We need to speak in Sindhi so as to
save it from extinction
By Dr. Nandlal Jotwani
India, one of the world's ancient civilizations, represents a wonderful mosaic of multiple castes, religions and languages. The centuries old multilingual, multicultural ethos has held the country together like the thread in the rosary of beads, which represents 'unity in diversity' in the country. Multiplicity of languages spoken by people in different parts of India forms an integral part of our rich cultural heritage. Language must be viewed as a 'resource' for growth and development of the country.
In my presentation in a national seminar on “Language and Identity” held on 19 May 2011 by the Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, I stressed upon the fact that around 20 crore people in India speak a language, which is different from the principle language of a State or Union Territory. Therefore, the linguistic minorities constitute almost one fifth of the population of our country. The linguistic heterogeneity and diversity prevailing in the country should be harmonized for forging unity and cooperation amongst groups speaking different languages for promotion of national integration and inclusive development.
We, in India, have provided a framework of the safeguards to the linguistic minorities so as to provide them equal opportunities for their integrated and inclusive development. For example, any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof, having a distinct language, script or culture of its own, shall have the right to conserve the same; no citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution funded/aided by the State, on grounds of religion, race, caste or language; the minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice; while making any law providing for the compulsory acquisition of any property of an educational institution established and administered by a minority, whether based on language or religion, the State shall ensure that the amount fixed by or determined under such law for the acquisition of such property is such as would not restrict or abrogate the right guaranteed under that clause; the State shall not, in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority; every person shall be entitled to submit a representation for the redressal of any grievance to any officer or authority of the Union or a State in any of the languages used in the Union or in the State, as the case may be; it shall be the endeavor of every State and of every local authority within the State to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother language at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minorities. Besides, there are additional safeguards, which have been consensually agreed by the Central and the State Governments, for example, instruction through such minority languages at the secondary stage of education as have been listed in Schedule VIII of the Constitution; translation and publication of important rules, regulations, notices, etc., into all languages, which are spoken by at least 15% of the total population at district or sub-district level; declaration of a minority language as second official language in districts where persons speaking such languages constitute 60% or more of the population; receipt of, and reply to, representations for redress of grievances, in minority languages; advance registration of linguistic preference of linguistic minority students and inter-school adjustments; provision for text books and teachers in minority languages; implementation of 'Three Language Formula'; non-insistence upon prior knowledge of State's official language at the time of recruitment (the test of proficiency in the State's official language to be held before completion of the period of probation); issue of publicity material in minority languages detailing safeguards available for the linguistic minorities; setting up of proper monitoring machinery, at the State and District levels, for implementation of the Safeguards for the linguistic minorities.
The language may be seen as a symbol of group identity. It is a unifying factor which holds together the groups of people by providing them an identity. If, however, they view their language as a hindrance to economic mobility and integration into mainstream society, they are liable to develop negative attitudes towards their language, as is probably happening to many groups, including Sindhis. The languages, even with many thousands of speakers, are no longer being acquired by children and the youth; at least 50% of the world's around 6,700 languages are losing their speakers in the world. I have a feeling that about 90% of all languages in the world, will disappear by the end of the current century unless remedial measures are put in place by the stakeholders, including the State Governments and U.T. Administrations. A positive attitude is essential for survival and stability of a language.
In the aftermath of the unprecedented partition of undivided India in 1947, 'We, the Sindhis' were confronted with the immediate basic needs of food, clothing and shelter in our new places of resettlement, wherever we could anchor ourselves in India. It is indeed flattering that 'We, the Sindhis' could carve out our niche in the civil society by dint of our undaunted spirit and entrepreneurship in spite of having been uprooted from our moorings, put onto a road with few signposts, no known destination and no State allocation.
'We, the Sindhis' faced formidable roadblocks in our endeavour to preserve our language and culture after our massive migration from undivided India to the territories forming independent India in 1947. The government was initially averse to include Sindhi in the VIIIth Schedule of the Constitution and thus denied official patronage to Sindhi language as 'We, the Sindhis' were scattered in different regions and did not belong to any one region or State. It was only after 20 years of independence that the Sindhi language was recognized by the government. By then, the damage was discernible as our mother tongue Sindhi largely stayed unlinked with our livelihood, in general, and recruitment to the State Services, in particular, as our minority language Sindhi, inter alia, was not allowed as the medium of answering the recruitment tests in various States/Union Territories in India. The Sindhis, in general, would not like to lose out in life if they cannot earn, out of the language they learn. Slowly, 'We, the Sindhis' started losing out our language from our homes and hearths. Now we have reached such a critical point at this juncture that we need to bring home to our children the basic fact of our identity, that we are 'Sindhis' and our mother tongue is 'Sindhi' ! Much of decline in the usage of Sindhi language was consequence of our challenging engagement with various avenues of livelihood, commerce and trade in various parts of the country and the world at large.
