Volume - 10 : Issue - 4

Published : Oct. - Dec. 2011

Group : We The Sindhis

Back to the List


The Crisis of Identity : After this Older Generation, What?

By Dr. Nandlal Jotwani

 When the American Center, New Delhi, invited me to the Live Concert for the Indiana-born Grammy Award-Winning Singer Carrie Newcomer on 17th September 2011, little did I realize that this singer would move the innermost recesses of my heart, and probably those of all the Sindhis in India, when she exclaimed, in agony, albeit in a different context, “Could it be that bad …”!

I have an agonizing feeling that it is indeed that bad for us now to ensure the continued survival of our language for long as our language is languishing and battling for life on a support system provided by the Sindhi Language Academies and the Language Institutions of the government, with insignificant public-private partnership towards its much-needed revival across the country.

In a national seminar on “Language and Identity” held recently by the Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, I had voiced my grave concern over the declining use of the minority languages, including Sindhi, which are getting gradually crowded out by the major, mainstream languages, as the older generation of its native speakers yields way to the new generation of its native non-speakers, who do not find the knowledge of their mother languages being very helpful in employment and earning their livelihood.

In the aftermath of the unprecedented partition of Undivided India in 1947, 'We, the Sindhis' were confronted with the immediate basic needs of food, clothing and shelter in our new places of resettlement, wherever we could anchor ourselves in India. It is indeed flattering for us to have been highly successful in carving out our niche in India, and abroad, by dint of our life skills of adaption, courage and entrepreneurship in spite of having been uprooted from our moorings, put onto a road with few signposts; with no known destination and with no affiliation to any State or region.

'We, the Sindhis' faced formidable roadblocks in our endeavour to preserve our language and culture after our massive migration into independent India. The government was initially averse to include Sindhi in the Schedule VIII of the Constitution and thus denied official patronage to our Sindhi language as we were scattered in different and distant parts of the country and did not belong to any State or region owing to imperatives of earning our livelihood, wherever we possibly could. It was only after 20 years of independence that the Sindhi language was recognized by the government, and included in the Schedule VIII of the Constitution of India by concerted endeavour of several public-spirited Sindhis, including this writer. But, by then, the damage was done as our mother language Sindhi could not connect itself with our livelihood. Our Sindhi language could not make it as the medium of answering the recruitment tests in various States and Union Territories in India and thus could not inspire the Sindhi youth to learn it for their living and livelihood.

But the resourceful and pragmatic Sindhis did not give up or lose out in life even while they could not eke out their living by learning their native language. While we did not indeed give up in life by dint of our real hard work, perseverance and entrepreneurship, we started losing our language from our homes and hearths. Now we have reached such a critical point at this point of time that we need to tell our children the basic fact of our identity, that we are 'Sindhis' and our mother language is 'Sindhi'! The decline in the use of Sindhi language was mainly owing to our challenging engagement with the issues linked with our very livelihood, that is, our engagement with the trade and commerce in various parts of the country and the world at large. While we have prospered economically, we gradually got impoverished culturally as we assiduously adapted ourselves to the socio-cultural milieu of the region we got rehabilitated so as to compete with and outshine the local inhabitants, on their turf, with our proven skills of enterprise and entrepreneurship.

Today, unfortunately, the writers in Sindhi language are themselves the readers in Sindhi language in India as the predominant section of the Sindhis in India hardly speaks in Sindhi language. Obviously, we cannot expect the non-speakers in Sindhi to read a Sindhi book, let alone buy it. The publishing of a book by an individual or a private publisher, in Sindhi language, has become a losing proposition.

It is unfortunate that 'We, the Sindhis' have, along the way, lost touch with our glorious past, the proud Indus Valley civilization, the great heritage, knowledge systems, values and way of life, in short, the sindhiyat. As it were, we are spread all over India in a manner that there are only a few towns where we are in substantial number to exercise our constitutional right to establish our own, linguistic minority institutions, where our Sindhi language could be taught, preserved and promoted to stall its perceptible process of extinction. It is sad that our nation has only a few institutions, which impart education through the medium of Sindhi language or teach Sindhi language as a subject in the school or college curriculum. The sad story obtains in undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate levels, too, wherein the number of students opting for study of Sindhi language has been on decline, with the passage of time. The number of students enrolled for studying Sindhi language has been declining in proportion to the over-all decline in the use of Sindhi language among the Sindhis in India. Though the Sindhi language figures among the 22 recognized languages in Schedule VIII of the Constitution of India, its educational scenario at the secondary and senior secondary levels, is as follows:

  • The Gujarat State has 36 primary and upper primary schools with 5,175 students learning Sindhi language and 230 teachers teaching Sindhi language. This State has 15 secondary and senior secondary schools with 2,119 students learning Sindhi language and 70 teachers teaching Sindhi language. 

