|Volume 6 Issue 02| February 2012|
For the Sake of Sindhi
NASEER MEMON shows how Sindhis have protected their language and culture against the odds.
Sindhi is one of the oldest languages in the sub-continent and the most developed language among original languages of today's Pakistan. Many books were written in Sindhi from the 17th century and some of them were also taught in curricula. When Arabs entered India, Sindhi was an advanced language and many Arab writers mention that Sindhi was the commonly spoken language in Mansura, the then capital of Sindh. During Mughal rule, Sindhi textbooks were in common use. In the 19th century, modern literature and journalism flourished in Sindhi. When Urdu-Hindi controversy surfaced in India, the Bombay government appointed a committee in 1913 to resolve the conflict. The Committee recommended teaching in Urdu to satisfy Muslims. When the report was circulated to district officers of Sindh to seek opinion from prominent Muslims; Sindhis opposed the recommendation. Wazir of Khairpur state commented that the conditions prevailing in this province are vastly different and Sindhi language is as much the Vernacular of the Moslem Community as that of Hindus of Sindh. District officers also held similar views and Sindhi continued to be the language of school education. Sindhi language took strides during British raj. After Sindh was occupied in 1943, it was annexed with Bombay. In 1948, Governor of the Province Sir George Clerk ordered to make Sindhi the official language in the province. His order made it mandatory for civil officers to qualify examination in Sindhi language. The then Commissioner of Sindh Sir Bartle Frere issued formal orders on August 29, 1857 advising civil servants in Sindh to qualify examination in Sindhi. He also ordered Sindhi to be used in all official communication. Seven-grade education system commonly known as Sindhi-Final was introduced in Sindh. Qualifying Sindhi Final would make a candidate eligible for employment in Revenue, Police and Education departments. In 1854, Arabic script was adopted for Sindhi language. In 1848 and 1855, English-Sindhi dictionaries were produced. Eminent German scholar Ernest Trump published grammar of Sindhi Language in 1872. In 1923, compulsory education was introduced in Sindh through Bombay Primary Education Act. By 1954 some 53 talukas of Sindh were covered under the law.
The tide was reversed with the partition of India. Influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants from India and concomitant mass exodus of Sindhi Hindus to India transformed the demography in Sindh in a matter of a few months. Sindhi Hindus were the most educated people who dominated civil services, agriculture and businesses in Sindh. With the hemorrhage of middle class, Sindh lost its vibrant segment of society that was replaced by a community culturally alien to them having nothing common except religion. This tide resulted in a cultural distortion of Sindhi society. Natives were barred from purchasing urban properties evacuated by Hindus. Fertile land, opulent urban residential buildings and bustling business centres were handed over to migrants as war booty through uncorroborated, trivial and hilarious claims. Sindhi Muslims were effectively confined to rural agrarian society, which relegated their centuries old culture and language into a forgotten past glory. All urban centres of Sindh were bereft of Sindhi language and culture. Names of the roads and streets were Islamised and Sindhi culture was condemned as a remnant of loathed Hindu customs. Karachi at the time of partition had 0.4 million population with 61% Sindhi-speaking souls compared to only 6% Urdu speaking population. In 1951, the same city had a swollen 57% Urdu-speaking population and Sindhis shrunk to a mere 8.6%. At the time of partition, Karachi had 1,300 Sindhi medium schools which were subsequently converted into no-go area for Sindhi language. Educated and urbanised migrants were warmly greeted by native Sindhis who were later scorned by the newly arrived self-proclaimed guardians of Islam and two-nation theory. Everything pertaining to Sindhi culture was demonised as a legacy of Hindus. Sindhi which was medium of instruction at various levels in educational institutions and a language of official communication in revenue and judiciary before partition suddenly became an orphan child in the new state. The discriminatory treatment meted out to Sindhi language and culture riled Sindhis who were the first nation in Pakistan to adopt a resolution in favour of Pakistan. Sindhi felt betrayed and alienated as all their dreams associated with the new country turned into a nightmare. The progressive and liberal Sindhi nation never had any problem with Urdu language but now they were seething with indignation as Urdu was imposed as the only national language clamping recognition of all other languages of Pakistan. Adding insult to injury, Syndicate of Karachi University in 1956 decided to adopt Urdu as the medium of examination replacing Sindhi. This inept decision widened the crevasse among the permanent residents of Sindh and caused a major setback to the feeble flicker of cultural assimilation of the migrant community with natives. Reeking with superiority complex, the leadership of migrant community did not realise the ramifications of such steps that actually debilitated national unity in the nascent country.
