By: Abdur Razzaq Thaplawala
The Memon community is always admired and respected for their distinct traits, business acumen, enterprising spirit, philanthropic activities, honesty, dexterity and good mannerism. It has a unique system of Jamats for the welfare of community and for preserving social relationship between the members of the Jamats. As long as the community was confined to a certain part of pre-partition India, there was no problem of its identity. With partition of India a large part of community migrated to Pakistan where it is no longer confined to small geographical areas as in pre-partitioned India but have taken up residence in large cosmopolitan cities like Karachi and Hyderabad. In India the remaining members of the community however still live in their ancestral villages & towns in Katch and Kathiawar.
With the increased communication facilities the world has shrunk to the
status of a global village. Being part of this global village, the
community has also crossed national boundaries and now we can see
members of our community in almost every part of world. A large number
of them can be found in Middle East, Africa, U.K. and United State of
America. It has now become an international community. In their new
countries of residence, they have been successful in maintaining their
identity as a group and have formed Jamats, Societies and Associations
to provide an opportunity to members of the community for interaction
and take collective care of their problems in their new homelands.
The new homelands of the members of the community are distant from their
ancestral birth places. In new homelands, they have the opportunities
and compulsions of intermingling with other communities, gradually
distancing them from their ancestral traits and qualities.
This state of affairs raises an important question.
Will the community be able to maintain its distinct identity in years to
come ? With passage of time, fifty years or hundred years after today,
the present generation will be replaced by new generations which will
have little connection with their past. What will be the factors to bind
the new generation into the four hundred year old well knit community ?
To answer this question, we have to first answer the question as to
what is a community after all ? How do we describe it in terms of the
present day science of SOCIOLOGY ? A student of sociology will describe
a community like that of ours as an ethnic group. According to a
sociologist, “at a very simple level ethnicity can be thought of as a
sense of group identity derived from real or perceived common bonds such
as language, race or religion”.
“We might view ethnicity as an involuntary state in which members share common socialization practices or culture. There is a conceptual difference between ethnic groups and associations like clubs and societies membership of which is not involuntary and does not depend upon common socialization pattern. Ethnic group membership is not a matter of choice but rather an accident of birth. An ethnic group consists of people who conceive of themselves as being of a kind united by emotional bonds although they may also share a common heritage” – writes another sociologist.
“Ethnicity refers to an involuntary group of people who share the same
culture or descendents of such people who identify them and/or
identified by others belonging to the same involuntary group.”
is obvious from the above definitions quoted from well-known
sociologists that we can describe our community as an ethnic group in
terms of the science of sociology. These definations have described some
essential objective characteristics for the existence of an ethnic group
2. Race – colour – physical features
4. Geographical location
One of these objective characteristics is essential for continued existence and identification of an ethnic group. The religion, a geographical location and common ancestors may be the characteristics responsible for initial growth of our community but as we have seen in the beginning of this article, they are no longer valid as binding force for the community which is now spread over the entire global village. We do have a common religion but that is part of a greater Muslim Ummah and we cannot claim a separate identity by virtue of our belonging to Sunni school of thought. We can not claim overselves as belonging to a particular race. The colour & physical features of the members of our community are also not identical.
present times, the only common binding force and the factor of our
identity as a separate ethnic group is our language. You can recognize a
member of our community or establish a connection with another member of
community through speaking in Memoni. Here again it appears desirable to
quote from various writings of well-known sociologists.
well-known sociologist says that if we have to consider the relationship
of language and identity, we should clarify our concept of language
itself. The distinction between language in its ordinarily understood
sense – as a tool of communication – and language as an identity of
groupness, as a symbol, a rallying point is very clear. Language can be
important in ethnic and nationalist sentiments because of its powerful
and visible symbolism.
“For any speech community in which the language of use is also the
ancestral language, the intangible symbolic relevance is tied up with
the identity of the ethnic group” – says another sociologist. He
continues and says that
“language can be an extremely important feature of identity”. Many
sociologists have considered language as an essential pillar for
maintaining group identity. Even when language has receded to a purely
symbolic role, it can still have an important part in group identity.
have seen the importance of language in maintaining & preserving the
identity of an ethnic group. If we wish to maintain the present distinct
identity of our community, we shall have to make conscious efforts to
encourage the members of our community to speak Memoni within their
respective homes and outside as well when communicating with members of
our own community.
“Memoni” is not a language in its real sense. It is only a “Boli”
without any script of its own. Before partition of the sub-continent,
the community was using Gujrati as a mean of internal written
communication. This was being done unconsciously and under the influence
of prevailing atmosphere including the then province of our domicile.
