PRESERVATION AND PROMOTION OF SINDHI LANGUAGE IN INDIA
by Dr. Baldev Matlani
Sindh has always filled the coffers of anyone who has taken shelter under its loving patronage. Sindhis are inheritors of the civilization, which was the first to cover the bare bodies of mankind, when the rest of the world used leaves or skins to do so. Sindhis never used their intelligence or power for hegemonistic purpose, rather they have all along been at the receiving end of others’ atrocities.
Aryans entered Sindh around 1500 B.C. Darius annexed Sindh with the Persian forces in 515 B.C. Then came Alexander the great, who ravaged Sindh and left it devastated. The death of Alexander left the country under the control of the Maurya dynasty of Pataliputra. Then came the Sassanians and Huns from Central Asia. The end of the fifth century brought Sindh under the Rai dynasty, which was overthrown by the palace intrigue and machinations of a Brahamin, named Chach, in 622 A.D. The Islamic army overwhelmed King Dahar, the last Hindu defender of Sindh and brought it under the Islamic caliphate in 711 A.D., taking advantage of the antagonism of the local Buddhist population.
An Arab tourist Al-Beruni (1030), in his book ‘Kitab-ul-Hind’ had mentioned that before the advent of Islam, Sindhi was the chief language of Sindh and was used in the day-to-day operations and dealings. It was not only spoken but also written, though it had multiple alphabets or scripts. Islamic rule brought Arabic as a government language in Sindh, which prompted the local populace to learn Arabic so as to be in the good books of the rulers of the times. Soomra dynasty (1051-1351 A.D.) and Samma dynasty (1351-1520 A.D.) was the era of Islamic evangelism. Many new madrassahs were established, which turned the capital city of Thatta into the literary capital of the east. It attracted many writers and learned people from countries as far as Iran, Afghanistan and Khurasan. They came to Thatta for purpose of learning and eventually settled there for the rest of their lives. Though Sammas and Soomras were Sindhi themselves, they maintained Persian as the official language of Sindh. However, besides becoming well versed with the official language - Persian, Sindhis maintained their love for their mother-tongue and Sindh gave birth to some of the best poets like Kazi Kadan, Isahaque Ahangar and Makhdoom Ahmed Bhatti.
Eleventh Moharram of 1520 A.D. saw entry of Arghuns into the city of Thatta and they ravaged, looted and plundered it. Despite being Muslims themselves, the Arghuns and Turkhans ruled Sindh with an iron hand until 1591, when Sindh was brought under direct rule of Moghals of Delhi. Sindh came under the local rule of Kalhoras in 1679, which lasted upto 1783, when they were overthrown by Talpurs, another tribe of Sindhis. The Sindhis’ self rule came to an end, when they were defeated by the British in 1843.
In fact, the British rule proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Sindhi language. Sir Bartle Frere issued a circular in 1851, which made the knowledge of Sindhi language mandatory for government employees, and they had to clear an examination to maintain their employ. Under the leadership of the Educational Commissioner, B. H. Ellis, a committee consisting of Rai Bahadur Narain Jagannath Vaidya, Diwan Pribhdas Ramchandani, Diwan Udharam Mirchandani, Diwan Nandiram Mirani, Khan Bahadur Mirza Sadiq Ali Beg, Mian Mohd., Qazi Ghulam Ali and Miam Ghulam Hussain was constituted, which framed a Sindhi script containing fifty two letters; which was published in July 1853. The constitution of the Sindhi script proved a boon for the language, as it opened up host of publications, including text books. Initially, Sindhi writings included mainly translations. Thus after nearly eleven and half centuries, Sindhi language became the official government language of the country of Sindh.
In a way, it helped the spirit of religious tolerance in Sindh under the British government and Sindhi language received a major impetus to grow. The people witnessed two world wars and the growth of patriotism fanned the flames of freedom among Sindhis in this freedom struggle. They braved various atrocities and Sindh played its role alongside other provinces in the fight for freedom from the foreign yoke.
The British had to accept the demand for the Independence of India, but they took a nasty step by giving in to the demand of the Muslim League and divided India on religious lines. The partition created new problems. It created widespread hatred between Hindus and Muslims. The country was engulfed in flames, but by and large Sindh was not affected by it. The situation changed, once Indian Muslims reached the shores of Sindh. They behaved as if they had conquered Sindh in a battle. Karachi was separated from Sindh and Sindhi was stripped of the status of government language and instead an alien language, Urdu was imposed on Sindhis in the name of the official national language. They engineered riots to a create fear psychosis, so as to compel Hindu Sindhis to abandon their ancestral homes and migrate to uncharted areas of truncated India.
However, Sindhis took this as a challenge and confronted it bravely. The land was alien, the language unknown, a different environment; and above all the first priority at that time was survival. They did not shy from doing anything. No job was mean or low. The nawabs and landlords of Sindh had to sell fruits and confectionary in suburban trains, join state transport as bus conductors and even work on daily wages. Traders commenced business from humble beginning and worked on very low margins and created a niche for themselves in the established business community of India. Others would have lost their mental balance under such trying circumstances, but Sindhis didn’t lose heart. They not only established themselves economically but even paid attention to their intellectual needs too. Sindhis established many literary organizations and encouraged budding litterateurs to keep writing and held literary meets. They toured throughout the length and breadth of India and held cultural shows to resurrect interest in Sindhi fine arts.
