A Sindhi living in Sindh, yet ashamed of their own “tacky” language

Published: May 6, 2018
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I always find my Urdu-speaking Sindhi friends reluctant to even hear the language spoken around them, let alone wanting to speak or learn it. PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS

I am one of those lucky few who got to spend her childhood with her grandparents. My grandfather would tell me stories of the days of Partition. He was quite young at the time, but seemed to remember every single detail about how everyone in his village would prepare for the people coming to live in Sindh from across the border. He told me how the women would prepare and bring food to the railway platforms, and how some people would even vacate their homes to welcome the refugees.

I would often ask him why they had to do this, and he always said,

“Because this is what Sindh is all about! We are Sindhis, and we always accommodate and love anyone who comes to us. They become our family.”

One might question the authenticity of the stories told by my grandfather, given he was quite old when he narrated them to me, and quite young when the events occurred. However, you cannot question the authenticity of the events that unfolded over the years.

What my poor grandfather did not know was how sometimes your guests want to remain just guests. With the inception of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan established a quota system for the refugees who arrived from India so they could have job security. It clearly was a blow to the economic lives of the indigenous people, but because the newcomers were part of the family, nobody raised their voice. However, when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto – in order to mitigate the differences in the provision of facilities to different groups of people and to level the playing field – established a quota system for the rural population of Sindh, it became an issue.

Sindhis, especially those living in rural areas, rarely, if ever, got a chance to come forward and find jobs in their own country. Nobody dared to acknowledge the existence of human life in rural Sindh prior to that, because they did not speak Urdu. While it is always difficult to give Sindhis a chance, on the contrary, it seems quite easy for the intellectual and political mafia to ridicule them or to hurl insulting remarks at them on every front, be it in a dictator’s book, or a supposed intellectual’s show on television.

Most of my friends in Pakistan are Sindhis. They come from various cultures, backgrounds and religions, but because they deem Sindh to be their home, they call themselves Sindhis. See that’s the thing about Sindh, you do not need to speak the language or flaunt an ajrak or don a topi to call it your home. If you are familiar with Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai’s muses and Sachal Sarmast’s Socratic ideas, it is automatically your home. You are home if you can hear the sound of Sindhu, or if you believe in Marvi’s beauty. It is home if you have walked on the streets of Jamshoro, or if you can hear the melody in each of the 52 letters.

However, it is hard to list the number of times I have had encounters where my Urdu-speaking Sindhi friends and family (because no matter how much they deny it, they are Sindhi) would ask me to converse in Urdu because,

“Eww… Sindhi sounds gross!”

“We don’t understand your language.”

To which I always end up saying,

“But it is your language too! You belong here. Sindhi is your language, just as much as Urdu.”

On Eid dinners, when all our Urdu-speaking family members would come together at our village, my brother and I would always be ridiculed for speaking in Sindhi with the other side of our family.

Similarly, a few years ago, I got to visit an elite educational institution in Pakistan. The attitude of a majority of their educated students towards the Sindhi language and Sindhi people was shockingly disturbing. From comments such as “it doesn’t sound classy”, to telling me how they thought people in rural Sindh are either dacoits, cruel landlords, waderas or poor peasants, their statements reeked of bias and condescension. Most of these people had never even been to Sindh, but formed an opinion based on what they saw on mainstream TV shows and adopted certain stereotypes. These interactions showed how the media plays into the politics of language, and propagates an image befitting the opinion of the privileged.

In Sindh, my Punjabi and even Farsi-speaking Sindhi friends often speak Sindhi as well, but I always find my Urdu-speaking Sindhi friends reluctant to even hear the language spoken around them, let alone wanting to speak or learn it. As for the rest of the Sindhis, they never learned the difference between ours and theirs, and the undeniably generous history and hospitality of Sindh offer a vivid proof of that.

So I guess the problem really lies in the fact that our guests never considered Sindh their home, and us their family. We were always the gross, Sindhi-speaking, lazy peasants. And because we are invisible to our guests, we are not even allowed to share our pain in our own language when we are at the hospital. It is interesting how nobody ever comments on the absence of the Sindhi language from the wall boards of Karachi University, but giving equal status to Sindhi at a university that a majority of the “invisible” rural Sindhis attend, seems like an injustice to the linguistically privileged.

