SPEECH BY MR S ISWARAN, MINISTER, PRIME MINISTER’S OFFICE, SECOND MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS AND SECOND MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INDUSTRY, AT THE LAUNCH OF THE TAMIL DIGITAL HERITAGE PROJECT, ON SATURDAY, 12 OCTOBER 2013, 1030HRS AT THE ASIAN CIVILISATIONS MUSEUM
I am very pleased to join all of you this morning for the launch of the Tamil Digital Heritage Project.
Digitisation of 50 years of Tamil Literature
Singapore is the only country in the world outside of Tamil Nadu where Tamil has been accorded the status of an Official Language. This status and the consequent government support have generated an extraordinary amount of Tamil creative writing from a small minority community, which accounts for less than five percent of the population.
In August 2015, Singapore will celebrate its 50th Anniversary of Independence. To commemorate that momentous occasion, a citizens group, led by Mr Arun Mahizhnan, has proposed to create a digital collection of 50 years of Tamil writing in Singapore since 1965. It is a fitting gift to the nation from the community, and a ground-up initiative which the government is keen to encourage. I am very happy to welcome and support this project.
Importance of Tamil Digital Heritage Project
This Project is important for several reasons. First, it will digitally preserve Singapore’s rich Tamil heritage for posterity. These creative Tamil writings reflect our nation’s hopes, dreams, fears, anxieties, challenges and achievements, at different times, under different circumstances, as seen through the eyes of the authors. It is an invaluable cultural legacy from our forefathers to future generations of Singaporeans, as well as the larger Tamil Diaspora.
Second, it will be a comprehensive literary resource of Singapore Tamil writing for the use of Tamil teachers and students in schools, as well as Tamil scholars and researchers in tertiary institutions in Singapore and around the world. It will also be a source of inspiration for the Tamil artistic community comprising poets, novelists, playwrights, directors, actors, musicians and dancers.
Third, it will underscore yet again the unique role that Singapore has played at the confluence of technological evolution and Tamil education. Singapore’s Tamil text books are used around the world. Singapore Tamil teachers initiated the first World Tamil Teachers Conference, with the support of the Ministry of Education. Singapore was made the first headquarters of the global Tamil internet organisation called International Forum for Information Technology in Tamil, with the support of the Infocomm Development Authority.
Singapore also held the first ever Tamil Diaspora Writers Conference, with the support of National Arts Council. These initiatives have made Singapore a special home for an ancient and living language. This unprecedented Tamil Digital Heritage Project will, once again, gain special regard for Singapore within the global Tamil diaspora.
Support for Project
The Tamil Digital Heritage collection is scheduled to be completed in two years from now. It will collect and collate as much as possible of Tamil creative writings since 1965 into a publicly available digital archive.It is a major undertaking. I therefore want to thank the various government agencies for their encouragement and support of this initiative.
The National Library Board (NLB) is a key partner which will host the Tamil digital collection. This will ensure that the collection meets the high standards of NLB. It will also assure all stakeholders that the collection is in good hands and safeguarded for posterity. I thank the NLB for taking a lead role among government agencies to support this project.
Recognising the importance and value of this collection, three other agencies – the National Heritage Board, the National Arts Council and the Book Development Council of Singapore – have also come forward to support this project. I thank them all for their spontaneous support of this community initiative.
The community must do its part to deliver the promise of this project. All individuals and community organisations are welcome to join this collective community effort. In particular, there are some specific requests I wish to make.
First, I urge all Tamil authors, whose books are going to be digitised, to readily give their consent for digitisation and free access. It is a gift to the nation that will enable your works to be read by a much wider public in Singapore and beyond. I thank the more than 50 Tamil authors who have already pledged their support for this effort, and hope that every other author will join them soon.
Second, one of the biggest challenges is to make sure that the collection is as error free as possible. That requires meticulous proof reading of the thousands of digitised pages. The Tamil Digital Heritage Group has also undertaken to annotate the works that are going to be digitised. These two difficult tasks need a very large number of volunteers. I urge all those who are highly competent in Tamil language, especially the authors themselves, the Tamil teachers and the Tamil scholars, to come forward to help the project group.
Third, I request the Indian community organisations and leaders to help raise some funds to support this project. Government agencies such as NHB and NLB are already supporting the project to some extent. However, I hope the community will also give its unstinting support to this pioneering project.
In conclusion, I want to thank the Tamil Digital Heritage Group, led by Mr Arun Mahizhnan, who came up with this wonderful idea, and members of the Technical Resource Panel and the Community Resource Panel for their help.
I wish this project every success and look forward to August 2015 when we can collectively present the Tamil Digital Heritage collection as a gift from the community to Singapore on its 50th birthday.
I would now like to invite the heads of the four agencies and representatives of the authors, students and the Tamil Digital Heritage Group on stage to jointly launch the project.
It is our pleasure and privilege to jointly launch the Tamil Digital Heritage Project today.