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Future Agenda for Sindhis

Author : Rtn. Gangaram Shamdas Purswani(P.H.F)

I would like to make it clear that the view which I am going to express in this paper are going to be futuristic in orientation rather than any detailed description and analysis of the past. A clarificatory remark about the term Future is in order here. Yesterday’s future is today and today’s past is yesterday’s present. Therefore, the effect of present and past on the future is bound to be observed throughout the history of human race and any discussion of future without careful analysis of the past and present trends in the social evolution of any community will be wishful thinking if not naivety. I am however, not going to do detailed historical analysis of the forces which have governed and / or have been created by the social evolution of Sindhi community in the past seven decades since partition. Already some interesting and insightful analytical work has been done by various Sindhi scholars. 

With this background let me get into the question which triggered off the view expressed in this paper. The question is HOW CAN ONE LIVE AS A SINDHI WITHOUT ISOLATING ONESELF FROM A HEALTHY MAINSTREAM HUMAN LIFE?

I am sure already many of the readers who have been directly or indirectly involved in debate on future might find this question rather curious. As so far the debate has viewed the main problem as HOW TO RETAIN ETHNIC IDENTITY OF SINDHIS. While this problem is implied in the first half of the question raised by me, i.e. HOW CAN ONE LIVE AS A SINDHI? But adding the second half of the question completely changes the nature of problem faced. Careful examination of the above question leads to need for an elaborate enquiry on various aspects of Sindhi Way of Life. For instance before answering the main question we need to understand clearly; what does it mean to LIVE AS A SINDHI? This requires reflecting over various aspects of living as Sindhi such as language used for communication, cultural facets of Sindhi life, religion/s practiced by Sindhis, political rights of Sindhis, socio-economic features of Sindhis. Similarly one needs to understand what it means to say HEALTHY MAINSTRAM HUMAN LIFE if we want to address the question in its totality.

My view is that a Sindhi is first a human being and then a Sindhi. This view in no way should be mis-interpreted by those who might argue that this writer is not proud of being Sindhi. Please, don’t think so even for a moment. I feel proud to be s Sindhi but only if I live by practicing some very human and rich traditions of Sindhis, if I use this wonderful Sindhi language of ours, if I continue the search for truth in simple living and high thinking as exemplified by hundreds of Sindhi Sufis, mystics and great poets, if I am able to take the challenges of life headlong be it economic or otherwise, if I am not a fanatic or orthodox, if I enjoy the achievements not only of my own, my family, my community or my nation only but I also enjoy all human achievements. These reasons which make me feel proud as a Sindhi for Sindhis have inherited such rich heritage. Being proud of one’s heritage without living according to its tenets is self illusion and less dignified in my opinion.

We cannot reduce our heritage to items in cultural exhibitions and museums. Therefore, whatever a community’s way of life, if it has to survive and flourish as part of human civilization, it has to be in harmony with the rest of the human experience. It is also necessary for the people belonging to the community to have full opportunity to live a wholesome human life. This is why I have restated the main issue facing Sindhis today as HOW CAN SINDHIS LIVE AS SINDHIS WITHOUT ISOLATING THEMSELVES FROM THE MAIN STREAM HUMAN LIFE rather than saying that they are facing ETHNIC IDENTITY CRISES.

The rest of the paper attempts to address the above issue by examining the Sindhi way of life in holistic perspective rather than from a narrow or wide angle. The rest of the paper is divided into following subsections (which are interconnected but are discussed separately only for sake of convenience of presentation) :

1.       What is Sindhi Way of Life or Sindhiat?
2.       What is the present main stream life?
3.       Where is the present Sindhi Way of Life headed?
4.       Where is rest of the mankind headed?
5.       Where do Sindhis want to go?

Given the complexity of the issues it is not possible to go into detailed analysis of each of the questions. Perhaps each one of the questions raised above deserves a separate dialogue in its own right. But I will have a rather sweeping look at each of these issues and conclude by summarizing my views.

  1. What is Sindhi Way of Life or Sindhiat?

I believe a way of life must be defined as what are the different facets of living of the people of a community such as the language, literature, social structure and occupational characteristics. I think some research based observations have been made in this context about the Sindhis. “the Sindhi is by nature an easy going being, not given to religious subtlety. This tolerant trait in the Sindhi character has produced a rare phenomenon.” “Sindhi society is an integral part of the great Indian society. And Sindhi culture is an integral part of the great Indian culture. And yet, because of local factors it has a flavour of its own. The people are eclectic: not very profound, but very practical. As a wit put it, “The Sindhi rule of thumb is to do whatever is convenient and profitable.”.  Added to the profundities of their ancestral faith, they have faced the waves of foreigners and they themselves have travelled far and wide for trade. This has made them easy citizens of the world. All fanaticism becomes foreign to their nature.”