I was born into an intercultural family, and grew up speaking both Sindhi and Urdu at home. It never felt like I was speaking a different language with either of my parents, as long as I knew and believed that it was my home. A home where my father recited Bhitai’s poetry in the morning, and my mother would read Ghalib out loud in the evenings. It did not matter, as long as we believed we were a family.

Sindhis like myself, who also speak Sindhi alongside Urdu, know the pain of not being allowed to speak our language, and thus, we would never want to inflict this pain upon others. To all those spreading hatred on social media and creating a divide by playing the blame game, I request you all to do what I do when I am frustrated: read Ghalib or Faiz, and mix it with a bit of Sarmast or Bhitai. I promise you will feel right at home!

Varsha Thebo

Varsha Thebo

The author was born and raised in the suburbs of Umerkot. She has a Bachelors in Public Health and English Literature from Agnes Scott College, and is interested in women empowerment, rural development and human rights.

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

  • Najeeb A Khan

    These things are natural and such prejudices exist in all societies.In USA Mexicans are looked down upon.Same prejudices exist in mid east—between Arbi and ajmi.Blacks in USA are now gaining respect as they are acquiring education.Urdu speaking also look down at Punjabi language.Even Punjabis are abandoning Punjabi.Recommend

  • umair qureshi

    Sindhi is a very complex language with rich history and script. How can it be tacky? What makes a language “tacky” is not the language itself but people who speak it. Average urdu speaking population usually use a curse word in their every sentence, use slang language often. If you are refined, no matter what language you speak, it wont sound tacky.Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/Go_Nawaz_Go HassaanM

    To change your image, change the people you vote for. Currently, to urban sindh, interior sindhis represent the image of mindless zombies voting for ‘dead people’. Meanwhile imposing them on urban sindhis who don’t even vote for them.Recommend

  • A Pakistani

    Do visit sukkur someday. i didn’t find these issues. even siraikis of punjab. mianwalli can speak well sindhi. urdu does. punjabi also speak sindhi. mostly my friends are urdu speakings and we are speaking sindhi. Recommend

  • usufzai

    The refugees were the liberator of Sindhis from Hindu and Sikh ruling class in Sindh, who were way ahead of all Muslims Sindhis,There were just 8 Sindhi graduate in Whole Sindh in 1947, while 1800 graduates settled just from Bihar at the partition in Sindh, besides, thousands many graduate joined from UP , CP, and the other parts of subcontinent to Pakistan. All languages are great, so Sindhi language too, Sindhi is one of oldest language comparing Urdu.Recommend

  • Shahab Shah

    Love Sindhi culture love the virtues of this mother land. Proud of being a Sindhi myself.Recommend

  • Ahmad Mushhood

    Its an irony that, people who had migrated to Pakistan from todays Indian states, mostly of them get angry if some one points their fingers at them and call “Muhajir” and reply harshly that we are not Muhajir, we are Pakistani citizens. The reason behind this reply is that they feels insult and disrespect because Mujajir are those people who would return to their native home town after some time passing but on an other side of this, still there are quite large number of those people also who calls them Muhajir proudly. They wanted others to call them Muhajir as like we call people Sindhi or Punjabi or Balochi. These specific people are those who doesn’t like to speak Sindhi or being called Sindhi.Recommend

  • Suhail Abbasi

    What i believe is that, If Urdu speakers are not getting adept in Sindhi language and culture, they will have to face conditions like Muslims faced in Myanmar, in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Nisar Khan

    I find it very strange as my own experience is quite contrary to this
    When ever I tried to communicate with my sindhi speaking friends I was
    Always discouraged as a matter of fact they always said speak in urdu
    I always protested how will I be able speak sindhi fluently and in return
    I always got laughterRecommend

  • Nomad1412

    The blogger is talking about something else. In none of the cases you mention are the original inhabitants of the land looked down upon. What she is saying is that in Sindh, Urdu-speaking outsiders treat Sindhi-speaking locals with condescension.Recommend

