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.

  • Ali S

    Have you looked at the state of Sindh?Recommend

  • vinsin

    It has to do with Pakistan creation. Anyway very few Sindhi can write Sindhi also, they write in Persian Alphabet.

    Majority of Sindhi are Muslim, so when they accepted their civilization, culture, religion, people etc are inferior to Arabs then why not Language.Recommend

  • Rohan

    It’s because of the ideology of Pakistan,everybody has to be an Urdu speaking,Hindu hating Sunni Muslim to comply with the ideology of Pakistan Recommend

  • Omair

    In the globalized world of today, children need to know international languages. Living in the middle east I can easily find many Arabs and European speaking at least two international languages. Employers are increasing seeking employees who have the ability to speak international languages and languages. When will Pakistani grow out of the regional languages. If we need to compete in the international arena we need to have good command over international languages. Urdu we should know because it is our identity and our mother language as Pakistanis. Schools should concentrate more on international languages such as Arabic, French, German and Chinese over our regional languages. Let us equip our children with the skills they require to compete in the global arena.Recommend

  • farhan

    Every language(punjabi ,pushto etc) at every province should be taught at schools. They should also teach sufi poetry in that language e.g Bulleh shah for punjabi, Rehman Baba for pushto, Mast Tawakali for balochi and Sachal Sarmast for sindhi.. By this you will preserve your culture and raise the chances of developing great future generation.Recommend

  • mani

    Very well written , Punjabi is in far worst situation in punjab sxhools.
    We are loosing our native languages, which will in effect erode the local cultures as well.Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    Sindhis are not alone. The GHQ which forced Urdu upon its local inhabitants also disown their own language.

    There is a well known saying that educated urban Punjabis only speak Punjabi when they are having a good time with their friends or having a fight with their wives.

    Urdu is a “Hindustani” language. It is NOT Pakistani. Had these 8 million or so Muhajirs not migrated from India, the case to make Urdu the national language would have been even weaker.

    Urdu came from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkand – where the British landed to form their colonies, just like the Chinese are now doing in Pakistan.

    Pakistan may now install Chinese as its official language in about 30 years.

    If Pakistan breaks, the language disparity and its associated politics would be the MAIN reason.Recommend

  • PatelPara

    For the same reason Urdu is inferior to English.Recommend

  • middleway1

    I am a Punjabi born in Sindh, living in the US since I was 18 years old. I agree that Sindhi language has not been given the importance it deserves. I think the main reason for it is that the educational bureaucracy of Pakistan promoted Urdu as the national language, and all regional languages suffered as a result. Sindhi also suffered additionally because of the dominance of Urdu in the urban centers of Sindh due to the Urdu-speaking immigrant influx. Sindhi came to be looked down on as an inferior language, spoken by presumably “uncultured” people, by the Urdu-speaking people who thought their language and culture were more sophisticated and “cultured”. Thus culture and sophistication came to be associated with Urdu, and of course English, being the language of our lords and masters, had, and continues the have, the highest respect. Don’t get me wrong. We should know English, because it has become the universal language of scientific enterprise, and no society can aspire to modernity without familiarity with it. Urdu remains a beautiful cultural, poetic, literary language of the Muslims of the sub-continent, but I believe our regional languages should be given more importance in the provinces, like in India. It will actually result in more national unity, even though that is counterintuitive. I had a Bengali friend in college when I was in Pakistan back in the late 60’s, who constantly complained about how West Pakistan was suppressing Bengali language and culture, and how much anti-Wet-Pakistan resentment there was in East Pakistan because Tagore was banned by the Pakistan government because he was a Hindu poet. Surely there are many other reasons for why East Pakistan split off to become Bangladesh, but it did not help to create an antagonistic atmosphere by having policies that try to suppress a people’s language and culture.Recommend

  • MukhMainlele

    In Indian Part of Kashmir..actually seperatist and muslims dont let anybody learn kashmiri’s in school…they dont have kashmiri as a syllabus or as a subject because it is derived from muslim..and hence in case of sindhi..its a universal case that wherever muslims are there they wont touch anything thats not related to arabi or something..they think urdu as a universal language of Indian subcontinent muslims…they are more divided than united still..never understood concept of caste in muslims like shia/barelvi/wahabi and all others peacefuls..Recommend

  • Sami

    Sindhi is still in a better status than the abandoned Punjabi language. Atleast Sindhi is taught in schools whereas Punjabi is being wiped out totally from Punjab.
    Also our establishment consider every language other than Urdu as a threat to the national security. There is very thin line in talking about your mother tongue other than Urdu and becoming a traitor in the artificial identity holder of Pakistan.

