Volume - 8 : Issue - 1

Published : Jan. - Mar. 2009

Group : Personalities


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The selfness and tireless effort of the torch bearer of Sindhyat, in pursuit the preservation and promotion of Sindhi language; their concern for the traditions, culture and heritage of our glorious past, along with the relentless effort of its survival on the Indian subcontinent, are verily beyond adequate word of praise and deserve the highest economics. The very thought of there steadfast approach towards their objective, even to-day send a chill down ones spine, makes us raise our hand in salutation.
But I reserve a slightly higher pedestal for the Sindhis settled outside the India, on foreign soil, who have nevertheless, successfully managed to preserve all Sindhis custom and tradition to kept sindhis culture, not only alive, but flourishing. Their contribution is of truly historical dimensions.
As a matter of fact, even much before partition, many Sindhis embarked on perilous journeys; at times with there families traversed the oceans to foreign land in the pursuit of trade and business. These adventurous brave hearts were known as SINDHWORKIS. Some families have now been on a foreign soil sins 100 years, the children, born and brought up in those countries, have also been educated there. Obviously some nuances of there adopted homeland have crept into the life-style and language of these Sindhis. Let’s face it, even in India; Sindhis in various states have not been untouched by influence of the language and culture of that state. This is unavoidable. But one cannot deny credit due, to the Sindhis settled in foreign lands, who have preserved the foundation of Sindhyat, even in alien environments, and progressed in life, keeping Sindhis custom and tradition alive, at all times.
Recently I received invitation from Sindhis in Jakarta to attend 'Cheti Chand' celebration there. Jakarta is in Indonesia; about 1 1/2 hour flight time from Singapore. On arrival at Jakarta airport I could appreciate the clout of Sindhis there, considering the speed and ease with which I was cleared through immigration and custom.

What struck me there was beside the school, colleges and community centre the Sindhis have not forgotten Temples & Tikanas, where discourses are regularly held, and prayers conducted in accordance with traditional Hindu rites. All religious festivals are celebrated, probably to a greater extent than in India. All Hindu rites are conducted - thread ceremony, engagement ceremony, there is even a Sindhi Maharaja to preside over marriage ceremonies. What is amazing is that these traditions are perpetuated by even the youngsters. Youngsters, even to-day, do not fail to touch the feet of elders for blessing.

There is tremendous demand for Sindhi music. DVD`s of Sindhi films and music are in abundance. Since the last few years artists from India are invite to perform and on a regular basis. Programmes & shows comprising vocal music, dance, drama, "bhagat" are highly successful and drew packed houses.

Undoubtedly, the Sindhis of Jakarta are Sindhis to the core, in there language, life-style, customs, traditions, dress, cuisine, prayer, pooja, music etc. And above all their hospitality brings back memories of Sindh.

Ram Jawhrani attended 'CHETI CHAND' celebration in JAKARTA, hosted by GANDHI SEVA LOKA on 28 April 2009, and had opportunity during this trip, to interact with its president - Shyam Rupchand Jethnahi.  

Extract from the interview conducted:

Q. Shyam, at the outset, tells me in which province or town of Sindh, did your forefathers reside?

A. My father is from Khandu. He came to Indonesia around 1940. My mother hails from Hyderabad. She was already here, with her family, when my parents got married in 1949.

Q.  Did your father come to Indonesia for business purpose?

A. Yes. He was already here at the time of partition

Q. So you were born here.

A. Yes. I was born in this country in 1951.

Q. What about the rest of your family?

A. We are in all, 6 brothers and 3 sisters. One of my sister is in Mumbai, one is no more, and third is here in Jakarta. All my brothers settled here in Jakarta.

Q. under the circumstances, your awareness about sindh must be minimal.

A. That's true. But at the same time I am very keen to know more about Sindh, my homeland.

Q. I will arrange to send you books to enhance your knowledge about Sindh - its history and culture. But what makes me wonder is your fondness for Sindh, considering you were born and brought up here. Normally attachments develop for one's country of birth and not that of one forefather? Who inculcated this love for Sindh, in you?

A. My grandfather. He came here after partition and was not at all happy at having left Sindh. He related to me how he missed the fields, the mango trees, back home. He told me great deal about the culture, traditions and customs; and all this ignited my desire to know more. At the same time my father's involvement in social service during the last 20/30 years of his life, till his passing away in 2003 at the age of 85, has inspired me a lot. He has been president of the Indian Association in Malang - a small town in East Java, about 100 Kms from Surabaya. When I saw his active involvement in solving problems of the 30/40 Indian families settled there; witnessed the patient hearing he gave to their problems and his motivated effort to solve them, I was convinced that the culture and traditions he grew up in must have been of the highest standards, and that is what got me interested to know more about our culture and pass it on to the coming generation. In fact, we observe all Sindhi traditions and custom and even speak Sindhi at home. I can say my love is equal - for Indonesia and Sindhi.

