Tamil nationalism is raising its head now in Malaysia – some Tamil nationalists and Tamil linguists here have conceived the notion that Tamil is the national language of Malaysian Indians and those who can’t speak Tamil, not fluent in Tamil or not confident at speaking Tamil are branded as anti Tamil, not Indian or worse, ashamed to be Indian.
The usefulness of Tamil in Malaysia and internationally
Today, Tamil is one of the few Indian languages taught in many universities of the world. Scholars who are not of Tamil origin have undertaken Tamil research. International conferences on Tamil studies are conducted frequently in many countries. All this was possible, thanks to the strenuous efforts by one individual: Xavier S. Thaninayagam, a catholic priest from Jaffna, who was professor and head of Indian Studies, University of Malaysia, from 1961 to 1969.
Tamil is also recognized as Semmozhi.
The majority of Indians in Malaysia are Tamil and in that light, it’s expedient to push the notion that Indians need Tamil in Malaysia because almost 20,000 people are there in civil service because of Tamil language, acquired from Tamil vernacular schools – Tamil school teachers, Minnal FM employees, RTM Tamil division employees, welfare department employees, police personnel, court language interpreter, etc. Apart from this there is a big business activity surrounding Tamil language – Tamil text book suppliers, Tamil communication material suppliers (gov brochures, pamphlets ,health campaign posters etc, gov is giving contracts to Indians because the materials are needed to be printed in Tamil.) Our Mannin Mainthargal sing in Tamil and the Tamil used on national Malaysian media is impeachable and absolutely flawless and makes me green with envy. If Tamil is undermined, there will be an adverse impact – more job opportunities for Indians will be lost, Indians contractors who are dealing with gov also will lose their income, local Malaysian Indians artistes who depend on TV2, and Astro Tamil programs like drama, music show etc will lose their platform. Even Retamil.com will lose its vertebrae if Tamil is no longer used here. I am aware of the fact that the people who fight for Tamil in Malaysia are not wasting their time – there is a big political and business agenda behind this Tamil nationalism in Malaysia.
Unlike Singapore where Tamil is recognized as one of its national language and Tamil being a mandatory subject taught to Indians in Singaporean schools, the learning of Tamil language here is separated from mainstream, single school system, hence this elevated drive and urgency to protect and preserve Tamil.
I personally don’t support the existence of vernacular schools. If we integrate the learning of Tamil into a single system school, a larger number of Indian children could master Tamil, don’t you think?
No speak Tamil means not Indian?
Many Tamil language fundamentalists here abhor it when they come across a Malaysian of Indian descent who can’t speak Tamil or not very fluent in Tamil.
Chances are, they are not Tamil in the first place – their mother tongue being Malayalam, Telugu, Ceylonese, etc. Some people need to drilled that not all Indians are Tamil. The Indian race ain’t homogeneous. Tamil superstar Rajinikanth is not a Tamil; he’s a Marati and his real name is Shivaji Rao Gaikwad. Famous actor Bagyaraj is the one who taught Rajini to speak proper Tamil. If you listen carefully to Rajini speaking Tamil, you’ll notice a certain alien accent. Prolific Indian playback singer SP Balasubramaniam sang predominantly in Tamil in the 80s but he is actually a Telugu.
I know some Telugu families here who only watch Telugu movies, only listen to Telugu songs, know how to read and write Telugu and even only sing and listen to Telugu devotional songs. They can’t speak a word in Tamil and are actually proud of the inability. They are called ‘Telugu pichi’ which means ‘Telugu veri’. Hint, why this kolaveri. They don’t know who are Vijay, Ajith, Surya and other Tamil actors except when Tamil movies which feature actors from Kollywood are dubbed in Telugu – Vijay’s Thalaiva is Anna in Telugu, Ajith’s Mankatha is Gambler in Telugu and Surya’s Aadhavan is Ghatikudu in Telugu. Also, the Indian film industry fraternity is divided in language factions – Kollywood, Bollywood, Tollywood and Mollywood. It’s a norm there to remake movies in different languages with different actors of the demarcated language based entertainment industry.
Vijay Telugu le kalakuraple.
Some of the Tamil veriyans may censure the Telugu veriyans above being racists for not being able to speak Tamil and point out Tamil actors but can they point out Telugu actors and even Malayalam actors for that matter? Why do some of us think that all Malaysians of Indian descent should be able to speak Tamil, if not, they are not Indian? Being Tamil doesn’t account to being Indian. Since when being able to speak Tamil has become the sole criteria of being Indian, I don’t know. If the Tamil nationalists think that non Tamils should take the effort to speak/learn Tamil, why can’t they make the effort to speak/learn the mother tongues of Indian minorities here? Manasilayo? Irukki anachi oru umma tarumo? Bahut acha hai yaar! See, it works both ways. If we don’t intend or don’t want to learn the language of other Indian minorities here, it is their choice and freedom whether they want to learn Tamil or Malayalam or Telugu or not for that matter.
And then this pronounced tagline that is fast becoming a trend, the catch phrase, ‘Tamilan Da!’ Yean da? Why cannot be inclusive and say ‘Indian da’ or ‘Malaysian da’ or ‘Global Citizen da’? Now, come on, this division is the last thing we need as a race here. We cannot even be united as a race and we are talking about being Malaysians. Remember, it’s a Tamilan, Kaniyan Pungundranar who first proposed the idea of global citizenship – Yaathum oore, yaavarum kelir. The lyric in one of my favourite songs from the movie Ayan is, “Adayalathai than thurapom, ellam desathilum poi vasipom’ (let’s abandon our identity and go live in all countries) If we as a society have to culturally evolve, we have to always be inclusive and pluralistic instead of homogeneous and parochial. A house divided against its own can never stand – Honest Abe. Unless we want a situation like in India where sub racism is a bane – states of different languages having animosity with each other in Malaysia, we better stop this internal racism in our community now. We are already a marginalized minority here – do we have to divide ourselves more on the lines of sub racism? I am being as honest as I can here.
