Dr. Naseer Dashti
Culture is a people’s lifestyle, its entire activity, and has a long-range of socio-political and religious aspects. More precisely, it is the manifestation of the combined thought processes, rules, values, languages, beliefs, arts, literature, music, social roles, customs, traditions, ideas, rituals, and social conduct of a particular people. It is also the manifestation of some physical objects, spaces, and resources such as homes, schools, places of worship, factories, offices, etc. Culture is a defining feature of not only a person’s identity, but it also works like the vein of the society through which the life of a nation flows. Cultural values are instruments that bind people together making them united and strong. They are principles passed on generation after generation by the ancestors and considered as the spine of a community. They are standards for discerning what is just. They help shape a society by suggesting what is good and bad; beautiful and ugly; and what is to be sought or avoided. Language is the vehicle for the delivery of cultural values. It is the carrier that reflects one’s identity to others. While culture is concerned about ‘sharing the meaning of things’, language is a link that is used to make sense of things. Language is a must for an individual’s spiritual existence. To eradicate the memories of the past, it became necessary to suppress the language. The loss of the language makes a person unable to share the memories of their ancestors, their history, and their cultural values. With the loss of language, a person becomes a stranger within. This loss generates the feeling of not being different from others. This feeling of being different is the genetic ingredient of the spiritual existence of a person. The Baloch and Sindhis have been facing an onslaught on their cultural values for centuries but the intensity with which their language and societal values are being suppressed is unprecedented in the Allah-given country of Pakistan. Under the circumstances, the saner elements in Sindh and Balochistan are much worried about the future of their people as distinct nature.
In the greater schema of preserving the national identity of a people, one of the contributions of culture is to maintain and safeguard a community against external and internal enemies. The socio-cultural codes developed in the historical journeys of nations are powerful tools in the preservation of their distinct national identity. An attack on the cultural identity of a people is a direct attack on the national survival thus constitutes an act of cultural genocide. Cultural identity makes the fundamental pillar of the national identity. If the entire cultural heritage, identity, and lineage of any nation are annihilated, and it is forced to assimilate into an alien society, then that nation as a cultural entity ceases to exist.
Cultural genocide is the destruction by brutal means of the specific characteristics of a human group. It is more than forced assimilation and constitutes a policy aimed at the rapid and complete disappearance of the cultural, moral, and religious life of a group of human beings. In a way, the destruction of culture is a prelude to the physical elimination of a people.
Historically, the practice of extermination of nations and ethnic groups is implemented through a synchronized attack on different aspects of national life. It comprised of a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of a nation. The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religious beliefs, and the economic resources of that nation.
Cultural genocide occurs in phases. First is the systematic destruction of traditions, values, language, and other elements that makes one group of people distinct from another. In the classical colonial period, it referred to suppressing the language and belittling of cultural values held by subjugated nations. The second phase is the forceful imposition of customs, traditions, religious beliefs, language, social and moral norms of the colonial power. Resulting in the eradication of many fundamental aspects of the culture of the occupied nation. The practice of cultural genocide is fuelled by the psychological compulsion of the colonial nation which is the belief in the superiority of their way of life. In this context, they justify the use of force to impose various aspects of their own culture onto the target population. The compulsion of being superior also arises the desire to purge their subject nations of allegedly barbaric, uncivilized customs and moral values.
After their occupation of America, the Spanish and other European powers, suppressed American culture, forbidding the original inhabitants to learn and transmit their culture while simultaneously forcing them to read and write in Spanish, English, or French languages and to convert to Christianity. This kind of behavior was certainly not unique to the Americas; later these colonial powers also replicated the example in Africa and Asia. Now, after six hundred years of European invasion, what happened to the original peoples of the Americas? They have lost their languages, their cultural ethos, their history, their gods, and their existence as nations. They are living human beings but without a soul, they have just become non-entities in their motherland.
Pakistan, the only Allah-given country in the world is following the policies adopted by European colonialists in the Americas. The language policy which the Islamic State has imposed on Baloch, Sindhis, and other national entities comes under linguistic genocide. When children are forced to shift to another language, their native language is murdered by the incoming new killer language. After 70 years of Pakistani colonialism, a situation has developed where Baloch and Sindhi children are lost between two worlds; the outside world of school and bazaars, where Urdu is the medium of communication and alien cultural values are prevalent, and the world of home and family, where Balochi and Sindhi languages, traditions and values are instilled. These two worlds are like the two banks of a river, they will never meet, as a result, the children are torn between these opposing forces.
The imposition of alien cultural values on Sindhis and the Baloch are other aspects of cultural genocide being perpetrated by Pakistan. Concerted efforts are being made since the creation of the artificial state to eradicate the memories of their glorious ancestors from the minds of the Baloch and Sindhi children. Baloch and Sindhi national heroes are being demonized while marauders and plunderers from the Middle East and Central Asia who committed acts of genocide in Sindh and Balochistan are being glorified in the textbooks and media. Historical names of towns are being replaced. Roads, places, avenues, and even missiles are being named after blood-thirsty and notorious personalities like Muhammad bin Qasim, Mahmud Ghaznavi, Ghuris, Mughals, Timurids, and Abdalis. In the textbooks and media, there is no mention of Baloch and Sindhi national heroes and martyrs who relentlessly resisted foreign invaders and sacrificed their lives to protect the honor and dignity of their people and motherlands. The national media in Pakistan overwhelmingly controlled by Urdu-speaking immigrants is busy belittling Sindhi and Baloch cultural ethos as primitive and un-Islamic. They are extensively promoting societal and religious intolerance and other superfluous cultural values which they brought with them from north India. Poets, musicians, artists from Urdu-speaking communities of north and southern India are being portrayed as national figures of Pakistan. People who were on the payroll of the colonial administration in India are being dubbed as Quaid e Azam or great leader, Quaid e Millat or leader of the nation, Shair e Millat, or the poet of the nation. Even the female family members of these agents of the colonial power are given different titles or appellations of honor such as Madar e Millat or mother of the nation.
