‘Sindhi script existed long before British conquest of Sindh’

By Yousuf Katpar
May 26, 2024
Dr. N.A.Baloch Model School / College University Of Sindh is located in Hyderabad city , Sindh, Pakistan. — Facebook/Dr. N. A Baloch Model College University of Sindh Hyderabad/File

The Sindhi script was not formulated by the British after Sir Charles Napier conquered and annexed Sindh to the Bombay Presidency in 1843. Historically, there is clear evidence of the script existing long before British officers decided on the standard of the script for the language in 1853.


Dr Abdul Ghaffar Soomro, chairman of Dr N.A. Baloch Institute of Heritage Research’s advisory committee, stated this as he cleared the “misunderstanding” surrounding the Sindhi script in his keynote speech at the 9th international seminar.

The seminar titled ‘Glorious Past of Sindh: A New Perspective’ was organised by the institute at Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi.

Dwelling on his topic “Shah Jo Risalo: Sindhi Script and Orthography", Dr Soomro said educationist and author Muhammad Siddique Memon in his book ‘Sindhi Ji Adabi Tareekh’ created confusion that the Sindhi script was formulated by the British in 1853 after the conquest of Sindh.

He said British officers were divided on the script issue. “Captain George Stack and Richard Francis Burton differed when they made recommendations for the script for Sindhi. Captain Stack was in favour of the Devanagri script while Richard Burton was opposed to that idea,” he highlighted.

According to Memon, the scholar said Henry Bartle Frere, the then commissioner of Sindh, constituted eight-member committee to determine the Sindhi script in 1853. However, he added, the latest research suggests that no such committee ever existed.

“In fact, B H Ellis, assistant commissioner, recommended the adoption of the already existing Sindhi script in 1853, which was approved later by Bartle Frere and notified in July 1853,” he remarked.

Soomro said the Sindhi script was found on Mohenjo Daro seals dating back to 2,500 BC, though it had not been deciphered yet. Evidence of the script was also found in a book authored by Muslim scientist Amr ibn Bahr al-Kinani, widely known by his nickname Al-jahiz and other Arabic writers, he went on.

He said Sindhi words were also written in Chachnama composed around the third century Hijrah. Sufi poet Shah Abdul Karim Bulri composed his verses in Sindhi (1638).

Dr soomro said the oldest collection of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai’s poetry was a volume called Ganj, which was also the same script.

“Historically, Shah Jo Risalo being the most popular work of Sindhi literature has provided the most suitable and acceptable form of Sindhi script and orthography. Even Captain Stack who strongly advocated Devanagri script for Sindhi had to get Shah Jo Risalo transcribed in the same prevalent script,” he highlighted, calling for further study of the script employed in numerous manuscripts of Shah Jo Risalo to help understand the new aspects of the development of the Sindhi script.

“Ernest Trump, a Christian missionary though originally in favour of Devanagri script, proposed a new script for Sindhi and got printed Shah Jo Risalo from Germany in 1866. His script was more confusing and never become popular,” he said.

“Trump also wrote ‘A Grammar of Sindhi’ in 1872, providing a comparison of the three scripts i.e. the script existing before the British, the one notified by Frere and his own script, which shows slight variation of few letters.”

He concluded that there was no doubt that the old prevalent script was officially adopted by the British.

Dr Mohammad Idrees Soomro talked about the manuscripts of Sindhi scholars. He said he visited libraries in the country and abroad to collect treasured manuscripts and has a library having 50,000 books, including manuscripts. He remarked that Sindh has long been a centre of knowledge with a wealth of manuscripts that no other province can match.

Dr Hafeez Jamali discussed at length pre-colonial manuscript cultures and said from day one, the state had been run as a unitary state due to which the dominant narrative has always revolved around the events of partition and its aftermath. As a result, areas like Gwadar, Makran, and those along the Sindh coast have not been studied in depth, he lamented.

“The regions near the frontier, like those in Balochistan, did not receive the attention they deserved. Unfortunately, the British formed the notion that the people living in the frontier areas were wild and savage, labeling them as bandits and thieves with no connection to knowledge or literature. This perception also included the upper frontier areas of Sindh, such as Jacobabad and Shikarpur,” he added.

“Our major cities in Balochistan such as Pishin, Kalat, Khuzdar, Gandawah, and Dhadar were home to schools, madrasas, and other educational institutions, and were also closely connected to the nearby cities of Sindh like Shikarpur and Sukkur.”

Jamali said intellectual sufi networks in Thatta, Kandahar, Samarkand, and Bukhara were connected much like trade routes.

Prof Dr Jonathan Mark Kenoyer talked about “ceramic traditions of the southern Indus region and new perceptive from recent excavations at Allahdino”. “The original Sindhi script is the old one which we still don’t know about,” he said. “So, we still are looking for the original script and the one that came later and the one you speak is ‘kichri’ (mixture) born from different languages,” he added.

Kenoyer said he studied clay to determine where it came from, adding the clay used in Harappa was the same being used now. “There is no difference between the clay of Harappa and the clay of today, so potters have preserved the tradition and understanding of clay over 5,000 years,” he added.

Dr Asma Ibrahim moderated the seminar. Dr Kaleemullah Lashari, and others also spoke. Two books were also launched at the event.