Sindhis get a TV programme, but say it’s not enough
Sindhi Sangat, a Mumbai-based cultural group, filed a case in the Delhi high court more than a decade ago, petitioning the government to start a television channel in their language.Updated: Dec 09, 2019 01:27 IST
On December 1, DD Girnar, a television channel run by the national broadcaster, Doordarshan, began telecasting Sindhi language programmes in a one-hour slot in the morning. Sindhi programme on national television is the culmination of a decade-long campaign by the language’s speakers.
Sindhi Sangat, a Mumbai-based cultural group, filed a case in the Delhi high court more than a decade ago, petitioning the government to start a television channel in their language.
It was suggested that the ministry of information and broadcasting should allocate daily time-slots on existing channels until a full-fledged Sindhi channel was created. In July 2008, the group wrote to the Central government that states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra (where the community migrated from Pakistan) do not promote the language and suggested the Central government to step in. Government officials told the campaigners that one reason why it was difficult to have a channel exclusively in the language was that its speakers were scattered across the country. The national broadcaster was reminded that they were running an Urdu channel (this language’s speakers are also spread across many states). The community said that their language is included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution which lists the country’s official languages, and therefore makes it obligatory for the government to promote the language and culture. “The Sindhi Language is also fighting a losing battle, especially with the younger generation. The only hope today is the power of the Television to reverse this trend. Television, without doubt, is the most powerful media for promoting any language,” says the petition.
Campaigners were asked to send postcards to the Prime Minister’s Office to get his attention to the issue. Others started an online petition to get the government’s attention to the issue. Senior lawyer and parliamentarian Ram Jethmalani, who passed away recently, helped the petitioners. The campaign for a television channel in the language was met with a series of disappointments. The online petition did not get many supporters and the postcard campaign petered out. In 2009, the Ahmedabad broadcasting station, which did a project report on the demand for a Sindhi television channel, said that a full-time channel in the language will cost around ₹20 crore annually. In July 2011, Prasar Bharti, which runs Doordarshan, said that they did not find the idea of a Sindhi language channel feasible due to financial and staff shortage. In July 2017, the government told the court that Doordarshan did not have the finances, staff, or the spectrum, to start a new channel. The government also said that the last census counted around 2.5 million Sindhi speakers in the country and that a ‘full time’ channel will not be sustainable for a language that does not have many speakers.
In 2013, a privately-run bilingual Sindhi-Kachchhi television station based out of Kutch (where many Sindhi speakers settled down after Partition) shut down, blaming high licence fees (for broadcasting rights).
The one-hour-long programming that started this month on DD Girnar should have been an accomplishment, but campaigners are not happy with the offerings. “The programmes are substandard, interspersed with Kutchi programmes,” says Asha Chand of Sindhi Sangat. “I was worried that we would be asked to withdraw our petition after accepting a two-hour slot on what is primarily a Gujarati-language channel.”
One hurdle in setting up a television channel exclusively in the language is the lack of programming. A community member told this writer, after they settled in their new homes after partition they learnt Hindi. “We worked on ways to sustain ourselves, but in the process lost our language,” he had said.
The petition in the Delhi High Court is still being heard and the case is expected to come up in January.