Volume - 1 : Issue - 3

Published : April - June 2002

Group : Language


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By Dr. Sundri Parchani

A research based report on the changes in the Sindhi language in the Indian context.

With the aim of gaining better insight on the fading of the Sindhi language amongst members of the Sindhi community, Dr. Sundri Parchani set out to research and study the changes in the Sindhi language in the Indian context. Featured herein are extracts from her report, which was published by the Sindhi Academy of Delhi in the year 1998.

The Sindhi language enjoys a rather unique position of being regarded as a ‘Stateless’ language in our country along with Sanskrit and Urdu ever since its inclusion in the VIII schedule of the Indian Constitution. Linguistically, Sindhi belongs to the Northwestern group of New Indo Aryan languages and was the native language of the province of Sindh in undivided India, but is now spoken both in India and Pakistan. With the partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947, the entire Sindhi-speaking region then became a part of West Pakistan.

Partition resulted in the mass migration of Sindhi Hindus, and largely being an urban populace this community was inclined to cluster in and around various urban centres of India. These migrants moved in the form of pre-partition clusters of families or even parts of neighbourhood to the various refugee camps. The refugees in search of vocation moved from place to place, and according to the 1951 census the bulk of the population had settled down in Bombay, Saurashtra, Kutch, Rajasthan, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh.

The absence of a single geographic territory had necessitate the interaction of the Sindhi population with the speakers of other Indian languages with whom they came in contact in the regions of their settlement. Also due to education largely through non-Sindhi medium, Sindhi language became influenced by various Indian languages that it came in contact with. In addition, Sindhis of all age groups started realizing that without competence in some other language, their economic survival was at stake. Therefore, the Sindhi speaking population began to participate in the total socio-economic networks of the various regions, and the function of Sindhi language as a communication system became rather restricted to intra family communication used mainly at home. Due to the absence of a single Sindhi-speaking region, the socio-political basis for the survival of Sindhi culture and language began to weaken. While these changes were intuitively felt by the community there was no systematic study of the various changes that had taken place in the Sindhi language and culture since 1947.

Hence, a study was initiated by the Sindhi Academy, Delhi in the year 1998 with the aim of primarily studying the changes occurred over the years in the Sindhi language especially in the Indian context. With the help of primary research techniques, studies of some major areas of language acculturation were taken up. The study was conducted amongst members of the community from three different age groups in Sindhi settlements in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and New Delhi. The three age groups were classified, as, first generation migrants who were adults at the time of the partition, as second generation migrants who were adolescents / teenagers at the time of the partition and as third generation of Sindhi children who have had absolutely no exposure to Sindhi language and Sindhi cultural milieu.

An analysis of the data collected during the course of this study revealed certain significant trends. The study also revealed patterns of loyalty and maintenance correlating with age among the Sindhi speakers in India. The educational background revealed that the first generation migrants received their education through Sindhi medium whereas majority of the third generation migrants have received their education through non-Sindhi medium of instruction. But the most significant discovery was that while most of the second generation Sindhis received their elementary or primary education in Sindhi, they later opted for a non-Sindhi medium at high school level. It was thought that the attitude of the first generation Sindhis would favour enrolling their wards in Sindhi medium schools thereby indicating a positive preference. However only a third of this age group responded positively, but on the condition that these Sindhi schools needed to raise their standard of teaching on par with that of English medium schools. The second and third age groups predictably openly advocated their choice of English medium public schools. Thus, a progressive shift was notice from Sindhi to other Indian languages by members of the third generation. This was indicated by their ability to express themselves better in a language other than Sindhi as compared to the first generation grand parent, who predictably felt more at ease with Sindhi.

