The decade-long fight for a Sindhi language television channel
This week, the Delhi High Court will hear a petition filed by a Mumbai-based Sindhi cultural group, asking for a government-sponsored television channel in their language.
The demand for a Sindhi language television channel is more than a decade old. In November 2007, Sindhi Sangat, which filed the petition in the high court, had written to the ministry of information and broadcasting asking them to allocate daily time-slots on existing channels till a full-fledged television station was created.
In July 2008, the group wrote to the Central government that if the states (where the community now lives) do not promote a channel in the language, the Central government should do so. They told the government that it was managing an Urdu channel (this language’s speakers are also spread across many states) and should use the same standard for a Sindhi language channel.
The community was disappointed when the ministry informed them in July 2011 that Doordarshan, the national broadcaster, was not in a position to start a channel due to financial and staff shortage.
In 2013, when a privately-run bilingual Sindhi-Kachchhi television station in Adipur in Kutch (where a large number of Sindhi speakers settled down after Partition) shut down, Sindhi speakers were crestfallen to lose the only television channel in their language. Almost 80 per cent of the channel’s programming had been in Sindhi and the rest was Kachchi, a closely-related language. But the businessman who was operating the channel was incurring losses and was not in a position to pay licence fees (for broadcasting rights) to the government. There are Sindhi language television stations broadcasting from Pakistan’s Sindh province, but the programmes are of not much interest to India’s Sindhis.
After the shutting down of the Kutch television station, Sindhi Sangat decided to file a writ petition in Delhi to get Doordarshan to start a television channel in their language. Sindhi speakers were also asked to send thousands of postcards to the Prime Minister’s office to get his attention.
The community says that their language is included in schedule-VIII of the Constitution which lists the country’s official languages, and therefore it becomes obligatory for the government to promote the language and culture. The demand was made by a delegation that included senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani.
Even as they approached the high court, some Sindhis started an online petition to get the government’s attention. The petition said that the partition of India uprooted them from their homeland. While they have prospered, it has been at a heavy price; they are losing their cultural roots and identity. “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.
The petition did not get many supporters, says Sumit Manglani of Lucknow based Sindh Welfare Society. “People are indifferent,” says Manglani. “And that is because when we settled in India, our first priority was to survive. We learnt Hindi, which was a new language for us, and we worked on ways to sustain ourselves, but in the process lost our language.”
As the community prospered, some members felt that their language needed to be revived. “We believe that our culture is drawn from the 5,000-year-old Indus civilisation, but the younger generation does not know about this,” says Manglani.
Asha Chand of Sindhi Sangat has asked the community to write letters and emails to the Prime Minister, information and broadcasting minister and chief executive of Prasar Bharati (which runs the Doordarshan channels) to demand the television station.
Even as some Sindhis petition the country’s courts for a television station in their language, others are wondering whether the objective could have been achieved in other ways. “Of course, we need a television channel in our language, but should you fight the government for this?” asks Suresh Rupchandani of the Sindhi Council of India.