TAMIL DIGITAL RENAISSANCE
இருந்து, கணிப்பொறித் திரை வரை...
நான்காவது தமிழ் உதயமாகிறது
May 1998, revised March 2007
"..The print revolution brought Tamil from the ola leaves to paper, from the select few
literati to the many. The digital revolution is bringing Tamil from paper to the computer
and the internet.
Swaminathatha Iyer and
Thamotherampillai heralded the
Tamil renaissance in the 19th century.
Today, a Tamil digital renaissance is
taking place - and is helping to bring Tamil people together not
simply culturally but also in political and economic terms..."
Nadesan Satyendra, May 1998
The agricultural revolution and the river valley civilisations led to the rise of the early cities of the Tamil people. The mercantile
expansion of the maritime powers of Europe, led to the colonisation of the Tamil homeland
both in South India and in Eelam (known as Ceylon to the British and as Sri
Lanka to the Sinhalase). The colonisation was led by Great Britain, France, Portugal, and the Dutch. The
industrial revolution fuelled that expansion, led to the breakdown of feudalism and the
birth of nation states in Europe - and, at the same time stifled industrialisation and the
organic growth of nations in the colonial empires.
It was with the departure of the colonial rulers, in the aftermath of the Second World
War that the nations of the fourth world have begun to
assert their identity. The Tamils are one such nation.
Today, the third wave - the digital revolution - is rendering State boundaries
increasingly porous. It has enabled the building of net communities and is helping to bring a new sense of togetherness to Tamils
many lands and across distant seas.
presented by Scott Crawford and Kekula Bray-Crawford at the Internet Society Conference in
1995, provides useful insights on Self
Determination in the Information Age and so does Piet Bakker in
"The swiftly evolving information and communication
technologies and networking infrastructures are playing an expanding role in
supporting the self-determination of peoples and emergent nations...."
Crawford and Kekula Bray-Crawford on Self Determination in the Information
"Although it is sometimes argued that the nation state is
becoming less important and
we’re heading towards a global village, evidence is also pointing
the other way.
Nationalism is flourishing – almost every
armed conflict in the
modern world has
One of the most visible aspects of the new
nationalism is the spread of
nationalistic online activities...."Piet Bakker in
New Nationalism: The
Internet Crusade, 2001
Alex Salmond, Scottish National Party Leader
rightly remarked -
"As our world has become more complex and inter-connected, the need for
nations to be independent with a direct say in regional and global affairs
has become more important - not less. In 1945, there were only 51 members of
the new United Nations. In our new century, there are nearly 200 independent
UN members - and more than 30 of these have emerged since the end of the
Cold War. Thus in the modern world, the processes of independence and
interdependence are mutually supportive and reinforcing. The political
imperative to share the same state for reasons of building a large domestic
market, or great power projection, is a fundamentally outdated 19th-and
Dr.N.Kannan has explored some aspects of the virtual reality of the Tamil world in a thoughtful essay in Tamil. For more than 70 million Tamil people, Nicholas Negroponte's 'being
digital' is already taking on a whole new meaning - and, it seems, may do so increasingly in the
years to come.
The low transaction cost of setting up in cyberspace has fuelled an exponential growth in the world wide web. The digital
revolution is a great leveller - but it is not only that:
"When the printing press was invented it didnt merely level the playing
field to make information more freely available to all levels of society, rather it
revolutionised society by providing a new, cheap method of disseminating information to
far more people than could be accommodated by the handwritten copying of manuscripts in
monasteries. In the information age the internet provides the opportunity to pass on vast
quantities of information at little incremental cost to every form of trader, investor and
market counterpart. The old hegemony of existing institutional investors, exchanges and
brokers is doomed to collapse under the new reality. Just as the clerics lost
power after the printing press, the information revolution undermines the power of
established financial institutions." (Patrick Young & Thomas Theys -
Co-authors of the
The digital revolution is undermining the power of not only established 'financial'
institutions, but other institutions as well. It has begun to give democracy a new
dimension and the politically awakening fourth world has
found a new instrument for self expression.