  • Nomad1412

    Last October during my visit to Bombay, I just so happened to stay in a hotel in an area named Sindhi Camp where refugees from Sindh came after partition. I had arrived late at night. Next morning I went for a walk and no matter where I went, everyone was talking chaste Sindhi and people were addressing each other as “saeen”. The area was full of shops selling milk and lassi at dirt cheap prices. I went to this Sindhi sweet shop where they recommended “sev barfi” which I can only presume is a Sindhi take on the barfi. Later at a restaurant nearby I discovered “Pindi Chole” which I gorged on for the rest of my stay as I felt I would never get that opportunity again. All in all, it was an interesting experience! Perhaps you should contact some of your Sindhi brethren across the border too. They are a close knit community still maintaining their language and culture.Recommend

  • Ghosh

    If they dare to insult Sindhi language, simply throw them out of Sindh. Recommend

  • vinsin

    First they abandon their religion/dharma, then script, then their heros then culture and now want to do the same with Language. I dont see any problem with that and on the top Pakistan was created for Urdu Speaking people of the subcontinent.Recommend

  • Mehreen Chandan

    I live in the Punjab so I guess I am Punjabi but I am enamoured by the Sindhi language, traditions, stories, music and the gorgeous caps and ajrak print. One day I am going to lean the gorgeous and romantic Sindhi language. The more languages we learn and the cultures we immerse ourselves in the richer, fulfilled and unified we become. Long live Sindh, Punjab, KPK, Baluchistan, AJK! Long live Pakistan!Recommend

  • M. S. Chaudhry

    Proponents of local languages such as Sindhi, Punjabi and even Urdu don’t understand that languages of India and Pakistan are outdated and are not doing the job for smartphone generation. When one segment of the society is riding on Mercedes they want others to keep riding on donkeys.Recommend

  • Waqar Younus

    Sindh is the most corruption laden province withthe worst governance and administration plus lowest standard of education. Sindhi is forcibly taught till Matriculation despite no such example in other privinces like Punjab, KPK or Balochistan where Punjabi, Pushto or Baluchi isn’t compulsorily taught. Moreover there is no urban or rural quota system in other provinces to induct and impose rural inept political and linguistic appointments without merit which has destroyed and divided the province. Due to this quota system and lack of merit, almost 95% of government jobs go to Sindhis who have rule over the educated and rural and urban centres like masters. The target is the subjugation of the merit based qualified people and total corruption. Every government office from Larkana to Karachi from police to education to excise to irrigation to Food to agriculture is run by this inept corrupt bureacracy and non qualified subordinates who look for money and bribe from any project and daily goings.Recommend

  • Nabeil Schiek

    Nice effort made but due to limited view and knowledge of author, it doesn’t depict complete picture of the story. However, ‘Urdu Speaking Sindhi’ term sounds good to me.

    Urdu speakers living in Karachi don’t feel like speaking any language other than national (Urdu) or international (English) language which actually make sense. But contrary to this, Urdu speakers living in other parts of Sindh are very much fluent in Sindhi.

    Interesting thing is, those migrants who settled in Punjab and other parts of the country are proudly speaking national language from day one and never faced any prejudice like job quota or compulsion to speak regional language.
    Why are we welcoming natives of Sindh keep pushing national language speakers to speak regional language? Why don’t we put our efforts to develop poor and uneducated people from rural part of the province?Recommend

  • Patwari

    Apologies to the author in advance. So sorry. She has a very strong bias against Urdu.
    Don’t blame the world, or, specifically, Urdu speakers.
    Urdu speakers do not consider themselves elitist. Not at all. Far from it.
    This is a confusing blog too. Lost track of who is speaking what and where.
    Urdu speaking ‘guests’ from Hindustan. Who took over their Sindhi speaking
    ‘hosts’ homes. Those speaking this. These speaking that,… language. So it goes.
    Punjabi speaking Sindhis from Sindh. Farsi speaking Sindhis from Garhi Khuda
    Baksh. Hindko speaking Sindhis from Jamshoro…English speaking Sindhis from
    Bilawal House ooops! Clifton, Karachi. Yet to be deciphered, unknown language
    speaking Sindhis from Mohenjo Daro. Well, on it goes.
    One thing is coming across clear, the author has a bias against Urdu. It is showing through. Though the author is subtle.
    Must remember Urdu is the official language of Pakland. You can say it binds the
    various ethnicities together. One common language. From Hunza/Kaghan to Makran.
    By the way, you can get by with Urdu from Afghani-land to Bangladeshi-land, including
    Hindu-land Sri Lankan-land and Nepali-land, Maldives Islands-land and even Kenya-land.
    Now that is a lot of lands.Recommend