    So my brother your article will not bother anyone. Urdu will be promoted with full force whereas any other local language will be considered the language of the traitors.Recommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    This is MQM race baiting against Sindhis.Recommend

  • Javed Rashid

    Righ , Sindhi along with Punjabi/Seriaki possibly still have some words from the ancient langauge of the Indus Valley Civilization, Punjabi has lost most of its tonal characteristics but Sindhi still has these unique sounds which possibly relate to the IVC . It would be incorrect to kill these three or two languages . Recommend

  • Jehanzeb Mahar

    Sindh govt needs to implement its law in letter and spiritRecommend

  • javed Chikna

    People who are confused about who they are will always have such problem. Iranian ancestry. Arab , Turkic and what not , in reality 99% Pakistani are nothing but converted Hindu , or atleast the ruling majority is Hindu converted. Eg Allam Iqbal and JinnahRecommend

  • S.

    Sindh government only knows one thing – Corruption.
    They are and always have been least concerned.Recommend

  • S.

    This is because we are all trying to become Pakistanis and have failed. We think speaking and learning Urdu is the only way to become a true Pakistani.
    Shouldn’t we first become true Punjabis, Sindhis, Balochis and Pakhtuns first?Recommend

  • S.

    Years from now, our children won’t be able to speak any of our regional languages. They ll only speak Urdu or English. We ll start worrying then, but it would be too late.Recommend

  • S.

    Urdu is still taught in all schools along other subjects. Urdu is a part of the school curriculum in all schools across Pakistan. Same thing with English. But what about Sindhi, Punjabi, Balochi and Pashto?Recommend

  • Farhan

    How one of the most educated and successful business community like Sindhis agreed to live under Punjabistan is beyond me .The arrival of skinny, pan chewing , urdu speaking people from Bihar and UP made it even worse by choking the financial powerhouse like Karachi . Time to stop favoritism and assign roles according to ability , other than entertainment Punjabis shouldn’t interfere in every affair .Recommend

  • Rex Minor

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

    There is no such term of inferiority or superiority in languages per se other than those choosen by the God of Ibrahim to communicate with humans, namely hebrew and arabic. German language is mostly spoken in Europe, however, english which is a germanic language as well is becoming fast the lingua franca in todays world.

    People who learn languages other than ones own mother tongue do it for advance studies in philosophy, literature and science.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Patwari

    Nope. Wrong. Urdu is spoken from Afghanistan, Nepal, Hindustan,
    all the way to Bangladesh. Sindhi is spoken ONLY in Sindh. Not
    even in Karachi, the major city of Sindh. [They speak Urdu there]
    It has been this way for hundreds of years. It did not erode Sindhi
    Culture.Recommend

  • Bairooni Haath

    Urdu is the language of Indian Muslims who created Pakistan. Sindhi and Punjabi are the language of Hindus & Sikhs who left Pakistan.Recommend

  • DevilHunterX

    Now imagine a Sindhi communicating with a Pathan in their native languages. Come on, imagine. They can’t. Quaid-e-Azam correctly said that Urdu is the National language of Pakistan cause each province of West Pakistan and East Pakistan would argue that their language is superior.Recommend

  • SP

    True that Sindhi Culture hasn’t eroded yet. But the way we are going, the path we have taken, all our cultures, our languages will be forgotten. Maybe not now, but in the near future. We need to stop this from happening.Recommend

  • SP

    Urdu is an important part of Pakistan, no doubt about that. But we have distanced ourselves from our native languages and that is going to hurt us one way or the other.Recommend

  • SP

    There are some who think like that, but it is our job to preserve our languages and our culture. This will only bring betterment to our country.Recommend

  • SP

    All provinces of Pakistan are going through this same problem. All regional languages have been ignored not just Sindhi in Sindh.Recommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    Urdu aka Ordu, is the camp pidgin language of Mughal troops used by them to get food, alcohol and prostitutes from the local Indian population. This is why there are so many vulgar words in Urdu and Urdu poetry is about drunkenness.Recommend

  • 19640909rk .

