Volume - 3 : Issue - 3

Published : Jul. - Sep. 2004

Group : We The Sindhis

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By Dr. Motilal Jotwani

The present paper, meant for the International Conference on Sindh    organized by the World Sindhi Congress to be held on July 31, London, UK aims at discussing the unity among Sindhis from Sindh and other parts of the world and the secular traditions of Sindhu culture. It also deals with the new ethnology that is emerging in the Indian subcontinent. In fact, it is a great deal similar to the old ethnology that humans have known from the times when religions did not exist.

Immediately before partition of British India in 1947, two ethnic groups in Sindh and elsewhere in the subcontinent would mean two different religious communities. Pakistan was created on the basis of this meaning, or this religious view. But today, the two ethnic groups mean two different communities sharing within each of these one’s own primordial subculture, not based on religions, but on languages. In this context, the statement of the leader of Muhajir Qaumi Movement, which planned an unsuccessful meeting at Hyderabad

Sindh some years ago, was especially revealing. Altaf Hussain, who led the Muhajir movement, said, “The Muhajirs from India living in Sindh are a separate ethnic entity as they share a common language, history and economic interests.” He did not discreetly speak about the common religion the Muhajirs shared with the Sindhis, for language had gradually over the years taken the rightful precedence over religion, the former being the system of systems, the most ancient structure in human consciousness and the most potent vehicle of one’s sub-culture, that is, inner thoughts and outer actions.

I am suddenly reminded of a discussion I had with three other participants at the Assembly of World’s Religions organized by the International Religious Foundation on November 15-21, 1985 at New Jersey, USA. In the said Assembly, A.K Brohi, Ali A. Jafarey, Gobind Singh Mansukhani and the present writer often got together at the breakfast or dinner table. Curiously enough, all of us were Sindhi–speaking Sindhis. It mattered little that Brohi was a Muslim, Jafarey a Parsi, Mansukhani a Sikh and myself a Hindu. It weighed not a whit with us that we represented our respective religions at the Assembly. We spoke the alien tongue on its pulpit and platform, but when we got together, which we did very often, we shared our joys and sorrows, hopes and despairs through Sindhi, our own mother-tongue. We felt that partition of the country had disrupted the Sindhis in the manner it did not disrupt others in the subcontinent. While some parts of Punjab and Bengal were retained by both India and Pakistan, the whole of Sindh was lost to Pakistan. We talked of the changes brought about by partition.

In those days, A.K. Brohi, lived in Karachi where he practiced law. He was at one time High Commissioner of Pakistan in India, and was also Chairman of the Hijrah Council in Pakistan. Ali Jafarey migrated to the USA and was associated with the Zoroastrian Church in California. Gobind Singh Mansukhani was in India and rose to be a high official in the University Grants Commission. After his retirement, he left the country and joined his son in business, in London. As for me, I was comparatively younger when partition took place. Since then I have struggled through various odds to be settled in the even world of studying and teaching Indian literature, especially literature in its Sindhi unit. At the Assembly, we still belonged to different religions, but we were a part of the same language-centered ethnic entity. In our persons we exemplified the same old ethnology and felt that the bond of language was stronger than that of religion. While religions are man- made, languages are natural, like parts of a natural law. Languages, though numerous, point to one communication principle and share among themselves one and the same humanity. They are different in that the climatic conditions are different in various regions of the world. And unlike religions, they are not divisive. They may look so, superficially. In fact, it is always the religious, political and economic reasons that lie behind the seemingly language-centered ethnic tensions. Religions divide within and without. That they divide their followers from those who are not under their peculiar pale is apparent. But how do they divide within?

Some time ago, it was in Karachi that the two Muslim communities of Sunnis and Shias fought against each other. And then there has been the question of Ahmadis in Pakistan. The Ulema have been trying hard to get them declared as non-Muslims. But languages, by nature, unite within and do not necessarily divide without. Whereas in religions their different sects bring more and more disharmony to each one of them, in languages their different dialects enrich them individually.

Languages bring a sense of solidarity and cohesiveness among their respective speakers, though they be thousands of miles away from one another. They however assume protective postures when threatened with extinction on political and economic reasons. These days the native Sindhi-speaking Muslims and the migrant Urdu–speaking Muslims have once again seen internecine riots. But if we closely look at the scene, it is their individual struggle for economic supremacy and political power in the region that they are engaged in a deadly game.

All the same, these clashes will be called the language-centered ethnic clashes and will give rise to a militant linguistic nationalism in Sindh. That is why the veteran Sindhi leader G.M. Syed who had before 1947 stood by Mr. Jinnah in creating Pakistan for Muslims espoused the cause of Sindh for the Sindhis, be they Muslims or Hindus.

