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Published Date: Dec 1, 1999

The Teaching of Sindhi and Sindhi Ethnicity (R-24)

Tariq Rahman, SDPI


Sindhi is one of the most ancient languages of India.  Indeed, the first language Muslims (Arabs) came in contact with when they entered India in large numbers was Sindhi.  Thus several Arab writers mention that Sindhi was the language of people in al-Mansura, the capital of Sind.  Indeed, the Rajah of Alra called Mahraj, whose kingdom was situated between Kashmir and Punjab, requested Amir Abdullah bin Umar, the ruler of al-Mansura, to send him someone to translate the Quran into his language around A.D. 882.  The language is called ‘Hindi’ by Arab historians (in this case the author of Ajaib ul Hind) who often failed to distinguish between the different languages of India and put them all under the generic name of ‘Hindi’.  However, Syed Salman Nadwi, who calls this the first translation of the Quran into any Indian language suggests that this language might be Sindhi (Nadwi 1972: 241-242). Later, between 1020-1030 al-Beruni visited India and wrote a book on it called Kitab Ma-li al Hind which was translated by Edward C. Sachau as Alberuni’s India (1888).  In this several alphabets of the Hindus are mentioned.  Going on with his list al-Beruni says:

Other alphabets are the Malwari, used in Malwashau, in Southern Sind, towards the seacoast; the Saindhava, used in Bahamanwa or Alamnsura (Sachau 1888 Vol 1: 232).

Nabi Baksh Baloch, the famous Pakistani Sindhologist, opines that Saindhava was Sindhi.  In his words:

This was the Arabic-Sindhi script, the `Sindhized Arabic script’ or the truly Sindhi script.  On the basis of indirect evidence, it may be presumed that the graphemes for the more typical Sindhi phonemes were divided by adding dots to the corresponding Arabic letters (Baloch 1991: vi).

But al-Beruni’s text, or at least its English translation, concerns itself only with the `Hindu alphabet’.  The very first thing which is said about it is that `The Hindus write from the left to the right like Greeks’ (Sachau 1888: 231).  After this the general characteristics of the Brahmi script, characteristics which all its derivatives share in common, are described.  Then comes the list in which the word Saindhava occurs.  As such, it is difficult to believe that al-Beruni was talking about a script which, being based upon Arabic, ran from right to left.

However, there is evidence other than al-Beruni’s that these was a `Sindhized Arabic script’ in Sind in 1020-1030 A.D when al-Beruni was in India.  This comes from Kitab al Fihrist, a book of lists compiled by an Arab writer al-Nadim (d. 990 A.D).  In this list a script using both single and double dots is recorded in Sind.  Since this is older than even al-Beiruni’s days, there must have been an Arabic Sindhi script during his time too.  In any case, even if dots and other diacritical marks were used to show the distinctive pronunciation of Sindhi sounds, these could not have been used in a uniform standardized manner.  Thus different people, generally Muslim poets and men of letters, must have used slightly different versions of the same Arabic script.  The Hindus, especially business people, used derivatives of the Brahmi script.

In the sixteenth century, by which time much was written in Sindhi, Makhdum Jafar of Dadu published an Arabic work called Nahj al-Ta’allum.  It was on education and its Persian version was also prepared by the author in 1568.  Both works are no longer extant but Nabi Bakhsh Baloch has published a digest called Hasil al-Nahj based upon it in 1969.  According to this digest Makhdum Jafar emphasized the pupil rather than the teacher and the text.  One can hardly call this a precursor of the modern pupil centred teaching methodologies but, if Baloch is right, it did lead to teaching in the mother-tongue which the pupil could understand.  In those days teaching was in Persian though teachers could hardly not have used Sindhi to explain the Persian alphabet and vocabulary to small children. However, in contradistinction to Punjab and north India, Sindhi became the recognised medium of instruction in Sind as well as a subject of study.  Textbooks in Sindhi, generally of a religious character, were in circulation in Sind just as similar books in other languages were in circulation in other Muslim communities during the last days of the Mughal period.