  • The Rajasthan State has 3 primary schools with 53 students learning Sindhi language and 10 teachers teaching Sindhi language. This State has 7 upper primary schools with 149 students learning Sindhi language and 34 teachers teaching Sindhi language.

  • The Madhya Pradesh State has 9 schools with 142 students learning Sindhi language and 15 teachers teaching Sindhi language.

  • The N.C.T. of Delhi has 1 primary school with 447 students learning Sindhi language and 6 teachers teaching Sindhi language. This State has additional 310 students learning Sindhi language in upper primary schools; 199 students in secondary and 177 in senior secondary schools.

  • The Maharashtra State has 5 schools teaching Sindhi language as a subject. While, we do not have authentic figures at national level, we assume that there are a total of 76 schools teaching Sindhi language with 8771 students and 365 teachers in Sindhi language in India. Such an educational scenario, by any means, is not flattering for us.

Sindhis are the Linguistic Minority in India

The term 'Linguistic Minority' has not been defined in the Constitution. A group or groups of people whose mother languages are different from the principal language(s) of the State/U.T. constitute the linguistic minority.  The Supreme Court in DAV College vs. State of Punjab (1971) said, "A linguistic minority for the purpose of Article 30(1) is one which must at least have a separate spoken language. It is not necessary that the language should also have distinct script for those who speak it so as to be a linguistic minority."

There are approximately 20 crore people who speak a language which is other than the principal language of the particular State or the Union Territory. Thus, approximately 19% of our population consists of the linguistic minorities. The intra-State migration and movement of population from different parts of the country in search of better economic or educational opportunities also contribute to the emerging linguistic scenario in the country. There is, therefore, an imperative need to effectively implement the safeguards for the linguistic minorities for giving equal opportunities to all and for ensuring harmonious and inclusive development of the country.

Today, the Sindhi linguistic minority in India, like several other linguistic minorities, faces a formidable challenge of preserving its language and retaining its cultural identity. There is a growing chasm between the traditional Sindhi cultural perspective vis-à-vis the exposure and experiences of the Sindhis in India, and abroad, in the context of diverse environment we live in and interact with the civil society around us; scattered, as we are. The intergenerational gap is now clearly visible as the writing on the wall, indicative of evolution of a hybrid identity of the Sindhis in India, in a multicultural milieu.

As we know, the language gets extinct owing to its continued disuse by the community. Therefore, we must bring home to the community the importance of learning our mother language especially at primary level of education, which is our constitutional right. I do hope that our dynamic community continues to pride itself in its glorious ancient civilization and shall surely try to preserve its great tangible and intangible heritage, its language, literature, arts and culture.

I have, from time to time, given a clarion call to our great community about the declining number of learners and speakers of Sindhi language in India. I have often emphasized the intertwined relationship between the language and culture. I have often brought home the fact that the language is a skills subject and the skill of speech precedes the skills of reading, writing and listening. The clarion call of mine should awaken our great community to do something positive to transmit the Sindhi language gene in our new generation in spite of the pressing socio-economic constraints wherein we are faced with a grim and growing hiatus between learning our language and earning our livelihood. A language unlinked with the livelihood faces fear of disuse and eventual death.

The Sindhi Youth Today

The Sindhi youth today is well-informed. He is influenced by various socio-economic indicators and philological factors like 'language utility value'; 'language vitality score' and 'language availability' in our knowledge society, which is driven by market, multimedia and mass media monopolized by commercially viable and culturally dominant mainstream languages. Most of the Sindhi boys and girls today tend to lack motivation to learn their native language or assert their cultural roots. Hence, we need to integrate our higher level support to the grassroots level activity to ensure the sustained promotion and propagation of our language, literature, arts and culture.

I have often fervently appealed to the dynamic Sindhi linguistic minority to avail itself of various safeguards for the linguistic minorities, which are enshrined in the Constitution of India. As it were, the Sindhis have skillfully managed to move forward and progress upwards, undaunted by lack of the geographic space or space in electronic media 'Doordarshan', for which this writer has already requested the Government of India for their consideration to start an appropriate channel for the Sindhi population on the Doordarshan National Network to propagate the language, art and culture of the Sindhi linguistic minority, which is scattered all over India. Since various channels are being operated by the Prasar Bharati, the necessity of consideration of an appropriate channel for the sizable Sindhi linguistic minority merits appropriate consideration by the government.

Realizing the need to incorporate culture as an strategic element in national planning, this writer has also suggested to the government to consider formulation of an appropriate Scheme of Scholarship for Students of the Minority Languages at Secondary and Higher Education levels as a significant initiative in the areas of protection, preservation and promotion of the minority languages, including Sindhi language. A pluralistic society must maintain its diversity of languages and cultures.

