A CLARION CALL TO ‘WE, THE SINDHIS’
By Dr. Nandlal Jotwani
My brother Padmashri Dr. Motilal Jotwani and I figured among the founding members of the Sindhi Navjeevan Sabha, New Delhi, way back in 1950s, while we were still in our teens! Therefore, when they called on me for a message to the community, I quickly responded with “A Clarion Call to Sindhis: Save Sindhiyat” on 7th November 2009, coinciding with the celebration of 70th 'varsi' of Sant Kanwar Ram Sahib.
Of late, my mind has indeed been seized with the problems and prospects of saving our intangible cultural heritage – Sindhiyat – including language, performing arts, craft, customs, religious practices, traditions, etc., which constitute the cultural ethos of the community. We need to create the space and pave the way for this intertwined heritage to go on re-creating itself by reinvigorating it with the nourishment of its continual and creative usage.
As it were, the world's cultural diversity stands as much threatened as the global climate. Today, only 4% of the world speaks 96% of the existing languages, meaning, small communities speak many languages per person vis-à-vis the vast majority speaking monolithic mainstream languages. 199 languages have fewer than ten speakers and 178 others, have 10 to 50 speakers. At this rate, by the time we are done with the present century, over 50% of the languages in the world could be extinct! The UNESCO 2009-Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger reveals that there are as many as 196 endangered languages in India.
Hence, the significance of my clarion call, especially addressed to 'We, the Sindhis' to save our Sindhi language, which faces faster prospects of attrition and extinction due to its declining use, even disuse, in our homes, schools and elsewhere. It is sad that our children do not opt for Sindhi language in schools and colleges even as a subject, let alone as a medium of instruction. Hence, education in our community, by and large, is imparted through alien language, mainstream though. The induction of mother tongue in the school system tends to make the language functionally vibrant, socially relevant and culturally cohesive. Alas! our mother tongue Sindhi is being systematically ignored by the new generation while the indifferent parents and the complacent community choose to look the other way, oblivious of the consequences of their callous neglect, which may eventually lead us to lose our ethos and identity as a language community and thereby confront the concomitant marginalization in the society. If the stateless language Sindhi is no longer learned by its young generation, its survival will pose a formidable challenge to 'We, the Sindhis' after we lose our current generation of elder native speakers of Sindhi.
If we really wish to save 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. 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 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 the 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 carved out its place in the entrepreneurship map of India, nay, of the world, 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. Having said that, it is also true that the new generation, informed as it is, generally goes by the 'language utility value' and 'language vitality score', encompassing multiple factors like the 'language availability' in the knowledge society marked by multimedia and mass media - cinema, newspapers, television, radio, etc., - monopolized by commercially and culturally dominant mainstream languages. Most of the Sindhi boys and girls today tend to lack motivation to learn their native language as they perceive it to be confined “to just adhere to and assert your cultural roots”. Hence, we need to integrate our higher level support to the grassroot level activity to ensure the sustained promotion and propogation of our language, literature and heritage.
It is ironical that the most ancient known civilization, dating back to 2,500 and 1,500 years B.C., as revealed by the archaeological remains of 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. What are “We, the Sindhis” doing about it, while sitting in the seats of authority in the important institutions like National Council for Promotion of Sindhi Language – an apex body established by central government , Sindhi Academies, established by the state governments, and scores of other public and private organizations. 'We, the Sindhis' are second to none in beauty, brains and benevolence. We indeed need to forge the meaningful partnership between public and private entrepreneurship so as to promote our language, literature, heritage – the Sindhiyat. The takers of this clarion call and the enthusiastic activists to save Sindhiyat to please stand up, be counted and join the campaign by contacting email@example.com in the same vociferous spirit in which 'We, the Sindhis' got our language enshrined in the VIIIth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.