.The sad news of the day is that the Sindhi writers are themselves the Sindhi readers in India! It is tragic that the overwhelming section of the Sindhis in India does not speak in Sindhi language. We just cannot expect the non-speakers in Sindhi to read a Sindhi book, let alone buy it. The publishing of a book by an individual or a private publisher, in Sindhi language, has become a losing proposition. So much so, even a public-funded Sindhi Academy, which is established by the State Government to promote Sindhi language, arts and literature, had paradoxically, abruptly, insensitively and unjustifiably abandoned midway its own duly sanctioned project of publication of a transliterated-into-Sindhi-Devnagari a Biography of a learned Sindhi entrepreneur, even after the said Academy had invested the precious public money into getting the same transliterated, composed and proof-read from cover to cover! This is where the vital role of the enlightened citizens and the conscience keepers of the community lay so as to infuse a sense of responsibility and accountability among the stakeholders at various levels and layers of the Organization, especially where the tax payers' hard-earned money is involved.
It is unfortunate that 'We, the Sindhis' have, along the way, lost our touch and sensitivity with our glorious past, the proud Indus Valley civilization, the great heritage, knowledge systems, values and way of life, in short, the sindhiyat. As it were, we are spread all over India in a manner that there are only a few towns where we are in substantial number to exercise our constitutional right to establish our own, linguistic minority institutions, where the Sindhi language could be taught and the language preserved and promoted to stall its extinction. It is sad that our nation has only a few institutions, which impart education through the medium of Sindhi language or teach Sindhi language as a subject in the school or college curriculum. 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 decline. The number of students enrolled for studying Sindhi language has been markedly declining with the over-all decline in use of Sindhi language among the Sindhis in India. Though the Sindhi language figures among the recognized languages in the VIIIth Schedule of the Constitution of India, its educational scenario is as follows:
a. The State of Gujarat has 36 primary and upper primary schools with 5,175 students learning Sindhi language and 230 teachers teaching Sindhi language. This State has 15 secondary and higher secondary schools with 2,119 students learning Sindhi language and 70 teachers teaching Sindhi language.
b. Rajasthan has 3 primary schools with 53 students learning Sindhi language and 10 teachers teaching Sindhi language. This State has 7 upper primary schools with 149 students learning Sindhi language and 34 teachers teaching Sindhi language.
c. Madhya Pradesh has 9 schools with 142 students learning Sindhi language and 15 teachers teaching Sindhi language.
d. The N.C.T. of Delhi has 1 primary school with 447 students learning Sindhi language and 6 teachers teaching Sindhi language. This State has additional 310 students learning Sindhi language in upper primary schools; 199 students in secondary and 177 in higher secondary schools.
e. Maharashtra has 5 schools teaching Sindhi language as a subject up to higher secondary level.
While, I do not readily have authentic figures at national level, I broadly assume that there are around 80 schools teaching Sindhi language up to higher secondary level with around 9000 students and about 370 teachers in Sindhi language operating in India. Obviously, I have excluded figures of the students and teachers of Sindhi language at the college/university level. I would like to encourage the Sindhi Education Societies running their educational institutions imparting education in or through Sindhi language and satisfying relevant conditions, to seek their legitimate minority status from the Competent Authority in their State/Union Territory, who is authorized to issue minority status certificate to a minority educational institution.
It is unfortunate that our country has to contend with only a few Sindhi schools, which impart education through the medium of Sindhi language or teach Sindhi language as a subject in the school or college curriculum. This sad story obtains almost at all levels of education in or through mother language. I find that the Sindhi language is hardly spoken by the Sindhi children and the Sindhi youth in India. With the passing away of the present surviving generation of the Sindhi-speaking senior citizens, it is hard to believe that the Sindhi language, literature, arts, culture – the sindhiyat – will survive the onslaughts of the competing times and competitive environment wherein the study and use of Sindhi language is not linked with livelihood, that is, employment and commerce. However, I still believe that if we are able to motivate our children and youth to learn Sindhi language and speak in it, our language, literature, arts, cultural heritage – sindhiyat - will surely survive and thrive. Language gets extinct owing to its continued disuse by the community. Therefore, we need to impress upon our community the importance of education, especially vital role of mother tongue in the formative stage of primary education. I do hope that our dynamic community continues to pride itself in its glorious ancient civilization and shall surely try to preserve and promote its great tangible and intangible heritage, its language, literature and arts.
The author is the National Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities, Government of India. The views expressed in this Column are personal views of the learned Contributor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org