I have attended more than twenty SANA conventions out of total 27 SANA conventions held so far. The latest being the one that was held in St. Louis, Missouri. It started on Friday, July 1, 2011 (Canada Day) and concluded on Monday, July 4, 2011 (American Independence Day). Although in many aspects, all conventions are the same as they attract many attendees who come from several parts of the world, each convention leaves a unique mark on the history of SANA. Like conventions of previous years, this year’s convention too had marathon debates on various topics, issues, challenges and opportunities. The uniqueness about this year’s Convention was its focus on the building of Sindhi community in North America and reaching out to other communities.
Building Sindhi Community in North America
A substantial number of Sindhi immigrants from Pakistan to North America arrived in late 1970s and early 1980s. They are now nearing their retirement age. It appears that flow of new Sindhi immigrants to the USA has either slowed down or SANA has failed to attract their attention. With fewer number of Sindhis from Sindh joining SANA, the only hope of keeping SANA vibrant is to attract the younger generation of Sindhis, who although is not oblivious of their Sindhi roots lacks affinity, education, and knowledge about their Sindhi roots, history, and language. One ray of hope is that the number of Sindhis from Sindh who are immigrating to Canada is increasing. If this trend does not continue, the same challenge will be faced by the Canadian chapters of SANA. Thus, it has become imperative to get every Sindhi man and woman, young and old to SANA and/or other Sindhi organizations in North America if the Sindhi identity is to survive in North America in future years. Supporting this concern, SANA Convention offered several sessions such as one on the spiritually guiding philosophy of Sindhis influenced by great poets, particularly Shah Abdul Latif; a session organized by Sindhi Youth; and a discussion organized by Sindhi women on the issues of Sindhi women.
The session on Shah Abdul Latif’s poetry was moderated by Dr. Mithal Vakassi and was well attended. Shah Abdul Latif (1689-1752) is revered by Sindhi masses as the greatest poet and a spiritual guide. Shah Abdul Latif’s poetry covers almost all phases and aspects of life. Dr. Vakassi has been is a devotee of Shah Abdul Latif since his childhood and is working on a plan to introduce beauty and message of Sindhi poetry to the world communities. In his address, Dr. Vakassi said that Shah Abdul Latif’s world-view (reality) or collective consciousness for survival and evolution of society was not mechanical solidarity (Survival of the fittest); but organic solidarity (life with meaning and essence of its existence. Suffering and struggle of human life was symbolized through the lives of seven herons, whose struggles and pursuit of their beloved offers a great insight in the life itself. Dr. Vakassi has selected several themes to develop lessons in each of these and offer them through a cyber university. The themes include topics such as “Unity of Knowledge and Sciences”, “Integral philosophy”, “sociology and Culture”, and “Mind and Matter”.
The second literary session was moderated by Irshad Kazi. The speakers at this session paid tribute to Dr. Nabi Bux Baloch, Tajul Bevas, Hassan Dars, and other Sindhi heroes of Sindhi literature. Much of this session was dedicated to Sindh’s foremost historian and man of letters, the recently departed Dr Nabi Bux Khan Baloch.
Sindhi Youth and Creating Awareness about Flood Damage
This session was moderated by SANA Information Secretary Asim Kaghzi. First, Moomal Shaikh and Omad Jani Shaikh provided details about their campaign of raising awareness about the damage caused by recent floods in Pakistan. They had an impressive slide presentation that they had created as a part of their campaign and taken to nearby colleges and schools. They made a video about havoc caused floods in Sindh and showed to many groups.
This impressive presentation was followed by one of the prominent youth leaders of SANA Jon Junejo, who had single-handedly collected $ 3,000 in donations from the local community. He expressed disappointment about the smaller number of attendees that were attending the youth session. He said it is ironic that during dinner and music show hundreds would show-up for entertainment at the dinner and music time. He expressed disappointment at the low interest in an event organized by Sindhi youth about one of most terrible calamity suffered by Sindhis. He said it appears that older generation of Sindhis has no passion for important causes and that such an attitude will discourage Sindhi youth to come forward. He urged everyone to get involved and make positive contributions. Asim Kaghzi reported that SANA raised about $ 139,000 for flood victims – $ 24,000 for which was given to the Sindh Graduate Association (SGA) to provide immediate support to flood victims. The remaining amount of about $ 115,000 has been donated towards donating milk-producing cows and other similar rehabilitation assistance program that is being carried out in cooperation with Engro Foundation.
