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21.02.2011 Religion

MEMONI LANGUAGE FOR COMMUNITY’S IDENTITY IN FUTURE

21.02.2011 LISTEN
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.”


It 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 and they include: -

1. Language
2. Race – colour – physical features
3. Religion
4. Geographical location
5. Ancestors
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.

It 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.

A 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.

We 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 homes.

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.

To 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.

For quite sometime, 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, Gujrati or Sindhi 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.

In 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 booklet.


It 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” the first book in Memoni in urdu script, I 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.

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-personal 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 Script.

5. All Jamats and associations of the community should start issuing circulars and notices of meetings etc in Memoni in Roman Script.

6. All Memon organizations should place this article and other material available in this booklet on their web-sites.

It 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.

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