DURING the days leading up to the independence in 1947, Sindhi journalism played its role within the larger movement to attain freedom by creating a separate homeland for the Muslims. Once the target was achieved, regional newspapers became more objective and focused on their role of being society’s watchdogs.
Owing to the migration of some writers and journalists to India in the wake of partition, there appeared a slump for some time but soon new publications appeared. Although newspapers and periodicals started coming out of various cities across the province, Karachi continued to remain the hub of Sindhi journalism well into the 1950s.
At the time of independence, there was just one regular Sindhi newspaper coming out from Karachi; Al-Wahid that was brought out by Haji Abdullah Haroon in March 1920. Almost a quarter of a century later, Hilal-i-Pakistan was launched in Hyderabad. In the early 1950s, Nawa-i-Sindh, Naeen Sindh and Mehran joined the list of regional newspapers from Karachi, while Karwan came out from Hyderabad.
Ibrat and Khadim-i-Watan had started off as weeklies, but were converted into dailies in the late 1950s. In the upper Sindh, Nawa-i-Inqlab and Nijat came out from Sukkur; Sarang, Nawa-i-Sindh and Ittehad from Jacobabad; and Nazim from Shikarpur.
In the mid-1970s, there were two more additions from Hyderabad: Aftab and Sindh News. Kazi Aslam Akbar launched the daily Kawish in 1991, which has now become the first mass-circulated newspaper in Sindhi language and is the biggest success story in the 136-year history of Sindhi journalism. Karachi, which had lost its importance as a centre of Sindhi press, has regained its position with the launch of Awami Awaz, Jago, Kawish and Barsat, which later moved to Hyderabad.
The press enjoyed freedom for only a few years after independence. Al-Wahid was suspended twice before it pulled the shutters down. Karwan was lucky as it just got away with one suspension but it had more coming its way not much later. The opposition to the concept of One Unit in the mid-1950s was the most intense in Sindh. Naturally, the sentiment got reflected in newspapers of the time and they faced the wrath of those who mattered. Karwan, this time, was shut down twice.
The martial law regime imposed all kinds of restrictions on Sindhi press, just as it was doing with the national media. At one stage, the use of the word ‘Sindh’ was practically banned in official correspondence, newspapers and periodicals. It was replaced with terms like ‘Southern Zone’ and ‘Lower Indus Valley’. Even the map of Sindh that was used in the emblem of three leading Sindhi newspapers of the time was removed. Cut in government advertisements and newspaper quotas were some of the levers used to keep the press in tow. In short, all kinds of arbitrary laws were used against newspapers that showed any kind of defiance.
The return to democracy in the early 1970s gave hope that the dark night was finally over, but, as it happened, 32 printing presses were closed down and a number of Sindhi newspapers and journals ceased publication during the first government of Pakistan People’s Party, led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. These included even the literary journal Rooh Rehan and showbiz magazine Filmi Duniya.
The military government of General Ziaul Haq was the most ruthless of them all in terms of media curbs. Under the censorship laws, almost every piece of creative writing was subjected to meaningless restrictions. Only Naeen Zindagi survived the onslaught as it existed with selective ideology and stayed away from both creativity and research.
Other than the newspapers, the tradition of Sindhi periodicals is pretty strong. Latif, Aaj Kal, Ahle Qalam, Laal and Aftab made their mark in the early years of independence. The Sindhi Adabi Board began publishing Mehran, a quarterly, in 1954 which is today counted as a prestigious literary journal. It has a record of uninterrupted publication over the years, offering a decent forum for both creative writing and research. Almost all eminent Sindhi writers have been associated with the magazine. Suhni, founded in 1967 with meagre finances, also grew into something big by attracting a large audience with its creative output.
As for political journals, Agte Qadam and Naoon Niyapo also created space for themselves, but couldn’t survive the changing times and had to cease publication owing to political reasons.
Overall, the universe of Sindhi newspapers and periodicals is much larger than any other regional language in Pakistan. And, the good thing is, it is continuing to expand.
The writer is a senior journalist.