    Reason is simple. Sindhi is indigenous language. So it is inferior. Urdu is considered to be an “Islamic” language. English is superior because, without it, no Pakistani can go anywhere in the world.Recommend

  • SP

    Exactly! All indigenous languages are considered by some as being against the ideology of Pakistan which is not true.Recommend

  • SP

    There is no inferior language. True.
    Learning other languages helps in advanced studies, also true.
    But why is it that in Pakistan schools in different provinces are not teaching the provincial language to students. Why a Punjabi boy isnt being taught Punjabi, Why a Sindhi girl isnt being taught Sindhi?
    That is the point.Recommend

  • SP

    We give importance to Urdu and even Arabic(not a medium of communication in Pakistan), but not to our indigenous languages. And when you ask this question, you get excuses varying from ‘Urdu is our national language’, ‘We are Pakistanis’, ‘Quaid-e-Azam wanted us to speak Urdu not other languages’ etcRecommend

  • SP

    Urdu is not OUR mother language. A mother tongue is the language spoken by someone’s parents and a language he/she has been exposed to the most, a language someone has grown up with and is the language he/she uses to communicate with family.
    My mother tongue is Sindhi. My friend Safi’s mother tongue is Punjabi. My friend Asad’s mother tongue is Balochi. That is how it is.
    One should know his own language before learning others.Recommend

  • S.

    Urdu has its importance today and it is a spoken by every Pakistani because it is our national language. I have nothing against Urdu, but the fact that we are only focused on Urdu and English saddens me. What about the other culturally rich languages which are widely spoken in different provinces of Pakistan?
    These languages must be taught along with English and Urdu in schools of their respective provinces.Recommend

  • DevilHunterX

    Old World Language Families

    http://i.imgur.com/VdltRQC.jpgRecommend

  • SP

    What are you trying to say, brother?
    Pakistanis should know only two languages, Urdu and English? We should forget our native languages? We should forget the language we have spoken since childhood?
    Urdu should be learned by every Pakistani, but that doesn’t mean we should replace our native languages with Urdu or English.Recommend

  • SP

    They say Urdu promotes the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ and all other languages make you Anti-Pakistan. Where is the logic in that?
    Just because Urdu is our national language should we forget our native language?
    I hope people understand this.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    I am not a Pakistani and therefore not aware of the reasos as to wh y local languages are not taught in schools? But to quote a phrase of a local in the west, ” have been speaking my language since I was three, therefore the language is learrnt primarily through speaking it, which one needs to expand formaly for advance studies. I am sure there must be literature books written written in provincial languages, in this case they must be taught in primary and secondary classes.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • S.

    Exactly! There is a lot of literature in Sindhi, Pashto, Punjabi and Balochi, but it is not taught in schools. We are taught Urdu literature and English literature. Thats it.Recommend

  • Patwari

    English is spoken in every corner of the world.
    It is the Lingua Franca.
    During the Middle Ages and Renaissance,… Latin
    was the Lingua Franca.
    Nothing to do with superior or inferior. More to do
    with convenience and easy to learn.Recommend

  • SP

    And what about Urdu? It is Lingua Franca as well?Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Given this situation, it would seem that those who are elected to rule these provinces are not conversed with local language and cultural inheritage.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Ahsan Zafeer

    I think this country faces issues bigger enough than your mother tongue not getting its due attention, our major social issues are way bigger and important than this, focus on them!Recommend

  • Humza

    I think your race baiting is not helpful in this debate but offensive. Characterizing Sindhis living under skinny short dark pan chewing Urdu speakers from India belies the truth that Urdu speakers chose to move to Sind in large numbers and are now the urban majority. It is the fault of Sindhis who did not insist that the migrants from India also learn the native language in addition to Urdu. No one thinks of Urdu is some type of Islamic language since it is also the language of Bollywood. We all see Indian movies so let’s stop this talk about Urdu being Islamic or sophisticated which is untrue. All people in Sind should learn Sindi in addition to Urdu and it will help integration of everyone.Recommend

  • S.