Role of Sindh Women in SANA and other Sindhi Activities
Adi Noornisa Ghanghro moderated one of best sessions that I have ever attended at a SANA convention. Joining her on the podium were Nazia Junejo, Zeb Agha, Almas Abbasi, Samina Kazi, Azzadi Fateh, Sadia Shah, Asma Lakho and others. The session was candid about the role and leadership of women in Sindhi community activities. A candid discussion about segregated women sessions at SANA conventions were hotly discussed by the panelists. One point of view was that such segregated and closed discussion sessions discourage women to assume leadership role in SANA. A panelist said that the attitudes that expect ladies to attend “Meena Bazzar”, while men discuss the issues of Sindhi society exclusively are not helpful in resolving the issues. Sindhi women, particularly in Sindh’s rural areas do as much hard physical work tending to fields and lifting heavy loads as the men do. Thus gender equality in the context of lead roles is urgently needed. A panelist called for an end to stereotyping of women for their suitability of leading only certain projects of limited scope.
An example was cited that when a woman showed interest in contesting the SANA elections, a SANA leader politely suggested that the person should wait until next year as another candidate has already indicated her interest in the position of Vice President (Women) implying that other positions were suitable only for men. A SANA official clarified that SANA bylaws do not restrict Sindhi women to only the position of Vice President (Women) and that all SANA Executive Council (EC) positions were open to women candidates.
A panelist welcomed such candid discussion and said ”I have been waiting to hear what is being said here for many years as previous women sessions at SANA conventions were generally boring and confined to mere chit-chat sessions”. She continued “we want to contribute tangibly and positively towards the welfare of our community”. Another panelist cautioned about any hurried change as many Sindhi women come from families where the tradition of “Pardo” (veil) is still strictly observed. It will take some time before Sindhi women are able to fully participate gender neutral sessions.
Another panelist was of the view that open sessions that encouraged equal participation of men and women are long overdue. She added “But, really we should blame ourselves for taking the back seat to our brothers and husbands”. Soon the consensus started building with comments such as “This is a great start, we should move forward”, “Although we have been involved all along in the background, we need to assume greater leadership roles”, and “This is a fresh start. We need to unite on focus on real issues”.
In concluding the session, adi Noornisa Ghanghro summarized three key takeaways:
· Must take initial steps to create awareness among all that stereo-typing Sindhi women in only certain roles is a barrier that must be overcome.
· Sindhi/SANA women must undertake projects that accomplish tangible results to demonstrate that Sindhi women are fully capable of running things as well as any one if not better.
· Secure support and commitment from Sindhi men that they will support the projects led by Sindhi women just as Sindhi women have supported initiatives by Sindhi men for the betterment of greater society.
SANA Achievements and Future Plans (General Body Meeting)
SANA general Secretary Maqbool Halepoto provided a summary of past achievements that included raising of record sum for assisting the victims of recent floods in Sindh and other parts of Pakistan; publication of SANA membership directory; opening of a permanent office with a part-time office assistant; number of FAME scholarships increased from 42 to 80; increasing operating funds of SANA from $ 8,000 to $ 42,000 at the end of 2010; total assets and receipts (fees, other income, etc.) at the end of the fiscal year amounted $ 214,843.48 and $ 99,398.99 respectively; a professionally run web site (www.sanalist.org) is now serving Sindhi community; established a system where membership fees and donations can be paid online; and finally SANA EC has formed a by-law committee to recommend changes that have become necessary due to changing times and demography of Sindhis in North America.
Zafar Agha, Chair of the Feroz Ahmed Memorial Fund (FAME) made a very impressive presentation on the performance of the FAME fund. He said that the FAME Scholarship program was started in 1998 with only four (4) scholarships and last year 80 scholarships were awarded. The scholarships range from $ 250 to $ 500 and awarded to undergraduate and graduate Sindhi students pursuing education in any college or university in Pakistan. The scholarship award criteria include both merit and means tests. Some of the problems faced by the program include making direct deposits to the bank accounts of awardees and ensuring the validity of the income information provided by applicants. To overcome some of these issues, starting from the next year, the FAME Committee will channel the selection for some scholarships through some of the universities located in Sindh.
The new SANA Treasurer Irshad Kazi provided the summary figures for the fiscal year that ended on December 31, 2010 and summarized the Receipts (income) and Disbursements (expenses) that have occurred in the first five months of fiscal year 2011.
Other Executive Council (EC) members who briefly spoke at the General Body Meeting included Basheer Mahar, Asim Kaghzi, Sarfraz Abbasi, Shabbir Shaikh, and Ali Raza Qalbani.