At the sametime, John Harrington's essay titled 'The
Media, Framing, and the Internet: Dominant Ideologies Persist '
introduces a necessary note of caution.
"...in earlier times violence and the threat of physical force was used to
maintain order. But today control is pursued through very different avenues; most
effectively.... through cultural control, or controlling the common sense....
the dominated are encouraged to see the world as the powerful do, using the various media
in this manner is obviously an excellent and efficient means of control..."
Again, as Dr.Sathyabalan
points out, there is a need to recognise the impact of the market economy and
globalisation on the future of Tamil language and Tamil culture.
"We cannot protect Tamil unless we understand the economic logic of
the so-called development that the West seeks to sell to us. That economic
logic begins from the concept and ideology of the market. Economics is linked to exchange
(irrespective of what is exchanged)... The crux of the matter is that exchange is always
dominated by the powerful and therefore it is more favourable to them since they can
determine the terms and conditions of that exchange/trade. This is one of the key reasons
for the poor and poor nations becoming vulnerable, losing their assets and becoming
indebted.... While we may take many initiatives towards promoting Tamil, we should also
oppose ... the attempt to globalise cultures and commoditise our lives. This is crucial to
protect Tamil in the years to come."
On the one hand, the digital revolution is rendering State boundaries
increasingly porous to money, information and goods. On the other hand, the existing world
order, criminalises the movement of persons to better their livelihood - and labels
those who do so as 'economic refugees'.
The remarks of Jeremy Seabrook, who has
devoted his life to writing about poverty and resistance in both North and South, are not
without a particular urgency:
"Globalisation permits money and goods to move around the world
unimpeded, yet criminalises the other indispensable element of production, labour, when
it seeks to move to where it can command a decent livelihood. And in the process, the
treasures of the earth are mined, ravaged and consumed at an accelerating rate.
Globalisation is imperialism by another name; the world market is an extension of the
global imperial adventure of the nineteenth century; and the majority of the working class
are now located not in the tenements of Berlin and Glasgow, the immigrant apartment blocks
of Chicago and New York, but in the terrible slums of Asia, the favelas of Latin America,
the townships of Africa...
The story of labour holds sober lessons. It shows that it is not only as
workers that people need emancipation from the totalising dogmas of neo-liberalism, but as
consumers too, as complete human beings. There is a new urgency
to the need to formulate a richer form of liberation than that envisaged by the
revolutionaries and pioneers of labour... (Jeremy Seabrook in the New Internationalist,
To the Tamil nation, of more than 70 million people, struggling to be recognised,
the digitising of information whilst enabling easier means of communication across state
boundaries will also, hopefully, help them, as a people, to formulate 'a richer form of
liberation than that envisaged by the revolutionaries and pioneers of labour'.
The Digital Media
continues to serve as a 'force
multiplier' in the Tamil Eelam freedom struggle.
Digitisation opens up new economic opportunities and economic markets of value to the
Tamil people. Tamil entrepreneurs are already tapping into this market to profit by
serving a felt need. Their efforts will cement the growing togetherness of the Tamil
people to the extent that they are also mindful of the need to serve.
"I believe that leadership is not a position.
Its a combination of something you are (your character) and something you do (your
skills and competence). In addition, I believe the best model for leadership is that of a servant
leader, who leads by serving the needs of people...." (Ken Melrose Chairman and
CEO of The Toro Company, a Fortune 500 Company)
Tamil magazines, internet newsgroups,
mailing lists and websites continue to multiply month by month. The
classics of Tamil language
and literature are being digitised and made available to hundreds of thousands
who had not read them before. A fresh impetus has been given to new writers and poets, musicians and dancers.
The Wellcome Library in London
has mounted records in its online catalogue for around 2800 Tamil books on
medicine and allied topics that it purchased on microfilm from the Roja
Muthiah Research Library in Chennai. The collection is publicly available for
research, and the Library would like to encourage the use of
this collection. The Library is privately-owned and is open,
free of charge to all researchers into medical history and allied topics.
