This article historicizes the ethnicity idea, which has anachronistically come to shape academic understanding of Sindh and Pakistan across a broad period of history. Instead, the Four-Nationality Thesis, and other ideas, animated politics in Pakistan’s earlier decades. The Four Nationality Thesis, which drew on global leftist thought, conceived Pakistan as a set of nationalities, corresponding to its provinces, which were conceived to be distinct, culturally, linguistically, historically, and territorially. It provided the conceptual framework for a federalist politics against the unitary state of Pakistan. When the Sindh government made Sindhi the sole official provincial language in 1972, the ensuing conflict highlighted the conceptual limitations of the nationality idea, and its territorialization of culture. In short, this article argues that the history of concepts is necessary to understand politics in Sindh and Pakistan.
The ethnicity concept frames discussions of regional politics in Pakistan today, as in many other parts of the world. However, this concept only became established in popular and academic discourse in Pakistan in the late 1980s. This article considers the conceptual apparatus for apprehending the region, in particular the region of Sindh, that was in place before ethnicity. It argues that Sindh was a heterogeneous idea articulated at times at the intersection, and at other times in the divergence, of concepts of religion, race, language, and nation. The article considers three historic moments in the context of broad global transformations: Sindh’s communalization and racialization in the nineteenth century; provincialization in the early twentieth century; and finally its culturalization in the early decades of Pakistan’s history. In doing so, it charts a history of the region before ethnicity and also offers a genealogy of the region as a cultural entity.
This article examines a turn towards the region in two genres related to Persian poetry in eighteenth-century Sindh, the bayāẓ or poetic anthology and taẕkira or biographical dictionary. I argue that poets in Sindh’s premier city, Thatta, established Sindh as an organizing principle for poetry and the poetic community, initiating a process of regionalization in Persian after the end of Mughal rule. Notably, this was done without the patronage or encouragement of the regional successors to the Mughals in Sindh. These poets neither sought out vernaculars, nor predicated regionalization upon cultural difference. Rather, regionalization without vernacularization was the basis for their participation in the transregional enterprise of Persian poetry in a milieu where the Mughals and their officials were no longer sources of patronage or of poetic standards. The case of Persian poetry in Sindh calls for rethinking the function and status of Persian beyond its role as a language of power and for considering the role of Persian poets in bringing the region to renewed cultural salience in eighteenth-century Sindh.