Q. So this love runs in the blood. But tell me what your father’s occupation was after coming to Indonesia?

A. When he came here in 1940, he initially worked under the Dutch for sometimes. Later, he worked for Japanese. Thereafter, he returned to Sindh for a short while, but return to work for the Dutch till 1945, when Indonesia acquired Independence. Then around 1947/48 he went back to the Sindh, got married in Bombay in 1949, and subsequently came here for good.

Q. tell me something about your early years, education etc.

A. During the early years, our financial condition was not so secure and after attending local school I had to join my father. I regret my inability to obtain higher education but want to ensure that my children are not deprived of the best education available.

Q. Probably for this very reason you have established 6 schools in Indonesia where you provide education to thousands of students. How did you go about achieving this?

A. Initially there was only 1 small school - you will recall that earlier the teaching profession was not appropriately respected. What spurred the development was the Govt. Regulation, ordering the closure of all foreign school in Indonesia, after the communist coup in 1965. However, because of the close ties with India, 3 Indian school viz. Gandhinagar International school in Jakarta, Vidya Bhavan in Surbaya and Nehru school in Bandung, were granted exemption Indians are loved and highly respected here.

Q. Isn't there some connection between Jakarta and our Hindu Epic - Ramayana?

A. BALI is entirely a Hindu state. It's about 2 hours flaying time from Jakarta. Kathas of Ramayana are regularly conducted. They pursue Hindu culture and tradition passionately and in the totality. I would say they are truly Hindus, even more than so us, here. The ambience there is very similar to temple towns of South India.

Q. Coming back to education - the school must have been established after achieving financial stability, isn't it?

A. That's true. Initially there is only 1 school, and we had been land given by the Governor for 1 more school. But we had no funds at all. Over the period of time the community prospered. I established an office in Singapore in 1980 and was there till in 1986. Again from 1991 to 1996 I was in Singapore and my business grew. In the meanwhile, I was elected for Vice-president of the Association and I am proud to say that we now have 6 schools, entirely owned by us.

Q. Are these schools run on the profit basis?

A. It is only the International school in Jakarta, attended by student from 42 countries, that is profitable. There is no profit in the other schools that have Sindhis and other Indian students. But overall we remain profitable.

Q. Is your association also involved in social service?

A. At the time of Partition in 1947 the Indian traders established 'Bombay Merchants Association' in Indonesia, which is now known as 'Gandhi Seva Loka'. I am proud to state that I am its current Chairman. We are actively engaged in providing all type of aid - medical, education, financial, to the underprivileged.

Q. Do you also organize any social gatherings for the Sindhis in Indonesia?

A. We have several in year. We celebrate Diwali, where Indians from all communities are welcome - Punjabis, Tamilians etc. But specifically for the Sindhis we hold "Cheti Chand Celebration" and also once every 2 months a gathering for senior citizens "Vandan Jo Melo".

Q. Are there common gatherings for the youth and elder?

A. We primarily concentrate on the 60+, who feel lonely, as there children’s are busy in there own lives - there work and children. They do not have alternate avenues for the entertainment and amusement or opportunities to meet other of there age.

Q. But I must remark on the fact that the youth here have not forsaken there tradition and there culture - I observed most youngsters greeting the elders by touching there feet.

A. Yes, the youth is also quite active in there school activities - BAL Vikas, Satsangs.......

Q. In the mention of Satsang I am told you have 22 Satsang organizations in Jakarta. Is that a fact?

A. Yes. We have various, such as Sadhu Vasvani Mission, Radhasoami, Satnam Sakhi, Nar Narankari, Sadhu Teoram Ashram & so on. Besides, we have 6/7 Devi temples and 5 gurudwaras.

Q. Have this Gurudwaras been established by Sindhis?

A. I am told that first and largest Gurudwara was founded by the Sindhis. The need for another Gurudwara, for Sindhis specifically, has never been felt. We do have our own temple in "Sindhi House''.

Q. Do you also have 'Granth Sahib' in that temple?   

A. No, we have idols of Shiva and there regular rendering of 'Satya Narain Katha'.

Q. Isn't it amazing that you have 20/25 temples for approximately 6000 Sindhis?

A. I wish to clarify that the 20/25 temples are for all Indians communities and there is only 1 i.e. the Shiva temple which can be said to be exclusively for Sindhis. 

Q. Coming to matrimonial, are alliances sought locally, is the Far East or India; and what is the trend - arranged and love marriages?

A. Firstly, most of us prefer to finalize alliances within the community. As regards arranged for love, giving my personal example, on spotting a suitable match I would tell my son "this girl is good, would you be interested''. The kids then interact with each other you know this is the age of interest and e-mails and the final call in theirs. So in the way marriages can be termed partially arranged.

Q. I believe some Sindhis have also got married with local populace......?

A. Yes, that's true.

Q. What percentage would that be?

A. Not more than 10%; I would say approximately 5%.

Q. And are there also inter-community marriages amongst like other Indians like Punjabis, Tamilians etc. settled here?

A. I observe a lot of difference in the financial status. In 1990, I was travelling with my wife by train from Delhi to Ajmer, and the Ajmer station a coolie, overhearing us conversing in Sindhi, came up and said. "I too, am a sindhi". I always had the notion that the entire Sindhi community was financially very comfortable - but this incident shook me up and realized that there is still poverty and deprivation within our community.