The decision of the Indian government (in New Delhi) to privatise ISPs has
encouraged this growth. India with a large reservoir of science graduates,
software programmers, and system analysts may be in a position to take advantage
of the digital revolution, though it had missed out on the industrial
revolution. The decision to privatise was taken in November 1997 and was
implemented an year later in November 1998. In 1999, India had only 500,000
Internet users but toady there are several millions.
Amongst the languages of India, Tamil has already developed a considerable presence in
the Internet. Much research has gone into the development of Tamil fonts and software and
the move towards standardisation of font encoding will increase interoperability. Part of this effort has come from those involved in the
struggle for Tamil Eelam, and the need to secure international
recognition of the justice of that struggle. The rest has come
from dedicated individuals living in many lands.
Tamil Nadu's Information Technology policy
statement in November 1997 set guidelines for the state's role in the digital revolution
and promises to provide better connectivity and facilitate better infrastructure. The
declared initiatives "included according 'industry status' to software units; putting
on par government and private IT ventures; the setting up of Tanitec, the IT institute;
mooting a venture capital corpus for IT industries and the 50 per cent 'floor space index'
relaxation for IT projects."
The state's proposal for setting up a T-Net information backbone connecting all
district headquarters in the state, using the cable TV network was an important
breakthrough. This was followed in February 1999 by Tamilnet'99 - an international
Tamil conference on the use of Tamil in Information Technology and the announcement of the move to establish a
Tamil Internet Research Centre.
"The 75 million-strong Tamil speaking
population worldwide has received a boost in cyberspace, thanks to a
$1.25 million local language initiative launched by the Tamil Nadu
government to promote online content.... Several semi-commercial efforts have thus far been launched to
globally coordinate Web publishing and online business among the
Tamil population, such as
Tamils Motivational Movement,
global Tamil village is in the making," said Ramasamy
Chidambaram Pillay, Minister for Education and Science,
Tamil Nadu Implements Tamil Language Net Plan, 1999
In June 1999, the Tamil Nadu government made order standardising
Tamil font encoding standard and unveiled a new standardised Tamil keyboard. The Electronic Corporation of Tamil Nadu website
illustrates the growing role that the internet has begun to play in Tamil Nadu and the
remarks of the Tamil Nadu Chief
Minister M.Karunanithi at the Inaugration of the Tidel Park for
IT Industries in Chennai, July 2000 underlined the importance of that growth:
"Out of the 23,000 engineers who graduate every
year from Tamilnadu, 13,000 are from information technology-related disciplines, coming
from institutions of excellence such as Indian Institute. of Technology, Chennai; Anna University; PSG College of Technology, Coimbatore,
etc. Software exports from Tamilnadu have increased from a mere Rs. 36 crore in 1994-95 to
a phenomenal Rs. 400 crore in 1997-98 and continues to grow at a CAGR of over 70%. The
hardware exports in the year 1997-98 are in excess of Rs. 700 crore. With over 15,000
professionals presently working in Tamilnadu, we have one of the largest pools of software
professionals in the country."
International Tamil Internet Conference 'Tamil
Internet 2000' held in Singapore launched the International Forum for Information Technology in Tamil
(INFITT). The words of its Executive Director, Mr.Arun Mahizhnan at Tamil Internet 2000
sought to encapsulated the elements of the Tamil digital revolution:
|"...As with any journey, one
has to start with the first step - usually a small step. In the Tamil
diaspora's case, we have taken several long strides in the short time so far. We now
have to chart the course for a long journey. However, in true Internet spirit, market
forces will decide the fate of this peregrination. The Tamil community is fortunate, as it
is resource rich in terms of knowledge, technology, culture and creativity which are
critical success factors in the webworld. Perhaps the three elements that will shape Tamil
Internet are community, content, and commerce. In a world of simultaneous aggregation and
disaggregation, the Tamil community should take advantage of aggregation to leverage its not inconsiderable strength of 65 million members..."
