Tamil Conference 2022 highlights the need for inclusiveness in Aotearoa New Zealand

Tamil Conference 2022, held at Lower Hutt Event Centre, Wellington. (Photo: Supplied)

The Inaugural Tamil Conference 2022 took place on 12.11.2022 at Wellington’s Lowe Hutt Events Centre.  It brought together scholars, motivational speakers, opinion-makers and community leaders from various parts of the world.  It also mobilised more than 300 individuals of Tamil origin and Tamil-speaking people living in New Zealand. it promoted the Tamil heritage, language, and culture and showcased and establish a stronger connection with the Tamil community globally.

The Tamil Conference 2022 was organised by the Aotearoa New Zealand Federation of Tamil Sangams with Deputy Mayor of Lower Hutt Tui Lewis, members of Parliament Ginny Anderson (Labour Party) and Chris Bishop (National Party) welcoming the Tamil community.

Māori / Tamil collaboration

The Event started with a karakia by the Ngati Poneke Young Māori Club (Karakia are Māori invocations and prayers meant to elicit spiritual guidance and protection. They are often employed to raise the spiritual goodwill of a gathering to boost the chance of a favourable outcome. They are often used as a ceremonial welcome while commencing an event).

The Tamil Conference 2022 presented a bicultural collaboration with Māori and Tamil people. Collaboration is the most sophisticated and demanding level of structuring organisational relationships. It includes a long-term commitment and a focus on a variety of pressing concerns. The Aotearoa New Zealand Federation of Tamil Sangams is devoted to developing long-term productive and mutually valued relationships with the Māori community, and it began this objective with a Tamil Hui in Rotorua in July 2022. And progressing with the collaboration, the Tamil Conference 2022 saw the launch of (1) the Te Tiriti o Waitangi in Tamil, (2) a book of 101 Māori whakatauki (proverbs) translated into Tamil and (3) Māori / Tamil coin aimed at strengthening Tangata Whenua (original inhabitants) – Tauiwi (foreign) relationship.

Tamil/Maori Coin (Photo: Supplied)

Conference Sessions

There were three sessions at the Tamil Conference 2022 and Indian Newslink will be presenting excerpts of the speeches in its publications over the coming weeks.

Navin Manogaran, Award-winning writer from Malaysia (Photo: Supplied)

The session on Ethnolinguistic Identity had Navin Manogaran, an award-winning writer from Malaysia speak on Diaspora Writing – Tactics of Intervention. Navin holds a postgraduate degree in Tamil Literature. Navin has written thirty-nine Malaysian Tamil creative works, including poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and anthologies. In 2007, he founded Vallinam, a journal for alternative literary activities that became digital in the year, 2009. In 2014, he oversaw the release of Parai (Rhythms), a collection of academic articles such as Malay/Chinese Literature, Riverine Literature, and Eelam Literature.

He has also curated documentaries and worked on films. He has penned the screenplay for the Tamil film Kabali, for the portions about Malaysia which starred the popular iconic star Rajnikanth. He is also the founder of Yazl, a Tamil publication for children.

Representation in literary works is a necessity in a multicultural world

The topics and themes were designed by Rambutan Media Works, the event managers of the Tamil Conference 2022 However, Navin chose to tweak his topic to Writing diaspora – tactics of intervention because “I wanted to reiterate to myself my reading philosophy and mindset,” he said.

Navin Manogaran speaking on the topic: Writing Diaspora – Tactics Of Intervention (Photo: Supplied)

Navin said that his approach at the conference was different: “There is a distinction between stage speakers and authors. Speakers attempt to communicate thoughts to others. However, a writer’s text is like a river. As the text grows, the thoughts travel through it. Thinking is a conversation I have with myself. As such my conference speech was a collection of conversations that I have had within myself”. Navin’s speech entailed a connection with the speakers that brought them on a journey through his lifeworld coalescing it with storytelling. Indian Newslink captures that journey for its readers, here.

Navin’s lifeworld

“I grew up in a joint family that included my uncles, aunties and grandmother, together with my immediate family. Usually, in those days, it was the proximity of the uncle that nurtured a young man. Nurturing entailed being teased, motivated and reprimanded by them. That’s how I grew up, as well. Whenever I displayed my ignorance, whenever I disobeyed social order, whenever my clothes were not neat, my uncles reprimanded me. They’d call me a ‘sakkaikaran’. I didn’t know what that meant. But the way it was pronounced, the enunciation had a sarcastic ring to it. I too would use it on others. It was only in my later years that I understood the word ‘Sakkai’. It referred to an aboriginal tribe in Malaysia. Although the term ‘Orang Asli’ (original people) is commonly used to refer to them, the vernacular term ‘Sakkai’ was also used. The Tamil labourers who came to Malaya had within a hundred years morphed the word Asli into the vernacular Sakkai. The Sakkai were othered as forest dwellers, ignorant of the modern ways of life and stereotyped as uncivilized. Similarly, I lived in a Chinese suburb. The Chinese were commonly referred to as ‘Sadaiyan’ (the braided ones). The Chinese, in those days, had the front half of their heads shaven and kept long braids (Sadai in Tamil). Even though they don’t have braids now, the moniker lingers. I also started referring to the Chinese as ‘Sadaiyan’.

When I began reading Malaysian Tamil literature, the Sakkai and Sadaiyan that I had been chanting since childhood was nowhere to be found. The first thing I noticed in Malaysian Tamil literature was a fictionalized world of dignity. Also, literature captured the gloomy and melancholic lives of ethnic Tamil workers lives only. Or the texts depicted conflicts between modernisation and moral values. None of these introduced another ethnic group, culture, race or dwelling. Thus, derogatory and ridiculing, words for the other ethnic groups were what I was exposed to. This is exactly how derisive words about Tamils are naturally transferred to another race. Literature is a vital tool that can change these perceptions. But such Tamil fiction that reflects the demographic makeup of my country Malaysia was almost absent”.

Multiculturalism vs Cultural Plurality

Navin explicated that there is a difference between multiculturalism and cultural plurality. He highlighted how Malaysia and Singapore are viewed as multicultural because the majority community embraces the customs of various minority groups and allows those groups’ cultural representations to be expressed by them.

Cultural Pluralism (Photo: Slideshare)

However, he emphasised, that cultural pluralism, on the other hand, has an entirely different meaning. Its characteristics he says, are missing in both Malaysia and Singapore. He added that the texts in these countries do not reflect the demographic makeup and take on an approach of cultural purity and ethnic exclusiveness in modalities of representations. Navin urged Tamil authors and the wider communities of New Zealand to keep this aspect in mind when creating literary and other cultural works. He explicated the need for inclusiveness in today’s world and encouraged the dissemination of knowledge of multiple cultures through education, texts and stories which can create respect perpetuating an inclusive and cohesive society.

Citing the Māori, New Zealand’s indigenous people’s principle that one person’s survival is dependent on the survival of another, as an example, Navin emphasised the need to reflect such ideologies and cultural beliefs in ethnic Indian literature. He said that “our efforts are constrained by frivolity, cultural biases, and distorted race concepts. Cultural puritanism and conceit can fray cohesion. It is the inclusive mindset that world literature must adopt, and this is what should emerge from the diaspora Tamils of New Zealand as well”.

Malini Yugendran is an Indian Newslink correspondent based in Auckland.

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