I feel that most Sindhis have still retained above mentioned personal traits and community life style as depicted above. But no doubt the assimilation with the regional cultures in India after partition has left a perceptible mark on the Sindhi way of life and many Sindhis are now concerned whether such assimilation would lead to complete dilution of Sindhi culture.

Language and literature constitute two very important parts of a community’s wealth and it is in these areas where the maximum effect of the uprooting from Sind and resettlement of Sindhis in India and elsewhere is visible. Sindhis are very fortunate in being nearly free from caste system. Religion is “primarily Brahmanical but is free from burden of rituals. The ceremonial is very simple and various faiths which are followed by people are liberal and are blends of each other.”

Occupationally Sindhis have traditionally been a trading community. The proportion of population pursuing higher education and seeking professional career has been less. However, blessed with an enterprising spirit and creativity in dealing with different situations Sindhis have been masters. Let me quote two examples of these features. An interesting event from Shah Latif’s life is narrated. Once Shah Latif teased his Hindu friend Madan with the question : “How will you Kafirs fare on the day of judgement?” (“Hashar vela hissab mein, Kafir kanda kein”). Madan did not reply immediately. But later when both friends reached a ferry point, the boat had just started off. Madan took out extra money and showed it to the boatman, who stopped to pick them up. Madan now turned to Shah and answered his earlier query thus : “Those who have an open hand will cross ahead of all others.” (Hath jineen jo heean, se pahrein pattan paar pya.”) This is very typical of Sindhis to come with spontaneous response to changing circumstances as evidenced by their ability to come up from scratch to a respectable living standard in India. Similarly the Sindhi entrepreneurs have been an important catalytic agent of economic development in many areas of India.  An interesting example of how Sindhis entrepreneurial abilities can make significant difference to the economic development of the region where they live. “There is a popular Negro song broadcast by Trinidad radio in West Indies telling its then Prime Minister Mr. George Chamber about the qualities of a Sindhi business man Mr. Ram Kripalani. The song goes like this,

“Everything Mr. Ram puts his hand to, turns from a shack to a mansion. So George Chamer, you should see Mr. Ram Kripalani if you can’t run the country. Call in Kripalani.” 

2. What is the present main stream life?

The human civilization is not very old in geological time although it is pretty old in the commonly understood dimension of time. In the last 7000-8000 years mankind has taken enormous strides in its understanding and exploration of universal phenomena. The progress in human knowledge about physical forces and about use of those forces for human well being have been truly remarkable. As a  specie we are quite young. Analysis of recorded history has been nicely captured by Alvin Toffler, who has classified human social evolution into three categories namely Agricultural Wave, Industrial Wave and Information Wave. Tremendous achievements were made in the Agricultural Society which made it possible for most societies to flourish and survive longer. Industrial wave made it possible to conquer more of the natural forces and increase the resistance of human physical conditions to survive even longer. And right now western societies are reeling under the effect of information wave. Each of these waves has left significant effect on our living irrespective of the community to which we belong. Life is today tilted towards materialism, life is today competitive, life is today stressful, and life is today a visible paradox. We have bullet proof jackets and we have AIDS. We have high quality technical education but we are struggling with human issues of poverty, misery, tyranny and intolerance. Human civilization in recent past has been a mixed bag of achievements some highly desirable and others highly regrettable. We are living as part of this civilization and whether we like it or not we are going to be affected by it.

3. Where is the present Sindhi Way of Life headed?

Perhaps it will be more useful to look at different aspects of Sindhi way of Life and comment on them individually without forgetting they are interactive in nature. First and perhaps most visible aspect is the Language. Sindhi language as it has evolved somewhat more concretely in about last 800-900 years and as it stands today seems to be headed towards the crisis of survival in its present form. Before we proceed on this issue let us note this interesting finding reported recently. There are about 6000 languages in the world. Of these between 20 and 50 per cent are no longer spoken by children. And as per a linguistics scholar “These languages are obviously headed for extinction unless there are radical changes.” As per this study only about 300 languages are safe from extinction either because they are spoken by million or more people or they have strong government support. I think at least on the first count Sindhi language may be considered ‘safe’ going by the number of people speaking in it, which I am sure is more than one million in India itself. Primary reason for Sindhi language being sidelined is the unfortunate historical event of portioning of India on religious grounds forcing Hindu Sindhis to leave their native land. And this has another implication for Sindhis that is their culture.

