The plight of Sindhi Language and its consequences

By: Shoukat Lohar

[Shoukat Ali Lohar is  Assistant Professor at English Language Development Centre Mehran University of Engineering and Technology Jamshoro.]
In my opinion, language is the highest achievement of human being which is also a marker of human dignity. It is language that separates humans from the animals. Thought, animals do have a language but theirs is very limited and lacks the creativity. American Linguist, Noam Chomsky says that a child is able to utter an infinite number of novel sentences out of finite rules of the language. This is what Chomsky believes that every human being is biologically endowed with the linguistic abilities which get triggered when s/he comes into contact with the environment. This type of novelty lacks in animals. Language for a human is the source of communication, information and recreation. It enables us to share our unrests, feelings, emotions with the fellow men and to understand their miseries. A world without language is colorless, indeed.
It is widely accepted that one’s mother tongue is a blessing to him/her. Chomsky is of the opinion that a child learns best when s/he is educated in the first language. A child’s first language is a convenient source of information, expression and exchange of thoughts and feelings with others. If a child is not taught the mother tongue from the very beginning, s/he may not be able to acquire the native-like competence at a later stage. The Critical Period Hypothesis proposed by Noam Chomsky suggests that a child is able to learn his/her mother tongue till certain age, later on, s/he begins to lose the ability to learn the language. According to UNESCO Report, every child has right to acquire the primary education in his/her mother tongue.
The sociolinguistic reality of Pakistan is very complex in terms of language policies. Pakistan is one of the diverse linguistic and cultural areas in South Asia. There are over 69 languages spoken in Pakistan. This diversity of languages is reflected in Schools. A child is exposed to a number of languages in the school. S/he has to learn English as an international language, Urdu as a national language, Arabic as a religious language, Sindhi or other local language as a mother tongue. Besides, National Anthem is recited in Persian in Morning Assembly. Dr. Tariq Raham—a well-known linguist in Pakistan maintains that Pakistan is a multilingual country. However, the languages used in the domains of Power are English and Urdu. The state’s policies are favored to these two languages at the expense of others. This unequal status to the languages in the country has marginalized the indigenous languages and is considered to be the marker of lower status.
The state policy towards the indigenous languages, Sindhi in our context, has placed its status at the bottom. Sindhi language is very rich language and it has a history of thousand years. There are a number of literary and non-literary books available in Sindhi. The scholars have highly contributed to the development of Sindhi language. In simple, Sindhi language has all what any language say English or Urdu does. There are numerous poetry books published in Sindhi language and others are being published. The great Sufi poet shah Abdul Latif composed his Risalo in Sindhi languagewhich contains thirty surs. Not only shah Latif but also Sami,Sachal, Sheikh Ayaz have remained the central figures who contributed for Sindhi language. Sindhi language is equally good in prose writing. The names of MirzaQaleechBaig, Mohammed Usman Deploe, Saeen G.M Syed, RasoolBuxPaleejo, Abdul Wahid Aresar, Tariq Ashraf, Amar Jaleel, GhulamNabi Mogul arefew to mention who gave Sindhi literature a new progressive trend.Sindhi language has credit of being the first regional language having huge number of dailies & periodicals. Sindhi Language has media power, too. It has a good number of TV channels.
Despite such a magnificent sociolinguistic reality of Sindhi Language, it has not yet been recognized as a national language. Not to mention the status of national language, it has stopped to be taught in some of the private schools in Sindh where English is the predominant language. The children are instructed in English and are trained to speak English and Urdu from the very beginning. In a city like Karachi, Sindhi language is not taught as a subject in most of the schools. What apathy! The school atmosphere is not congenial for Sindhi as mother tongue.
Languages have rights. Their rights are as precious as humans’. Robert Phillipson, an Australian Applied linguist rightly mentions that language rights run parallel with other civil rights. If the civil rights are ensured, the linguistic rights are also ensured and vice versa. In our country, it is very much open to all the enlightened people that the civil rights are on top priority to be violated. Pakistani citizens sometimes think it to be hard to survive in the country due to the issues of poverty, hunger, unemployment, terrorism, pick-pocketing, snatching or robbery. In such a society, language rights are just imagined to exist. The attitudes of the government are not less hostile toward the indigenous languages. Their words show that they really care for Sindhi culture and language but indeed, they don’t.
ToveSkuttnabl-Kangas and Robert Phillipson have written a comprehensive book on Linguistic Human Rights. In this comprehensive book, they have noted the linguistic discrimination among many nations of the world and suggest that linguistic rights be maintained. Linguistic diversity, according to them are co-related with the cultural and biodiversity. All children should be taught the first language. The international and national/official language should not act as hurdle for the children to acquire their mother tongue. Education and mother tongue should go in hand. Otherwise, children will lose the true understanding of the things.
The constitution of Pakistan mentions that without prejudice to national language, the provincial governments can take measures for their provincial languages according to Law (153, Clause: 3). But no measure has been taken so far. The cries of the civil society and many individuals have remained unheard. Apart from government’s non-serious attitude towards local languages, the people themselves are also responsible for the degradation of the language. for instance, we being Sindhi do continue Speaking Sindhi language when we visit markets or other places. We start communicating in Urdu or English. Our children are following us. Their school is training them to speak Urdu and English and we practically teach them to do so. All such factors need to be discouraged if we want local languages to acquire good status in Education and other domains of power. February 21 is consolidated in the name the students who werekilled in Dhaka university riots in 1951 when Bangladesh the then East Pakistandemanded the restoration of their Bengali language that it be the medium ofinstruction. It should be used in postal stamps, railway platform and educationsector. But their cry remained unanswered. The riots maximizedand were changed into movement that made Bangladesh in 1971.
We hope and demand that Sindhi language should be given the status of national language along with all designated indeginious languages and it should be encouraged in schools, colleges and Universities in province of Sindh. The Sindhilanguage authority & Sindhi Adabi board and other chairs must play theirparts in this regard. If our language lives we will live happily.