  • Zee

    I find these type of articles discriminatory.
    The Sindhi icons mentioned are either from Arabic background or Pathan – like the corrupt leader Mr bhutto.
    In the urban centers in Sindhi, we have Sindhi officials, many unqualified, thanks to the corrupt Pakistan pepoles party.
    I grew up in North America and proudly speak Urdu and Sindhi. I always speak broken Sindhi with my relatives and Sindhi friends – they are all proud of being bilingual and bring Sindhi. Recommend

  • Misam Abbas

    Agreed to some extent. However I myself is a Sindhi whose forefathers were welcomed by Sindh during partition. There are several events that I had to go through in university life just because of having a clear urdu accent amd nobody welcomed me as Sindhi saying u don’t look like a Sindhi. So this attitude is at both ends and both try to prove their superiority.
    I am proud that not only I can m speak Sindhi but can write in Sindhi as well.Recommend

  • Meem

    It is painful too that urdu speaking though left their properties, every thing in India to migrate to Pakistan but they are being reminded again again they are welcomed; they had been provided food and shelter by Sindhis. Alas! why we would had been asked not to migrate Pakistan.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Urdu is the lingua franca of the sub continent.
    Besides, the Urdu speakers in Sindh want a
    separate province of their own.They will not be
    forced to speak Sindhi OR abandon their culture
    and ADOPT Sindhi culture.
    Rest assured.Recommend

  • Sane

    If you talk about Urdu speaking people in general there is no hatred with Sindhis. This is politics and politicians who create hatred and divide for their own vested interests. I myself have many Sindhi friends since long.Recommend

  • Maham

    I am glad you discussed a very serious topic on this platform very wisely. Yes our Sindhi’s lack the importance of their mother tongue and therefore are left far behind the race. Well educated people need to understand this matter and take wise actions for it. Sindhi is our identity and our pride!Recommend

  • Ahmed Shahzad

    The point you’ve name is legit, I’ve heard claims of Sindhu desh as well but the writer wants to point out that any language should be spoken as freely as they want it. I’m a Punjabi and the reason I don’t speak it because it just doesn’t seem very near to me. Maybe urdu is just a baseline set for us all. Even the media the politicians, they all speak it other than English.
    Yet I feel this issue is very small, as compared to the point you’ve made regarding the urban n rural quotas. I feel my province is the most biased among the others. The mandatory Sindhi learning part is also very annoying, I’m scared one day of the course some day changed after 20 years or more so my future generation doesn’t have a bigger Sindhi book than this.
    All over Pakistan, I suppose Arabic should be the common foreign language taught to us and definitely would price helpful in a lot of ways rather than teaching provincial language.Recommend

  • Ahmed Shahzad

    Very well saidRecommend

  • Patwari

    Being a Sindhi has to do with an ‘Ethnic’ and ‘Cultural’ identity.
    A Hunzacut or Chitrali or Pathan does not become a Sindhi
    simply by living in Sindh. They can learn to speak Sindhi. Doubt
    they will pass for a Sindhi on the street.
    In Pakistan, Sindhi means ethnically Sindhi. Not anyone living in
    Sindh. So it goes for Pathans,…Punjabis…in their provinces…
    An Italian does not become a German if he moves to Germany.
    He may become a citizen of Germany adopt cultural norms and
    festivals etc. Ethnically he will remain Italian. Do you understand?
    Translation of Muhajjirs is ‘immigrants’. Not one who would return
    to their native homes after some time.
    In Pakland, after 70 years Muhajjirs and their descendants are still
    called “Muhajjirs” by the Sons of the Soil Sindhis, Punjabis…..
    So take your choice.Recommend

  • Aqib Ali Shah

    You just spoke for millions for Sindhis out there. Thank you for writing it so eloquently. Been a victim of the same tragedy, I can relate to it like 200%. Once again, thank you. You have my respect.Recommend

  • Aqib Ali Shah

    we need more people like you, Mehreen.Recommend

  • Aqib Ali Shah

    At times like these, this was a must. Finally, the sanity prevails. Thank you.
    Tribune, we need more writers/bloggers like these.

