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July 12, 2018

The diaspora writes home


July 12, 2018

For the past 34 years, Sindhis who live in North America have formed an active platform called the Sindhi Association of North America (SANA), which now has close to 2,000 members.

SANA’s 34th annual convention was held between July 6 and July 9 in Washington DC and was attended by more than 1,000 people. Various educationists and intellectuals, including Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, spoke at the four-day event. Women and young people also held sessions that focused on specific interests.

The role of diaspora organisations often comes under criticism as a great deal is expected from them. Do such organisations live up to these expectations? Do they accomplish enough to share the prosperity that they have earned in Western societies?

SANA had emerged as a voice of progressive, secular and pro-democracy Sindhis who lived in North America. Although it is inherently a community organisation, SANA has raised concerns about human rights, democracy and rule of law in Pakistan.

In a first, the organisation invited Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington to attend the convention. For a long time, the Sindhi community in North America hasn’t enjoyed a strong relationship with the Pakistan Embassy. The community has preferred to keep a distance from those in power. However, the decision to appoint Ali Jahangir Siddiqui, a Sindhi, as the ambassador to Washington has created positive vibes among Sindhis living in North America.

A few days before the convention, hundreds of SANA members had staged a protest in Washington against the enforced disappearances of activists and citizens in Pakistan. The community has been irked with the issue of missing persons. It has been troubled by the image of their home country as a place where people are abducted and held in custody without their whereabouts being known. Such incidents give their country a bad name.

The Sindhi community in North America consists of an educated professional middle class that upholds the values of modern society and the economy. Although most Sindhis in North America have been living abroad for decades, they are still deeply attached with the people, land and culture back home.

The people of Sindh are mired in desperation and hopelessness. Not many among them find a way forward and are steeped in poverty, economic distress and illiteracy. The government hasn’t been able to deliver on the tall and rosy promises that it has made to them. There is such a strong vacuum that whoever engages in even the slightest wave of activism brings a ray of light in the darkened landscape of Sindh.

This is how SANA is viewed in Sindh – a beacon of hope from the people of Sindh who have done well for themselves. Will they bring a change in the lives of their fellow citizens? This is an expectation in Sindh, regardless of whether it is right or wrong. Sindhi activists often ask the SANA leadership what it is doing for Sindh and what its future plans for the province are.

Instead of dismissing these questions, we must reflect on how we can become a group of people who are able to deliver in the long run. Diaspora organisations build networks among community members in North America so they can live the life that they missed out on when they moved away from their home country.

Therefore, the annual convention becomes an opportunity to interact with people of the same origin by celebrating language, culture and history. These events inculcate a strong sense of unity. These movements cater to our emotional needs, which are fuelled by being away from the place that we belong to or when our minds are filled with memories of home.

Diaspora organisations like SANA only become visible, sustained and effective when people invest time and energy to keep them active and relevant to people in home countries. Without strengthening its roots in Sindh, SANA won’t be able to deliver anything back home. In order to be effective, diaspora platforms need to become stronger. SANA must reach out to new immigrants from Sindh, providing them necessary guidance and introducing SANA to them. Plans to broaden its membership base should always be on its agenda.

Diaspora platforms remain active as long their leadership remains in the hands of the first generation of migrants. A major challenge involves transferring leadership to new generation that is born and raised in the North America. This is a process that is somewhat inevitable. SANA’s future lies in the hands of our children, and a vibrant and energetic youth gives us hope that this will happen.

The relationship of a diaspora with its country of origin shouldn’t just be restricted to sending remittances. There ought to be a transfer of knowledge and skills, and a regular exchange of ideas. But the Sindhi diaspora’s interaction with Sindh is largely dominated by political discourse. This must be expanded to cover a multi-dimensional focus that involves various sectors.

In this regard, the Sindh Skill Development Programme (SSDP), which has been funded by the Sindhi diaspora, is a remarkable initiative. The range of programmes and activities that it carries out is phenomenal. At present, its scope of work is limited in a geographic sense as it only has a physical presence in Hyderabad. But the themes that it covers are quite relevant.

The diaspora must move beyond setting up charities. Building institutions and transferring knowledge and human resources will be a real and lasting contribution to our ‘locked-down’ societies.

It was heartening to see that Dr Fayyaz Memon, a UK-based Sindhi academic, plans to launch a new university of sustainable sciences near Matiari. Dr Rufina Soomro, a US-based expert who belongs to the province, plans to establish a hospital in Shikarpur in memory of her grandfather Allah Bux Soomro. Dr Soomro’s grandfather was Sindh’s premier during the pre-Partition days and is remembered as a secular humanist who stood up against the communal politics that Sindh and the rest of the Subcontinent fell victim to.

Hyderabad’s Isra University was also established by the Sindhi diaspora from the Middle East. So, those who have exposure to the world and the right expertise can bring a change and contribute towards Sindh’s educational and infrastructural needs.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter @mushrajpar

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