WE, THE SINDHIS
WAKE UP CALL
By Dr. Nandlal Jotwani
We need to act before it is too late to save our endangered Sindhi language from extinction
I am face to face with the grim reality that I have, of late, dreaded the most. Our Sindhi language is declared by UNESCO as an endangered language among 196 endangered languages in India.
We need to wake up and do something soon and something tangible to save our intangible heritage – language, literature, culture, ethos and identity - from perceptible attrition and possible extinction.
Don't you tell me that I didn't tell you! I have indeed been telling everyone for over a decade that this was what might happen to us unless 'We, the Sindhis' wake up and speak in our mother language Sindhi in our homes, learn it in our schools, use it in our day-to-day conversation with each other, undaunted by the dominance of the mainstream languages and market forces.
It would be of no avail to continue to live in the make-believe world of “all is well” on our language front while our Sindhi language is languishing on the life-support system supplied by the State-sponsored Sindhi Language Academies and Language Institutions, National Council for Promotion of Sindhi Language; certain NGOs and certain public-spirited personalities.
Where Have the Sindhi Speakers Gone
It is ironical that the language spoken by the inheritors of the most ancient known civilization, dating back to 2,500 and 1,500 years B.C., symbolized by Moen-jo-Daro in Larkana, Sindh, which once was a beacon of light to the world around us, is today gasping for breath in independent India.
Today, the Sindhi language faces the formidable challenge of attrition and extinction due to its ever diminishing use in our homes, schools, in our conversation among us, etc. It is , indeed, a matter of grave concern that the Sindhi children do not speak in Sindhi language in their homes nor do they opt for Sindhi language in schools and colleges even as a subject, let alone as a medium of instruction. Hence, education in our community is generally imparted through the medium of mainstream languages – English and Hindi.
Mother Language in the School System
The induction of mother language in the school system tends to make the language functionally relevant, socially dynamic and culturally vibrant.
Article 29 of the Constitution of India provides protection of interests of the minorities: Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same. Article 30 of the Constitution of India provides for right of the minorities to establish and administer educational institutions: All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. . Article 350 of the Constitution envisages that every person shall be entitled to submit a representation for the redress of any grievance to any officer or authority of the Union or a State in any of the languages used in the Union or in the State, as the case may be. Article 350A of the Constitution: It shall be the endeavour of every State and every local authority within the State to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups; and the President may issue such directions to any State as he considers necessary or proper for securing the provision of such facilities.
In addition to the aforesaid Constitutional Safeguards, a scheme has been worked out, based on decisions arrived at various Conferences, from time to time, which, briefly, envisages the following:
Instruction through Mother Language at Primary level
Provisions should be made for imparting instruction through the mother-tongue at the Primary stage by appointing at least one teacher provided there are not less than 40 pupils speaking that language in a School and 10 such pupils in a Class.
Instruction through Mother Language at Secondary Level
For the purpose of providing facilities for instruction in mother-tongue of the linguistic minorities at the Secondary stage of education, the Modern Indian Languages mentioned in the VIIIth Schedule to the Constitution as well as English should be used as media of instruction, for which the minimum strength of 60 pupils in the last four Classes and 15 pupils in each Class will be necessary. For the first four years after the commencement of provision of facilities, the strength of 15 in each class in which the facilities are provided will be sufficient.
Advance Registration in Schools
The Schools need to provide for Advance registration of applications from pupils desirous to have instruction through minority languages at Primary/Secondary levels. The advance registration may be effective for a period of three months and the same may cease a fortnight before the commencement of a school year for Primary/Secondary stages of education. Further, efforts should also be taken to make necessary inter-school adjustments, at Primary/Secondary levels wherever feasible, to help the applicants registered in a particular school are accommodated elsewhere for availing instruction through minority language if there is insufficient number of applicants for opening a new Section/Class in that particular School of registration.
Text-books/Teachers in Minority Languages
The State Governments should endeavour to ensure availability of textbooks/teachers to the learners of the linguistic minorities. The Central Government should also endeavour to prepare model text-books in the minority languages for learners at the Primary and Secondary stages of education.
Use of Minority Languages for Official Purposes
Where a linguistic minority constitutes a minimum of 15 per cent of the population of a particular district/taluka/tehsil/municipally, the gist of important Government notices, rules, and publications should also be made available in minority languages. At district level, where 60 per cent of the population in a district uses a language other than the official language of the State, that language should be recognized as an additional official language in that particular district. Recognition for this purpose should be given ordinarily to the languages mentioned in the VIIIth Schedule to the Constitution. At the State HQ, the translation facilities may be set up for translation and publication of the substance of important laws, rules, regulations, etc., into minority languages in the district/ taluka/ tehsil/municipally, where a linguistic minority constitutes a minimum of 15 per cent of population of that particular constituency.
The Petitions/Representations for Redress of Grievances
The petitions/representations for redress of grievances, written in minority languages, should be received and replied to in the same language, wherever feasible.
Recruitment to State Services
Knowledge of the State's official language should not be a pre-requisite for recruitment to the State services. A test of proficiency in the State's official language should be held after selection and before the end of the period of probation.
