We need to live sindhiyat
in thought, word and deed
By Dr. Nandlal Jotwani
“We, the Sindhis”, kept our midnight tryst with destiny 63 years ago as did other fellow migrants from the territories that formed a new country called Pakistan, in August 1947. Having been born nine years before Independence, I mostly grew up along with India. However, I still remember the agonizing birth of independent India and the riots that engulfed Sindh after partition, leading to grievous injuries to me and my elder brother, culminating in our hurried migration, by sea, with almost no belongings, from Karachi to Mumbai in 1948. My initial schooling, up to primary level, was done in a Marathi-medium school. My father was a renowned educationist. I had the advantage of learning my mother tongue Sindhi at home and in a Government Secondary School in Delhi. So much so, I passed my High School Board Examination through the medium of my mother tongue Sindhi – the luxury not much availed of or available today!
Present Imperfect, Future Indefinite
It is unfortunate that now the nation is left with only a few institutions, which impart education through the medium of Sindhi language or teach Sindhi language as a subject in school or college. The sad story obtains at undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate levels, too, wherein the number of students opting for study of Sindhi language has been on the decline. The number of students enrolled for studying Sindhi language has been markedly declining with the over-all decline in the use of Sindhi language among Sindhis, even in their own homes. Such a sad scenario makes me sit up and ponder over the future of our Sindhi language, literature, arts and culture. I am indeed a robust optimist and a staunch realist; never ever a prophet of doom. If I say that ournative language Sindhi is an endangered language in India, and if I express my apprehension that ournative language Sindhi may gradually phase out and assume the proportions of almost an extinct language in India by 2050 unless corrective measures are taken in the interregnum; I am just being a down-to-(h)earth realist, ready to read the writing on the wall as to what is indeed happening today in the homes-and-hearths of “We, the Sindhis”, in India, where the Sindhi language is seldom spoken, let alone read and written. A language is a skills subject and the skillof speech precedes the skills of reading, writing and listening. This polite warning of mine should awaken our great community to do something positive to transmit the linguistic gene in the new generation, the pressing socio-economic constraints notwithstanding.
“We, the Sindhis” need to cry halt to the petty squabbles over script – Persio-Arabic or Devanagari. We need to stop unseemly attempts at maneuvering limelight and seats of power, while our native cultural ethos - our language; literature; diction, discourse; arts; crafts; lineages; linkages; heritage - summed up in one word ‘sindhiyat’ – is at stake. We need to march with the times and accept the need of the hour to adopt the majority view favoring the computer-friendly Devnagari script, which in any case, was our original script, capable of bringing us closer to many modern Indian languages, Hindi, Sanskrit, Marathi, Gujarati, etc.
The UNESCO study reveals that 2,500 of the 6,700 languages in the world are now facing the danger of extinction. The decline in ‘unimportant’ languages is accompanied by rise in the popularity of English, Mandarin and Spanish, which are now spoken by about one-fourth of the world population, thanks to globalization. As the world shrinks, ‘the big trio’ has become the primary means of communication for many people in the world, leaving many native tongues trailing behind. It is like, in Darwinian terms, nature ‘selecting’ the most useful languages, leading to the gradual extinction of rarer forms of communication.
The disintegration of some cultures is likely to follow extinction of some languages as language and culture share an intimate relationship with each other, which is why most countries have official languages. An individual can fully engage with a particular culture only by learning the language of its communication and manifestation. If people gradually stop speaking the language associated with a specific culture, say, sindhiyat, then sindhiyat could be lost in history. Thus, the real threat is not only the gradual extinction of our Sindhi language; it is also the gradual loss of the culture associated with it - the sindhiyat. Hence, it is important for “We, the Sindhis” to rise to the occasion and start a public-spirited campaign for learning and speaking in our native language Sindhi in our conversations in home, schools and elsewhere, wherever feasible. The government and the Sindhi civil society can encourage the preservation and promotion of the Sindhi language by offering incentives to individuals, who are fluent in both the dominant language and their native tongue Sindhi. Thus, we can save our Sindhi language, and the culture and the history connected to it.
As it were, the Sindhis faced formidable roadblocks in their endeavour to preserve their language and culture after their migration to India. The government was initially averse to include Sindhi in the VIIIth Schedule of the Constitution and thus denied official patronage to Sindhi language. Padmashri Dr. Motilal Jotwani, an eminent author and scholar, has stated, “As per the Constituent Assembly, the Sindhis were scattered in different regions and did not belong to any one region ... It was only after 20 years of independence that the Sindhi language got due recognition from the government … however, our mother tongue started disappearing from our homes … we have reached such a critical point in life that we had to stress upon our children that we are ‘Sindhis’ and our mother tongue is ‘Sindhi’ … we were spread all over in different states like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Punjab, etc. where Devnagari is the accepted script, we should also follow suit.”