The level of education within the community was very low and in most
cases education upto primary or secondary level with Gujrati as a Medium
of Instructions was considered enough. No wonder then that Gujrati
became the language of our written communication.
With migration of the majority of community to Pakistan, the situation
has changed. In Pakistan Urdu is not only the National language of the
country but also lingua franca of the entire population. The level of
education within the community has also improved tremendously. The
Medium of Instructions is mostly Urdu and in some cases English. There
are hardly any Gujrati medium schools in Pakistan and therefore our
young generation can neither read nor write in Gujrati. This is not all.
In most of our families, specially the educated families, Urdu has been
adopted as mean of oral communication within their homes as well. A
number of our young men and women cannot speak Memoni with fluency. The
same should be true for some families in India and most families who
have settled outside India and Pakistan. To attract the new generation
towards Memoni, we have to cultivate the habit of speaking Memoni at
But this is not enough. We have to build interest of new generation into
Memoni. They should feel proud that they have a language of their own
and this feeling of pride can only arise if they know Memoni as full
fledged language and not a Boli.
preserve our identity as a distinct community, we should explore the
possibilities of converting this “Memoni Boli” into a “Memoni Language”.
We all know that use of Punjabi and Pushtoo as written language is a
matter of not very distant past. In Pakistan, Punjabi is written in Urdu
script and India it is written in Devenagri script. The Saraiki and
Hindko speaking people in Pakistan have started to make efforts to
preserve their identity by turning their dialect/Boli into written
languages only recently. If it is so why cannot we do the same ? By
making this proposal I am not trying to encourage any linguistic
prejudice. I honestly feel that this will be an effort towards national
integration of our community within Pakistan. The “Memoni” is a language
of Sindh where majority of our members now reside. It is only a
different dialect of Sindhi. If any one will try to study and compare
Sindhi, Punjabi and Saraiki with Memoni he will be amazed to find the
amount of common words and phrases between Memoni, Sindhi, Punjabi and
Saraiki. A written Memoni will help the community’s integration with the
people of Pakistan.
present Gujrati language is used by us in Pakistan for transmission of
news and views about the community and we have one morning and one
evening Gujrati newspaper. Their readership mainly consists of people of
the generation which was born in pre-partition days or who learnt
Gujrati in early days of Pakistan. Some of our brothers are making
efforts to preserve and promote use of Gujrati in Pakistan. This is
commendable because Gujrati is part of our culture. Unfortunately, the
future of Gujrati in Pakistan is limited – two or maximum three decades.
This is a fact of life and we must recognize it without being
sentimental. One of the daily newspapers has already started two pages
of news in Urdu. Many of our community journals are published in
Gujrati, Urdu & English. Many Jamats in India have started publishing
their news letters and journals in Hindi.
the present circumstances, the adoption of Gujrati script for Memoni
language is out of question. The Bohri community speaks Gujrati within
their homes but they have started using Urdu script for religious
announcements and notices in their Jamat Khanas. The “Memoni” is as a
matter of fact, a different dialect of Sindhi and therefore it can be
argued that we should use Sindhi script for Memoni as well. This also
does not appear to be feasible. Even our younger generation in Pakistan
is not familiar with Sindhi script. On the other hand every young man
within the community has developed the ability to read and write in Urdu
& English in Pakistan. The Urdu script (Nashlaliq), the script of
Pakistani national language could therefore be a choice for us.
The idea about conversion of Memoni “Boli” into a written “language” was floated by this writer in a community function in 1998. The most practical response to the suggestion was from Mr. Iqbal Motlani who started writing Memoni column in Urdu script in an Urdu daily of Karachi. Mr. Iqbal Motlani subsequently created history by compiling a collection of these columns and his memories in the form of a 250 pages book. The book was published by Ko-ordination group headed by Mr. Hanif Kalia. The first book in Memoni Language and Urdu script was launched in September 2000.
Originally I had suggested adoption of Urdu script for writing Memoni. The Urdu script has been successfully adopted by Mr. Iqbal Motlani and it is there for all of us to see.