Sindhi culture is very much a River Culture. Indus civilization was born on the banks of the river Sindhu and flourished on its banks. Most of the rituals and celebrations and other human attributes of Sindhis are to a great extent influenced by the Sindhu River and the geographic location of the Sind. Now what happens to all cultural traits of a community when in one shot it is forced to abandon the whole environment which sustained and nourished it? Well instinct to survive in different circumstances will naturally lead to assimilation of other cultures and perhaps the language which might have had ‘utility value’ in the native setting might lose this ‘utility value’ leading to less frequent use of own language. And this is not unique to Sindhi language it is applicable to all the languages. Why go far, it has happened with Sanskrit, perhaps eldest sister of many vernacular languages in India. And it is difficult to see how Sindhi can acquire ‘utility value’ in a country where even dominant language such as Hindi finds difficult to make itself effective competitor in the functional aspects of business and education. But we should conclude from this that we don’t need to worry about Sindhi going into oblivion in next 50 years. There is strong human argument for sustaining a language as rich as Sindhi. Language is not only a means of communication. A highly evolved language is a repository of human experience and knowledge. It may not have ‘utility value’ as I said in business and education which has gone across all the human barriers be it linguistic or geographic. But as one engages in profession or business to earn livelihood at the same time one engages in so many other social activities. That is what gives colour and beauty to life. And in those spheres language such as Sindhi provides sources of highest human pleasures in its sweetness, in its variety and in its literature. Why should a rational Sindhi known for his business acumen, forego such wonderful opportunity?

4. Where is rest of the mankind headed?

As discussed earlier the mankind has taken a turn somewhere in recent history, may be starting with one set of philosophical enquiries in Greece around 2nd BC, whereby human life was viewed as a process quite distinct from the rest of his environment, both biological and natural environments. This led ultimately to the famous dichotomy known as ‘Cartesian split’ after the French philosopher who argued that mind and the body were two entities. The subsequent development in philosophical thought on these lines led to completely fragmented view of the life which is now showing some of its serious side effects in form of environmental degradation. There has been no doubt great progress on the social organization side of human affairs. Many societies today are far more humanly organized by democratic institutions. There are imperfections in all the institutional arrangements, but I feel that is only natural for human society. It seems we as race are headed for some unknown destination wherein the technical and scientific developments which have taken place in this century will be playing important role. I am here talking things such as genetic engineering, synthesis of genetic knowledge and computing abilities of chips, the continuing failure of scientists to find cure for AIDS. Suffice it to say that this social animal inhabiting this planet may be in for some real surprises in next 50 years and those surprises should be more desirable than undesirable wherein human freedom and choice will be enhanced. Human freedom has been the corner stone of human progress, which I feel should be protected ahead of any other priorities.

5. Where do Sindhis want to go?

I think I have already indicated in the last line of previous section that I value human freedom far above other things. Given that belief in me if we reflect on the question of where does go as Sindhis from here, I will venture into suggesting an agenda for Sindhi community.

First, the Sindhi language has to be preserved. The preservation does not mean deify the language and make it a forte for few scholars or have special symposiums. NO. Language is best preserved when it is used. Yes, we know it does not have conventional utility value but it has a kind of ‘spiritual value’ if I may coin a phrase to convey my feeling about Sindhi.

Second, we must sustain the institution of family. I am not arguing that you should all live only in large joint families which perhaps may not be possible in the present economic and social conditions. But the family as a unit wherein respect for the elders and care for the younger is extended by bringing in more matured relations within families. Till today I find that elders concern for younger generation many times leads the younger generation to a sense of dependency in some important matters which every individual should be free to decide upon. This is important in the changed circumstances wherein the information gap between the generations is so wide that sometimes you find the two generations live with completely different world views.

Thirdly, our traditional occupational pattern has been seriously interfering with the educational choices we have been making. In the changing circumstances it is very necessary for the well being of our present and future generation that are meaningfully integrated in to the mainstream of progressive human civilization. And the only way to achieve it is through proper education. I have a hunch that a large proportion of Sindhi youth are not making appropriate educational choices. Only on the basis of some empirical trends in our educational status we would be able to see whether we are preparing our future generations for a knowledge based society or not. Apparent signals are that we are not doing it as a community. I must give a simple illustration and proceed. In this town of well to do Sindhis, we cannot boast of one single decent book shop or one decent public library.

Fourthly, we need to realize that literature and music are two most important and highly enjoyable means of preserving a culture. In the infinite time horizon also, music is going to be a source of pleasure and therefore, I feel all good Sindhi music has to be appreciated by the community and patronized. Many of us don’t enjoy classical music, not because it is uninteresting, but because our taste buds are not developed enough. The fault is in the educational system. We cannot change, but perhaps the family can play a role here in sensitizing children and young people to fine arts. Perhaps our Khudabadi Sonara Panchayats in their cities would do good by arranging Parent Sensitising Programme as they do Personality Development Programmes for school children, wherein the parents’ interest is revived in the culture, which I am sure should have an effect on the children.

Lastly, I would like to say that we must remain highly competitive but must realize the critical mass of the Sindhis is still not with the mainstream human progress in the field of social freedom, family traditions and frontiers of knowledge. The community needs more people in education, in science and technology, in fine arts and undoubtedly more people in politics.