All parameters indicate that Sindhis and Baloch cultural values are facing tremendous pressures from the organized and synchronized attempts of a purposely created religious fundamentalist state. The fact of the matter is that the state has partly been successful in transforming the secular and liberal Baloch and Sindhi societies and the full implications of state efforts would directly impact their survival as nations in near future.
In the given circumstances where the national identity of Sindhis and the Baloch are facing existential threats, what should be the strategy to preserve their cultural heritage? I think they can do two things: First, to mobilize the international community by highlighting what is going on in Sindh and Balochistan. The recognition and respect for cultural life, heritage, and values are included in many international legal instruments. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights recognized that everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community.
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the General Assembly on 13 September 2007, recognizing the right of all peoples to be different, to consider themselves different, and to be respected as such. In articles 5, 8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 15, and 16 of the declaration, it was declared that the indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social, and cultural institutions. They have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture. It was also declared that they have the right to practice and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. They have the right to transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems, and literature, and to designate and retain their names for communities, places, and persons. It was also declared that they have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their languages.
In line with the UN resolutions, cultural genocide is punishable by international law. To preserve many nations and ethnic groups from total extinction, it is imperative that the international community act now. The term cultural genocide must be included in the UN resolutions on crimes against humanity. Cultural genocide must be declared a war crime because it is an element of genocide, in that it is an attack on a specific group of human beings to erase their culture. It should be a crime against humanity and an attack on human dignity.
Being a basket case, Pakistan is not able to ignore the pressure of the international community. If meaningful international pressure is applied, it might give recognition to Sindhi and Baloch’s cultural existence. But depending only on the international community for the safeguard of national identity is futile. We are aware of how strategic and economic considerations influence and shape the policies of the powerful nations regarding human rights issues in third-world countries.
The second way out from this quagmire is to make efforts on emergency footings within their communities. Concerted efforts should be made to discourage the young generation not to adopt the cultural ways of the dominant nation. It should be stressed upon them to follow the Sindhi and Baloch societal norms and ethos especially the use of mother languages. As the history of these nations has been mutilated beyond recognition, the most important task should be to preserve their history in its original form. In this respect, people with knowledge and capabilities should volunteer to write and present the history of the region from its true perspective.
The importance of preserving cultural traditions for the national identity of a nation can well be understood by going through the history of Jewish people. Jews are among the very few nations who despite being subjugated and suffering atrocities, massacres, genocide, humiliations, and deportations for centuries but survived as a national entity. Their survival is a fascinating chapter of history. It is because they managed to retain their cultural values and social traditions. Despite being scattered in many regions of the world, they managed to preserve the basic ingredient of their national language the Hebrew. In many ways, Hebrew became the main pillar in keeping not only their socio-cultural values but also their identity as a distinct nation. I believe that to preserve their national identity, the best way for Sindhis and the Baloch is to follow the example of Jewish people.
The Jews were exiled from their homeland of Judea for the first time in their tortuous history in 608 BCE when the Babylonian king Nebuchadrezzar occupied their kingdom and destroyed Jerusalem. They were kept in Babylon for 70 years until Cyrus the Great freed them from captivity. But their miseries did not end with the destruction of the Assyrian kingdom and release from captivity, as for the next many thousands of years, they again suffered deportations, genocide, humiliations, and subjugation; nevertheless, they maintained their national spirit and religious identity.
In Babylon, they were much alarmed when forced to adopt a new language: Aramaic which was the state language of the Assyrian empire. The writing down of their pre-exile history which later became the first part of the Old Testament was the main strategy in their efforts to preserve their language, cultural values, and national identity. Although, it was a mixture of historical fiction, folktales, and religious or mythological beliefs, nevertheless, it served the purpose of preserving the Hebrew language and Jewish national identity. The dominance of religious elements in Jewish social life was a lateral entry and came mostly from the teachings of Ezra, after their return to Jerusalem. But it was also part of the strategy to preserve their national identity. Ezra enforced some very important socio-cultural ethos in the Jewish community. Under his influence, intermarriage with foreigners was prohibited. Reading from the Old Testament became obligatory during the prayers. These measures prevented the dilution of their cultural behavior while recitation from Old Testament served the purpose of preserving their language and national heritage.
It is not just rhetoric but a discomforting and depressing fact that Sindhis and the Baloch are at the crossroads of their national history. Historical injustices have created a situation in which they are fast losing their national identities. It will not be an exaggeration to say that the next few decades will decide their fate as nations. The need of the hour is to analyze the danger and search for possible way-outs. It is the historical responsibility of this generation of Sindhis and the Baloch to act. Unless they act on war footings, their existence as national entities would be at peril. It should be the duty of the social and political activists, intellectuals, writers, and literary persons to explain the gravity of the situation to the general populace. The importance of cultural survival should be explained to them as it is the basic ingredient of their national survival.