Karachi’s Gujarati speaking youth strive to revive Jinnah’s language

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A man teaches Gujarati language to his students at the rooftop of three-story Shri Ramdev Pir temple in Soldier Bazaar area of Karachi, a Pakistani megacity housing around 3.5 million people of Gujarati descent. ( AN photo by M.F. Sabir)
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Pandit Vital Das, senior of three teachers, teaches Gujarati language to his students at the rooftop of three-story Shri Ramdev Pir temple in Soldier Bazaar area of Karachi, a Pakistani megacity housing around 3.5 million people of Gujarati descent. ( AN photo by M.F. Sabir)
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Pandit Vital Das, senior of three teachers, teaches Gujarati language to his students at the rooftop of three-story Shri Ramdev Pir temple in Soldier Bazaar area of Karachi, a Pakistani megacity housing around 3.5 million people of Gujarati descent. ( AN photo by M.F. Sabir)
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During a break, Amit Kumar, a student in the Karachi’s informal school, revises his lesson with his four-year old son Gaurav. Gaurav is his father’s classmate. ( AN photo by M.F. Sabir)
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Amit Kumar, a 37-year-old dweller of Soldier Bazaar locality of Karachi who works as a peon in a private firm, attends the Gujarati language classes along with his four children. ( AN photo by M.F. Sabir)
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Meenakshi Solanki, a nurse in a local hospital, was the first girl to join these classes and became an inspiration for 52 others to join this informal class of 125 students. ( AN photo by M.F. Sabir)
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A group of TES office-bearers and volunteers observes as students take a class in their #SaveGujarati initiative here on Sunday, September 30, 2018. ( AN photo by M.F. Sabir)
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Banner of Free Gujarati classes. ( AN photo by M.F. Sabir)
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This book, telling basics of the Gujarati language, is part of the curriculum at an informal school being set up at the rooftop of three-story Shri Ramdev Pir temple in Soldier Bazaar area of Karachi, a Pakistani megacity housing around 3.5 million people of Gujarati descent. ( AN photo by M.F. Sabir)
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This book, telling basics of the Gujarati language, is part of the curriculum at an informal school being set up at the rooftop of three-story Shri Ramdev Pir temple in Soldier Bazaar area of Karachi, a Pakistani megacity housing around 3.5 million people of Gujarati descent. ( AN photo by M.F. Sabir)
Updated 03 October 2018

Karachi’s Gujarati speaking youth strive to revive Jinnah’s language

  • Out of the 50 million Gujarati-speaking people in the world, around 3.5 million live in Karachi and these include top industrialists, businessmen and owners of big media houses
  • Karachi’s Gujarati-speaking youth has launched The Education Sanstha (TES) as part of the #SaveGujarati initiative to keep their language from dying

