(Note - This article was published on the alsintl.com)
The Sindhi language has an extremely intriguing history closely intertwined with the era of British colonial rule in India. The Sindhi Diaspora that occurred as a consequence of the partition of British India had significant effects for both India and neighboring Pakistan, and they are still evident today.
Sindhi’s history dates back to long before colonial rule, however, as the roots of the Sindhi language can be traced as far back as 1500 BC. That gives Sindhi a rich cultural, literary and historical tradition well worth exploring.
Classification of the Sindhi Language
The Sindhi language is classified as a member of the Indo-Aryan linguistic group, part of the Indo-European family of languages. Languages of the Indo-Aryan family can be classified in three major stages of development: Old Indo-Aryan, or Sanskrit; Middle Indo-Aryan, consisting of Prakrit and Apabhramsha stages; and New Indo-Aryan, which dates from circa the 10th century CE.
Early History of the Sindhi Language
The roots of the Sindhi language can be traced back to the Old Indo-Aryan dialect known as primary Prakrit, which is believed to have been spoken in the region of modern-day Sindh around 1500 to 1200 BC – or even earlier.
Sindhi is believed to have developed specifically from the Virachada dialect of the Prakrit language. Hints of this dialect can be spied in certain passages of hymns found in the Rigveda.
Written Sindhi Language
The first evidence of written Sindhi can be traced back to circa the 8th century CE in a Sindhi language version of the Mahabharata. The Sindhi language is written primarily in two scripts: Arabic-Sindhi and Devanagari-Sindhi. Although the Arabic-Sindhi and Devanagari-Sindhi are the most popular, other scripts also can be used to write the Sindhi language, including Brahmi, the Gurmukhi alphabet, and an indigenous script simply known as Sindhi.
The Arabic-Sindhi script was developed by the British government in 1852 and consists of a modified Arabic alphabet. The Devanagari-Sindhi script uses an adapted Devanagari script with four extra letters to accommodate certain Sindhi language sounds. This second script has proved immensely valuable in efforts to preserve the Sindhi literary and cultural heritage.
Sindhi in India
Under British colonial rule in India, the area then known as “British India” was significantly larger than the India we know today, comprising of areas of modern-day India and Pakistan. With the partition of British India in 1947, many Sindhi language speakers in Pakistan fled to India.
The effects of this migration are still evident, as the Sindhi language in India is found primarily in the Kachchh district of Gujarat, an area bordering the modern Pakistani Sindh province where many Pakistani Sindhi language speakers fled after the partition. Today the Sindhi language is officially recognized by the constitution of India.
Sindhi in Pakistan
With the partition of British India in 1947, Pakistan became an independent nation, and the country’s Sindh province was formally established. Prior to the partition, the majority of educated Sindhi in the area practiced Hinduism. Consequently, when partition occurred, many Sindhi language speakers fled Pakistan and migrated to India. This loss of Sindhi population in Pakistan was complemented by the entrance of a great number of Urdu-speaking refugees in the young Sindh province. As a result, Sindhi language, culture and identity in Pakistan suffered significantly and the Sindhi language population of Sindh began to fear that their language and culture would be drowned out by Urdu influences.
Problems in the province soon arose due to the fact that Sindhi efforts to promote and preserve Sindhi literary and cultural traditions were often seen as anti-Urdu actions. The escalating tensions peaked in the language riots of 1972, which resulted in the Pakistani government’s granting special status to the Sindhi language. Although Urdu and English are still the official national languages of Pakistan, Sindhi is the official regional language of the country’s Sindh province.
Development of Sindhi Language Literature
Although the first evidence of written Sindhi dates as far back as the 8th century, it was not until around the 15th century that a literary Sindhi language emerged. The Medieval period of Sindhi devotional literature, dating from circa 1500 to 1843, produced a great deal of lyrical Sufi poetry still popular today. After 1843, modern Sindhi language literature exploded, covering an increased range of topics and themes.
After the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, Sindhi language literature of the two countries began to diverge significantly; Sindhi authors from Pakistan turned to Persian and Arabic sources for inspiration while Indian Sindhi language writers were more heavily influenced by Hindi literatures.
Preserving Sindhi Literary Traditions
Today Sindhi has developed to become one of the most important literary languages from the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent, although its level of global prominence has been eclipsed by that of Urdu in recent years.
The Sindhi language is especially noted for its extremely rich body of folk literature, which dates as far back as the language itself.
In 1955, the Sindhi Adabi Board was established in the interest of promoting and preserving the Sindhi language. The organization undertook the immense project of collecting old Sindhi literary traditions – many of them oral traditions that were later transcribed – and publishing them in a series of 40 volumes.
Sindhi Language Today
Today the Sindhi language is spoken by an estimated 25 million people around the world, most of them found in the countries of Pakistan and India. Additional communities of Sindhi language speakers can be found in the US, UK, Oman, Singapore, and the Philippines.