Shanmugalingam 26 November 2000
Culture and Tamil Diaspora: Ramalingam Ganeshalingam is faced with a problem that is universal to
uprooted people for good or bad reasons. The United States of America,
though dubbed a "melting pot," is a "cooling cauldron." The
multi-multi-racial polity has almost become a "single race" entity except in
the West and South West, where the Spanish-speaking population is on the rise
and it is possible that these states may become bi-lingual and cause some
problem as with Quebec and Canada.
The villain or hero for any division
within a country, is the importance given to one's language. Among the Tamils by descent, Izham Tamils are undergoing a change in their
status quo from a second-class citizenry to a fully independent free people.
Tamils of India from Tamil Nadu are managing under a Federal Constitution.
"Uprooted Tamils" during the British Raj are so widespread. Most of them
have lost their language identity but maintain a 'Hindu recognition' for identity.
The notion of identity, be it religious, ethnic, or national is perplexing.
In this respect, I think Malaysia offers a better example for research and
guidelines on how Tamil identity emerges in Malaysia, as Tamil language is
still vibrant, although many Malaysian Tamils speak Bahsa Malaysia even more
fluently than English or Tamil.
"Dispersed Tamils" since 1983 are mostly 'Izhavar' who carry the Tamil torch with pride and purpose. Most other Tamils
scattered around the globe have difficulty in concerted action but a few
subscribe to Tamil ideals and feel strongly about the little 'God's acre' in
that corner of the world called Tamil Izham in Sri Lanka.
I strongly feel that Tamil Culture without Tamil Language is like body
without soul. In a commercial world, tools essential to increasing
material wealth take precedent over matters of the heart. Tamil as a
language of commerce is yet to take its due place even in 'most Tamil spoken'
Tamil Nadu. English (through coercion to begin with) has now become a widely
through persuasion, owing to the material success of the
Western World of the "Whites."
Material success is therefore associated with WHITE. It has always puzzled
me and I am still looking for a white human or a black human in the same way. My brain "SEES" milk and ebony respectively. It is well implanted in us that
which Gary Zukav said in his book "The seat of the soul":
"We associate white with purity, goodness and rightness. White is the
symbol of positive and protective energy. We dress heroes and heroines in
white. White represents wholeness of spirit. We associate God, God's
messengers and heaven with white. We picture angels in robes of white. We
associate black with evil. We dress villains in black. Black is the symbol
of destruction. When catastrophe strikes, we call it a black day. Black
represents despair, anger and rage, which are absences of love, compassion
and forgiveness. We say that a person who feels these things is in black
I do not subscribe to the compulsion of teaching diaspora children Tamil as
a must. As parents if we use Tamil as the language of home communication,
Tamil will not be forgotten and in the process children will be introduced
to the beauty of Tamil through old and new works of literature.
I will even
venture to say Romanized Tamil will help propagate Tamil better than
insisting on children learning the initially complicated alphabet. The fear that
Tamil is not a profitable language should not be the criterion, as everyone
in the diaspora learns the language of their domicile.
Let us not be naive about
this mistaken WHITE and BLACK dichotomy. As much as the Japanese and the Chinese
are proud of their heritage and language, Tamils have no reason to be
ashamed of their ethnicity. In fact today, every Tamil should be proud of
being a Tamil with the unprecedented, brave and consistent leadership of Pirabaharan, leading the Tamil
crusade for a free Tamil Nation.
I do not think we need a forum to make Tamil children learn Tamil. This is
essentially an APPA AMMA attitude. Once the children gain a working
knowledge of Tamil, there is http://tamilnation.org
and other modern tools
for knowledge search. How many of our children have heard such
"tamizhukkum amutenRu pEr! - aNtat
tamizh inpat tamizh engkaL ujirukku Ner!
Tamizhukku NilavenRu pEr! - inpat
Tamizh engkaL camukattin viLyvukku NIr." BharathythAsan
Tamil also called ambrosia - that
Tamil joyous Tamil equal to life
Tamil also called moonlight - joyous
Tamil is the water for our society to grow. (AppuArchie's English)
Deny me Freedom, deny me life
From: Ramalingam Ganeshalingam, London, United Kingdom,
20 November 2000
The Preservation of Culture by Dispersed Tamils: Your website deserves all the praises and accolades it receives. In addition to news on events, current affairs and discussions on Tamil issues, the site also provides a 'window' for the Tamils dispersed throughout the world to 'view' and enjoy the
richness of a part of their culture that they had left behind.
The bulk of the visitors to the website are likely to belong to the generation of Tamils, who had spent their formative years in their homeland and now live in a foreign land. A great majority amongst this group will be Tamils from Ceylon / Sri Lanka who left their country during the last forty years. They have set up expatriate communities in the
New Zealand and other west European and Scandinavian countries. It must be recognised that these communities will be permanent. Whatever happens back home, it is likely that sizeable Tamil communities will remain in most of these countries.
We like to think that the way we live, the things we love and value and the values we live by will automatically be perpetuated by our children while they still remain respected and successful members of the society in the host country. But will this be so? We, who were born in Ceylon learned our values and our culture from our environment. What about our
children born in the settled country, in a completely different cultural environment, growing up amongst several other communities with completely different cultural backgrounds?
Under the title 'Tamils - A Trans State Nation' the Tamilnation.org website provides comprehensive information on the migration of Tamils since the eighteenth century. It is interesting to take the examples of
Tamils who migrated to Trinidad in the Caribbean and Guyana in South America on the one hand and those who migrated to Malaya, on the other. Malaya, as we know, subsequently became
Malaysia and Singapore.
Tamils in Malaysia and Singapore have been able to preserve the culture to a great extent while those in Trinidad and Guyana very little. By comparing these two extreme cases one could identify some of the critical factors that affect the 'preservation of culture' by an immigrant group in a foreign land. Learning Tamil language as part of the curricula at school, speaking the language at home and the prevailing dominant culture in the host country are perhaps some factors.
There is no doubt that most of us would like to preserve as much of our culture as possible for our future generations. There may still be some of us who may feel otherwise.
I strongly feel that this is a subject that deserves careful attention whilst those of us, who are the link between the two societies, are still alive.
All Tamil expatriate communities have begun establishing 'institutions' for the preservation of our culture in the respective settled lands. Perhaps we should look at these institutions critically. Should these institutions be mere duplicates of those found back home? Will our children and grandchildren patronise them after we are gone?
Our children born in the host countries 'think' differently from most of us who were born and brought up in Sri Lanka. Many parents are unaware of this fact while the children are young and are within the home environment. But as they grow up as young adults they question the need for some of our practices and rituals. Our parents never experienced these situations and as a result many of us have been caught unprepared.
How should Tamil culture be preserved? What steps should we take?
We must recognise that we cannot preserve it all, nor should we try. All living cultures develop and change. Should we therefore take rational and practical approaches to establish institutions that will preserve our 'essential' culture and traditions that will be more enduring? Institutions and traditions that our future generations will be proud to patronise, cherish and enjoy as well as to help maintain their Tamil Identity?
My object in writing this is to create a forum for public discussion in our community and not to provide readymade solutions. This matter, in my opinion, will attract much attention and will help towards an enlightened approach to the preservation of our culture for our future generations in the settled lands.
I would much appreciate if you could consider opening a 'Forum' on this topic at
website. Thank you.