Satish Rohra, a literary critic and scholar, says, ”The intellectual class felt that it shouldn’t be that a day arrives when the Sindhis and Sindhi literature become history and have no identity left whatsoever … we had spread all over India in such a manner that there were only a few places where we were in substantial numbers to have a Sindhi school where the Sindhi language could be taught … there is no locality left in India, which can be called a complete Sindhi locality … Sindhi is not the official language of any state in India … the fear of Sindhi language becoming a dialect looms overhead”. Bhagwan S. Gidwani, an eminent author and scholar, feels that “our children hardly have any opportunity to study Sindhi language … people would not like to lose out in life in their attempt to learn Sindhi language.” Kirat Babani, litterateur, feels that the Sindhi youth should “think about the importance of our language …” Late Jhamatmal Wadhwani, a noted educationist, felt that “the decline in usage of Sindhi language came alongside affluence of Sindhi families in India and their total concentration on business and trade.” Dr. Dayal Asha, an eminent poet, laments, “… Sindhis are moving away from Sindhi language and Sindhiyat.” Dada J. P. Vaswani, renowned spiritual leader, exhorts that Sindhis must speak Sindhi language in homes. Hon’ble L. K. Advani, former Dy. Prime Minister of India, favours Devnagari script for Sindhi language. Hon’ble Ram Jethmalani, former Union Law Minister and a legal luminary, says “Sindhis are inheritors of that culture where Hindus and Muslims were united … Sindhis should be provided with some help to keep their Sindhi identity, their Sindhi persona alive.” Suresh Keswani, former Vice Chairman, National Council for Promotion of Sindhi Language, says, “The sale of Sindhi books has plummeted so low that publishing a Sindhi book is simply a losing proposition. When people don’t speak Sindhi language, how could you expect them to purchase Sindhi books for reading?”
Scattered as we are, “We, the Sindhis”, are fast losing our family traditions, our language, literature, arts and culture, in short, our sindhiyat. There are several signs that warn us that the Sindhis are an endangered species and their language and culture are on the verge of extinction unless speedy, remedial measures are taken to reverse the trend, especially among the Sindhi youth. As it were, the global cultural spectrum 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 languages 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.
The present-day Sindhi youth, being well-informed, 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. Hence, the youth today is less motivated to learn Sindhi language, which does not offer, extend or yield any employment or economic gain in this fast evolving, market-driven civil society poised for globalization. The youth argue that learning to live with others, with dignity, is more important than acquiring ability to speak in our native language, which is losing its currency and relevance with only a small section of elderly people communicating in it. However, these young people know, recognize and appreciate the difference in their identity vis-à-vis their parents and grandparents. This trait and trend of knowing, recognizing and appreciating the difference in the family has its own advantage of evolving a mindset that is amenable to intercultural amity in the extended environs of the society, nay, the humanity at large, in the modern globalized world. Many Sindhis live abroad, or they move back and forth between two countries. The Sindhis with hyphenated identities are often more equipped to adapt and adopt the intercultural traits and trends. The dynamics of keeping pace with the modern times opens up new vistas of progress, prosperity and plenty in celebration of plurality. This is not to suggest that modernity means a monolithic cultural terrain. For example, European integration, in itself, is a great intercultural project with amazing accomplishments. We need to evolve other continental and regional models of integration, too, before embarking upon the grand global model of integration, celebrating diversity in unity.
“We, the Sindhis”, should practice and promote sindhiyat, in thought, word and deed. With our perseverance, we can ensure that our language, literature, arts, culture thrive and survive with dignity in our country. We exhort our enlightened youth to turn this challenge into an opportunity to mobilize the community into a mighty movement for survival of Sindhi language and sindhiyat in India and abroad, as the dynamic Sindhis have national and international access, outlook and presence. We need to redeem and reinforce our self-esteem as Sindhis. We are proud of our Sindhi origin and civilization. The great Sindhis have several success stories and accomplishments to be proud of. We Sindhis are second to none in any field of human endeavour and surely we are capable of preserving our Sindhi language and sindhiyat.
Sindhi Sammelan amid the Sun, Sea and Sand
It is gratifying that there is a growing awareness in the community, which generates a whiff of fresh air of optimism in our socio-cultural environment. I was therefore happy when Ram Jawhrani and Ram Buxani invited me for the 17th International Sindhi Sammelan, in Jakarta, Indonesia, on 9-11 July 2010, and asked me to send my Paper for presentation, which I dutifully did, though I could not make it to Jakarta owing to pre-occupation elsewhere. I was indeed happy to learn that the Sammelan was a great and glorious success. Thee cocktails harmoniously blended with the flavor of fine arts and culture amid the agreeable environs of the Sun, Sea and Sand.
“We the Sindhis” congratulate the esteemed organizers – the Alliance of Sindhi Associations of America, and the Gandhi Memorial International School (Jakarta) - for their commendable feat of achievement in underlining the importance of remaining connected, which is the lifeline for our great, scattered community. Among others, Sarvashri L. K. Advani, Ram Jethmalani, Ram Jawhrani, Ranjit Butani also graced the occasion. We indeed welcome and appreciate the decision to organize the 18th International Sammelan in Ahmadabad, India. Meanwhile, we look forward to the effective follow-up action on the pious pledges to keep connected with the community. It is always possible for the enlightened businesspersons to perform social responsibility, deliver social good, bring about the change, improve the eco-cultural environment and grace the Sindhi Sammelans to say that they care for the community, which confronts the sad prospect of possible erosion of identity and being reduced to mere statistics in the national population census.
It is only through the unity that “We, the Sindhis” can face the daunting challenges of the present times. Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, once said “We must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” Hence, our campaign for sindhiyat has to be “a vigorous work in constant progress”. Amen.
Dr. Nandlal Jotwani is an IAF veteran, an eminent educationist, linguist, literary critic, scholar, writer, researcher and poet. He was inter alia decorated with the coveted ‘Sangram’ and ‘Paschmi Star’ medals for the 1971-IndoPak War; honoured as ‘Visiting Fellow’ by A.R.C., Stanford University, U.S.A., in 2003-04; also honoured with the ‘National Award in Translation’ by the renowned ‘Katha International’. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org