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Cassettes and vlogs: How India, Pakistan are preserving Sindhi

Indian, Pakistani scholars discuss contemporary issues

SAMAA | - Posted: Jan 8, 2021 | Last Updated: 2 weeks ago
Editing & Writing | Sindhu Abbasi
Posted: Jan 8, 2021 | Last Updated: 2 weeks ago
Cassettes and vlogs: How India, Pakistan are preserving Sindhi

Photo: File

Sindhi was found in the hieroglyphs of Moen Jo Daro. It is where the language was born. Some say Sanskrit is its mother, others believe they are sister languages. It is a rich language, spoken by many in the subcontinent, but scholars are worried it is not being preserved.

This was said in an online event The Future of Sindhi Language, held by Pinch Media, an international film company. The event was moderated by The Citizen Foundation’s Ajay Pinjani, and guests were Asha Chand, founder of Sindhi Sangat and Dirven Hazari, YouTuber and founder of Sindhionism. They are both Indians. Ghazala Rahman Rafiq, the director of Sindh Abhyas Academy at SZABIST, was the third guest.

The event started with a clip from the documentary Still Standing, which explores the culture, life and struggle of Sindhis. It asked who is a Sindhi, what makes you Sindhi?

“Who is a Sindhi? This is a question I ask myself. Whoever wants to be. Anyone who loves Sindh,” a character answers.

Rafiq said that is an innate feeling. Of a deep sense of belonging to the land, and of love. “It’s so many things. It’s too complex.”

“Wari pucho, wari sochan,” she says. Ask me again, so I think about it anew.

For Asha Chand, everything around her was Sindhi growing up. “If someone would come to our house and speak in Hindi, my father would yell at him and ask him do you not speak Sindhi.” You don’t have to live in Sindh to love the land and its language, she said.

Culture and civilisations evolve, so does the language. Scholars express alarm at the adaptation of words from other languages, but where does one draw the line between preservation of a historic language and accepting that the only constant is change?

The guests discussed the evolution of the Sindhi language through history, after partition, and the changing trends among Indians and Pakistanis, including the diaspora, as English and their respective national languages enjoy state patronage.

The history of where and how it was born is controversial and scholars have different views on this, Rafiq says. Sindhi is ancient and it originated from the subcontinent. Some say it is older than Sanskrit. Recent scholars such as Siraj Memon and Ghulam Ali Allana thought they are sisters. The oldest forms are found on hieroglyphs found in Moen Jo Daro, she said.

“Some people have claimed there are some connections between ancient and modern Sindhi.”

There are many dialects, and the sounds, morphology, the language’s “outer appearance” has changed after partition. Between 1947 and now, we have lost or are in the process of losing many sounds, Rafiq said.

“Within Sindh, Dr Bughio carried out research in Hala and compared sounds there and in Hyderabad, and there were many differences.”

The language will change in centuries, but we have only begun to acknowledge that it has changed in the past 70 or so years. It is maybe because Sindh lost the “speech community”; the migration of Sindhi Hindus who had a certain vocabulary. “We are looking into this,” Rafiq said.

Utradi (upper Sindh dialect) still has those sounds. Then there is lar (lower region), vicholi (classical/central) and the Marwari accent. The dialect varies according to geography. There is the sahili/samundi boli (coastal). “You can hear the waves, like in the waters, when they speak. This is the language of the fishermen, in Ibrahim Hyderi, too.”

Rafiq said that the inclusion of words from other languages over the time is inevitable. “We could focus on other important [and contemporary] issues,” she said. “You can’t do anything about slang.”

A language can’t remain pure. “If you go to some villages, you won’t understand their Sindhi dialect because remoteness makes it pure. You have to ask them to explain what they mean. That’s what we have to preserve.” Ghulam Ali Allana is a huge loss, because he carried these things in his head, she says. He made audio recordings and maintained archives.

Asha, who now lives in Dubai, said they realised there was a need to introduce the Sindhi culture and language to the youth there. They did not speak, write or understand Sindhi. “Who would tell them all the stories?” She and other literati started annual events in the UAE, which artistes from both India and Pakistan would attend.

But the events reach a minimum audience. And young people have to be reached through digital platforms, not just the modern ones. They produce audio books, cassettes, CDs, with folk stories and Sheikh Ayaz’s poetry. They have a website and a YouTube channel now. They started a TV show in 2007 and online competitions and shows for children. Children are encouraged to participate in competitions and their videos are then put up on their YouTube channel.

The conversation then moved to the state of Sindhi in academics and society. Rafiq said that before partition, even geometry was taught in Sindhi here. Scholar Muhammad Ibrahim Joyo, who was born before partition and died in 2017, told her they were taught science subjects in Sindhi. In Karachi, there is not a single institute teaching Sindhi like it ought to be. In other parts of Sindh, teachers don’t have the required training to impart knowledge in Sindhi.

“A Sindhi child already has a vocabulary in the language. It is not a political issue. It has to do with the cognizance of the child,” she said about providing a child education in his mother tongue, at least in the formative years.

The child has a certain culture, sensibilities and his language at home, but the school tells him it is not good enough. “You are telling the child his nani-dadi ji boli (ancestors’ language) is not good enough.” This affects the child’s sense of self, his self-esteem.

“You cannot be a good learner if you do not have a good attitude towards your own language.”

Asha said that in India his father AJ Uttam led a campaign to include Sindhi in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, and it was done eventually. She is also in contact with education policy officials and schools managed by the Sindhi community to encourage learning the language. The major issue in India is that Sindhis there use the Devanagari script, the same in which Hindi is written. There is transliteration, but how can anyone master the language if they don’t know the script, Asha asks. “Your literature suffers.”

YouTuber Dirven Hazari says his videos are watched mostly by people who don’t fall in the under-16 category. He produces content in Sindhi, because he feels there is nothing relatable for the Sindhi population in India in their own language. His channel is watched in 180 countries.

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