What Does Language Mean to a Sindhi?
Everything. Let’s talk about Sindhis.
(This piece was first published on 14 August 2017 and is being republished in light of recent calls for ‘One Nation, One Language’.)
There has been ample discourse around the need for a coherent identity and to find one's roots. But, for a Sindhi, the idea of identity lies fudged between two nations, with very different histories that almost always argue with one another. Our lives are an act of fringe dwelling, never belonging to one place. Our voices in academia and in activism have been suppressed over the years because we never indigenously occupy one space in the metanarrative of nationhood. The only redeeming factor for us, as a community that belongs together, is the language. Sindhi, staying true to the community's multiculturalism, is an eclectic blend of Arabic, Devanagari, Landa, Khudabadi and Gurmukhi scripts.
Today, as there are attempts to form one monolithic entity out of a nation, the attack of Sindhi has been insidious. The language is dying a stolid death, both homeward and on the other end of the border. What could be more challenging to the uniform idea of fascist ideologues than a community that was born out of various Indus Valley cultures intersecting at a common point? The lack of viable discourse in the media and in academic spaces stands testimony to the fact. In spite of neglect, the community has found ways to keep the language alive.
Before I learnt the alphabet or my mother's name, I heard my grandmother call me "muhinjo sadko".
As I talk of the Sindhi dialect and its binding power to tie people from across the border under one culture that thrives on a shared language, it becomes important to talk about the 10 million Sindhis in Pakistan. For whom post-partition has seen an upsurge in the "forced exodus" that began as part of the 1947 mission to create a separate Muslim State. Some friends from Pakistan reached out to a couple of Indians to talk about the issue. Instances of illegal abduction and disappearances have tripled ahead of Pakistan's Independence Day, with the police ignoring any viable investigation and attempts to raise news with the Indian Media have been junked. Our people have been denied representation and peaceful protests have led to the activist disappearing, never to be found again.
There is a stoic silence about this among Indian Sindhis – with zero discourse being produced. Perhaps, as a community, our dividing lines run deeper than a sense of oneness. It is in these times of distress than language becomes paramount. The need to talk, to discuss and to reinvent our identity knocks at our doors.
We must ask – What will it take for the world to know we exist in our separate subject-hood as individuals in flesh and blood, with lives that matter? And the answer would be quite simple – a stitching together of our language and our shared culture, across borders, and standing in solidarity with one another.
(This article was sent to The Quint by Simran Keshwani for our campaign, BOL – Love your Bhasha.)
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