Sunday, June 27, 2010

Is Tamil a Classical Language: The Politics of Caste and Identity

In a few days time the World Classical Tamil Conference will begin in Coimbatore and everyone particularly the people of Tamil Nadu seem to be very exited about the whole tamasha. So far no one has even dared to ask the question: Does Tail, the medai tamizh popularised by the two Dravidian parties has actually impoverished the Tamil language and has made the native speakers of Tamil adhere to a very a narrowly defined ethnic and linguistic identity. The politicised linguistic identity popularised by the Dravidian movement has led to a situation that even so-called pulavars of Tamil cannot read a book printed in the Tamil language before the advent of the pure-Tamil movement launched by Professor Sunadaram Pillai and others. If you pick up any book printed in the nineteenth century you will encounter a completely language and none of the scholars of Tamil who willfully valorise only the so-callled Samgam Tamil are even in a position to read it. How can one be called a scholar in Tamil language and literature if he/she is unable to read Nalaira Divya Prabandam and other works which include the Bhakti hymns and the compositions of the Alvars. My point is that politicians cannot define the language and use a politicised linguistic consciousness to propel themselves and their families to power. The present fixation with Sanga Kala Ilakkiyam is akin to the Englishmen saying that the only English they will speak is the English of Chaucer and that all French words will be excised from the language. It does not take too much imagination to sat that English as we know will just fade away. Tamil is now in the danger of becoming a language whose utility as a vehicle of communication is now under severe stress.
A classical language is essentially a historical construct. After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the fourth century AD there was what Sheldon Pollock in his Language of the Gods in the World of Men has called the vernacularisation of Europe. Around the same time In India too the regional languages, grammars and literature came to be developed. As the vernaculars looked back from the stand point of the humanist Renaissance of the 14ht or 15th century they saw in Latin the roots of their own language, particularly the written form which the vernaculars took in the 8th or 9yth century precisely the time from when regional cultures developed in India. It make sense to speak of classical in the context of Europe as Latin was indeed the basis of the scripts and grammars of all the vernaculars particularly, French and German. Did such a situation exist in India. The answer is NO.
The antiquity of a language cannot determine its so called classical status. If the antiquity of a language should be allowed to determine the classical status then all the tribal languages of India and the world must be declared as classical languages. Even the criteria of written script is being politicised. The introduction of writing began with Ashoka when he inscribed his edicts all over India in order to propagator Buddhism. Literacy may have been introduced in pockets of NW India after the conquest of Alexander. In fact all the Tamil Brahmi inscriptions are dated after Ashoka and even Iravatham Mahadevan who of late has started singing a different tune has admitted as such in several of his earlier works. The Harappan script has not been deciphered and therefore any reading of the symbols as representing Tamil is sheer fraud. It is not [possible to Trace the antiquity of Tamil as a script before Asoka. The shadow boxing that high caste Tamil scholars who were fanatical saiva siddantists had with Sanskrit with its alleges Brahmani-cal bias is responsible for the constant refrain about the antiquity of Tamil. And even then Sanskrit words as George Hart himself has shown in his Poems of Ancient Tamil occupy more than 40% of the Tamil Texts collected in the sangam anthologies. I must say that the close similarity between the Bhakti poems belonging to the Palalva Age and the hymns of the alvars and nayanmars suggest close proximity in age, a point brought out by Herman Tieken. It appears that Tamil scholarship has degenerated into medai Tamil (Platform Tamil).
The construction of a Tamil identity based on language is part of the process of mobilisation of the backward non brahmin castes such as the mudaliars and the saiva pillais to achieve political power. I do not see why they continue to indulge in such gimmicks even now that they a re in power.

In a recent newspaper article Shri Iravatan Mahadevan published 4 pieces of evidence to show the antiquity of the Tamil language atleast in its written form. The signet ring bearing the name of a sangam chief is obviously suspect as it has not been found in an excavated context. Furtehr, the Amaravathi River basin near Karur has generated a small scale industry for the manafacture of "sangam" age coins which are duly authenticated by a set of "epigraphists" and "historians" whose ideological motive is to push back the antiquity of writing and literacy. There is also the impulse to give credence to the Sangam poetry whose date cannot be determined.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Israel and the tragedy in Gaza: Why humanitarian aid must be allowed

Israel enjoys a high degree of goodwill in many parts of the world and even professional critics of Israel have found much to admire in the manner in which the State of Israel conducts its no nonsense foreign policy. The world opinion be damned. As long of USA is not overly critical Israel does not seem to care. The latest outrage committed on the high sea seems to have taken even the Obama Administration by surprise and Hilary Clinton has joined the rest of the world in condemning Islaer's action in using military might against a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. The world has come to recognise that the economic blockade imposed by Israel is causing untold misery to the people of the Palestenian territory. If by following this policy Israel hopes to undermine the support base of the HAMAS, the policy is clearly not succeeding. In fact the blockade has only increased the level of public acceptability of HAMAS. The economic blokade has failed in its expressly stated purpose but has succeeded in imposing collective punishment on the people of Gaza for electing the Hamas.
Israel has used unacceptable level of force in dealing with the flotilla carrying, after all humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza. The boat did not carry any military equipment or even machinery. It only carried tents, blankets, medicines, school text books, toys, food and relief material. Israel could have allowed the passage of the aid flotilla instead of brutally attacking and causing the death of 10 aid workers. Video footage shows the Israeli paratroopers rappelling on to the deck of the vessels and opening fire. Israel's claim that they were attracted first carries no conviction as the aid flotilla was on international waters when the incident happened. I do agree that Israel has a very difficult security environment and also recluctantly have to concede that the security wall, often called apartheid wall has given security to the civilians as there have been far fewer suicide bombings now than before. By saying this we should not be encouraging Israel with its hard statecraft, though it is enviably successful.
The War launched against the residents of Gaza in 2008-2009 resulted, for the first time in the 65 year history of Israel in a with drawl without achieving any major strategic objective. The rockets attacks have stopped but for how long remains open to question. The degradation of the Hamas and its military capability has clearly not been achieved. Under these circumstances Israel could have been more circumspect.
There is yet another issue causing international disquiet. This is to do with Israel's nuclear programme. The Barack Obama administration is obsessed over Iran's nuclear material even though Iran has complied will all its obligations under the NPT to which Iran is a signatory. The nuclear material exchange agreement signed with Turkey and other countries effectively puts Iran's spent fuel under international scrutiny. Israel on the other hand in not a signatory to the NPT and has been carrying out a covert nuclear arms program for the past 3 to 4 decades in a facility in the NEGEV desert.The revelations of Mordechai Vanunu the Israeli expert has proved to the whole world the existence of the nuclear program. US experts believe that Israel possesses around 100 warheads just a screw driver away from deployment. Under these circumstances peace in the Middle East will look a dismal prospect.
Israel must respond to the consistent US call for a return to the Road Map and the process agreed with the quartet.