A million postcards to save a language
By Manoj R Nair, Hindustan Times
Since March 2012, thousands of postcards addressed to the Prime Minister’s Office in New Delhi have been sent from cities and small towns in the country that has Sindhi-speaking residents. These handwritten messages postcards, which have the names and telephone numbers of the senders, have one
demand: a Sindhi-language television channel from government-run broadcaster Doordarshan.
Tens of thousands of these cards have been posted from Mumbai too. One group – the Bandra-based Friends of International Sindhis – collected Rs. 60,000 at their Diwali function in 2012 and purchased 1,20,000 postcards priced at 50 paise each.
Sindhi is one of the languages listed in the 8th schedule of the constitution, but with no linguistic state of their own to keep it flourishing, the community worries that the tongue is hurtling towards extinction.
Asha Chand, secretary of Sindhi Sangat, a Mumbai-based group explains why they are worried about their mother tongue’s future. “How do you learn a language? It is by hearing someone speak it. Children learn a language by hearing their parents talking it. But, when a large number of Sindhis have stopped speaking the language, how will they pass it on to their children?” she asked.
After they migrated to India after partition, Sindhis set up newspapers and schools in their language. But, as newer generations shifted to schools in English and other languages, these newspapers and schools have declined or closed down. For instance, the K J Khilnani School in Mahim, which is situated next to large housing colony of Sindhi-speakers, once held classes in the language. The school has now switched to the English medium and few children from the housing colony study there.
Since many young Sindhis may no longer hear the language in their homes, activists like Chand feel that a television channel is the best medium to keep the tongue alive. “Doordarshan runs channels in Urdu without any sponsors. Why can’t they have a channel for Sindhis who are spread across the country?” asked Chand.
Chand first wrote to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in November 2007 asking for some Sindhi-language programming on government television till a 24-hour channel could start. At one point, the Hinduja Foundation of the Hinduja brothers of London was involved in the campaign to get a government-run Sindhi television channel. The two most powerful politicians from the community – jurist Ram Jethmalani and former deputy prime minister L K Advani – were also part of the cause.
It is not that Sindhi is not heard on Indian television. There is a bilingual television channel called ‘Sindhi-Kachchhi’ that is telecast from Adipur in Gujarat’s Kutch district where a large number of refugees from Sind settled down after partition. The two languages are mutually intelligible. There is also local cable channel that telecasts programmes for a fee. But most Sindhi speakers, used to watching slicker television programming in Hindi and English, find these offerings amateurish.
Sindhis are not relying on the post card campaign alone to get their 24-hour television channel. They have planned a writ petition, and on Tuesday the Sindhi Sangat sent legal notices to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. Jethmalani will represent the petitioners. Jethmalani, who is now in London, was not available for a comment. His associate Ashish Dixit said, “As a linguistic minority, we have a constitutional right to protect our language. The campaign to get a television channel has not worked and we have no other option than a writ petition,” said Dixit.
When asked why rich Sindhi business houses cannot promote a television channel, Dixit said, “The Sindhi businesses can contribute too, but the government has to take the lead. It is their obligation.”
Despite hoes that a PIL will lead to the setting up of a Sindhi-language channel, there is scepticism. “We just hope this does not become another long-drawn litigation,” said Murli Adnani of Friends of International Sindhis.