Title

× Close
sri lankan tamils

Sri Lankan Tamils around the world have built an online library to replace one torched in 1981

Among the Noolaham Digital Library’s 16,000 documents are four volumes of one of the oldest Tamil grammar books, and copies of over 24 palm-leaf manuscripts.

Seran Sivananthamoorthy is only 25 years old which is why his knowledge of the Jaffna Public Library is limited to memory and anecdote. The library with some 95,000 volumes including the only original copy of the Yalpana Vaipavamalai or the History of the Kingdom of Jaffna was set alight by a mob in 1981 as tensions rose between the island’s Sinhalese and Tamil communities in the prelude to Sri Lanka’s civil war. Miniature editions of the Ramayana, accounts of early explorers in Ceylon and a trove of ancient palm-leaf manuscripts important to Sri Lanka’s Tamil-speaking communities were also lost in the fire.

“There are chances it could happen again,” said Seran. This is not a reference to the possibility of renewed conflict or arson, but to the fact that the integrity of such collections are threatened by a host of factors – from pests and mould to censorship imposed by casteism and patriarchy.

This was also on Kopinath Thillainathan’s mind when he, along with a friend Mauran Muralitharan, established the Noolaham Foundation that set up the Noolaham Digital Library in 2005 whose 16,000 documents now make it one of the largest Tamil digital archives available online.

A rare repository

Sri Lanka’s colonisation and subsequent political movements have been particularly effective in marginalising voices that belong to the nation’s minority Tamil-speaking communities. Outsiders perhaps see Sri Lankan Tamils as a homogeneous group but the community comprises not just the Tamils of the north and east of Sri Lanka, but Indian Tamils whose ancestors were brought over by the British from India to work on plantations, Coast Veddas from the island’s indigenous population, and Tamil-speaking Muslim communities.

The archive is funded by the community and driven overwhelmingly by volunteers. Its contents include photographs of 5,000 timeworn pages that make up 24 palm-leaf manuscripts, and books such as Yalpana Samaya Nilai or Religion in Jaffna that date to 1893. The longest documents it has stored on its servers are four volumes of Tolkappiyam, one of the oldest Tamil grammar books.

At present, the archive also collects thirty magazines and eight newspapers. This includes the regional newspaper Valampuri, which continued to report through some of the most violent years of the island nation’s civil war, as well as Paathukavalan, the oldest Catholic weekly to be published from Jaffna, which was first printed in 1876.

Extensive archives

The library gives scholars access to documents they will not find elsewhere including pamphlets produced by Sri Lanka’s Muslim political parties and traditional documents Tamil families produce as a kind of a comprehensive obituary for their deceased loved ones.

The foundation has also started building what its members call a “biographical dictionary.” “So far we have collected details of about 2,500 personalities,” said Kopinath.

He added, “This is the first ever reference resource of this magnitude on Tamil people. We expect to document 5,000 personalities by the end of 2016 and are planning to publish print volumes as well.”

Noolaham hopes to create audio, video and photo archives too.

A passion project

Its core members make time for the foundation from their busy schedules. For instance, Kopinath, who lives in Australia, is a production manager at a factory, while young Seran has just begun to work as an engineer. Seran confesses that in many ways his heart lies with Noolaham: “I don’t want to say this archive is my part-time work. This is my spiritual work. This is what I want to do with my life.”

With three offices in Sri Lanka and working groups in the UK, Canada, Norway, Australia and USA, and more than 200 volunteers and 350 individual donors across the world, the Noolaham Digital Library seems like an extended community project. Nevertheless funding is a constant challenge as is handling copyright permissions.

An engaged community

Kopinath credits the group’s commitment to their passion project with having pulled them through a challenging decade. He judges their success by the importance the archive is seen to have among the people. A majority of visitors to the site come from Sri Lanka itself.

“Our communities are using Noolaham as a repository where they can store, preserve and retrieve their documents and knowledge,” said Kopinath, citing increasing requests for the foundation to archive personal and institutional records.

Kopinath said he feels a deep joy when he looks at the books and manuscripts the digital library has now. Born on a small island off Sri Lanka’s northern coast, he reminisced how keenly he, as a child, felt the loss of his family’s large collection of books because of their multiple displacements. After being displaced for the third time, Kopinath recalled “I had nothing in my hands.” To him and the others involved with this project, Noolaham offers a promise that such losses are not permanent. That somewhere all that lost knowledge is waiting for them to find and preserve it.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BULLETIN BY 

Making transportation more sustainable even with fuel-based automobiles

These innovations can reduce the pollution caused by vehicles.

