Before moving to the United States three years ago, I had spent a good chunk of my early childhood and youth in Balochistan. My upbringing in such a diverse region had me firmly grounded in the local culture and heritage – mainly my native language, Balochi, a language spoken by over 10 million people around the world.

I could speak my mother tongue fluently since I was a native speaker, however, reading and writing the language was a hard nut to crack. This is true for many native Balochi speakers of my generation in Pakistan, as well.

This situation is a mainly due to the fact that the language is not taught to Baloch kids at the primary level. Not even at the high school level.

On the contrary, all my schooling was done either in Urdu or English. On top of that, we were forced to learn Arabic from the six grade onward. I can still recall the days when I had to get physically punished by my high school teachers for not recalling my Arabic and English lessons. My friends, who wrote poetry in Balochi, had to abstain from sharing their work in front of the teachers. Anyone who got caught writing poetry in Balochi would get their names edited and they were called “aashiq”, which means lover. Obviously, it was easier for my friends to express their feelings of love and romance at that adolescent age in their mother tongue than in a foreign language that they barely had any affiliation to – other than mundane words in the textbooks and the boring lectures from the teachers.

I wouldn’t blame my teachers. It is the state that we should blame for not recognizing and promoting indigenous nationalities and their culture, language and heritage. Rather than encouraging and bolstering them, the state has tried to brush everyone with a single stroke in order to make the nation a homogenous identity.

Notwithstanding the state apathy, a number of Baloch writers and thinkers have done remarkable work on their own for the promotion and preservation of the language.

Professor Saba Dastiyari did a great job by establishing the largest Balochi research library in Malir, Karachi. Unfortunately, he was dastardly killed in broad daylight. The reference library has rendered immense services by conducting Balochi language classes on a regular basis.

Dashtiari’s work was a continuation of another great Balochi writer, poet, linguist and lexicographer, Syed Zahoor Shah Hashmi. He composed the first comprehensive Balochi dictionary in over 30 years.

Due to the limited resources and other reasons, the Syed Ganj dictionary has remained in limited print.

As I mentioned earlier, I had to struggle to regain my language. Due to limited online learning available to me the in the U.S, I had to struggle by looking at the print version of Syed Ganj and it really helped me a great deal. However, the difficulty with the print version is that it consumes a lot of time to find a word in it, which was very irritating.  

I discussed the issue with some likeminded Balochi speakers in the U.S. We talked about the challenges that the Balochi language was facing and things like how hardly we knew about our language and what we could do to learn to preserve it.

We knew we had to do something for the promotion of our language. There was so much that had to be done, and there was so little we could do given our limited resources.

We came up with the idea of creating an online searchable Balochi dictionary. Given the power the internet provides, we have made it a crowdsourced project where any Balochi speaker living in any part of the world can easily add new words to its database.

After almost a year of hard work, we have officially launched a beta version of our crowdsourced dictionary. However, creating a standard dictionary requires time and energy. We are looking forward to seeking guidance and help from any native and non-native Balochi speaker.

A project of this scale needs significant resources and time. We will appreciate any help anyone can provide in this great cause of promoting and preserving a critical language like Balochi.

Check out the dictionary here: www.balochidictionary.org