The EC President Valeed Shaikh welcomed convention attendees and lauded efforts of EC in bringing harmony and understanding among SANA members. He said that SANA is nothing but a collective representation of all of us. He continued “We have joined our hands for the common good so working together is the only way to break new ground”. He mentioned big achievements of SANA during his tenure as having raised record amount donations among Sindhi overseas organizations for flood victims. He emphasized that SANA is a secular organization and always cooperates with other Sindhi organizations such as the World Sindhi Congress (WSC), World Sindhi Institute (WSI), and Sindhi- American Political Action Committee (SAPAC). He pledged that cooperation to continue and said that SANA will not criticize any other overseas Sindhi organizations.
The EC reports session was followed by a lively Question-and-Answer session. The suggestions from the attendees included matters such as SANA not siding with any political party in Sindh and avoiding any appearance of such association; opening of a Sindhology center to create awareness about Sindh’s history and culture.
The final session of the General Body Meeting included tabling of draft resolutions that were already prepared and circulated for comments at SANA’s Internet list and at the convention. These resolutions were passed unanimously.
A well-known Sindhi poet Sardar Shah, who was visiting from Pakistan, read a heart-wrenching poem that was titled “Sindh Jo Watan Froosh Wadero”. The poem talked about the plight of helplessness of poverty stricken rural Sindhis. The lives of rural Sindhis were becoming even harder as the rich men and so-called leaders of their villages are more interested in becoming richer and are ignoring collective problems of Sindh’s villages and towns.
Dr. Nisar Siddique, Director of Institute of Business Administration (IBA) http://www.iba-suk.edu.pk/ibasuk/aboutiba/wpMain.aspx located in the city of Sukkur in Sindh, Pakistan made a presentation on “State of Education in Sindh – Challenges, Problems and Suggestions”. The presentation is based on a recent study of state of six districts in Sindh (Ghotki, Khairpur, Mirpurkhas, Mithi, Sukkur, and Umerkot). The report is titled “Annual Status of Education Report (Rural) – ASER 2010. The study was sponsored by UNESCO, Foundation of Open Society Institute (OSI), and Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aaghai. Other Sindhi and international organizations and individuals that contributed to this study include Sindh Education Foundation (SEF), Oxfam GB, and Professor Anita Ghulam Ali. The full report can be found at: http://www.safedafed.org/aser/document/aser/2011/Total%20PDF%20Aser%20Report%20Low%20resulation.pdf
The study included survey of 180 randomly selected villages in the six districts mentioned before. The study covered about 10,625 students from 3,553 households. The schools covered were 148 government schools and 17 private schools. The starting results were as follows:
· Mother’s Literacy Only 24% were found to be literate (lowest in Mithi and Mirpurkhas – 17%).
· Children in Age Group 6-16 years – School enrollment was 68% (only 34% of girls were enrolled); and 59% were enrolled in Government schools and 9% in private schools.
· Only 33% children in the surveyed area can read a sentence in Sindhi and Urdu and 20.8% can read a simple story in either of these two languages. 69% cannot recognize alphabets.
· The overall attendance in government schools was at 65% and in private schools at 87%.
· Only 49% of primary schools had a “usable water” facility in government primary schools and only 28% primary schools had a toilet facility.
Ms. Azzadi Fateh gave an interesting presentation on “Media Literacy”. The presentation covered concepts such as:
· Verification of truth and reliability of messages communicated by media.
· Fairness and objectivity in reporting.
· Ethical and legal violations
· Breaking News Syndrome
· Audience as passive receivers
· Sindhi media coverage: 52% local, 22% National, and 20% International.
Creating Awareness about Sindhiat among Sindhi Children
During and after the banquet dinner, the organizers had organized a very informative session consisting of quiz about Sindh and individual acts of reciting Sindhi poetry and remembering Sindhi words for various objects. Scores of awards were presented to children for participating in these events creating an extempore competition about who knew the most about Sindh. Some elder students familiar were fiercely browsing Internet and googling facts and figures about Sindh.
Two Distinct Sindhi Sub-communities in North America
Those familiar with the migration of Sindhis know that there are two distinct Sindhi sub-communities in North America. The first sub-community consists of mostly Hindu Sindhis who mainly immigrated from India and some other countries and the second sub-community is composed of mainly those who immigrated from Sindh (Pakistan) are mainly Muslims but also include few Hindus. These two sub-communities have largely followed separate paths of cultural, social, and economic development. Although on a personal level in many places individual members do interact with each other extensively. They have only rarely converged on a common agenda or common set of goals on a community-wide basis. One may say that prejudices that we each sub-community carries from their old countries continue to be act as barrier in having joint community-wide events. Some encouraging signs, although still in their infancy, have started emerging. In this context, some interaction has been seen on the forums such as Young Sindhi Adults (YSA) and Sindhi Youth Association of North America (SYNA).