    @Versha: You should write more. This nation needs more writers/bloggers like you who could let the rest of the world know the pain endured by millions of people out there.Recommend

  • ali

    Who are you to through them out of sindh! as they are already out of sindh… karachi was the federal capital of pakistan. karachi has its own identity, karachi must be a province, keep your sindhi language to you.. our language has more power then yours! our language is Pakistan’s national language while yours related to your culture!Recommend

  • Hameed Ajmal Sheikh

    I live and work in Lahore and therefore I love my Language Punjabi but we also love Urdu.When I go to Larkana for my project in Sindh I go out to site and am astonished to find every note board written in Sindhi which no non Sindhi can understand.Moreover no two Sndhis speak in Urdu whereas in Punjab we love to speak Punjabi as well as Urdu.I feel myself very stranger in urban Sindh and find it harder to live than living in Canada.I think our four provinces have nothing in common and should be separated from each other rather than making one burden on other.Recommend

  • Nadia Malik

    unfortunately….this is not a problem with sindhi language only but with Punjabi and some other regional languages too…as i witness…in my opinion every language is beautiful..i love urdu and all other languages being used in PAKISTAN💚Recommend

  • Farhat

    I am a punjabi but lived a lifetime in karachi had many sindhi friends and still in contact with one of my closest dearest friend .. now i m living in lahore never felt alien there nor here if you dont want too .we loved sindhi as soon as we got the hang of it .we used to watch Roshan Tara .sindhi dramas .and stage shows .just like that .you habe to learn the language where you are living .why all these so called muhajirs learn english while living in US and other countries.!!!! So , they can learn the language if they want too !!!. And one should learn ..muhajirs here in punjab knows punjabi quite a lot of them .Recommend

  • Patwari

    There is an urgent need for a second province in Sindh. For Urdu speaking Muhajjirs. Who are ethnically and culturally different from Sindhis.
    Rest assured Karachi Thatta, Hyderabad will be a new province. Soon enough.
    Does not matter what Baby Bhutto or Mr. 10% say.
    Same goes for the Northern areas. Hunza-Gilgit-Baltistan-Chitral. A new province.Recommend

  • Ghosh

    Dear Ali, my brother, I am an Indian Bengali, not a Sindhi (Hindu or Muslim). The reason I write here in advocacy of Sindhi to be spoken in Sindh is because I respect it as the language of the soil of Sindh. That way, I would have written in favour of Punjabi, Pushto or Balochi to be respected everywhere and definitely be the lingua franca in their respective provinces. But Urdu belongs to nowhere ! It is basically Hindustani generously mixed with lots of Arabic and Farsi vocabulary. First it tried to dominated north India and was discarded even before 1947. It met the same fate in Bangladesh. Now it will be Sindh’s turn !Recommend

  • Humza

    You don’t know about the history of Pakistan. It was the wish of the people who lived there to have their own homeland. Many others have coming from neighboring countries such as India or Afghanistan to live in Pakistan but we know the history of our land.Recommend

  • Humza

    If your family doesn’t teach you to value your own language and traditions, you can’t blame others. You don’t speak your language because it is not dear to you and your parents didn’t teach you to value it or yourself. Just like many kids in Norrth America are ashamed of speaking Hindi / Urdu in public and prefer to speak English too. People should speak their own native languages before they learn other languages, be it Urdu / Hindi or English. It may well be that some uneducated people are being brainwashed into thinking their own culture and traditions are backward but think about how boring it would be to live in a world where everyone who speaks English only talks about Hollywood and everyone who speaks Hindi / Urdu only thinks of Bollywood. If you ask me, the Bollywood culture that has crept into Pakistan via Hindi ? Urdu is a lot more tacky than Sindhi . Punjabi, Pashtu or Baluchi which are centuries old languages. You have allowed yourself to be deluded but you don’t speak for the majority of native Pakistanis who respect themselves.Recommend

  • Humza

    The problem is you forget that the people of a land will eventually reassert themselves and take control of their own land. Anyone who moves to Sindh should respect the sentiment of the majority native people first. Recommend