Things are not much different in India either. In not-so-dissimilar situations here, the Sindhi-speaking Hindus are sometimes made to engage themselves in bloody conflicts with the Marathi–speaking Hindus at Ulhasnagar in Maharashtra, and with the Gujarati-speaking Hindus at Godhra in Gujarat, etc. Bred and brought up as they are on the Vedanta-Sufi lore, the Sindhis by nature are peace-loving. The Sindhis in India are more so, because they are scattered all over India and have mainly become a trading and business community. Traders and businessmen would not ordinarily like to have clashes and conflicts. But sometimes clashes and conflicts are forced upon them.

These should be the strange times when Muslims kill Muslims there in Pakistan and Hindus kill Hindus here in India. If the things are worse in Sindh, it is because the Urdu-speaking Muslims in Sindh do not learn Sindhi and refuse to get into the Sindhi mainstream. Instead, under the umbrella of political power they try to impose Urdu on the unwilling Sindhi masses.

Scattered as the migrant Sindhi–speaking Hindus are in India, they learn the local languages, sometimes at the deplorable cost of their own language. But this makes them more acceptable locally. A young–generation Sindhi person in Maharashtra speaks Marathi as a Maharashtrian would do. Likewise, young Sindhis in other Indian states speak the other Indian state languages. In the process, they speak the Marathi–ised Sindhi in Maharashtra, the Gujarati–ised   Sindhi in Gujarat, so on and so forth. But it is not so much with the older-generation Sindhis in India. And wherever the Sindhis—young and old—live in large numbers, they resist the process of acculturation.

But does this mean that the Indian Sindhis will ultimately be assimilated in the Indian mainstream? I guess, not. The reason is that the peculiar Indian psyche allows the in- coming people to become one with the general masses on the one hand, and helps them retain their separate identity on the other. The Parsis in particular and some other communities in general are cases in point. Likewise, the Indian Sindhis also have to stay Sindhis , a separate entity.

If that is the case, is it not natural for Sindhis in both India and Pakistan to fondly forget about the divisive religions, one of which was made more so by the politician of the day that it brought about partition of the country, and fall back into the same original pattern of linguistic affinity? In the cultural kaleidoscope, the experience of language is the basic natural construct and all other experiences of war and peace, politics and economics are those symmetrical configurations that are produced by propelled reflection of its pieces of coloured glass and varied by its effortful rotation.  

The Sindhis in India and Pakistan may be two different communities on the basis of two different religions, but they are one unified community on the basis of a single language they share in common. It is on the latter basis that they crave for one another across Indo-Pak border. A vast body of poetry, plays, fiction and travelogues written by the Sindhis on both the sides stand an eloquent testimony to this. It is exactly how the Germans felt on both sides of Berlin wall, not long ago, or how the Bengalis view the things across the frontiers between Bangladesh and West Bengal.

The political division of Indo-Pak Sindhis has not over the years shown any sign of their divided sensibility. The same is true about those Indo–Pak people who speak Punjabi and Urdu. There have been differences, sometimes the acutest of them, at the government–to–government level. But no difference has ever existed at the people–to–people one, for the people more wisely know that the Indian sub-continent shares one common destiny. One may come to realize this when the people visit their relatives and friends or the government sponsors joint poets’ meets and cultural shows across the border.

That the Sindhis have been warmly remembering and loving one another since (and despite) partition is illustrated in the following two samples from the Indo–Pak Sindhi poetry. During the Indo-Pak war in 1965, the Pakistani Sindhi poet Sheikh Ayaz was faced with a dilemma. He ‘saw’ the Sindhi poet Narayan Shyam on the other side, and said,

Oh ! this war…
In front of me I see Narayan Shyam!
We share the same hopes and despairs,
The same speech and its lilt.
How can I aim gun at him?
How can I shoot him down?
That I should do this
Is something not possible.

The Indian Sindhi poet Krishan Rahi depicts the sense of regionality in Man and delineates the predicament in which migrant Sindhis find themselves in India in his poem entitled “Sindh ain Sindhi”. A poem from Kumach (1969), a Sahitya Akademi award-winning collection of poems in Sindhi, it has become a Sindhi folk-song in the poet’s life-time. He says,

People are all around here, too,
But the people, their own, are different.
The Sindhis who lost their homeland
Know no comfort.
How can they ever forget their homeland?
Many rivers are here too,
But the Sindhis die for the Sindhu,
their own.