Sindh is celebrating culture days on December 4 and 5, 2010 to revitalise and revamp the Sindhi cultural symbols and way of life presumed to be under threat from the so-called external encroachment and the risk of extinction. According to anthropologists, culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.
Sindh and the Sindhi language have a rich cultural heritage and have acquired many symbols from other cultures, eastern and western simultaneously, without compromising their basic formation. Historically, the Sindhi language was among the few recognised official languages in undivided India under British rule. The Sindhi vernacular has rich expressional potential catering to all aspects of socio-economic and administration systems, has written and oral capacity, symbols and phonics about all tangible and intangible things, emotions, feelings, norms, has a versatile and comprehensive vocabulary with many words for the same items in varying degrees and having multiple meanings for the same words.
The content and quality of the dialect, according to Tariq Rehman, impressed the British government. The Bombay government adopted Sindhi as the official language at the local level and in September 1851 made it mandatory for British officials to pass a Sindhi language exam as a prerequisite to qualify for a job in the administrative system of Sindh. The administration also took supportive steps to modify, simplify and enhance the Sindhi language by redesigning Sindhi letters into Arabic letters and increased the number of alphabets to 52 to cover all the sounds.
Tariq Rehman also provides that Sindhi remained a major language of basic schooling in the province. Sindhi intellectuals, researchers and critics argue that though Sindh volunteered to be a part of Pakistan and the Sindh Assembly took the first initiative to pass a resolution in favour of Pakistan, the incoming ruling elite of newly established Pakistan behaved contrary to the commitments and instead deprived the province of the privileges enjoyed even before independence.
In such a backdrop since partition, Sindhi culture has been on the defensive. Sindhi nationalists observe that since independence the state has been imposing Mughal and Arabic culture in the name of a single Pakistani identity at the cost of other cultures.
Sindh has flexible geographical boundaries with southern Punjab and Balochistan and due to friendly relations, these boundaries changed back and forth and people have been migrating to one another’s regions throughout the region’s history.
Therefore, the present Sindhi culture and ethnicity is basically a manifestation of the indigenous Sindhi, Dravidian Sindhi, and partially localised Balochi and Seraiki cultural symbols spread over many parts of Balochistan, i.e. Lasbela, Sibi, Dera Allahyar and in Punjab up to RahimYar Khan, Sadiqabad and even some portions of Multan. The dress, poetry, music, cultural activities, customs, etc, are shared among people across these borders.
Historical accounts validate the apprehensions of Sindhi nationalists and the state never encouraged or cared for indigenous culture and instead those upholding their originals norms and values were accused of being ethnically biased and narrow minded. Sindh demanded a due share in time on state radio and television in the past but was never heard. The same was the case in allocation of resources for language, literature, cultural institutions, etc.
As a reaction, many literary and socio-cultural-cum-politico-philanthropist organisations like Sindhi Adabi Sangat, Sindh Graduate Association, etc, came into existence and they, with tacit support from political parties, agitated and achieved incremental gains like publication of voter lists in Sindhi, etc.
Starting from a reactive mode, the Sindhi intelligentsia became proactive and designed their own strategy to preserve their language and culture. Sindhi print and electronic media has been one of the outstanding success stories in any local language with indigenous resources and is only second to Urdu and English media that have full state support. At the moment, eight Sindhi television channels, more than one dozen Sindhi newspapers, dozens of magazines, and a similar number of FM radio channels broadcast current news, and play an important role in opinion making. They enjoy such a political clout that former president General Pervez Musharraf ultimately chose a Sindhi channel to debate the Kalabagh Dam issue, although without success, as he could not stand the logic and arguments tabled by eloquent Sindhi water experts and engineers.
Why Sindh is desperate to express itself and celebrate Sindhi cultural unity days? It seems the expression of anger against negligence towards Sindhi cultural items, lack of Sindhi medium schools for the Sindhi middle class in urban areas and cities, organic change in dress and many colourful turbans linked with different religious sects, etc.
Sindh feels its indigenous sports like Malh, Kabadi, Wanjhi, Sindhi cultural dances, festivals, etc, are literally ignored for imported elite games like golf, cricket, squash, etc. They observe that most of the indigenous norms, family and social values, etc, are depleting very fast. They take it as a conspiracy of the anti-Sindhi school of though as well as a manifestation of globalisation.
In the past, nationalist political parties were vanguards in campaigns for preservation of Sindhi heritage. However, interestingly, this mantle has now been transferred to the educated, well placed and affluent middle class settled in big cities not only in Pakistan but also all over the world. The Sindhi diaspora has been an important source for this reawakening. Now the centre of socio-cultural activities has shifted from political parties, universities and student organisations to media houses and non-government organisation networks.
Had the state and federal government been responsible, farsighted and caring enough, this kind of cultural mobilisation would not have been required. Those at the helm of affairs need to take such campaigns as a warning and should modify their policies, lest the cultural campaigns should take new directions considering the level of deprivation in the country.