation to generation. The literature acquaints us with the undercurrents and subtleties of traditions, culture and heritage in addition to reflecting the time and space in its various hues, shades and nuances. The archaeological excavations at Harappa, in west Punjab, and Moen-jo-Daro in Sindh, revealed existence of fairly advanced urban civilization in the Indus Valley, about 3250 B.C., and believed to have continued till about 2000 B.C., when it was destroyed by barbarous hordes. The Indus Valley Culture was the fountain-head and we, the Sindhis, are proud of our great inheritance.
It is unfortunate that owing to various socio-geographic factors, the language and literature – the traditional tools of transmission and spread of cultural heritage - have been rendered de facto defunct. In absence of any material or economic advantage, the Sindhi youth are averse to learning Sindhi language in Schools and Colleges. In absence of a geographic region, the Sindhis, by and large, have assimilated into the local populace of the province they live in, for example, the most of the Sindhis in Gujarat speak Gujarati not only with the natives of Gujarat but also in their own homes and hearths. As per 1991 census, the linguistic profile of Gujarat put Sindhi-speaking population to 1.73%, which has apparently further downsized since then. Further, while Kachhi and Sindhi are almost similar languages, Kachhis are mainly in Kachh district of Gujarat. Under the 'Three Language Formula', 1,868 students learnt Sindhi in Class VIII, 1,793 in Class IX and 1573 in Class X as per the authentic information regarding languages taught in Gujarat in year 2004-05. Needless to say, the figures of Sindhi learning students have further receded since then. As per the 1991-Census linguistic profile of Rajasthan, the percentage of Sindhi-speaking population was just 0.75 with 3,33,811 speakers. During 2005-06, there were 54 Elementary Schools in Rajasthan wherein Sindhi was the medium of instruction; there were 50 Elementary Schools wherein Sindhi was taught as a subject/language as a part of 3-Language Formula. The current percentage of the Sindhi-speaking population in Rajasthan, for that matter, in India, is much depleted mainly due to gross apathy and lack of commitment on the part of the community at large; also reflected in the Sindhi Institutions, Academies, Foundations, et al. The similar stories obtain in other States of the country in spite of establishment of Sindhi Academies and other institutions in various States/Union Territories for development of Sindhi language and literature. This writer is at pains to point out that the cause of Sindhi teaching-learning is not promoted by the Sindhi Academies to the extent one would wish or aspire for in spite of availability of funds. For example, Sindhi Academy, Delhi, in its wisdom, has, at the fag-end of the current financial year, instituted 'One-Man- Committee' (?) 'to work seriously on this issue' (!) in violation of the democratic spirit and in spite of a competent Sub-Committee for Education and Literary Activities being already in place for this very purpose. It would be interesting to know as to what percentage of the Sindhi Academy budgets was utilized on the Sindhi language teaching programme, which forms one the core objectives of the Sindhi Academies across the country.
The oversimplification and caricature of the stereotyped image of the Sindhi characters in the most popular modes of mass communication - films and television - has often tended to demean the community as trivial traders out to make a smart buck by various means, including their accentuated articulation of vernacular language, “Arre baabaa … lakhu laanat haii … chariyaa muaa … … “. Unfortunately, stereotyping of the Sindhi is not confined to non-Sindhi producers, it is also rampant among the Sindhi producers and directors, too, in their belief to create humour, not very healthy though. It is unfortunate that many Sindhis are shedding their suffix '…ani' in their misplaced quest of the mainstream identity. The overwhelming majority of the Sindhi youth today not only does not read, write or speak in Sindhi language, but also, alas, tends to camouflage its Sindhi identity by all means, including changing surname, example gratia, 'Sipahimalani' becoming 'Sippy'.
The self-esteem and self-pride are the pre-requisites of preserving and persevering with our great heritage in, of course, evolved and enriched form spanning centuries. I would urge my fellow Sindhis in India to pride themselves in calling and portraying themselves as Sindhis.
We, the Sindhis, need to look around ourselves and identify the anomalies that impact our community in the context of and against the larger canvass of the prevailing socio-cultural conditions in the country. The norms of civil society require that contradictions and conflicts within the society be dealt with dispassionately and diligently. Having said that, I am a staunch optimist of a growing knowledge civilization wherein science and technology have reduced the world to an accessible 'global village', wherein the inter-planetary life is a distinct possibility. While migrating to India, in the wake of its independence, we brought with ourselves our cultural heritage and the spirit of enterprise, which saw us rise from rags to riches in India, in spite of enormous odds. 'We, the Sindhis' and our Sindhi language lost a region, our language was rendered Stateless and the Constituent Assembly omitted to include it in the VIIIth Schedule of Indian Constitution. With our persistent efforts, we succeeded to have our Sindhi language included in the VIIIth Schedule of the Constitution after its 17-year 'exile', as it were! I am therefore sure, “We, the Sindhis” will rise to the occasion, as ever, and save our language, literature and heritage from oblivion and phased extinction.
We have a great opportunity to stand up and get counted as Sindhis in the Census of India 2011. We must take pride in being counted as Sindhis and preserve our great heritage. The national census for the whole country will be carried out from April 2010 to July 2010 in the first phase. You will find the census personnel visiting your homes and asking how many people in your family can speak, read and write Sindhi. It is the duty of every Sindhi to ensure that he/she is registered as a Sindhi in the Census. We know that our Sindhi community has a very high rate of literacy, coupled with proficiency in a language or two. The script of Sindhi language need not stand in way of our ability to read and write our mother tongue, Sindhi language, be it Devanagari or Persio-Arabic script.