In a bid to assemble an artificial nation by denying historic identities in the federation, perniciously injurious decisions were taken by the rulers. A rare manifestation of their wit resulted in One Unit to neutralize political supremacy of Bengal. One Unity was a brazen denial of historic identities of the nations that created Pakistan. Rather than building a nation by respecting cultural diversity, the rulers put cart before the horse and adopted frivolous approach to forge a nation which did not exist in reality. Under the One Unit regime, Sindh like other provinces was officially deleted and merged into 'West Pakistan' which had no identity in history. Sindhis launched a political movement to restore their identity. Hunger strikes were observed and processions were taken out to restore identity of Sindh and print electoral rolls and national identity cards in Sindhi language. The Constitution of 1956 had a provision for Sindhi and Urdu medium students to study subjects in both languages in Sindh. However, gradually Urdu medium students almost stopped studying the Sindhi language subject which further weakened cultural cohesiveness in the province. Karachi Municipal Corporation made Urdu its official language and Sindhi was removed from all official plaques in the city. Centuries old settlements of Sindhi and Baloch communities were left undeveloped for several years and even today these areas are devoid of the basic amenities and services.
In the 50s, President Ayub constituted a Commission on National Educational also known as Sharif Commission. The Commission recommended Urdu as the only medium of instruction from the sixth grade. Sindhis considered this as an affront and launched a movement against the recommendations of the Commission. Sindhi writers and intellectuals founded “Sindhi Language Society” in 1959 for protection of Sindhi language. A delegation of the Society went to present memorandum to the President on the status of Sindhi language, however, the meeting request was declined. Pakistan Writers' Guild also supported the movement of Sindhi language. In its meeting held on April 1, 1960 in Dacca, the “Languages and Script Committee” of the Guild recommended that since Sindhi is a developed language and since last 50 years has been the medium of instruction at high school level, it should be maintained as the medium of instruction at Secondary level.
An affirmative action was taken through Sindhi Language Act adopted by Sindh Assembly on July 7, 1972. The Act restored the official status of Sindhi language along with Urdu as national language. Again leadership of migrant community failed to demonstrate sanity and the legislation was termed as anti-Urdu language Act. Leading Urdu newspaper “Jang” fanned the flames of hatred by terming it the funeral of Urdu. It instigated violent riots in major towns of Sindh where Sindhi-speaking people were targeted. The Act was not in fact against Urdu language; it only restored the original status of Sindhi language that it enjoyed at the time of the creation of Pakistan.
Sindhis, Punjabis, Pashtuns and Balochs have been demanding to make their languages as national languages of Pakistan but the demand has been falling on the deaf ears of the cultureless ruling elite of the country. In 2009, Sindhi Adabi Sangat, renowned cultural and literary organisation of Sindh, dispatched 100,000 post cards to the President of Pakistan demanding four major languages of Pakistan i.e. Sindhi, Punjabi, Pashto and Balochi to be given the status of national languages. Sindhi Language Authority also presented a separate memorandum of the same demand to the government. In 2010, leading literary organisations from all four provinces and Progressive Writers Association of Pakistan presented the same memorandum to the parliamentarians. In 2010, two-member parliament from Sindh presented two separate bills before the National Assembly demanding major languages of Pakistan to be declared national languages. Standing Committee of Law rejected one such bill without any plausible explanation. Struggle for recognition of Sindhi language is still going on. However, Sindhis have taken their own initiatives for promotion of Sindhi language rather than waiting for government response. Today, more than a dozen Sindhi newspapers are published with cumulative circulation close to one million copies. Eight Sindhi TV channels are aired by private entrepreneurs. Sindhi IT experts have developed Sindhi software, making it possible to use Sindhi on computer and internet. Each year more than a thousand books are published in Sindhi language. Sindhis have thus protected their language and culture against all odds.
Naseer Memon is a social activist and a writer who writes in Sindhi, Urdu and English newspapers and periodicals in Pakistan; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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