Monday, July 12, 2010

The Insider Reports: World Classical Tamil Conference – banal reporting

Growing up in Tamil Nadu and being a Tamilian, I have surprisingly never quite understood the insane ferocity with which anything Tamil was constantly defended and everything else was instantly branded "Anti-Tamil".

I have believed that a language or culture is kept alive by making it current and easily accessible to the masses. Tamil to me seems outdated and may soon become the exclusive domain of the few who only attempt to complicate it further ("keeping it pure", they would say) – strangely like Sanskrit, who the Tamils supposedly detest.

Therefore when the recently concluded World Classical Tamil Conference, costing the State at least Rs 400 crore, ended up as an exercise in nostalgia and possibly no real purpose, I could not sit still.

The result was an article that gave vent to my frustration over the media lapping up the Tamil propaganda and not raising any relevant questions. The Hoot, published this piece on July 3rd and I am sharing the link and details below. Request your comments.

Making light work of a literature meet

English media covering the World Classical Tamil Conference did not highlight the fact that the meet was an exercise in nostalgia which failed to give a direction for the future development of the language. ARCHANA VENKAT says the coverage could have been more incisive.

Posted Saturday, Jul 03 18:05:53, 2010

The recently concluded World Classical Tamil Conference (WCTC) was an exercise in nostalgia with no clear direction on the future of the language. Unfortunately, the English media* covering the event seems to have missed highlighting this vital aspect, choosing to focus on incidents of petty one-upmanship and propaganda.

Five days and close to Rs 400 crore (including the Rs 100 crore announced for a Tamil Development Fund) were dedicated to an initiative that failed to indicate how this language can empower the present and future generations. Most of the themes discussed ( ) were efforts to trace the growth and accomplishments of Tamil from its origin to the present ??" something that has also been a feature of the eight international Tamil Conferences held between 1966 and 1995.

Only the World Tamil Internet Conference 2010, which happened alongside the much bigger WCTC, brought to light relevant aspects such as e-governance and computing in Tamil to aid in the growth and development of the State. Predictably the internet conference, owing to its lack of political content, did not see as much media attention.

The "recommendations" made at the end of WCTC were reported by the media without any attempt to evaluate and analyse their merits. Sample these:

  1. Tamil be made the official language at the Centre. This is not the first time such a demand has been made. However, no news report mentioned that the issue had been quashed citing Articles 343 (1), 342 (2) and 343 (3) of the Constitution. This fact, if posed to the political bigwigs during the conference, was not reported. The Times of India in its editorial on June 29 makes a passing reference to this, perhaps after seeing that the rest of its reportage had ignored this point.

  1. Tamil as official language in Courts. This demand was rejected by the Supreme Court in 2006. The Law Ministry said it would not object if the State wanted to conduct proceedings at the Madras High Court in Tamil. Consequently this year one case was argued in Tamil. Did the media question if this would improve the functioning of the judiciary and if cases would be dealt with faster? Rather than analyzing the issue the media has restricted itself to reporting on the protests outside courts. The latest writing on this topic was by The Deccan Chronicle on June 22. Unfortunately despite the heavy presence of State and Central political leaders at the WCTC, no journalist seems to have thought it prudent to raise this issue.

  1. Funds for research on "mythical" Kumari Continent and Poompuhar. No details were sought on the rationale behind the project, what it would entail and how it would benefit the common man.

  1. Funds for Tamil books in science, economics and geology. Reporters could easily have questioned how such a step would help future generations when higher academic research as well as jobs requiring the study of these subjects would be English based. This issue should have been raised particularly in the light of the media's criticism of the recently started Civil and Mechanical Engineering courses (around 1,800 seats) in Tamil. These are exclusively for students from Tamil medium schools and the media has said that the state was experimenting with these students, few of whom would find jobs unless they picked up English language skills. The New Indian Express, in an uncharacteristically banal report, aired populist sentiments at the venue. It is ironic that the scientists quoted in the story, despite hailing from Tamil medium schools, opted for jobs in the Central government and not within the State. The genial Dr. Sivathanu Pillai, the distinguished scientist who is the chief controller at the DRDO, would surely have responded if he had been quizzed on this.

  1. Law to be enacted to give preference to Tamil-medium students for Government jobs. Only The Deccan Chronicle commented that such a legislation would violate Article 16(1) of the Constitution ??" right to equal opportunity. Given the quota restrictions, what realistic opportunity would Tamil medium students have in government jobs? Also, would this law apply to currently serving and future politicians of the State including the convent educated former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and Dayanidhi Maran among others? Such questions, if asked, were not reported.

The English media published close to 70 news reports on the WCTC and the World Tamil Internet Congress 2010. Barely a seventh of these were focused on the role of Tamil in fostering growth and development in the State. Only The Times of India and The New Indian Express have published editorials on the WCTC

To achieve the developmental goals of education for all, poverty & hunger eradication, infrastructure improvement and gender/ caste/ class equality, it is important to empower people through job creation and equal opportunity. How does the State propose to use Tamil to achieve these goals? Does it plan to have personality development courses to help Tamil medium candidates become confident in facing job interviews? Is there a plan to create jobs that will mainly require Tamil language fluency with little or no emphasis on English? How will such a move work when over 45 per cent of the State's revenue comes from services in the private sector that perform software jobs requiring fluency in English and about 34 per cent comes from manufacturing (mainly exports and inter-state trade) where English is the preferred medium of communication? What steps are being taken to improve computer literacy among Tamil medium literates?

How does the state plan to promote Tamil given the apparent lack of interest in the younger generation? Children's literature from Arunachal Pradesh is being translated into English and adapted for current times. Katha, a children's book publisher that undertakes such work told me it is seeing an increased interest for such books, with children from the North East Indian community expressing interest in learning their native script through bilingual books. Chandamama, among the oldest of children's magazines, allows children to read and re-write their versions of popular native fiction in a language of their choice. Video and mobile game versions of literature are other ways to inspire youngsters to take interest in their native tongues.

These are some pivotal questions and ideas that the media should be raising on such occasions. The amount of scepticism they reserve for private enterprise should be present in covering public enterprises and governance too.

Such conferences should be platforms for launching new ideas, services, products and functional literature that make Tamil more current, relevant and effective in day to day life.
* Comments in this article are restricted to coverage in the English Media