The rays from the mid-December sun enter the classroom through its porous wooden windows and reflect on the peeling walls. A blast of wind shakes the dangling plaster and the ceiling fan. Oblivious to the surroundings, Grade 3 teacher Subra Ahmed, sitting on a chair, continues to teach a lesson from an Urdu book to three children. They wear no uniform.
This is Heralal Narayan Ganathra School in the Soldier Bazar area of Karachi. The school is the only state-run Gujarati-medium school in the province. Last year its principal, Tara Vanti Bai retired. After her, only seven pupils enrolled at the school and half of them attended the classes, that too occasionally. Yet the school continues to run with one teacher who doesn’t know Gujarati.
Heralal Narayan Ganathra, a Hindu philanthropist had set up the school in the early 1920s to promote education in Gujarati among his community. There isn’t a single other institution that offers education in Gujarati-medium.
There are two million Gujarati-speaking people in Karachi but NADRA (National Database Registration Authority) has omitted Gujarati from the column asking applicants about their mother tongue.
Several decades ago, Gujarati was a language spoken frequently in the city. It was also the main language of some major religious groups including Muslims, Buddhists, Ismailis, and Hindus.
“I had visited almost all Gujarati dominant neighbourhoods including the areas of Dawoodi Bohras, Ismaili Khojas, Memons, Kathiawaris, Katchhis, Parsis and Hindus, to convince them to send their children to the Gujarati-medium school. But, I was not appreciated by these communities,” said Tara Vanti Bai.
She was appointed as Gujarati Language Teacher (GLT) in 1982 by the Sindh government. She retired on April 15 last year.
Tara Bai said some two decades ago, parents used to enroll their children at her school to educate them in their own language. Most of the children were from the Hindu low-income class. “Sometimes they would stop sending their children to school so that they could help out with cleaning and sweeping the streets. This affected their studies badly. I would go to their homes and teach them there.”
In her teaching career, Tara Bai taught most subjects in Gujarati including Math, Science and Social Studies. She also used to make the question papers and was also the only examiner for the board examination of Class 5 students until the language remained a subject in schools till the late 1980s.
Apart from the low enrollment ratio, Gujarati textbooks were hard to find in bookshops and local markets. In the late 1980s, Tara Bai imported some books and dictionaries from India. Later on, when the internet became common, she downloaded schoolbooks of the higher level from the internet.
“I did this to encourage my students. During my services at the education department, I struggled a lot to serve the language. I did what I could do,” she said, adding, “I provided free books, schoolbags and uniforms, I even used to bring candies for my students.”
Chandar Kant Chouhan, a former education officer, was of the view that Gujarati communities represent one of the major ethnic groups of Karachi, but they don’t care for their own history and culture. Gujarati-medium schooling is no more because Gujaratis don’t really stress upon their children to learn the language. As a result, both private and government schools stopped teaching it.
Chouhan also expressed his serious concerns over changing the names of those educational institutes which were set up by Gujarati social workers in the pre-partition era.
The Sindh government renamed Seth Kooverji Khemji Lohana Gujarati School, located on Mission Road in Saddar Town of South Karachi to Malala Yousafzai Government Girls Secondary School, he pointed out.
On February 6, 2012, a ceremony was held at the premises in which Malala, her father Ziauddin Yousafzai and former senior minister for education Pir Mazhar-ul-Haq were there to rename Seth Kooverji Khemji Lohana Gujarati School as Malala Yousafzai Government Girls Secondary School. Khemji had founded the school before partition.
Chouhan revealed Khemji with other social workers included Magan Lal and Chighanlal Jevraj Harkhani had also established two more schools situated near Malala Government Girls School. Those schools are now known as Loco Islamia Primary School and New Ideal Primary School — and they have not been functional since 2012.
However, those social workers had also donated a well for the dwellers of the locality. The water well was situated on the free space between those schools. Thankfully, the plaque of the water well is still there on the wall of New Ideal Primary School.
In 1997, Chouhan’s father Shankarlal Chouhan had started free classes for learning Gujarati at Iqra Public School Kharadar in Lyari Town, South Karachi. The school was owned by late Abdus Sattar Khamosh. However, after the death of both persons, Khamosh and Chouhan, no one from the community bothered to come forward and run the classes at the school, Chouhan regretted.
A number of Gujarati-speaking journalists and community members told The News on Sunday they had studied Gujarati as a subject in Matric. The former chairman of the Board of Secondary Education Karachi (BSEK), Anwar Ahmedzai also confirmed that the board used to conduct exams for Gujarati subject in the early 1970s.