The first sub-community (mainly Indian Sindhis) has organized itself in the form of local city/state/area community associations with a lot day-to-day and face-to-face contact. These associations and their members come together once a year by holding an annual Samellan that is assuming more and more international color as associations from other countries participate in the Samellans. This sub-community has often welcomed some Pakistani Sindhis like Agha Gul and Nadeem Jamali.
The second sub-community (mostly Pakistani Sindhis) is predominantly organized on the platform of Sindhi Association of North America (SANA). Although, there are some small organizations, but these tend to be mainly focused on Human Rights and Advocacy on behalf of Sindhis. SANA and other Sindhi organizations from this strand have invited Sindhi poets, writers, academicians, and political leaders to address their gatherings.
Indian Sindhi Academicians and Intellectuals Speak at Convention
This year SANA invited three distinguished Sindhi academicians from India to address the 27th convention. The invitees included Dr. Baldev Matlani, Ashok Motwani, and Dr. Prem Mutlani.
Dr. Ashok Motwani, originally from Bombay is an Editor of magazine and Secretary General of an organization called “Sindhi Diaspora Professionals”. He said that so far there have been three Sindhi migrations from Sindh in 1927, 1927, and 1947. He predicted that “Sindhiat” will never be lost as it more reflection of emotions. He also emphasized that historians say that religions will come and go every one-two thousand years but the culture will survive for much longer period as it is a part of gene. He also predicted that in the long run only five-six languages will survive as the main languages in the world and rest will either be spoken by very people or cease to exist with time. He concluded that onus is on Sindhis to create awareness about Sindhi way of life so that others can appreciate that spirit of mutual respect, tolerance, and peace.
Dr. Prem Matlani read a paper written in the Sindhi language titled “Akhwat, Piyar, and Rawadari ain Sindh”. The focus of Dr. Matlani was increasing extremism and terrorist actions such as the one in Bombay few years ago that was targeted against people of certain religion and hurt so many innocent people. He said “hate cannot be defeated with hate – we must use love to counter this emotion”. He said the tolerance and mutual respect embedded in “Sindhiat” must be talked about as a counter to religious extremism.
Professor Baldev Matlani is the head of the Sindhi Department at the University of Bombay. His paper was titled “International Peace and Sindhi People”. He said that respect for diversity in opinions, faiths, and appearance must be respected by all. The virtue of this philosophy is that Sindh never attacked any neighboring countries or regions and went out of way to avoid bloodshed by conquering armies. He added that “among the thousands of implements found from excavations of Moen-Jo-Daro, archaeologists have not found a single implement that could be used in a war or hurt people.
Talking about Sindhi Problems
Prior to three guests from other provinces speaking, Jami Chandio, Aziz Narejo, and Khalid Hashmani spoke on various rights and discriminatory practices that deny equitable rights to Sindhis.
Aziz Narejo moderated the session and spoke about the irony that in spite of restoration of democracy, Sindhis are still not getting their rights and situation getting worse each day.
Jami Chandio talked broadly about the Sindhis issues and failures of the present government in many critical areas. He said by itself, 18th amendment was a historic amendment but delays in implementing the provisions of the amendment is a substantial concern.
Khalid Hashmani provided concrete examples of discriminatory practices that have resulted denial of equitable rights to Sindhis. He provided examples of Cadet College Petaro, where overwhelming majority of jobs are held by non-Sindhis to the recent case of 7o or so scholarships awarded by Higher Education Commission (HEC) of which none was given to a Sindhi.
Leaders /Journalists from Other Provinces Address Convention
The Convention was also addressed by Punjabi journalists Dr Manzur Ejaz, journalist Kamran Shafi and Dr Taqi from Pukhtunkhwa.
Speaking in Panjabi language, journalist Manzur Ejaz said he not only supports cultural, economic, and political rights of Sindhis but also recognizes the Right of Self-Determination of Sindhis if they wanted to form an independent state outside of Pakistan. He said that the imposition of Urdu language on Pakistan has been a destructive for the regional and provincial languages of Pakistan. He added that restoration of national status of Balochi, Panjabi, Pashto, and Sindhi will go way to restore self-respect of all citizens of all provinces of Pakistan.
Dr. Mohammad Taqi, who spoke in his native language Hindko, said he and all progressive people in Pakistan supported the legitimate rights of Sindhis. He said, “You have every right to demand the control of your resources and protect your culture. But, the rights are not achieved easily! You must prepare yourself to face one of most ferocious and strong army”.
Journalist Kamran Shafi thanked Dr. Manzur Ejaz for initiating the precedent that forced Dr Taqi to speak in Hindko and him in Punjabi. He praised Sindhi intellectuals, professionals and businessman standing up for their province’s rights and condemning those that want to put down Sindhi nationalism and deny rights of Sindhis.