Eversince, I have been thinking over the matter of the script most suitable for the community. Our community is now located not only in Pakistan and India but also in Africa, Middle East, U.K., U.S.A. and Canada. Why can’t we think about adoption of Roman script for Memoni instead of Urdu script? Is it not a fact that the whole of Europe is using Roman script with minor variation for their respective languages? Turkey did it in only in the recent past. Indonesia and Malaysia have also adopted Roman script for their languages. If we adopt Roman script for Memoni, it will be equally readable by Memons living anywhere in the world whether Pakistan, India or even in Europe, USA or Canada. I am not jumping from one proposal to another. What we are trying to do is to create a language. It is a long, arduous and evaluating process. We cannot afford to block our mind to one particular idea. We have to think over it with an open mind and start going into a direction, which is most suited to us.
this age of computer, the Roman Script is easy and convenient for
writing and communicating. You can easily type it on any ordinary
typewriter or computer. You can even send an e-mail in Memoni to your
relatives, friends and business associates. One hears a lot about the
computerization of Urdu’s “Nastaliq” script. However it still takes a
great deal of time to type Urdu. Computerized Urdu composing requires a
formidable keyboard with too many letters. Vowels constitute another
ordeal for the typist or computer operator who finds Urdu five times
slower than English. For using Roman Script to write Memoni, we may form
some simple rules assigning specific phonetic sounds to alphabets which
have more than one phonetic sound. Some suggestions are included in this
Unfortunately, the idea of converting “Memoni” into a written language
has apparently not appealed to the leaders and dignatories of our
community. Perhaps they do not think the way I do. During general
discussions, some of my friends have even questioned the need of
maintaining a separate identity of the community. They are of the view
that we should forget about separate identity and integrate ourselves
with the main stream. They are also of the opinion that we should adopt
our respective national languages as our language. Keeping aside the
question of advisability of such integration, my question is that
whether such an integration is possible in this society of ethnic
divide? The whole society is divided into nationalities and sub-divided
into Biradries & tribes. In Pakistan, for example, the so-called
nationalities like Pathans, Baloches and Sindhis are divided into scores
of tribes. The Punjabees & Urdu speaking people are also divided into
several biraderies. Where will we fit in?
is essential that we maintain our identity and rather strengthen it. For
this purpose, we must keep emphasizing the need of developing “Memoni”
into a language. At the book launching ceremony of Mr. Iqbal Motlani’s “Panji Boli Main”, this writer had quoted an extract from a
report of a seminar on “Language loss and Public Policy” held at
University of Mexico recently. The same is being reproduced below:
Language is one of
the corner stones of any culture. It cements the unique identity of a
group and expresses the particular concerns and needs of that group. For
Indigenous peoples the threat to their cultures presented by the
intrusion of outside influences may be a major contributing factor to
their loss of identity. Loss of language undermines social structures
and aids the disappearance of group culture, especially where this is
dependent on an oral history and tradition.
Since the community does not have one central policy making body, the individuals and community organizations that are convinced of the need of a written language for the community can start their efforts in their individual capacity. The best alternative is the adoption of this idea by one or more of our central organizations like the newly established World Memon Organization (WMO). All Pakistan Memon Federation and the All India Memon Jamats Federation as a project for new Millennium.
What do we need to do to achieve our objective ?
1. We should realize that with the passage of time, we shall face a
crisis of identity.
2. Language is the only source of identification of members of our
community and we should work to preserve and convert “Memoni”
into a full fledged language.
3. We should encourage the oral & written communication in Memoni in
all inter-person contacts between the members of community.
4. If possible, we should start publishing a weekly or monthly journal
in “Memoni” and ensure its wider circulation. If this is not possible
the existing journals and magazines of various community oranizations
should reserve some pages for articles and news in Memoni in Roman
5. All Jamats and associations of the community should start issuing
circulars and notices of meetings etc in Memoni in Roman Script.
is not an easy task. Development of a language takes
time but with determined and coordinated efforts, it can be done. It is
possible that many of us may not see the development of Memoni into a
full fledged language in their life time but they should contribute
whatever they can, for this noble cause.
Let us conclude by repeating that we are known as a reputable community of businessman and philanthropist for last three hundred years. But how long will we be able to maintain this distinct identity? With partition of India we no longer live in Kathiawar or Katch. The community is now spread all over the world. The geographical location has not remained a factor of our identification as a separate community. The only common factor to bind the members of our community into a distinct ethnic group is our language.
PRESENTLY, WE MAY NOT
BE FACING A CRISIS OF IDENTITY BUT THINK OF NEXT FIFTY OR HUNDRED YEARS.
IN YEARS TO COME, WE MAY LOOSE OUR IDENTITY AS A SEPARATE GROUP UNLESS
WE DO SOMETHING TO DEVELOP “MEMONI” – THE ONLY BINDING FORCE BETWEEN US
INTO A FULL FLEDGED LANGUAGE.