I do not understand why pieces of apparel have to be given the status of cultural symbols; only those countries and nations that are culturally bankrupt need to impose them as symbols. This symbolism also reveals the inherent feeling of inferiority and the consequent need to make them appear as important and necessary
Since last year, at the behest of a commercial television station in Sindh, a so-called ‘Cultural Day’ is being observed in the province. The two media groups that now want to own it celebrate it on two different days. This supposedly Cultural Day is observed by people wearing a Sindhi topi (cap) and an ajrak (ethnic shawl). These are being turned into symbols of Sindh; on this day, with a lot of fanfare and enthusiasm, many people adorn themselves with these symbols and the youth dance. Some political, cultural and social outfits wholeheartedly participate in it and, sadly, all believe that, with this, they are reinforcing Sindhi identity, which I think they are not. Sindhi identity is much larger and more varied than two pieces of attire. This Cultural Day is nothing but the commercialisation of culture and a means for raking in profits for television stations and the makers of topis and ajraks.
Advocating spurious cultural symbols helps exploiters distract people from the real threats to their identity and rights. The Sindhis participating in this frivolous celebration return home thinking that they have done enough for Sindh and their annual ritual, which it will now become, is adequate to protect the rights of Sindhis. The rights of Sindh demand sacrifices, dedication and struggle, not dancing and frivolity.
The true symbols of Sindh are its valiant sons who sacrificed their lives without hesitation. Makhdoom Bilawal Bin Jam Hassan Sammo (1451 AD/ 856 AH to 30th Safar 1523 AD/929AH) preferred to be ground in the grinder used to extract oil from seeds than to accept the fiat of the Afghan Arghun rulers. He needs to be emulated; his teachings are the cultural symbol needed to awaken the Sindhis. The poetry of Shah Abdul Latif should be made a cultural symbol and the Sindhis should be encouraged to read and memorise his enchanting verses to promote Sindh and its culture and history. His poetry will give them an insight into Sindhi history, geography and culture.
The need to teach our children in their mother language is an essential process for the progress of nations. China and European countries, which use their mother tongues to teach, in no way lag behind English speaking countries. English may be a useful language but it is not the ultimate thing for securing progress. Sindhi students are not only burdened with English but also have to carry the national language baggage of Urdu.
The education system enforced here for the last 63 years is responsible for the pathetic state of ratio of Sindhis in employment – they are handicapped from the beginning. This has also divided education into two tiers: education for the elite and the commoners. The Sindhis will not be able to compete in this system that is loaded in favour of others. The promoters of Cultural Day should fight for the rightful place of the Sindhis to ensure that Sindhi culture survives.
There is an urgent need to ensure that the resources of Sindh benefit Sindh. The oil and gas that is extracted in Sindh in no way benefits the local population as the Oil and Gas Development Authority (OGDC) thinks it does enough of a favour to Sindh and its people if it employs a few persons as watchmen at the installations in Sindh. In most places in the world, the minerals found on someone’s land are that person’s property but here the law denies this right. In the absence of this right, at least a fixed share to the Sindhis would be an improvement but it seems that neither the centre nor the provincial governments are bothered. This is where the diversion of the masses to frivolity instead of the serious business of securing rights exposes the political bankruptcy of the political parties.
The Thar coal reserves are estimated as a 175 billion tonne reserve of lignite coal spread over 9,600 sq km that has the potential to generate 100,000 MW by consuming 536 million tonnes per year. This reserve could be useful for a long time and has the potential to change the fortunes of Sindh but there is no hope of this happening because the ‘national interest’ takes over wherever the rights of the Sindhis or the Baloch enter the picture.
I do not understand why pieces of apparel have to be given the status of cultural symbols; only those countries and nations that are culturally bankrupt need to impose them as symbols. This symbolism also reveals the inherent feeling of inferiority and the consequent need to make them appear as important and necessary. The Pakistani obsession with the sherwani (overcoat) and karakul cap has emerged from that feeling and is consequently pushed forward as the essential and inviolable symbol for all. If the Sindhis, too, want to emulate this then they are welcome to and should continue to observe the Cultural Day with more vigour and enthusiasm.
Depending on pieces of clothing to save something as noble and as important as culture reminded me of an anecdote I once read in a column. During World War II, when the British were hard-pressed by Nazi Germany forces on all fronts, they sought succour from all quarters. The viceroy in India was asked to send out emissaries to different tribes to ask for recruits to enlist in the army to fight the German armies. One such emissary went to a tribe not particularly known for martial exploits or valour; in fact, it was a very docile and submissive tribe. The emissary, after exchanging pleasantries, stated the purpose of his visit and the desperate need that this tribe, too, provide recruits.
The chief of the tribe, after a long drag on his hookah, in no uncertain terms told the viceroy’s emissary that if conditions for the British Raj were desperate enough for him to come seek his help and depend on his recruits to turn the tide, then he would ask him to advise the viceroy to ask the British government to surrender to Hitler.
So, if the promoters of this Cultural Day sincerely think that the spurious symbols of the topi and ajrak will be able to save and salvage Sindhi culture and rights, then I would advise them to, without any struggle or any thought of resistance, peacefully give up their rights and culture to anyone they see fit to surrender to.
The writer has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at email@example.com