KARACHI: Amit Kumar, a 37-year-old dweller of the Soldier Bazaar locality of Karachi, works as a peon in private firms during the day. After little rest in the evening, he takes his four children to the rooftop of a three-story Shri Ramdev Pir temple. At the top of this Hindu temple, however, there are no prayers. These are classes for Karachiites of Gujarati decent, who are fast forgetting their native language.
“Although I could speak my mother tongue, it would always bother me that I was not able to write and read Gujarati,” Kumar says. His children, Simren, 10, Nena, 6, and Gaurav, 4, are sitting by his side as he talks to Arab News.
This informal school is open from Monday to Saturday from 9 to 10 p.m.
“When I came to know that The Education Sanstha (TES) had started offering free Gujarati language classes, I took no time to get myself and my children registered,” he said. They would never be able to read and write Gujarati language had he not come across this opportunity, said Kumar.
Meenakshi Solanki, a nurse at a local hospital, was the first girl to join these free lessons. There are now 125 students and 53 of them are girls who took inspiration from Solanki to join this informal language school. “It was a boys-only class but when I joined the girls started coming,” she told Arab News.
According to Solanki, she is also the first member of her family who will be able to write and read Gujarati. “We deserve to be educated in our mother tongue but since it’s not part of the curriculum, TES has provided this golden opportunity to us,” she said, expressing her gratitude to a group of youngsters who launched this initiative.
Another student, 12-year-old Vivek Premji, said most of his family were still attached to the language. “Had these classes not been arranged, I would have been the first of my family to forget my mother tongue. My mother knew Gujarati but I didn’t. I was super-excited when I first heard about the classes,” Premji, who has been raised by a single mother, told Arab News.
Chander Kant Jethwa, an office-bearer of the TES, said his group of volunteers will help dropouts from the community to get back to schools. “We will also arrange special Urdu and English language classes for the dropouts to make them literate,” he told Arab News, adding that it was at one point that TES conceived the idea of beginning the Gujarati language classes.
Manoj Solanki, another group member, said his group kicked off classes on July 9, 2018 and, after getting an enormous response, they decided to expand the language program to other areas. “On September 26, we started classes in Keemari [area] and will soon take this #SaveGujarati initiative to different areas of the city,” he said.
Pandit Vital Das, one of the three teachers at this informal school, says Guajarati was part of the curriculum till 1975. For the next six years, the community continued to teach the language in different temples in the city. “In 1981, the education, however, completely stopped. Now, after 29 years, the city is having the first classes where students are being taught their mother language,” Das told Arab News.
These are not lower or lower-middle class areas where this important language is endangered.
Usman Ghani Saati, owner and editor of one of the two Gujarati language newspapers, has 23 siblings, including five sons, two daughters and 16 grandchildren. “Only two of my sons and one daughter, who are associated with our Watan Gujarati newspaper, can write and read the language,” Saati told Arab News.
The language is spoken by more than 50 million people in the world. In Karachi, the population of Gujarati-speaking people is estimated to be around 3.5 million, Saati said. Saati, who also worked with English daily Dawn between 1966 and 1983, bought Watan Gujarati when this oldest newspaper was founded by Muhammad Ali Jinnah in 1942 in Mumbai and later shifted, with the partition of India, to Karachi.
The circulation has witnessed massive cuts, Saati said, and the reason, he offered, is that Gujarati, despite being a mother tongue of top-notch industrialists, businessmen, stockbrokers, and owners of major media houses such as Dawn and ARY, is no longer taught at schools and spoken at homes. “Even the majority of the city’s schools were owned by Gujaratis but the irony is that none of them taught this language anymore,” Saati said.
“Once, the bank cheque in this city would also be written in Gujarati language. Now among 3.5 million, fewer than 10,000 may know the language,” he said.
Gujarati people have their distinctive proud culture and if the language continues to decline at this rate, the community will also lose their rich customs and traditions. Like his Watan, Millat Gujarati newspaper is also alive but the newspapers may not survive if the language continues to vanish.
Amid these fears of Saati and others, the Karachi’s youths have shown a path, which may lead to save the language from its complete death, even if it is not completely revived.
“We are proud of Gujarati language. It’s the language of the father of the nation. It’s the language of Edhi. It’s not only a language of Hindus but people of Gujarati descent belonging to different faiths,” Jethwa says.
“We urge all communities, including Parsi and Muslims, to come forward and join us in our #SaveGujarati initiative,” he said.
“We will soon hold meetings with different communities to request them for providing their community centers for such classes for a large number of people, who want to learn their mother tongue — a language that was spoken by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Mohandas Gandhi and Abdul Sattar Edhi,” he says.


Mob torches police station, stones murder suspect to death in northwest Pakistan 

Updated 12 sec ago

Mob torches police station, stones murder suspect to death in northwest Pakistan 

  • More than 1,000 people attacked the police station in Bajaur’s Nawagai area on Friday 
  • Additional police contingents have since been deployed in Nawagai, 24 suspects arrested 

