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Veteran Eezham Tamil archivist passes away at 81

[TamilNet, Thursday, 23 June 2016, 01:24 GMT]
Mr R. Kanagaratnam (Kurumpasiddi Eraa Kanagaratnam), who tirelessly collected Tamil and English newspaper clippings and manuscripts related to political and cultural affairs of Eezham Tamils for almost 6 decades, has passed away at the age of 81 in Kandy on Wednesday. The leaders of Tamil Eelam and Tamil Nadu respected Mr Kanagaratnam for his contributions to the modern archival history of Eezham Tamils as well as his continued focus on the historiography of Tamils living across the larger region, from Fiji Islands to South Africa. His unique contribution to the nation of Eezham Tamils was collecting, archiving, microfilming and at the same time ensuring secure storage of the Tamil and English documents outside the island – all achieved through his focused and relentless efforts. He was an institution by himself.

R. Kanagaratnam
Era Kanagaratnam (01 August 1934 - 22 June 2016)
While capturing, manipulating and shaping the historiography of the nation of Eezham Tamils is one of the prime agendas of international imperialisms and their agent genocidal State in Colombo, and while many of the so-called academics among Eezham Tamils knowingly or unknowingly succumb to the agenda in their rats’ race for funds, positions and recognition, the value of the selfless contribution of Kanagaratnam to genuine documentation of historiographical material would be understood only by the posterity, commented Tamil activists for alternative politics in the island.

“If there is no history, there is no life for the Tamils. It is our motto to collect history and rise in the world. It is my long time dream to make our collection in microfilms for our generation and conserve it,” was how Mr Kanagaratnam described his commitment for which he lived up to his last breath. He was actively engaged in the work since the age of 22 to the day he was able to collect and paste his final clippings in 2015.

Since the very first day Mr Kanagaratnam saw the news of the brutal assault carried out by a Sinhala mob against a peaceful demonstration by Eezham Tamils under the leadership of Thanthai S.J.V Chelvanayakam in 1956, he made up his mind for the mission of collecting, preserving and contributing to the independent historiography of the nation of Eezham Tamils in the island.

Kanagratnam’s collections cover more than a hundred years of political events of all shades of Tamil polity, starting from 1889 to August 2011.

Although the main part of his collections is newspaper clippings, there are also published and unpublished articles related to social and cultural heritage of the nation of Eezham Tamils.

R. Kanagaratnam
Era Kanagaratnam, photographed in the early days of his archival work
Kanagaratnam was encouraged by literary critic Kanaka Senthinathan; Kalaignaani A. Selvaratnam, who was engaged in preservation of heritage artifacts and the once popular Sanmargha Saba in his native village of Kurumpasiddi. He was embraced by all the leading Eezham Tamil academics.

Tamil scholars at the University of Jaffna encouraged Mr Kanagaratnam and provided their support by keeping his documents safe when his home village, Kurumpasiddi in Valikaamam North, Jaffna, was completely occupied by the SL military.

Newspaper clippings from Morning Star, The Hindu Organ, Eezhakeasari (1930 to 1957), Veerakeasari, Chuthanthiran (since 1952), The Daily News, Sun, Saturday Review (full volume), Eezha-Naadu, Chari-nikar (full volume), Tribune (full volume), Thisai (full volume), Thina-murasu (from 1st issue to 2002), Dhiniapathi, Sunday Times, Sunday Observer, Thinakkural, Chinthaa-ma’ni, Island, Chudar-o’li and Hotspring were some of the collections in the ITA archives.

His collections also include 10,000 published and unpublished articles, manuscripts and around 10,000 cartoons.

Although most of the documents collected by him for more than 50 years were lost during the genocidal onslaught on Vanni in 2009, a large number of these documents had survived destruction as he had microfilmed his archive before the establishment of Tamil Eelam Documentation Centre in Vanni.

Mr Kanagaratnam had left Vanni in 2008 to take part in a world Tamil conference.

Bestowed with the title of Aava’na-gnaani, by an association of his uprooted village in exile, Mr Kanagaratnam inspired the creation of Tamil Eelam Documentary Centre (Thamizh Eezha Aava’nak Kaappakam) in Vanni under the de-facto State of Tamil Eelam between 2005 and 2008.

Apart from his archival work, Mr Kanagratnam also published a number of small pamphlets highlighting the situation of Tamils in Singapore, Malaysia, Burma, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Fiji Islands, Mauritius, Seychelles, Reunion, Indonesia and South Africa, said London-based social anthropologist S. Visahan, who had met Kanagaratnam in Kandy and in Trichy.

ITA collections were displayed for the first time at the Federal Party annual conference held at Kalmunai in 1963. Thanthai Chelvanayakam inaugurated the first exhibition.

Rev Fr Thaninayakam inaugurated Kanagaratnam’s exhibition at the 4th International Tamil Conference held in Jaffna in 1974.

He has also exhibited a section of his collections in Canada (1996) and in Norway (1997).

After the exhibition held in Norway and the appreciation he received from Tamil activists as well as the Norwegian academics, he managed to get crucial funding from the Royal Norwegian Ministry to microfilm his collections. He also received non-monetary support from the UNESCO to preserve a section of his documents under the framework of the Glarus-Archive in Switzerland with a complementary guarantee for the security of ITA archives by the Swiss Commission for UNESCO. Glarus is a small canton in the heart of Switzerland.

Mr Kanagaratnam’s microfilm collections, preserved under restricting and difficult circumstances, consist of documents collected within the circumstantial limitations that prevailed in the island at that time. They include political, social and cultural documents representing all shades of the Tamil politics from ITAK Leader S.J.V Chelvanayakam’s time to LTTE Leader Veluppillai Pirapaharan’s times.

Although most of his physical collections were lost in the genocidal onslaught on Vanni, his own institution, International Tamil Archives, has preserved almost 300 reels of microfilmed collections by sending them outside the island.

The entire physical collection was brought to Vanni by the efforts of the late S.P. Thamilchelvan in 2005 and Mr Kanagaratnam was actively engaged in Tamil Eelam Documentation Centre.

“The days I spent in Vanni were the happiest days in my life,” he told TamilNet in 2010. He was painfully watching the unfolding genocidal onslaught targeting Vanni while he was exiled in Tamil Nadu since 2008.

Mr Kanagaratnam had returned to the island 10 months ago as his health conditions began deteriorate due to diabetes and blood pressure while he was exiled in Tamil Nadu.

Kanagaratnam leaves behind his wife, Pavalarany, who has been assisting him in his work and two daughters who are living outside the island.

Aava'na-gnani Era Kanagaratnam's funeral is scheduled for Sunday in Kandy.


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