Why is Sindhi considered an inferior language to English or Urdu?

Published: November 12, 2016
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Sindhi was taught to us from the sixth grade and saying that they ‘taught’ us is saying a lot. PHOTO: AFP

It was Friday afternoon and I was holed up in my room, surfing through the internet when my nine-year-old sister entered. She had just gotten back home from school so she was still wearing her school uniform. She’s currently in the fourth grade at a well-known school. As I asked her about her day, she started telling me about her performance in a Sindhi class test.

She said that the day before the Sindhi test, she was really exhausted and didn’t feel like studying for it. She had aced it anyway. But that wasn’t the point, I asked,

“How can you not prepare for a test? You’ll fail if you don’t.”

“Don’t worry, Ada (brother), the test is not that important. They’re never included in our overall performance.” She replied.

“What do you mean they aren’t included? They don’t include class tests? They only consider mid-terms and final examinations?”

It didn’t make any sense to me.

But her response is what shocked me.

Ada, class tests matter in other subjects, but not for Sindhi. We don’t have mid-terms or final exams for Sindhi which is why they’re never considered in our overall performance.”

Feeling rather perplexed, I congratulated her on her performance and she left the room shortly after.

Later, I confirmed with my brother as he’s in the same school – but in the eighth grade. He said the exact same thing. While a student’s performance in subjects such as English, Urdu, Science and Mathematics play a huge role in their overall academic performance, Sindhi is not given the same importance.

I realised that my siblings were going through the same process that I had gone through as a young student. I received my schooling from a reputable institution and while the teachers there taught me well, we, the students, weren’t taught Sindhi. Sindhi was taught to us from sixth grade onwards and even saying the word ‘taught’ is a bit of a stretch. I gave the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) and they too didn’t offer a course in Sindhi, since they are a foreign board for exams.

I have had trouble reading and writing Sindhi my entire life – and it’ll remain a problem for those that aren’t well versed in their mother tongue. I asked some of my friends, who have studied in various renowned schools across Pakistan, and they gave me the same response; that provincial languages are not given any importance in schools. And it’s not just in Sindh – it’s in other provinces as well. English and Urdu were prioritised over provincial languages in most schools. Punjabi wasn’t taught to many students of Lahore who studied at some prestigious institutions in Punjab. In other words, every province had the same story.

Every student is taught the two widely spoken languages (English and Urdu) since kindergarten. It is in those early years that young children are able to get a proper grip on language and easily develop reading and writing skills. But, unfortunately, I wasn’t taught my mother tongue until I got to the sixth grade.

In 2013, after the Sindh government adopted a strict stance to penalise those educational institutions that do not teach Sindhi, most schools have changed their policies, but the ignorant nature of these schools remains intact. The students are taught Sindhi from kindergarten, but are told that it is not an important subject thus their grades do not matter at all. How can any young student learn a subject when they are told it isn’t important?

Some schools even have strict rules against speaking Sindhi inside school premises. Why can’t we speak our mother tongue, our regional language in our own school? Is it because Sindhi, Punjabi, Balochi and Pashto are considered inferior to English or Urdu?

It should be our moral duty to ensure that our languages are spoken for countless centuries to come and they aren’t forgotten and lost in the pages of history like many other languages that have. But are we concerned about this rising issue? Not really.

Why is it that these educational institutions believe that teaching Sindhi will somehow lower an institute’s standard or reputation? What is so taboo about our provincial languages?

The Sindhi language can be traced as far back as 1500 BC, giving it a special place amongst other culturally rich and historical languages like Punjabi, Pashto, and Balochi. Teaching such languages should be a matter of honour for Pakistani schools, not one that fuels an inferiority complex. I agree that Urdu and English have their importance in today’s time, but as someone who struggles to read or write in his native language, I urge the educational institutions of Pakistan to give our provincial languages the importance they deserve and prevent my siblings and other countless young students from achieving the same fate as me.

Sahir Palijo

Sahir Palijo

The author is an undergrad pursuing a degree of Business Administration. He loves to write his thoughts and is a movie freak. He tweets at @The_Sahir (twitter.com/the_sahir)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.