2001 in Kuala Lumpur, Tamil
Internet 2002 in San Francisco, Tamil
Internet 2003 - Chennai and
Tamil Internet 2004 - Singapore reflect the continuing efforts of INFITT to
nurture the Tamil digital revolution.
The Vanni Institute of
Technology was established by the
International Tamil Technical
Professionals' Organization in June 2003 in the town of Kilinochchi in Tamil
Eelam. Its object was to teach the latest technology to the people of
Tamil Eelam, generate high-tech employment in the region and prepare them to
compete in the international market.
Many Tamil software professionals (in the so called 'developed world') are looking at
returning to their homeland as the political and economic climate becomes more attuned to
their own aspirations - for themselves and their children. The digital revolution may be
laying the foundations for a reverse brain drain in the years to come.
At the same time, masses of people in Tamil Nadu,
Malaysia, in Tamil Eelam and in the island of Sri Lanka will benefit from their
interaction with the Tamil diaspora - an interaction which has only just begun and an
interaction which will be a two way process. Digitisation is enabling the Tamil diaspora
to link back with its roots more easily - nourish those roots and in turn be nourished by
the invigorating contact with the ground. Globalisation and localisation are taking
place at the same time.
Mark P. Whitaker of the University of South Carolina argued in 2004 -
".. Tamilnetcom, an Internet news
agency put together by a group of Sri Lankan Tamils to address
the Tamil diaspora and influence English-speaking elites,
subverted international news coverage during Sri Lanka's civil
war by making "ironic" use of the discursive styles of
journalism and anthropology... (and) that this constituted a
particular form of autoethnographic popular anthropology that challenged
professional anthropology, and in some ways sought to replace it."
In April 2005
Red Hat launched a Tamil version of the Linux
operating system -
"..Red Hat India, a provider of open source solutions has launched a
Tamil version of its Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating system ..
addition to the operating system, the Red Hat Enterprise Linux version
4-Tamil includes office suite with a word processor, spreadsheet,
presentation tool as well as a web browser (Firefox) and e-mail client.
..Red Hat is targeting the government and educational institutions for
marketing its software... The cost for the entire Linux version-4 Tamil
suite subscription cost is Rs 1,950, which includes telephonic and web-based
technical support for the first year and upgrades for seven years..."
In the same month Microsoft
interface in Tamil Nadu -
has launched Office Tamil 2003, a Tamil language interface
that provides users a complete range of applications. The
product was officially launched by
former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, and Dayanidhi Maran,
Union minister of communication and information
And Tamil Language Computing Initiatives Launch
at Chennai on 15 April 2005 was marked by
the Release of Free ‘Tamil Software Tools & Fonts’.
The Swiss Tamil Educational Project in Information Technology
for Homeland has as its objective -
"தாயகத்திலுள்ள பின்தங்கிய பிரதேச
மாணவர்களுக்கு கணனிக்கல்வியைக் கற்பித்தலும் தொடர்ந்து
Kanini Project, Tamil Nadu led by major Tamil writer
is aimed at
providing a 100% Tamil desktop PC with open source applications to
the Tamil community.
In March 2007, Tamil Nadu finalized a tender for
40,000 Lenovo dual boot desktops which can be installed with
both Novell's Suse Linux
and Microsoft's Windows XP Starter Edition. According to C. Umashankar,
managing director of
Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu (Elcot), the desktops will be deployed
across schools and government departments in the state.
The print revolution brought Tamil from the ola leaves to paper, from the select few
literati to the many. The digital revolution is bringing Tamil from paper to the computer
and the internet. Swaminathatha Iyer and
Thamotherampillai heralded the Tamil renaissance in the 19th century. Today, a Tamil digital renaissance is taking place - and
is helping to bring Tamil people together not simply culturally but also in
political and economic terms.