Indian protest to Eezham provocative: Peter Schalk

posted Aug 13, 2012, 1:32 PM by Thavam Ratna

Indian protest to Eezham provocative: Peter Schalk

TamilNet[TamilNet, Monday, 13 August 2012, 06:45 GMT]
The demand of Indian MEA to drop Eelam from the TESO conference title is provocative, gives food for thought and does not make sense, says Professor Peter Schalk in a note sent to TamilNet on Sunday. The decision comes from confusing Eelam, a Tamil toponym standing for the entire island, with Tamileelam. In usage Eelam predates Lanka. On Eelam and Cinkalam, Prof Schalk said they are of a parallel allocation and parallels never meet, but walk side by side. Meanwhile, BBC Tamil Service on Saturday cited Professor MA Nuhman saying that the connotations of the word became a problem only with the ‘secessionist movement’. He agreed with the word’s old Tamil usage meaning the entire island, but questioned its Dravidian origins. The TESO response was naïve or sly by equating Eezham/ Ilangkai with the politically invented and Tamil -rejected term Sri Lanka. 

The full text of the note on Ilam sent by Professor Peter Schalk [His transliteration of Tamil words following Madras Tamil Lexicon system, but without diacritical marks, is retained as it was in the text sent by him]

Peter Schalk
Professor Peter Schalk
The demand by the Indian External Affairs Ministry that Ilam/Eelam should be dropped from the title of the Conference named Eelam Tamil Rights Protection Conference (TamilNet 9.8. 2012) is provocative and gives food for thought. The Ministry probably thought that Ilam stands for Tamililam. If so, the Ministry should have stopped the whole conference making a political evaluation in accordance with India’s evaluation of the Tamil resistance movement being still a threat to the integrity of India. If the Ministry thought that Ilam is an alternative name for Lanka as a whole there was no reason to demand that Ilam should be dropped. The decision by the Ministry does not make sense.

I have observed for many years that in talk and writing by Tamil and Sinhala speakers, but also by Western scholars and journalists, Ilam stands often for Tamililam. The confusion started already in the 1970s with the famous slogan by EROS: nam ilavar, namatu moli tamil, nam natu ilam ‘we are Ilavar, our language is Tamil, our country is Ilam’. The country that EROS wanted was of course Tamililam, not the whole island. Tamililam’s citizens should be called Ilavar and their language be Tamil. Kumar Ponnampalam tried to re-introduce the word ilavar as self-designation, but he was killed in 2000. There was a journal called ilavar kural, a network called eelavar alumni, an eelavar web ring, and a Club Sportive Eelavar. They all had in mind Tamililam, not Ilam.

Historically, Ilam is a Tamil toponym for the whole of the island. It can be documented from the 1st century CE, before “Lanka” was introduced in Dīpavamsa 9:1. “Lanka” was Tamilised to “Ilankai” and alternated with Ilam in use by Tamil speakers. Tamil speakers also used the toponym Cinkalam, which is a Tamilisation of the toponym Sinhala. All three, Ilam, Ilankai and Cinkalam were used by alternation in the wordbooks (nikantu, akarati) throughout the centuries up to the modern period.

There is a tradition by Sinhala speakers on the ethnonationalist front to insist that Ilam is derived from Sinhala, that Ilam is nothing but Sinhala. This derivation was introduced by the Christian missionary Robert Caldwell in the 1850s. It is a typical orientalism. It is therefore ironical that it should be exploited by Sinhala ethnonationalists. It has no support in the Tamil and Sinhala history of linguistics and is from a modern linguistic point of view wrong. Unfortunately, some Tamil scholars went into Caldwell’s trap giving the derivation their blessing. The relation between Ilam and Cinkalam is that of a parallel allocation. Parallels never meet. They walk along side by side.

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