SPEECH BY MR ARUN MAHIZHNAN, CHIEF CO-ORDINATOR, TAMIL DIGITAL HERITAGE PROJECT, AT THE LAUNCH OF THE TAMIL DIGITAL HERITAGE PROJECT, ON SATURDAY, 12 OCTOBER 2013, 1030HRS AT THE ASIAN CIVILISATIONS MUSEUM
Mr S Iswaran, Minister, Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Home Affairs and Second Minister for Trade and Industry,
Tamil Writers of Singapore,
Mrs Rosa Daniel, Deputy Secretary (Culture), Ministry of Culture, Community & Youth, and Chief Executive Officer of National Heritage Board,
Mrs Elaine Ng, Chief Executive Officer of National Library Board,
Ms Yvonne Tham, Covering Chief Executive Officer of National Arts Council,
Mr R Ramachandran, Executive Director of National Book Development Council of Singapore,
This is a very happy day for all of us. Today we are embarking on an unprecedented and, to some extent, uncharted journey. This is the first time anyone has attempted to digitise a 50-year long collection of literary works in Singapore. When we reach our destination in about two years, in August 2015, it would mark a remarkable and joyful accomplishment. However, it would only be a milestone, not the end point. For, if our plans are well laid, this journey will continue – as long as Tamil lives in this nation of ours.
The Tamil Digital Heritage Project, which we are all gathered to launch today, is, if I may borrow Victor Hugo’s words, an idea whose time has come.
We are going to digitise, — i.e. to convert the hard copy book into electronic text that is searchable and editable — a very large collection of Tamil literary works. We could not have done it in an earlier time partly because the requisite technology was not available. We now have reached a stage in the development of Tamil Information Technology that enables us to make such inroads into the digital domain.
Besides the technology, there is another factor that makes this an idea whose time has come none too soon. As those of us in the Tamil world know, Tamil books have been published in this country since the late 1800s and yet the availability and circulation of Tamil literary books in Singapore are woefully limited. With the single exception of the National Library Board, there is no place in Singapore where the public could have easy and full access to the Tamil literary heritage of more than a century. There is not a single Tamil publisher or even a bookshop which could acquaint us with a modest selection of Singapore Tamil literary works. If we do not do something – and something radical – to preserve and promote Tamil literary works, our past heritage will remain obscure and unread. After all, literature lives not merely by the creation of the writers but, equally, by the communion with the readers. It is to nurture that communion that this path-breaking idea of digitisation of Tamil literature has been conceived. That communion should be far reaching and long lasting. The Tamil Digital Heritage project is intended as a bridge to connect the past, present and future.
The books earmarked for digitisation are those published between 1965 and 2015. The two bracketing years denote, respectively, the year we attained Independence and the year we celebrate its 50th anniversary.
The Tamil Digital Heritage project is a ground-up community project, initiated by a group of individuals and supported by many Tamil authors and community organisations. Yet, this project would not have gotten off the ground nor would it be completed without government support. And that government support for this minority language project has come readily and willingly. I want to pay a special tribute to four agencies – the National Library Board, the lead agency on this project, the National Heritage Board, the National Arts Council and the National Book Development Council of Singapore – who have come on board as partners and supporters of this project and their respective heads all of whom are here today.
The Tamil Digital Heritage Group is deeply grateful to Minister Iswaran for his support and guidance from the very beginning of this project. We look forward to his leadership till we reach our destination in 2015. Now it is my privilege and pleasure to invite Minister Iswaran to inaugurate the Tamil Digital Heritage Project.