PESHAWAR: A mob set fire to a police station and stoned a murder suspect to death in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province on Friday, a top police officer said.
The Nawagai police received a complaint on Wednesday that a man named Abdul Ghafoor had gone missing in Bara Kamangara village in Bajaur tribal district, with relatives accusing Abdul Rasheed of kidnapping him.
District Police Officer (DPO) Abdul Samad Khan told Arab News a police team was constituted that found body of the missing person in a remote area the same day. The police managed to arrest the murder suspect on Thursday.
“On Friday, around 1,200 people forced their way into the police station and set fire to it,” Khan said. “The law enforcers present inside fired shots in the air to disperse the crowd, but the mob broke the lockup’s door, dragged the suspect out and stoned him to death.”
Malik Farmanullah, a local tribal elder, said the killing has sent shock waves across the district and put a question mark on the role of police. He called the incident purely an “outcome of personal grudge” between the two families.
“The infuriated mob believed it would never get justice if the matter reached the courts,” Farmanullah said.
Arab News made repeated attempts, but could not reach the family of the deceased for comments.
Irfanullah Khan, an MPhil scholar and an expert on tribal affairs, linked the incident to the absence of a multipronged government strategy and procedural delays in the merger of Bajaur, one of seven districts of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), with KP province.
“Police and judicial systems are not fully functional in the erstwhile FATA, despite the fact that the restive areas were merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2018,” he said. 
“The process of FATA-KP merger goes at a snail’s pace, which is a constant source of trouble for locals.”
The government merged the tribal districts with KP to bring relief to the restive region, which borders Afghanistan and has long endured the presence of militant groups and military operations against them.
But despite political and legal mainstreaming of the region of over 5 million residents, development is slow, with many not having access to most basic services, including health and education.
Soon after the incident, according to DPO Khan, additional police contingents were called in to bring the tense situation under control and arrest the perpetrators.
“We have detained 28 suspects who had a lead role in storming the police station,” he said. “The incident occurred at a time when most of the policemen were out on duty.”
The DPO said police officials were holding talks with local elders to ensure calm in the area and thwart any untoward incident. The police were investigating the matter from different angles and it would be too early to conclude anything, he added.


Islamabad says Beijing has agreed to 'phased return' of Pakistani students to China

Updated 21 May 2022

Islamabad says Beijing has agreed to 'phased return' of Pakistani students to China

  • Pakistani embassy says both sides are finalizing arrangements for the return of first batch of students 
  • 28,000 Pakistani students are enrolled in Chinese varsities, with a majority stuck in Pakistan since 2020 

ISLAMABAD: Beijing has agreed on a "phased return" of Pakistani students to Chinese universities, the Pakistani embassy in China said on Friday, which would be subject to the COVID-19 situation in the host country.

Around 28,000 Pakistani students are enrolled in Chinese educational institutions, with most of them stuck in Pakistan since China suspended entry of foreign nationals in March 2020 to stop the spread of COVID-19.

For more than a year, the Pakistani government had been saying it was in touch with the Chinese authorities to help Pakistani students return to their colleges and universities.

In a telephonic conversation on May 16, the Pakistani embassy said, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif discussed the issue with his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang and conveyed the sentiments of the families of Pakistani students who wished to resume their studies in China.

“The embassy had long been engaged with the relevant Chinese authorities regarding the return of Pakistani students to their universities in China,” the Pakistani embassy said in statement.

“Resultantly, the two sides have agreed for phased return subject to the Covid-19 situation in China.”

In the recent telephonic conversation, the statement said, the Chinese premier assured that Beijing accorded “high priority” to the matter. “Two sides are now finalizing arrangements for return of 1st batch of students at an early date,” it read.

The Pakistani embassy said it would keep pursuing the matter with the Chinese authorities for the return of the remaining students as well.


Pakistan’s Azhar Ali makes unbeaten double hundred in English county game 

Updated 21 May 2022

Pakistan’s Azhar Ali makes unbeaten double hundred in English county game 

  • Azhar reached his double century in the final over of the day with a cover drive for four 
  • Azhar arrived at Worcestershire’s headquarters after a successful Test series against Australia 

LONDON: Pakistan’s Azhar Ali made an unbeaten double century as he helped Worcestershire rewrite the record books in an English County Championship match against Leicestershire on Friday.
Azhar and former England Under-19 international Jack Haynes put on 281 for the third wicket — a record partnership against Leicestershire, surpassing the 278 by Cyril Walters and Harold Gibbons in 1934.
Their stand was the cornerstone of Worcestershire’s 456 for three, a lead of 308, at stumps on the second day of four at New Road.
Haynes was eventually dismissed for 127 but Azhar reached his double century in the final over of the day with a cover drive for four off Rehan Ahmed.
By that stage Azhar had faced 328 balls, with one six and 18 fours, and also shared in another century stand with Brett D’Oliveira (52 not out).
Azhar arrived at New Road, Worcestershire’s headquarters, after a successful Test series against Australia which included a marathon 185 spanning 11 hours at Rawalpindi.
The 37-year-old struggled at first with the change to English conditions and his opening six innings for Midlands county Worcestershire yielded 34 runs.
But the former Pakistan captain has found his form since hitting 92 against a Durham attack including new England skipper Ben Stokes.