Q. What do you think should be done by NRI Sindhis for there brethren in India?

A. Poverty amongst Sindhis is prevalent not only in India, but all over the world. To alleviate this - stalwarts from the community, from all over the world, must get together and institute to fund the address there financial needs of Sindhis all over the world.

Q. It is held that NRI's have considerable reach and influence with the Government of India. It is also a fact that promise made to Sindhis, who migrated to India post partition, have not been fulfilled, as far as political and other rights are concerned. Can't the NRI's get together and intercede on their behalf with the Indian Government?

A. We are absolutely willing to participate in any such forum to make representation to the Government for the Sindhis in India. We have no homeland. We should Endeavour to get land for the stateless Sindhis in India. Some well-known and respected stalwarts from the community should be take the lead and form a group which can be supported by all NRI Sindhis., and work towards for making this approach and attempt the influence the Indian Government. 

Q. If a representation for a Union territory for the Sindhis in India is proposed will the Sindhis from Indonesia support this cause and come forward to aid development?

A. Undoubtedly, and without any hesitation.

Q. Are there Sindhis in political scenario in Indonesia?

A. Sindhis in Indonesia are in minority and mainly businessman; some are professionals - politics in a fulltime involvement and generally Sindhis have maintained a distance from politics. There was 1 MP of Indian Origin sometimes back - but he was a Punjabi, not Sindhi.

Q. Which is the ruling party at the moment?    

A. Democrat party is the ruling party, at the moment.

Q. Are the Sindhis here, large hearted and generous in nature? Do Sindhis or other Indians contribute readily towards social causes or projects?  

A. Our Association generally goes not approach anyone for donation. However, when we do need funds for a specific cause we manage the same through our own network of friends. If, for a cause, it is difficult for the Association to get involved directly, I just call my friends and say "we need x amount, how much can I count on you?" In this fashion, in no time, the job is done.

Q. In the olden days in Sindh, a certain percentage of income was embarked by every Sindhi for charity. Is that tradition prevalent here?

A. Not as general rule. But at the same time Sindhis are generous with charity and getting funds for a cause is not at all difficult.

Q. Are Indian films exhibited here?

A. The locals are very fond of Indian films.

Q. Are cassettes, DVD are of Sindhi music available in Indonesia?

A. Yes.

Q  Any Sindhi films?

A. Yes, 2-3 films were released.

Q. Since how many years have you been inviting Sindhi artists from India to participate in your programmes here?

A. We started celebrating 'Cheti Chand' since 1990. But it is the since last 5-6 years that we have been inviting artists from India.

Q. Are the artist happy and keen to visit Indonesia?

A. Extremely so. As you are aware, we look after them extremely very well and compensate them more than adequately. Anila Sunder who came last year was extremely happy with her visit and so were our senior citizens, as her programme rekindled fond memories of Sindh.

Q. Do you get any Sindhi periodicals?

A. Yes, Hindvasi is received by our Association.

Q. Shyamlal, finally a message for the world wide Sindhi Community.             

A. We had only 1 homeland once – Sindh; now Sindhis have made an impact worldwide. We must unite and look after the interests of the world wide Sindhi community.

Q. I am given to understand that next year - 2010, the 'International Sindhi Sammelan, an occasion when all the stalwarts and decision makers of the community assemble together on 1 platform, is to be hosted in Jakarta by your Association. Is this true?

A. We want to demonstrate that here in Indonesia, In Asia, we can do wonders, of course in the guidance of stalwarts like you who have hosted such Sammelan in the past. We intend to discuss and take decision on several key issues concerning the community, an activity, which was unfortunately missing or ignored, during the 2-3 Sammelans I have attended.

Q. What has been the outcome of these Sammelans in the past? 'Sindhyat' was not perceived at London or Singapore. The "International Sindhi Sammelan" is now known in several circles as "International Sindhi Get Together".

A. True it's a pity. We will attempt to focus on core issues instead of discos or fashion shows' which have become a focal activity.

Q. How will you conduct the Sammelan? Will there be discos, fashion shows?

A. May be 1 disco programme for the youth. We have to cater to there interests too, as they may not get entirely involved in the serious discussion we plan to hold. But the prime objective will be addressing core issues, not just ‘ladas’, dancing, wining and dining and the outcome - NIL.

Q. As an outcome of 2005 Sammelan - Global Sindhi Council, under the presidentship of Ram Jethmalani was established, as an umbrella body, to address all issues affecting Sindhis worldwide. Would you be interested in joining this council?

A. certainly, but you must involve representatives from all over the world in this apex body, collect funds, create a corpus, and address all issues pertaining to the community.

Q. Sometimes back the concept of a separate 'Asian Sindhi Sammelan' was mooted - what are your views?

A, The idea originated from Malaysia, as some Sindhis there felt left out and ignored at International Sindhi Sammelan held in the past. I am being frank about it. Sindhis from Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Bangkok, Malaysia, may be even Australia, would be glad to form such an Alliance with India and of course the first 'Asian Sindhi Sammelan' should be held in India.