Sri Lankan speakers feel ignored at conference

by PK Balachandran

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s Tamil-speakers, who are the second largest linguistic group in Sri Lanka, feel ignored by the organisers of the World Classical Tamil Conference now on at Coimbatore.

A.H.M.Azwer, a veteran Muslim leader with a passion for Tamil, told Express here on Saturday, that though Prof.K.Sivathamby had been given a major role at the Coimbatore conclave, top leaders of Lanka’s Tamil-speaking communities were not invited.

Among the notable non-invitees are MPs belonging to the Tamil National Alliance, which is the largest Tamil group in parliament, and Arumugan Thondaman, cabinet minister  and leader of the Ceylon Workers’ Congress, which represents the Tamils of Indian origin.  



"Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.Karunanidhi should remember that it was a Lankan Tamil, Fr. Xavier S.Thaninayagam (1913-1980), who had organised the First World Conference on Tamil Studies in Kuala Lumpur in 1966," Azwer said.

Two years earlier, the Catholic priest, scholar and linguist from Jaffna, had founded the International Association of Tamil Research (IATR). Popularly known as Thaninayagam Adigalar, he was instrumental in organising world Tamil conferences in Chennai, Paris, Jaffna and Madurai. To commemorate his contribution to the internationalisation of Tamil, the people of Madurai had installed his statue.

Tamil professor, R.E.Asher of Edinburgh University, had said that Fr.Thaninayagam had contributed more to the internationalisation of Tamil than , Beschi, Caldwell and  Pope. The fact that he knew all the major European languages enabled him to approach Tamil from a pathbreaking universal angle.

"There should have been a portrait of Thaninayagam Adigalar on the stage at Coimbatore or there should have been a venue named after him.But nothing of this kind happened," Azwer said.

Though Rauf Hakeem and two other leaders of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress were invited, the Coimbatore conference had failed to honor M.M.Uvais of Lanka who had organised the first Islamic Tamil Research Conference, Azwer said.

The Muslims are playing a significant role in preserving Tamil in the Sinhalese dominated areas of Sri Lanka.

"If Tamil is still spoken in the remotest Sinhalese villages in south Sri Lanka, it is because of the Muslims’ ardent devotion to Tamil, their mother tongue," Prof.Sivathamby has said.

TNA MP for Jaffna, Suresh Premachandran, said the Lankan Tamils had made supreme sacrifices for the cause of Tamil and cited the World Tamil Conference held in Jaffna in 1974 as an example.

The Tamils’ move to hold the conference in Jaffna was opposed by the then Sinhalese nationalist government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike and its lackey, the then Mayor of Jaffna, Alfred Duraiappah. Sirimavo wanted the conference to be held in Colombo because she feared that the Tamils might use it for political purposes if it was held in Jaffna. Eventually, the conference was held in Jaffna. But  on the last day (January 10, 1974) police and goons attacked the venue. The stampede and the firing that followed led to the death of nine persons.

This bloody incident boosted Tamil militancy, which was only in its infancy then. It was one of the reasons why Velupillai Prabhakaran assassinated Alfred Duraiappah.

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