According to the 2001 Indian Census, there are over 31 lakh people in India with Sindhi as their mother-tongue. However, a large number of ethnic Sindhis in India do not declare the language to be their mother tongue. So, the unofficial number of Sindhi speakers is almost double the official number.
Despite the huge number of Sindhi speakers, very few Sindhi natives, who are scattered all over the country, are interested in receiving literacy in Sindhi, and prefer to pick up English and local languages for economic and social benefits.
Moreover, there are very few schools imparting education with Sindhi as the medium of instruction. Though Sindhi was recognized as an official language in India in 1967 after years of struggle by Sindhi writers, leaders and social workers, it has now been largely reduced to just a spoken language.
When India underwent partition in 1947, the Hindus from Pakistan’s Panjab and Bangladesh mostly migrated to India’s Punjab region and West Bengal respectively. This gave them the security of a homogeneous language and made the move emotionally and culturally much easier.
However, for the estimated 12 lakh migrants from Sindh, it was a different story. There was no region in India where Sindhi language and culture existed independently. As a result, the migrants scattered, and refugee settlements came up majorly in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where the Sindhi people found themselves amid unknown languages and cultures.
The lack of a homogeneous language and culture created a host of problems for the Sindhis, who flitted from one refugee camp to the other in search of a proper livelihood. But their persistence for survival enabled them to make a home within a larger cultural milieu.
Many of the Sindhis were tradesmen who had small establishments and networks between Mumbai and Karachi. So, urban areas like Mumbai, Pune and Nasik were preferred as regions for settlement due to their cosmopolitan touch.
The main concerns for the first generation Sindhi migrants were survival, livelihood and permanent settlement. This, along with the loss of a ‘homeland’ where one’s language and culture are preserved, resulted in the slow, yet steady decline of the ancient Sindhi heritage, culture and language.
The desire of the Sindhis to be accepted by the dominant population of their settlement areas, along with the possibility of gaining easier access to local and regional markets, resulted in their adaptation of the local language and culture, thus essentially transforming their identity.
The first generation Sindhi migrants who received education in their mother tongue didn’t have the time to transfer their knowledge to their children, owing to tumultuous circumstances.
The immediate lack of Sindhi medium schools saw most Sindhis send their children to English medium schools which had a huge market value, as compared to regional languages.
Even when schools were established by well-known Sindhi litterateurs to cater to the Sindhi community with a reservation quota of 50 per cent, such as the Vivekanand Education Society, Kishanchand Chelaram College, HR College, Jai Hind College and Thadomol Shahni Engineering College—all of them in Mumbai.
Sindhi parents preferred an English-medium education for their children to secure a better future. English was treated as the language of the upper class which would lead to success and prosperity.
Most of these institutions had Sindhi as an optional or a second language. Swami Vivekananda did establish Sindhi-medium schools, but they were hardly in demand. Thus, most of the second generation Sindhis developed only an oral knowledge of the language, without the skills to read and write in their mother tongue.
The second generation Sindhis preferred using Hindi and English to communicate. Thus, their children, the third generation Sindhi migrants, were removed from their homeland, their cultural identity and even their language.
The government policy of compulsory regional language education in the State board curriculum was also an added burden to the landless Sindhi migrants and took them even farther away from their mother tongue.
In the absence of a homeland, it is absolutely essential to preserve one’s cultural heritage, which includes the language. The modern nuclear families lack a grandparent figure who can relegate stories about the past in their homeland, and instill the value of the mother tongue in the shaping of one’s identity, which can grow a sense of belongingness to one’s culture. Children, thus grow up distanced from their roots and in this age of globalization, feel their language and culture to be ‘back-dated’.
Moreover, the nasal tone of the Sindhi language was a point of mockery, along with the fact that the Sindhis were migrants from the ‘enemy’ nation Pakistan. Children increasingly distanced themselves from Sindhi language and culture to save themselves the forced embarrassment.
Sindhi language is well on its way to extinction, thanks to parents and children who think that when a language can’t be used for economic and social prosperity, it loses its purpose. They fail to understand that teaching one’s mother tongue to future generations is like passing down the torch of cultural heritage which comes with the ancestral experiences and the feeling of oneness between community members.
The current generation, possibly, has the last chance to salvage Sindhi language. If a third generation Sindhi now wishes to learn the language, most have to learn it as a foreign language—via internet websites and other language courses. It can be enriched through watching TV channels and plays in Sindhi.
Parents and grandparents must take active part in teaching the language along with imparting knowledge of their cultural roots to their children. The recent Sindhi Drama Festival held in Delhi by the Sindhi Academy was a great initiative to bring the Sindhi language and culture to the fore. Doordarshan has also been asked to start a Sindhi news channel.
Minority languages, especially those which do not have a homeland in India, must be given the benefit of policy level changes and educational institutions must be established for their preservation. English and Hindi, being popular languages in India can be learned even outside a classroom setting, but endangered languages need specialized focus. However, if the basic interest of the community members and respect for the language cannot be generated, the procedure would become a failure and Sindhi would join the bandwagon of the many languages on their journey to oblivion. (image source: wikimedia)