Tests on linguistic proficiency regarding terms of everyday usage revealed that a majority of the second and third generation members expressed their inability to proved Sindhi equivalents or event eh meaning of certain concepts in Sindhi. Several of them claimed that they understood the concept but they failed to recall the precise term. To cite an example, the names of many Sindhi festivals and names of typical Sindhi garments were almost lost in the speech of the members of the second and third generation. Another factor that has contributed to the weakening of the Sindhi language has been the sharp decline in the reading of Sindhi books and journals. The controversy regarding the scripts has also contributed towards the decline. In Delhi, study revealed that a decline in Sindhi reading had occurred because a majority of the publications were in Arabic Sindhi, whereas Devnagri script was used as a medium of instruction in Sindhi medium schools. This to a large extent explained the indifference of most members towards Sindhi periodicals as well as to the prominent Sindhi literature. But to a large extent a decline in the reading of Sindhi language periodicals occurred primarily because of the inability of reading in the Arabic script, illiteracy, lack of interest in the language, lack of awareness of such publications, non-availability of reading material or due to the lack of will or desire to subscribe to such periodicals.

While studying the community’s reaction on the preference for scripts, a significant finding was the existence of a neutral group in addition to the two groups of either Arabic or Devnagri supporters. The members of the third generation were clearly not concerned with either the controversy or the solution to the script problem. Predictably, a majority of the neutral group comprised of members of the second and third generation. Another aspect that the study revealed was the margin between the choice of Arabic and Devnagri script and support for the two scripts especially by the third generation was very nominal. This could be indicative of their interest in maintaining a separate identity for themselves from other communities in India on the basis of the script. But, the writer insists on the need for further research on this subject prior to validating the assumption.

In course of her study, it was hypothesized that the extent of the language loyalty is inversely proportionate to the socio-economic class of the community and it was decided to add this criteria to the study of the Sindhi language. Hence during her research, the writer considers the socio-economic background of the community and its contribution in the current predicament of the language. The non-existence of a caste system within the community led to the development of their own hierarchy of social status on the basis of possessions and professions. The Sindhi Hindu community was stable and extremely prosperous until partition, and therefore being refugees was a traumatic experience. A majority of the migrants found themselves in low paid jobs and vocations that were entirely new to them. However as some of the Sindhis acquired education and prosperity, they tended to move away from the refugee camps towards bigger metropolis. This in turn weaned them away from the linguistically homogenous clusters that formed the core of these refugee camps, limiting the use of their native language. To lay further emphasis to her point, the writer quotes C J Daswani, “Economic status and education are the markers of social status in India. With the more affluent and educated Sindhis adhering to other languages, the maintenance, cultivation and development of Sindhi in India has suffered a severe setback.”

In her endeavour at determining the change in the actual usage of the language, the writer took several unobserved recordings of Sindhis in conversations at informal situations. An analysis of these recordings yielded certain significant trends that mark the linguistic competence of Sindhi speakers in the present context. On a phonological level, it was observed that certain importance and distinctive implosive markers of the Sindhi language were being regularly substituted by explosives and chiefly by the third generation young speakers. It was observed that there existed a significant loss of nasalization in the speech of second and third generation speakers. A sharp decline in the usage of pronominalised terms of verbal variants of indirect objects by second and third generation Sindhi speakers was also witnessed. An increasing number of anomalies have resulted in the speech of young Sindhis, caused by their declining competence in their mother tongue especially in their idiomatic usage.

Due to the necessity of including members spread over large areas, it was difficult to draw conclusions in respect of the entire Sindhi community, but yet this study does validate few of the following assumptions.

  • Sindhi migrants who were adults at the time of partition were more inclined to maintain their mother tongue in comparison to their grandchildren who were either infants during partition or were born after partition.

  • The pre-partition distinctions of regional difference as perceived by Sindhi speakers then were not perceived by Sindhi speakers in India today.

  • The Indian Sindhi had become assimilated to other Indian languages with which it had been in contact for three decades at the time when the first study was undertaken.

  • The Indian Sindhi had become assimilated to other Indian languages with which it had been in contact for three decades at the time when the first study was undertaken.

  • The competence in Sindhi showed a definite downward trend in relation to the three generations examined in the study.

  • The attitudes towards their language and community were rated from the positive to the negative from the first to the third generation in that order.

  • It was more important to maintain the language than harp on the issue of script for clearly the third generation was not interested in this ongoing controversy.

Thus it can be said, that in the struggle for economic survival, language and culture has suffered the most. This combined with the attitude of Sindhi speakers towards the maintenance of their language in India is far from encouraging. However, all is not lost when asked about the future of the Sindhi language, a majority of the respondents felt positive given the right conditions.