Just when they presumed that their difficult times were over, there came a bolt from the blue. The government issued a G.R., which accepted Devnagari script for Sindhi language. It proved to be a heavy blow for Sindhis, which divided them into two. Many Sindhi writers joined hands and launched an agitation and after a long haul, they got another G.R., permitting the use of Persio-Arabic script alongside Devnagari. The Indian Constitution was promulgated in 1950 and when it was published, the Sindhi language was nowhere to be found in its eighth schedule, as one of the national languages of India. Once again, Sindhis had to fight for their right. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru declined the request on the grounds, that it will open up a pandora’s box and every other community would press for their language to be included into the eighth schedule of the Constitution. Instead as a compensation, he ordered for inclusion of Sindhi language into the list of approved languages of Sahitya Akademi for distribution of various awards and rewards so as to give a fillip to Sindhi language. Sindhis did not rest with this dollop, but kept on pressing with their demand and continued with the holding of various rallies, conventions and representations to the leaders of the times. At last, their persistence paid fruit and Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister acceded to their request and as per representation of a senior Congress leader, Jairamdas Daulatram, she directed her party to introduce the bill for it into Parliament, which was passed with majority on April 10, 1967, and the bill became an article of the Constitution, and Sindhi language became fifteenth such language in the eighth schedule of the Constitution.
After independence, Sindhis worked hard during the initial twenty years towards preservation and progress of Sindhi language, but the moment their request for Sindhi language to be included into constitution was accepted, a sense of fatigue crept in and the community turned its attention more towards their economical sustenance and revival. Under suspect notions and impressions, they allowed the use of Hindi or English (even mutilated) into their domestic confines. With the result, that not only their second generation was deprived of the sweetness of their mother-tongue Sindhi, but it began dissociating itself from the very community whose part it was. One after another, Sindhi medium schools began shutting shop and the institutions which used to offer Sindhi language as an optional subject, removed it from the list of languages offered in their curriculum. Those very persons, who were in the forefront of agitations for grant of constitutional rights to Sindhi language, stopped conversing with their wards in Sindhi and instead pushed their younger generation to not only learn alien languages but even speak them. There was a time, when they used to dream of going back to Sindh and vow to lay their lives for the interests of their mother-tongue Sindhi and then came a time, when they rubbished the very idea of salvation of Sindhi language. In 1950, Mangharam Malkani had warned of forcibly including words from other languages into Sindhi and predicted that the move would simply prove to be the last nail in the coffin of the Sindhi language. That prophecy of doom has proved to be very much correct and we witness it in every state of India, as the Sindhis of all states have imbibed and found such a great use for local words that Sindhi residents of one state find themselves unable to comprehend the Sindhi language of another state. One has to use the dictionary of local languages to understand the meaning of that state’s Sindhi language. One cannot blame our younger generation for this sorry state of affairs, but the whole blame must be taken by our older generation, which under the wrong notion of fear of their economic demise, pushed the younger generation into the use of local languages or English. During seventies, some of our so called great writers of Sindhi language, predicted that Sindhi language would not last for more than another decade. They used to raise a hue and cry at various fora for the decline of status of Sindhi language, but they put the blame on others for this state.
The history of various languages tells us, that a language takes a large time to establish itself and likewise it is not easy for anyone to remove it from the face of the globe. During eighties, the institutions run by minorities were permitted to have fifty percent reservation for their own communities. The Non-Resident Sindhis have greater affinity for their language as compared to the Indian Sindhis. Fresh discoveries in the fields of science and technology also helped a lot. The use of computers and internet helped resurgence of Sindhi language. The disappearance of treadle compositors of Sindhi language was more than compensated by the creation of Sindhi software and composition with the help of computers. A strange phenomenon has occurred. After more than half a century, our younger generation has posed a question towards their elders – Who were they! What was their identity! Presently, Sindhi Sammelans are being held at all levels, state, national and even on international levels. It seems that there is a ray of light signaling the end of a dark tunnel. Electronic media has also helped us to a great extent. The telecasting of Sindhi programmes on TV channels by satellite has allowed the entry of Sindhi language, Sindhi music, drama etc. into every Sindhi household of the world.
The Department of Sindhi, University of Mumbai, which had limited its activities to classroom teachings till 1992, encouraged research activities from 1994, when I joined it. Since then, many students have completed their M. Phil. and Ph.D. in Sindhi literature. There should be no stopping of this caravan, whether anyone, including me is there or not. We have started in-house publication of Sindhi books. We have introduced short term Certificate, Diploma and Advanced Diploma courses in Sindhi, for people of cosmopolitan Mumbai, as they lacked even a basic knowledge of their mother-tongue. We have also approached other institutes to offer some courses from their platform. The National Council for Promotion of Sindhi Language (NCPSL), established by the central govt. of India, took a cue from our work and began offering the same courses through correspondence, throughout India. The Sindhi Department of University of Mumbai, despite having meager budget at its disposal held various national as well as international seminars, providing common platform to the writers of India and Pakistan. It is a matter of greatest satisfaction, that the NCPSL has also begun holding such programmes, sammelans and music concerts for writers and artists from both the countries. Writers from India have also started visiting Sindh. These moves have created a highly conducive environment for Sindhi language in India.
By optimizing the usage of internet, a global association can be constituted and various steps can be taken in the preservation and progress of Sindhi language. The Sindhi people of India have made their mark in every walk of life, be it education, trade, industry, films, health or fine arts. At present, the most pressing need of Sindhis is to encourage and ensure that Sindhi is spoken in our homes. We can also make sure, that our wards take Sindhi language as an optional subject in their courses. This way we can hope, that our children will not forget their origin and roots, rather they would work for the preservation and promotion of the same!
(A paper presented at SANA Convention, Toronto, Canada, on July 02, 2006.)