Debating India


Anthem controversy galvanises Sindhis

Sunday 9 January 2005, by MARTYRIS*Nina, RAJADHYAKSHA*Radha

MUMBAI: A petition in the Supreme Court asking for the word ’Sindh’ to be deleted from India’s national anthem has reopened old wounds, the most raw among these being the fact that Sindhis were the only community to be diddled out of a state after Partition.

While Hindu-and Muslim-majority areas determined the route of Radcliffe’s scythe in Punjab and Bengal, all of Sindh went to Pakistan, although at least one district - Tharparkar, abutting Rajasthan-had a Hindu majority.

"The Congress was indifferent to Sindhi interests," claims Ram Jethmalani. "Although the party had Sindhi stalwarts such as Acharya Kripalani, who was Congress president in 1947, and Choithram Gidwani, many Sindhis subscribed to the Jan Sangh’s ideology, which alienated the Congress."

Older Sindhis say that it was Gidwani, who protested vociferously when Congress leaders, immediately after independence, allegedly contemplated dropping the word ’Sindh’ from the national anthem - Gidwani reportedly told Nehru that if it was deleted, Sindhis would find it hard to stand up and honour the anthem.

"The anthem should be deemed sacrosanct since it was ratified by the constituent assembly in 1950 even though Sindh had already been handed over to Pakistan," says a writer. "Why this renewed effort to fiddle with its lyrics?"

Petitioner Sanjeev Bhatnagar, however, buttresses his argument with the fact that the assembly had approved the anthem with the words ’subject to alterations by the government’.

"The fact that President Rajendra Prasad made this statement is a clear-cut signal that the words of the anthem needed to be altered," he says. "What’s the big deal about altering an anthem, anyway? The Russian and German anthems have been amended, why shouldn’t India do the same?"

Most Sindhis, even in the midst of their indignation, do not really envisage that things will come to this pass (in any case, such a move can only be ratified by parliament, not the court, says Jethamalani). But Bhatnagar’s petition has come as a blessing in another way-it has galvanised a community into recontemplation of issues of culture, language and identity.

"Our language is gone, our culture is almost gone, and now we’re in danger of losing our name," says writer Anju Makhija. "We badly needed an issue in this community." Adds writer-poet T Manwani Anand, "Since Sindhis are a business community, they have never united for political rights. At least now, they’ll unite."

Sunil Khilnani, author of The Idea of India, has a different stance. "My argument is not that since we don’t have a land, we should at least be allowed a mention in the national anthem," he says.

"I wouldn’t use the language of rights-that’s a self-defeating route and becomes a recipe for chauvinism. Every Indian should recognise that the words of the national anthem are the profound poetic expression of civilisational India. For Rabindranath Tagore, India was not a geographical expression but an ideational one. The kind of literalism expressed in the judicial petition is mindless, and misses the quintessential message of the national anthem."

See online : Times of India

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