Volume - 9 : Issue - 3

Published : Jul. - Sep. 2010

Group : Language


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To Preserve A Language Is To Save A Culture

By Colonel (Retd) Ram Gulrajani

Throughout history, languages have always been in flux. However the current pace of change is unprecedented as ever more traditional languages are disappearing and few appear to replace them. There are approximately 6000 languages in the world and at present, it is estimated that over 50% of these languages are endangered; 96% of these languages are spoken by only 4% of the world's population; and on average, one language is disappearing every two weeks.

Sindhi is one such language on the endangered list, especially in India.

Geographically Sindhi belongs to Sindh, which is a part of Pakistan.  But it is spoken by a sizable number of people in India too, where it has been granted recognition under the Constitution of India.  However, while Sindhi is being heavily Urduised in its native Pakistan, in India it is losing its verve and shine due to dispersed position of Sindhis; lack of opportunities to learn the language in its original Arabic script or Devnagiri (Hindi) script; and penchant to include local lingo in everyday conversations compounded by hesitancy to speak the language at home among ourselves.  These are sure signs of a death knell for Sindhi in India. 
The other signs of Sindhi endangerment are declining number of speakers; younger generations preferring to speak another language; failure of parents to teach Sindhi to their children and declines even in those domains where the language was once secure (for example in cultural observances in the home). Additionally, geographic isolation is no longer an effective buffer (as in the case of Sindhi in Pakistan) given the unprecedented span and impact of global communications compounded by influx of refugees from India.
A language is said to "embody the intellectual wealth of the people that speak it."  Given the clear relationship between a language, culture and one's sense of worth, the decline of Sindhi in India is a serious loss.  Losing a language is like introducing a deadly virus in its culture. 

UNESCO has committed itself to preserving endangered languages and promoting the linguistic rights of persons belonging to minority groups. Many countries - the United States, New Zealand and Spain among others - are now endeavouring to preserve their minority languages while others such as Wales and Israel have managed to restore languages once thought to be extinct.  Their success in doing so indicates the importance of a community support, literacy, media support and opportunities for people to use these languages in their daily life, at home and in the workplace. 

The wisdom passed down from generation to generation has a central place in many cultures where the extended family has traditionally played a major role in child-rearing.  Grandmothers were the primary figures in our lives.  Like in the life of President Barack Obama, his grandmother was the reference point, the person he was most eager to make proud. Similarly, speaking in Sindhi should make all of us feel close to our culture and heritage.

When language, along with cultural wisdom and pride, are no longer passed down to the next generation, children -- and our society as a whole -- lose something. The richly diverse cultural and familial traditions of our own communities, and the intergenerational wisdom that is imbedded in them, are all being lost with the decline in the use of Sindhi among Sindhis. Yet these could serve us well in our struggle with some of the complex social issues that face us after partition. When language and culture are preserved, and children take pride in who they are, they learn to respect one another. 

The mute question that now begs answer is: How do we preserve our language and along with it our culture and heritage? 

Our first step should be to make our community aware that whoever still knows and speaks Sindhi is the custodian of our ancient language, its culture and its heritage.  The future of the language is in their hands, not necessarily in the domain of few scholars who are mere custodians of a presently fading asset.

Our second priority should be to speak in Sindhi between us as much as we can.  This is very important if we need to preserve ourselves as a distinct community.  Language is a peg to hang our culture on.

Our third priority should be to find new medium (script) since Arabic and Devnagiri scripts do not have adequate reach for the entire dispersed community.  In this respect, I am glad to state that few enterprising people from among us have taken the first steps to draw out a Romanised Sindhi Script. This will certainly help integrate the Sindhi Hindu community, whose children are more adept with English than any other language. I am happy to say that I am one of the trustees in this movement. (Refer

Our fourth priority should be to unite and revive our age old Sindhi customs and traditions. Irrespective of where we are, we have our distinct way of life, cuisine, habits, expressions, sages, deities, dress and even humour.  They must be revived, adopted and practiced with pride.  We must overcome hesitation to disclose that we are Sindhis. We must remember that we have a long history, distinct culture and sharp acumen, the envy of many other communities.

Our fifth priority should be to uplift everyone in the community.  The leaders and the fortunate must form trusts to help each other.  We have umpteen examples in Jews and Parsis in this respect.  Enterprising as we are, there are not many who need succour amongst us.  But whatever few that need some help must be given whole heartedly.  Sindhis in Chennai (India) are doing yeoman service in this regard and others elsewhere can model themselves similarly. 

Our sixth priority should be to educate our children as much as we can, especially girls, who are the worst victims of the scourge called dowry.  Educated girls in the community can take care of this scourge in their lives.  They are also the cradle to nurse, nurture and nourish the future of Sindhi Hindus as a community.