Somehow, we are okay with Punjabi people here not speaking Tamil and largely speaking English – we don’t bother them. We don’t even consider them Indians and they too detach themselves from their Indian origin. The reason is during India’s pre-independence partition, in which Punjab and its then capital, Lahore was the most disputed and violently affected area by the Hindu Muslim riots. After India’s independence, the people of Punjab proposed a separate Sikh country Khalistan like separate Islamic country Pakistan but it didn’t materialize. Much later, Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale was branded as a Sikh extremist by the Indian government led by Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi and he was murdered along with hundreds of innocent Sikh pilgrims in Amritsar’s Golden Temple at the behest of Indira Gandhi in Operation Blue Star in 1984. The aftermath of Operation Blue Star is Indira Gandhi being assassinated by two of her Punjabi Sikh bodyguards which sparked murderous riots in Delhi of vengeance where many Punjabi Sikh men were butchered and immolated. This incident moved Punjabi people around the world – the Punjabis people in Malaysia were not an exception. That’s why Punjabi people here disassociate themselves from the Indian fraternity and they are successful here due to their industrious ways. Yet, Punjabi men make up the most recruit of the Indian army; ironically, they are very patriotic too. I have a Punjabi friend from India and her name is Neetu Bhansal – she’s a delight to be with. She studied Mechanical Engineering in IIT Madras and speaks Tamil like a fire cracker.
Speaking English means being ashamed of being Tamil/Indian?
I get this a lot from Malaysians of Indian descent guys who assume I’m Tamil as I have a good command of the English language and I don’t hesitate to use it. I have been called a show off for using bombastic English words, a white wannabe, attention seeker and the classic one, ashamed of being Indian and especially because I am female.
There is a general perception prevalent among some Indian guys here who are Tamil that Indian girls like to put scene by speaking English in front of them instead of Tamil just to show that they are high class. I have experienced it too, both in real life and Facebook.
I had Indian guys telling me that my backside is black right? I eat paruppu curry right? Then why speak in English? Periya vellekaari nu nenepu. Speaking English doesn’t make you a Hollywood heroine. These are the common pejoratives and retorts some Indian guys here spew at Indian girls here who speak English. A particular Indian girl here, Diviya Darshini has been subjected to immense flak for uploading videos of herself speaking English on YouTube.
Well, I assume that the criticism slapped on Indian girls who speak and write impeccable English here stem from inferiority complex on behalf of the detractors, especially from the opposite sex. Instead of being concerned of what colour my backside is, be concerned of your foible in English and go about the ways to improve it instead of trying to confirm the hue of my ass. Why all these interest to know about the colour of my rear la? Is there any rule that if one eats paruppu curry, they should not speak English? Vellekaari nu nenepu? Not all whites speak English – whites are inclusive of French, German and Scandinavian populations and they don’t necessarily know and speak only English. Indian girls who speak English don’t intend to be a Hollywood heroine – it’s about being overreaching and bridging the language gap. For example I have friends who are from foreign countries on Facebook so if I write in Tamil, only those who know Tamil would comprehend my message, those who don’t know Tamil would feel left out. Similarly, if I write in my mother tongue, only those who know it will understand me. I don’t deny that there are some Indians, not only Indian girls but Indian guys as well who purposely don’t speak Tamil even though they know Tamil for various reasons which are not ours to judge. How many of Tamil rights defending people conform to Thirukural or know all of it by heart? I don’t.
Many Indian parents here nowadays consciously choose to speak English to their kids as mother tongue and Tamil take a backseat as English, the lingua franca of the world, assume priority. Most Tamil school students choose English as the medium of instruction in Science and Math. Of course Malay language also should be given equal importance if you want to live in Malaysia.
I don’t understand why I should lower my intellect and language prowess standard to suit the incompetence and inferiority complex of others. How is that not in similitude with the way public universities here operate when conducting student intake? That’s why UM which was in the top ten university rankings in the 50s and 60s now rank at 200 and below. Speaking and writing good English does not mean I am ashamed of my Indian roots – I use the languages I know wherever and whenever appropriate. Sile per ode veembukku aade mudiyathu illeya? Like Kimora Lee Simmons quoted, “If you don’t have haters, you are not there yet.” I don’t get it why some people prefer to impugn those who are better than them than trying to be good like them.
A certain Tamil scholar has quoted that English is like spectacles, it helps you to see better but you don’t wear it when you go to sleep. But, Tamil is like your eyes; it stays with you always. I’d say that the scholar’s logic is flawed. Spectacles is worn to fix a defect, that is, visual impairment. Being proficient in other languages apart from one’s mother tongue is like having binoculars – it allows one to cover more range and see further. Knowing many languages is always an advantage and we Indians are a multilingual lot and we should see that as an edge rather than as downplaying and undermining Tamil or any other language lah.. I wonder who died and made language police who constantly strive to malign those Indians who speak fluent English as ashamed of being Indian..
Any kind of fundamentalism can quickly turn into fanaticism and it’s a fine line. Malaysia is built from moderation and we should fight to keep our land moderate. Ithu tha pa naa solle varen.. 🙂