Ahmedzai said, “Karachi always remained a hub of business because of being a port city. In the beginning the four communities involved in businesses included Gujarati, Parsi, Sindhi and the ruling class — the British.”
“The ruling class set up English medium missionary schools. The Sindhi community established Sindhi medium schools. NJV is one school that still sticks to Sindhi-medium schooling. In the same way, Gujarati and Parsi communities also started their own schools. The language of both communities was Gujarati. After 1947, however, both the communities adopted Urdu and English. Thus their language draw less attention as a medium of education,” said Ahmedzai.
A number of people TNS interviewed said that around 60 Gujarati-medium educational institutions were functioning in the city until the nationalisation of schools in 1972 under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. When General Zia denationalised schools, the owners got back some of the schools but the teaching of Gujarati schools lost momentum.
Different members of the Gujarati community, like journalists, representatives and office-holders of various organisations and associations of the community, including Pakistan Gujarati Journalists Association, World Gujarati Organisation (WGO), Gujarati Forum, and Junagadh State Muslim Federation agreed that the Gujarati community has no interest in saving its language.
WGO secretary general Shabbir Hussain Qureshi said the state is responsible for educating children in their mother tongue. But, if an ethnic group does not take interest in learning their own language, then what can the authorities do? Once a Gujarati businessman Muhammad Sadiq Bilwani donated signboards that were written in Gujarati to Gujarati shopkeepers but they were reluctant to put these signboards on display.
Nawab Muhammad Jahangir Khanji of Junagadh said Gujarati ethnic groups feel shy while speaking their language, even though Gujarati is their only identity.
“I speak but my children can’t speak Gujarati. My children sometimes look at me curiously whenever I communicate in the language with elders in my family,” Naseem Usman, a senior Gujarati journalist told TNS, adding, “except for Dawoodi Bohras other Gujarati communities have almost forgotten the language.”
Raees Ahmed Khan, Vice-Chairman of Pakistan Gujarati Journalists Association complained that in the latest national census in 2017 the Gujarati ethnic groups were not counted despite raising the issue with Chief Minister Sindh and other government officials. But the CM was unable to fix the problem.
He, however, suggested that if the government has ignored their language it becomes the responsibility of the Gujaratis to introduce Gujarati as a subject in their private schools.
In the past three decades, Sindh government has appointed only two teachers of Gujarati language, Tara Vanti Bai in 1982 and Sorraya Malik in 1989. However, due to low enrollment percentage in government schools, both the teachers could not succeed in teaching Gujarati. Now, Vanti Bai is spending her retirement days at home while Sorraya Malik is teaching Urdu and other subjects at a government school in the city.
However, there is a ray of light that is still keeping the language alive as two Gujarati dailies — Vatan and Millat are still getting published from Karachi. But there is an acute shortage of workers who can understand Gujarati.
Gujarati schools that were
W.M Hassan Ali Government Girls School Lyari, Hanifa Bai Government Girls School, Saddar, Jenu Bai Jee Allana Government Girls Secondary School, Lyari, Ghulam Ali Allana Government Girls Secondary School, Saddar, Mission Road Government Girls School, Saddar, T.K Jiswani Government Girls Secondary School, Saddar, Kotwali Building Government Girls School, Saddar, Kara Bai Karim Jee Government Boys, Lyari, Jenu Bai Jee Allana,Government Girls Lower Secondary School, Saddar, Nanakwara Government Girls Lover Secondary School, Saddar, New Kumharwara Gujrati, Government Girls Primary School, Lyari, Shavdas Velji Government Girls Primary School, Saddar, M.M Salwata Government Girls Primary School, Saddar, Tayya Jee Government Girls Primary School, Saddar, Haji Abdullah Haroon Government Boys Secondary School, Saddar, Kalidas Ji Government Girls Primary School, Saddar, Seth Kooverji Khimji Lohana Gujrati School now Malala Yousafzai Government Girls School, Saddar, Loco Islamia Primary School, Saddar, New Ideal Primary School, Saddar, HN Ganathar Government School, Saddar, Sindh Madrashtul Islam, now University.
Kotyana Memon Association Girls and Boys School, Lyari, National Secondary School Boultan Market, Saddar, Okai Memon School Kharadar, Lyari, F.C Moriswala Girls Secondary School, Saddar and Tayabali A.Alavi Secondary School.