The issue of promoting education in mother languages, including Sindhi, in the Schools and the concomitant provisioning of the Language Teachers for the learners of Sindhi language, has also been engaging the attention of this writer, who has been constructively engaged with the Governments in the States and the Administrations in the Union Territories in this regard. The Nodal Officers of the States and Union Territories have also been effectively sensitized about it from time to time. The cases of providing Sindhi teachers in such Schools where sufficient number of students had opted to learn Sindhi language, have also been effectively taken up by this writer from time to time. The government too must be helped to overcome logistical and infrastructural obstacles inherent in teaching of minority languages, marked by lack of desirous students, teaching material and trained teachers vis-à-vis hegemony of mainstream languages in our educational system. Besides, this writer has also been encouraging the Sindhi youth to opt for Sindhi language in the Civil Services Examination, which will certainly help them achieve their aspirations and augment our representation in the Civil Services in India.

Decline of the Indus Culture in India

It is not my intention to dwell upon the decline and fall of the great Indus Civilization. What perturbs me most is the decline of the Indus Culture - 'sindhiyat' - in India, unless immediate revival strategies and systems are not put in place, in time. Within a decade or so, the present generation of the Sindhi-knowing, Sindhi-speaking older generation may disappear altogether. The present generation with its new associations, inclinations, attitudes and aptitudes, mainly driven by market forces, may not feel motivated to carry the cultural baton of 'sindhiyat' as enthusiastically as we indeed wish them to do. However, the fact remains, the survival of language is closely linked to imperatives of the times we live in, in scattered places, and in competitive conditions where demands of economic prudence takes precedence over cultural and aesthetic considerations, resulting in loss of the minority languages not only in India, but across the world. By the end of century, about 50% of the languages in the world will be extinct; about one minority language dying every fortnight! This loss is not only to the speaking community, but to the world at large.

We Should Learn to Love Ourselves

We should learn to love ourselves, our language, our literature, our heritage and our culture. “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection”, said Buddha. We, the Sindhis, are indeed the proud inheritors of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization. The Mohen-jo-Daro and Harappa phenomenon is called civilization because of its town planning, monumental structures, hydrological systems, artifacts, agriculture and commerce, etc.  The river Sindhu - the Indus - indeed gave its name not only to the Province of Sindh but also to the sub-continent. When Europeans and others lived in caves, our people along the Sindhu river had two-storey houses of brick and stone, with drainage system, public parks, art-works, fountains and granaries. We, belonging to older generation, therefore owe it to our present and emerging generation to keep them informed of our illustrious roots, great heritage and glorious culture.

Yes, We Can

“We, the Sindhis” have several success stories and accomplishments in various fields of endeavour and entrepreneurship. We indeed can add yet another feather in our cap by skillfully preserving our language and culture in spite of aggressive market-driven avenues available in the mainstream languages, and thus save our identity. Through this column, I call upon the enlightened Sindhi community and its learned entrepreneurs like Sarvashri Ram Buxani, Murij Manghnani, Hinduja Brothers, Amar Doulatani, Suresh Keswani, Ram Jawhrani, Ranjit Butani, etc., to launch the collective, meaningful and innovative initiatives for the much-needed cultural renaissance among the Sindhis in India, creating vision and the public-private partnership to preserve the Sindhi Identity in these challenging times, when our Sindhi language is virtually on a 'ventilator', gasping for life. It is hoped that the public-private partnership will help the cause of preservation and promotion of our cultural identity in the multilingual, multicultural milieu in our great country.

The language and culture are intertwined, culture manifests through language while language reflects the culture; the language being the broad indicator of our identity. It therefore enjoins upon us to speak in our mother language Sindhi and thereby retain our identity.

We, the Sindhis” need to undertake the great manthan, among ourselves and must speak in our mother language Sindhi so as to churn out the nectar of saving our language, our heritage, our identity, our Sindhiyat. It would be worthwhile to lay emphasis on education, the younger generation and our linguistic rights to come up with viable solutions to save our endangered language and cultural identity in India.

Yes, together, we can. We surely can save our identity, our sindhiyat, if we resolve to put our act together and start speaking in Sindhi in our homes. Happy New Year! 

Dr. Nandlal Jotwani holds the Constitutional position of the National Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities in India, Government of India. He is also a Member of the Steering Committee of the Planning Commission, Government of India, and engaged in national planning on Empowerment of Minorities in India. Earlier, he distinguished himself as the Wing Commander in Indian Air Force where he was honoured, among many other Medals and Awards, with the Paschmi Star (Star of the Western Sector) Medal and the Sangram (War) Medal. He has the distinction of being the U.G.C.-sponsored Research Fellow in Sindhi Linguistics, who worked on a lexicological project “Sindhi-English Dictionary – with phonetic transcriptions” (1964-65). He was honoured with the status of the 'Visiting Fellow' by Stanford University, U.S.A. (2003-04) and decorated with the national award of the 'Sindhu Ratna' by the Central Federation of the Sindhi Panchayats, New Delhi (2011). The ideas expressed in this presentation are his purely personal views.