‘Dance Icon’: Breakdancing makes school boy a household name in Pakistan’s Balochistan

Updated 21 May 2022

‘Dance Icon’: Breakdancing makes school boy a household name in Pakistan’s Balochistan

  • 10-year-old Subhan Sohail was inspired to dance after seeing Michael Jackson’s videos online
  • Sohail has never received professional training and hones his skills by watching online videos 

QUETTA: Subhan Sohail was six years old when he first saw a video of the “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson, on his mother’s cellphone and announced he wanted to be a break-dancer.
Four years later, Sohail, 10, has become a household name in his home province of Balochistan in southwest Pakistan since a video of him in his school uniform breakdancing went viral after a teacher shared it on social media.
“People started praising me, which gave me confidence,” the resident of Degari Kahan village in Kech district told Arab News.
Subhan’s mother, who only identified herself by her first name Shereen, said she supported her son pursuing breakdancing as a career, though the family had faced some opposition in Balochistan where many conservative Pakistanis frown on dancing. And breakdancing, an art form born on the streets of New York City in the 1970s, is a novel concept in the impoverished province. 
“I was very happy after hearing that my son’s video was appreciated,” Sohail’s mother said. “But later many people in our family discouraged Subhan and told him that dancing was not thought to be a good profession within our rural society.”
“Despite such negative comments,” she added, “I still want him to take up dancing as a career because my son wants to be a world class dancer.”
Sohail, who has never taken any professional lessons, says he learns new skills by watching online videos. That’s also how he started his dancing journey:
“I learned how to breakdance by watching videos on my mother’s cellphone. I was six years old and started practicing at my house without taking any dance classes.”
On a regular day, Sohail said, he spends two hours after school practicing.
Lately, performing in public has become a favorite activity.
“Initially, I was shy and hesitant to dance in public,” Sohail said. “Then my family supported me and emboldened me to perform at school and family events.”
Amul Sakin Baloch, a teacher at the dancer’s school for the last 11 years, said her young student was a “hero,” entertaining others with his unique talent.
“I first uploaded his dance video on social media after which many people requested me to share it again because they loved his performance,” Baloch told Arab News. “Now he has become a dance icon for the whole province of Balochistan.”
Sohail Ismael, a driver employed at the school his son attends, said he had never discouraged Sohail from pursuing his passion, but wanted him to become an engineer to secure a more viable future.
“He was reluctant to dance in front of me and used to practice in my absence,” Ismael said. “But I have been encouraging him and now he often shows me his new dance moves.”


Pakistani FM says Islamabad and Washington entering new engagement after years of strain

Updated 21 May 2022

Pakistani FM says Islamabad and Washington entering new engagement after years of strain

  • Bilawal Bhutto Zardari says United States and his country must move beyond past tensions over neighboring Afghanistan
  • Recalls legacy of his mother and grandfather, calls them “towering figures on world stage” and says he feels “burden of history”

UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan’s new foreign minister says the United States and his country must move beyond past tensions over Afghanistan and are entering a new engagement after years of strained relations under former Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the 33-year-old son of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, spoke in an interview with The Associated Press in New York, where he was attending meetings this week on the global food crisis at UN headquarters. He has also held talks with top diplomats, including a one-hour discussion with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Bhutto Zardari called the meeting with Blinken “very encouraging and very positive and productive.”

“We believe that Pakistan must continue to engage with the United States at all levels,” he said. “This meeting was indeed an important first step.”

Bhutto Zardari co-chairs one of the two largest parties in Pakistan’s disparate governing coalition, which spans the political spectrum from the left to the radically religious. The coalition removed Khan in a no-confidence vote on April 10. Shahbaz Sharif, the leader of the other major party, replaced Imran Khan as prime minister.

US-Pakistani ties deteriorated under Khan, who as prime minister tapped into anti-American sentiment in Pakistan that has spread ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda, and the US war on terror. The 2011 American raid that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan angered many hard-liners in the country.

Khan accused the Biden administration of colluding with the opposition to oust him, a claim the administration denies.