A language generally dies when its speakers die. Therefore, it is for the native speakers to preserve, develop and enrich their language by its constant and creative use. To my dismay, I have observed many parents speaking only in Hindi or English with their children in the hope that they would learn the mainstream language Hindi or English effortlessly. This trend may slowly and imperceptibly lead to depleted indigenous Sindhi speaking population, signifying not only loss of large scale traditional knowledge base but also the severe strain on very survival of our language, if persisted over a long period of time. It therefore enjoins upon the linguistic community - 'We, the Sindhis' - to nourish and nurture our native language and pass it on to the generations next, and thereby, save our language and save sindhiyat. We do owe to our progeny what we inherited from our ancestors.
I believe, the two main barriers to development of a language are: socio-cultural and geographical. The socio-cultural factors like civilizational influence on the linguistic community, e.g., in our case, impact of western civilization brought about greater use of English in our homes, and in case of the eastern parts of our country, there are admixtures of ethnic and indigenous linguistic groups wherein their native languages tend to suffer 'language shift', leading to 'language loss'. Similarly, the geographical barriers (hilly, mountainous, forest areas, etc.) stand in way of spread of native languages as these areas are often visited by more viable, mainstream languages and communication technology. Thus, the languages spoken in the Himalayan and the North East region, Forests, etc., face greater danger of 'language shift' and eventual 'language loss'. In our case, however, the absence of the 'Geographic Sindhi Zone results in the denial of conducive environment for wider and meaningful linguistic interaction among Sindhis in a particular geographic province. The absence of the geographic space, therefore, tends to make our Sindhi language more vulnerable to danger of attrition and extinction owing to its non-concerted and the over-all declining use as “We, the Sindhis” are scattered all over India, and overseas, without being worried about the disturbing trend of disuse of our language over a period of the post-partition era of scattered existence and the dynamics of the knowledge-oriented industry and entrepreneurship available in commercially viable mainstream languages.
Today, the feeling of linguistic and cultural isolation of the diminishing Sindhi speaking community is hard to imagine, and impossible to ameliorate unless 'fast-track' measures are put in place to promote and propogate Sindhi language among the youth, who still need to be convinced of the necessity to protect and preserve our language, literature and legacy. During a seminar of the National Council for Promotion of Sindhi Language, held at India Islamic Centre, New Delhi on 25 July 2009, to discuss, inter alia, the ways and means of promoting and propogating Sindhi language, I narrated an ironical story, replete with pathos and poignance, agony and anguish, so as to arouse the conscience of the enlightened audience present on the occasion. Among other things, I highlighted the hard and disturbing fact that the Sindhi Departments in the Universities; the Sindhi Academies; the Sindhology Institutes, and the established Sindhi Organizations (many among them were actively assisted and developed by Padmashri Dr. Motilal Jotwani) are now found to be wanting in coming forward to take over his timeless 'treasure' of the rare collection of precious Sindhi literature, which was assiduously and painstakingly preserved by him during his lifetime. In a voice choked with emotion, I had then exhorted the audience of “We, the Sindhis” to wake-up, rise, and make meaningful contribution to the promotion and propogation of Sindhi language, which is on the verge of extinction unless something worthwhile is done to protect and preserve it. As for the great treasure left behind by the Legend, we are still hopeful that some fine morning, some institution or individual of substance, will emerge from somewhere and put this priceless 'treasure' to profitable use, for furtherance of the research and studies in Sindhi language. The Council for Promotion of Sindhi Language; the nation-wide Sindhi Academies; the Sindhi Departments in the Universities together with the NGOs like the Institute of Sindhology, etc., need to undertake, inter alia, the development of suitable curricula for certificate, diploma and degree, etc., courses in Sindhi language; the teaching and learning activities in Sindhi; the language acquisition and language maintainance programmes, coordination of postgraduate and research studies and resource development in Sindhi language and literature. Oh God! Give us the strength to respond to the clarion call and do what we must, to save Sindhiyat and protect our identity. Amen!