Underutilized Resources for Want of Takers in Sindhi Language
Today, we are in a situation where even the available resources for protection and promotion of Sindhi language and culture remain underutilized for want of learners, speakers and connoisseurs of Sindhi language. Barring a few places, we are not having sufficient number of aspirants/applicants for learning through Sindhi language in our Primary and Secondary Schools despite the constitutional and other safeguards provided to a linguistic minority, which we are. Today, we are in an unenviable situation where there are not many readers of Sindhi literature, thereby rendering its production and publication economically unviable. Of course, the State-sponsored language academies/ NCPSL/ Academic Faculties are there for flogging this felling horse of publication of literature in a scenario where the Sindhi writers are the readers of Sindhi literature. Despite the enabling constitutional provisions, our great Sindhi community prefers to put their children in the Schools that impart education through the medium of the mainstream languages rather than our mother language Sindhi. Such insensitivity is evidenced among both the elderly and the youth of the Sindhi language community. This phenomenon is fraught with the risk of gradual loss of our ethos and identity as a language community, especially after we bid 'good bye' to our existing, diminishing section of the Sindhi senior citizens, who speak, read and write in Sindhi language.
In order to protect, preserve and promote our 'Sindhiyat' and the Sindhi language, we will do well to use Sindhi language in our homes and schools, etc., without getting unduly apprehensive of alleged lack of employment opportunities for the Sindhi language-literate youth and without getting unduly daunted by the dynamics of monoculturalism and market forces.
Dynamic Aspirations of Sindhi Language Community
Of course, we need to recognize, in the same breath, the dynamic aspirations of our community, which has acquitted itself commendably in spite of having been uprooted in the unprecedented partition and massive migration in the challenging conditions. It largely goes to the credit of 'We, the Sindhis' to have skillfully converted the formidable challenge into an opportunity to move forward and progress upwards, undaunted by lack of even the geographic space in the map of independent India. The great Sindhis have several success stories and accomplishments in various fields of human endeavour. The Sindhi community today is proud to have made its niche and earned their pride of place on the global entrepreneurship map by dint of its indomitable will, pragmatic outlook, business acumen and professionalism, leading to great vertical mobility and heights of glory, even while striving to balance its own identity against the aggressive market models of development available in the mainstream languages. 'We, the Sindhis' are proud of our Sindhi origin and civilization and are second to none in beauty, brains, business and benevolence.
Loss of Supportive Environment Too Leads to Loss of a Language
Language is a vehicle of communication. It is for the native speakers to preserve, develop and enrich this vital medium of communication through its constant and creative use. I have observed many parents speaking only in Hindi or English with their children in the hope their children would learn the mainstream languages, Hindi or English, effortlessly. This trend slowly and imperceptibly leads to the severe attrition of our Sindhi language.
The absence of the geographic space has contributed to make our Sindhi language more vulnerable to danger of attrition and extinction owing to its declining use as we are scattered all over India, and overseas, generally complacent about the disturbing trend of disuse of our language in the post-partition era of our scattered existence and the dynamics of the knowledge-oriented industry and entrepreneurship available in the commercially viable mainstream languages.
Connecting Our Language with Our Livelihood
Having said that, it is also true that the new generation, well-informed as it is, generally goes by the 'language utility value' and 'language vitality score', encompassing multiple factors like the 'language availability' in the present-day knowledge society, which is marked by multimedia and mass media - cinema, newspapers, television, radio, etc. - monopolized by commercially and culturally dominant mainstream languages. I am optimistic about the Prasar Bharati taking up new initiatives, including launching of new DD channels, in due course of time, after the on-going scheme of digitalization of the Doordarshan network and services for upgrading its DTH network is accomplished; and the issues of resource crunch and staff shortage are appropriately addressed by, inter alia, filling up the vacancies after formulation of the Recruitment Boards and the Recruitment Regulations by the Prasar Bharati. The Sindhi speaking population seeks an appropriate DD Channel to promote and propagate their culture on the Doordarshan network.
We, therefore, need to connect our Sindhi language to our livelihood and integrate our supportive endeavour with the basic needs of rozi-roti in order to ensure sustainable preservation and promotion of our Sindhi language, literature and heritage. While we have succeeded in induction of the Sindhi language in the coveted IAS Examination Written Test Patterns, it would be a welcome idea to replicate this provision in the State Civil Services, too.
It therefore enjoins upon 'We, the Sindhis' to nurture our native language and pass it on to the generations next, and thereby, save sindhiyat as we owe it to our progeny what we inherited from our ancestors. The Sindhi Centre in IGNOU, the National Council for Promotion of Sindhi Language; the nation-wide Sindhi Academies; the Sindhi Departments in the Universities, together with the NGOs/Trusts like the Institute of Sindhology, etc., need to undertake, inter alia, the development of suitable curricula for certificate, diploma and degree, etc., Study Courses/Syllabi/Curriculum in Sindhi language; the teaching and learning activities in Sindhi language; the language maintenance programmes, coordination of postgraduate studies, doctoral research and resource development in Sindhi language and literature.
Oh God! Give us the strength to respond to this clarion call and do what we must, to save Sindhiyat and protect our identity. Amen!
The author holds the Constitutional Post of the National Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities, Government of India. The views expressed in this article are purely his own personal, random thoughts. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org