Afghanistan also raised mistrust between the two countries. Washington felt Islamabad did too little to help ensure peace as the US and NATO withdrew their troops from Afghanistan; Pakistan insists it did all it could to broker peace and blamed the abrupt US pullout. During the final weeks of the American withdrawal, the Taliban overran Kabul in mid-August and seized power.

Bhutto Zardari said the Pakistan-US relationship in the past had been “too colored by the events in Afghanistan, of the geopolitical considerations, and it’s time for us to move beyond that to engage in a far broader, deeper and more meaningful relationship.”

Under Khan, Pakistan pushed hard for the world to engage with Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers, and Bhutto Zardari said his country continues to do so.

“Regardless of what we feel about the regime in Afghanistan,” the world can’t abandon the Afghan people and must immediately address the country’s humanitarian crisis and crumbling economy, he said. A total collapse of the Afghan economy would be a disaster for Afghans, Pakistan and the international community, he said, expressing concern that many Afghans would flee the country.

Pakistan is also insisting the Taliban live up to their international commitments that the country not be used for terrorism, that girls and women be able to pursue education, and that they form an inclusive government, he said.

The Taliban, however, have taken a more hard-line turn in recent weeks, imposing new restrictions on women. At the same time, tensions have grown between the Taliban and Pakistan over militants based in Afghanistan carrying out attacks in Pakistan.

Bhutto Zardari said the more the humanitarian crisis is alleviated and the economy is saved from collapse, “the more likely we are to succeed in our pursuit for women’s rights and the more likely we are to succeed in our efforts against terrorism.”

He said his focus in talks with Blinken was on increasing trade, particularly in agriculture, information technology and energy. He said he is looking forward to working with the US on an initiative to empower women, including women entrepreneurs.

On economic, defense and military coordination, “if we continue to engage, then we can move forward in a more positive direction,” Bhutto Zardari said.

Asked about Khan’s anti-US rhetoric, Bhutto Zardari dismissed the ex-premier’s accusation of American collusion, calling it a “fanciful conspiracy theory based on a big lie” to explain his removal.

“I am particularly anti the politics of hate, division and polarization,” the foreign minister said. “If we consistently pursue the politics of `you’re with us or against us,’ whether that’s on an international level or a domestic level, I don’t believe it serves the interests of the people of Pakistan.”

He said he believes Pakistanis understand their country needs to engage with the US and all countries, in order to become democratic and progress economically.

President Joe Biden has strengthened ties with Pakistan’s arch-rival India, but Bhutto Zardari said Pakistan is not “jealous” of their relationship. “We believe the world is big enough for both Pakistan and India,” he said.

Biden will meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the leaders of Australia and Japan at a summit in Tokyo on May 24 of the so-called Quad, an Indo-Pacific alliance which China sees as an attempt to contain its economic growth and influence.

Pakistan has a very close economic and military relationship with neighboring China, where Bhutto Zardari is heading to on Saturday. He told the AP he didn’t think the growing relationship with the US would hurt its ties to Beijing.

Pakistan has abstained on UN General Assembly resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and withdrawal of its troops. Bhutto Zardari said Pakistan used to rely a lot on Ukrainian wheat and fertilizer and has been affected by rising food prices and calls for diplomacy to end the war.

The lives of the Bhutto Zardari family have in many ways reflected their country’s turbulence. Bhutto Zardari took over his mother’s Pakistan People’s Party after she was killed in a suicide bombing in December 2007.

The daughter of Pakistan’s first democratically elected prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who led Pakistan in the 1970s and was overthrown and executed by the military, Benazir Bhutto was Pakistan’s first woman premier and twice served as head of government.

At the time of her assassination, she was rallying in a third bid for premiership. Bhutto Zardari’s life in politics was also shaped by his father, Asif Ali Zardari, who served as Pakistan’s president from 2008 to 2013.

In the interview with the AP, Bhutto Zardari recalled the legacy of his mother and grandfather. He called them “towering figures on the world stage,” and said he feels “the burden of history.”

“What motivates and drives me is the pursuit of their unfulfilled mission,” he said. “I hope that we live up to the expectations of the people of Pakistan” who have longed for true democracy and struggled for their economic, political and human rights.

“These are the ideals that we hold dear and we work toward every day,” Bhutto Zardari said.