According to the WHO’s Ambient Air Pollution Database released in 2016, ten of the twenty most polluted cities in the world are in India, with Gwalior and Ahmedabad occupying the second and third positions. Pollution levels are usually expressed in the levels of particulate matter (PM) in the air. This refers to microscopic matter that is a mixture of smoke, metals, chemicals and dust suspended in the atmosphere that can affect human health. Particulate matter is easily inhaled, and can cause allergies and diseases such as asthma, lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Indian cities have some of the highest levels of PM10 (particles smaller than 10 micrometres in diameter) and PM2.5 particles (particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres in diameter). The finer the particulate matter, the deeper into your lungs it can penetrate causing more adverse effects. According to WHO, the safe limits for PM2.5 is 10 micrograms per cubic meter.

Emissions resulting from transportation is regarded as one of the major contributors to pollution levels, especially particulate matter. A study conducted by the Centre for Ecological Sciences of the Indian Institute of Science estimated that the transport sector constitutes 32% of Delhi’s emissions. It makes up 43% of Chennai’s emissions, and around 17% of Mumbai’s emissions.

Controlling emissions is a major task for cities and auto companies. The Indian government, to this end, has set emission standards for automobiles called the Bharat Stage emission standard, which mirrors European standards. This emission standard was first instituted in 1991 and has been regularly updated to follow European developments with a time lag of about 5 years. Bharat Stage IV emission norms have been the standard in 2010 in 13 major cities. To tackle air pollution that has intensified since then, the Indian government announced that Bharat Stage V norms would be skipped completely, and Stage VI norms would be adopted directly in 2020.

But sustainability in transport requires not only finding techniques to reduce the emissions from public and private transport but also developing components that are environment friendly. Car and auto component manufacturers have begun optimising products to be gentler on the environment and require lesser resources to manufacture, operate and maintain.

There are two important aspects of reducing emissions. The first is designing vehicles to consume less fuel. The second is making the emissions cleaner by reducing the toxic elements.

In auto exteriors, the focus is on developing light-weight but strong composite materials to replace metal. A McKinsey study estimates that plastic and carbon fibre can reduce weight by about 20% and 50% respectively. A lighter body reduces the engine effort and results in better fuel economy. Additionally, fuel efficiency can be increased by reducing the need for air conditioning which puts additional load on the vehicle engine thereby increasing fuel consumption. Automotive coatings (paints) and sheets provide better insulation, keep the vehicle cool and reduce the use of air conditioning.

Most emissions are the result of inefficient engines. Perhaps the most significant innovations in making automobiles and mass transport systems more eco-friendly are being done in the engine. Innovations include products like fuel additives, which improve engine performance, resist corrosion and reduce fuel consumption while offering a great driving experience, and catalytic converters that reduce toxic emissions by converting them to less harmful output such as carbon dioxide, Nitrogen and water. Some of these catalytic converters are now capable of eliminating over 90 percent of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides.

All of these are significant measures to bring the negative impacts of vehicular pollution under control. With over 2 million vehicles being produced in India in 2015 alone and the moving to BS VI emission standards, constant innovation is imperative.

Beyond this, in commercial as well as passenger vehicles, companies are innovating with components and processes to enable higher resource efficiency. Long-lasting paint coatings, made of eco-friendly materials that need to be refreshed less often are being developed. Companies are also innovating with an integrated coating process that enables carmakers to cut out an entire step of coating without compromising the colour result or the properties of the coating, saving time, materials and energy. Efforts are being made to make the interiors more sustainable. Parts like the instrument panel, dashboard, door side panels, seats, and locks can all be created with material like polyurethane plastic that is not only comfortable, durable and safe but also easily recyclable. Manufacturers are increasingly adopting polyurethane plastic like BASF’s Elastollan® for these very reasons.

From pioneering the development of catalytic converters in 1975 to innovating with integrated process technology for coatings, BASF has always been at the forefront of innovation when it comes to making transport solutions more sustainable. The company has already developed the technology to handle the move of emissions standards from BS IV to BS VI.

For the future, given the expected rise in the adoption of electric cars—an estimated 5~8 percent of car production is expected to be pure electric or plug-in electric vehicles by 2020—BASF is also developing materials that enable electric car batteries to last longer and achieve higher energy density, making electronic mobility more feasible. To learn more about how BASF is making transport more sustainable, see here.

Watch the video to see how automotive designers experimented with cutting edge materials from BASF to create an innovative concept car.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.

× Close