  • Ahmad Mushhood

    Urdu speaking population is hardly more than 8% of total Pakistan’s population. In fact most urdu speaking people lives in today’s India and their speaking style of Urdu is quite wonderful. Like, if they want to call some one other besides his or her name they use the Urdu word, “Tum” whereas other people would use the Urdu word, “aap” to give that person respect. But when they need to show them selves in single person manner they always use Urdu word, “hum”.Recommend

  • Muhammad Ali

    Like you, I am also born into a intercultural family. being a member, i was able to improvise regarding the problems that were being faced by Sindhi community. that in this world there are different cultures. While being a part of subculture, we cannot propagate our’s to replace the main prevailing culture. Although, We really love socratism of sachal sarmast and sufiasam of Shah Abdul Latif but none of us imply it. Therefore i am afraid that An enriched cultural identity is likely to perish.
    Lets take the responsibility on ourselves and work towards strengthening the legacy by innovation not by protests. Our failure is only because of our disposition rather than others. Lets work hard to transform our legacy in to a main culture.Recommend

  • VısΛrc

    When educated sindhis are doing this, what could be expected in retaliation.
    https://tribune.com.pk/story/1689993/1-su-orders-campus-signboards-sindhi-english/
    BTW Urdu is not just a language of those ‘refugees’, It’s Pakistan’s National language spoken, understood & loved throughout PakistanRecommend

  • sam

    She is just portraying the attitude of Urdu speaking towards who gave them shelter once
    She is 100% right I also feel this biased attitude on daily basisRecommend

  • Patwari

    You are entitled to your perceptions, [which in your case became your realities]
    And your opinion.Recommend

  • Ghosh

    Looks like Urdu understands only the language of division! First it was India, then Pakistan and now Sindh, KP etc. etc. Recommend

  • Humza

    You really don;t know what you are talking about do you ? How dare you talk about taking anything away from Sindhis who welcomed you and your family when they needed shelter and left India. Instead of just respecting the home you have come to and blend in, you want to destroy it? If there are large pockets of migrants in cities in Sindh, how can that in any way justify a province for them? Will the Pashtun in Karachi ( after all Karachi has the biggest Pashtun population of any city) get a separate province as part of another Karachi? Your short sighted thinking shows no understanding of Pakistan’s native people who are after all the majority. Your babbling about the Northern Areas also makes no sense. Do you think Shina and Burushaski speakers want to be lumped together with Baltis or Khowars. Learn to respect Pakistan and its native people even if it means learning some of the culture and traditions. If not just stick to worrying about what is going on with your relatives back home in India and be thankful you are not suffering under Modi Sarkar instead of devising ways to hurt Pakistanis. Why not tell Biharis and UP walas to further divide their places in India and give us a break in Pakistan?Recommend

  • Ahad Naqvi

    You’re just showing your hatred towards Urdu, since it was made the official language of East Pakistan and you guys could not stand it. Sindhi is a beautiful language but Urdu is the official language. You don’t know much about Pakistan so please don’t spread such ideology. Your words reek of jealousy.Recommend

  • Ahad Naqvi

    his goal was to trigger you so you could speak up about your hatred and remind Mahajirs what you have done for them lol. Mahajirs left their homes because they trusted that the land they were moving to, the people would welcome them. And you guys did that, but yet you want to tell us to be grateful. Mahajirs sacrificed their lives to move to Pakistan and you telling us to be grateful is such a shame.Recommend

  • Ahad Naqvi

    Beautifully summed up. I am glad that you are speaking up for Mahajirs.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Thanks you nailed it!Recommend

  • Patwari

    Well see a Hindu pretending to be Bangladeshi or whatever it
    is that you are trying to project is lost in translation.
    So maybe think about Modified Sarkar awhile and how is
    Dividing Hindustan .Recommend

  • Patwari

    Correct. Right now there is a Punjabi hegemony over Pakland.
    Rest of the country is tired of Punjabi overlords. So they will
    eventually overthrow the Punjabi yoke. Rest assured that day
    Is coming.Recommend

  • Sunil Arora

    Only the language of LOVE. We do not need to learn it. It is in all of us. Animals feel it too. That is what we need to communicate across Sindh/Punjab, India /Pakistan, Israel/Palestine and in Kashmir.Recommend