    Some of them are, but they hardly care.Recommend

  • LS

    Rank idiocy… Khari Boli came from what is UP/Bihar way before mughals came. Mughal soldiers composed of defeated kingdoms of course would speak the same language of the region – it was the persian soldiers who called that common language Urdu/Ordu/Horde. (Naming a language something else than what it was does not amount to much) While rankers spoke persian. Since the soldier population was mixed Khadi-boli which was derived from Prakrit and Sanskrit got some loan words from Chagtai, very little Persian or Turkish footprint in it.Recommend

  • LS

    Wow – another rank Idiocy… MQM is NOT a race. It is a political party that represents Mohajir.Recommend

  • LS

    In what way? Give me 10 points that identifies urdu being inferior than English?Recommend

  • CitiZen

    Im a punjabi who was born in karachi and speak only Urdu and i care to only know Urdu . Why should i know Sindhi language which is your mother tongue and not mine . Recommend

  • S.

    Although it says Sindhi in the title of the blog, but if you read it you ll know that it talks about all regional languages. Punjabi, Balochi, Pashto are all mentioned in the blog. All of these languages must be taught in their respective provinces.
    Kindly read the blog first.Recommend

  • SP

    And are we focused on those issues? I dont think so.
    P.S. it is not about my mother tongue only. It is about all regional languages of Pakistan. (Read the blog first)
    A language is an individual’s identity. Nothing is more important than your identity.Recommend

  • PatelPara

    only 1 needed.

    inferiority complex ~~ ehsaas e kamtriRecommend

  • LS

    We are taking about language here.. Not people.Recommend

  • Ahsan Zafeer

    I would be more concerned about my identity as a pakistani rather than to what race I belong to, if I was in your place!Recommend

  • middleway1

    There is nothing wrong with being a Sindhi Pakistani, a Punjabi Pakistani, a Baloch Pakistani, a Pathan Pakistani, a Seraiki Pakistani or any other ethnic or cultural group in Pakistan. Actually, I think people will be more loyal to Pakistan if Pakistan respects and gives pride to this diversity of languages and cultures. Cultural identity is strongly linked to language. If their language is not respected, people rebel, and want separation.Recommend

  • middleway1

    I agree that Mr. Farhan’s post is quite offensive and reprehensible. This is the type of thinking that creates ethnic hatred. I am not an ethnic Sindhi, but it was not the fault of Sindhis that Urdu became the national language of Pakistan and was imposed on them. All the educated bureaucracy of the newly created Pakistan were either newly migrated Urdu speaking people, mostly in Sindh, and a mixture of Punjabi and Urdu speaking people elsewhere in Pakistan. The educational institutions of Sindh were in the hands of Urdu speaking people from day one. So they set the policy of teaching Urdu in the urban areas of Sindh which suddenly became Sindhi minority areas. In rural Sindh, Sindhi was the primary language of instruction in primary school. Urdu was introduced from Grade 6 on, English even later. This led to complete ignorance of Sindhi by the new migrants, since they lived in the urban areas where only Urdu was taught. Before partition, Sindhi was the language of instruction in both urban and rural Sindh. My family migrated from east Punjab to rural Sindh in the early part of the 20th century, before partition. My father, uncles and many cousins went to Sindhi medium schools both pre and post-partition. They were/are fluent in Sindhi, and Urdu, and of course Punjabi was spoken at home. If Urdu speaking people had to learn Sindhi, they would appreciate it.Recommend

  • middleway1

    The Urdu script has been the death of the Punjabi language, because it lacks many of the sounds Punjabi has. The British did a great service to the Sindhi language by appointing a linguistic genius, Sir Richard Burton, to create a standard Sindhi script, because before that there were multiple Sindhi scripts. He decided on the Arabic script (which is why Sindhi is written like Arabic, not in the Persian script of Urdu), and modified the various letters to accommodate all the sounds of the language. The choice of the Urdu script for Punjabi, without modifications, was purely political, for how could we use Gurmukhi? The least they should have done was to create the extra letters to accommodate the extra sounds in Punjabi that Urdu does not have. The result? A very lame, Urdu-ized Punjabi.Recommend

  • middleway1

    “Urdu will be promoted with full force whereas any other local language will be considered the language of the traitors.” They are stupid, unthinking idiots, with wrong ideas about what creates unity, that’s why.Recommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    Perfect example of how speaking Urdu leads to an inability to form rational statementsRecommend

  • LS

    Thank you for agreeing to that! Urdu speakers are fools and I don’t speak Urdu. You do.Recommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    Stick to your day job as a call center person in Bombay Recommend

  • LS

    Aww.. from what I have seen you don’t fare much better.. keep driving your taxi…Recommend