After Harvard, the University of Toronto to institute a Tamil Chair

While two doctors initiated the process to establish the Tamil Chair at Harvard, it is the first time the whole Tamil community has come forward to do so in case of the Toronto Tamil Chair.
University of Toronto and Tamil Chair Committee
University of Toronto and Tamil Chair Committee
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The institution of an exclusive Tamil chair at Harvard University in the United States of America, proposed in 2017, was the first time research into Tamil language and culture gained an international footing. The fundraising for six million US dollars came to fruition in February 2018, and now a group of Tamils living in Canada are working to institute a similar Tamil chair at University of Toronto, Canada.

Speaking to TNM, Sivan Ilangko, a chartered accountant in Canada and the Chair of the Toronto Tamil Chair Committee shares that the Toronto University came forward around the same time the Harvard Tamil Chair fundraising reached its six million US dollar goal. “We started our fundraising campaign in June 2018 for three million Canadian dollars and we’ve made 1.4 million Canadian dollars so far,” he says.

The group’s passionate love for the language, one of the longest-surviving classical languages in the world, the others being Greek, Sanskrit, Latin, Hebrew, Persian, and Chinese, has now resulted in this initiative. While two doctors, cardiologist Dr Vijay Janakiraman and oncologist Dr Sundaresan Sambandam, were the ones who made initial donations to establish the Tamil Chair at Harvard, Sivan shares that as far as the Toronto Tamil Chair is concerned, it is the first time two not for profit organisations have come forward to initiate the Toronto Tamil chair.

“Canada has the largest Tamil population in the world, outside India and Sri Lanka. Language is a big identity for us,” shares the Chartered Accountant from Sri Lanka who moved to Canada about 20 years ago. He is also the Canadian Tamil Congress’ President and a director of Tamil Chair Inc.

The Tamil Chair at Toronto University is being pursued jointly by the governing council of the University of Toronto, Tamil Chair Inc. and the Canadian Tamil Congress. This Chair will fund a full-time chair position to explore aspects of Tamil language, history and culture through research and scholarship.

Celebrities like Kamal Haasan and the Tamil Nadu Government made significant contributions towards the Harvard Tamil Chair. Earlier this year, Harvard University shared that it was on the lookout for a scholar to fill the chair.

As part of the fundraising campaign to institute the Toronto Tamil Chair, the committee has been organising virtual concerts, with more such ideas, tweaked to suit pandemic restrictions, in the pipeline. The University of Toronto was founded in 1827 and was the first institution of higher learning in the colony of Upper Canada.

“Two doctors from Tamil Nadu have donated 50,000 US dollars each. We also met with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister when he visited USA. We hope to receive some support from the state government as well,” he adds.

Notably, following the success of Harvard Tamil Chair in 2019, it was announced by the Tamil Nadu government that it was in talks with five different universities in five countries to set up  Tamil Chairs. This included Jaffna University in Sri Lanka, University of Malaya in Malaysia, University of Johannesburg in South Africa, a university in Myanmar and Oxford University in the United Kingdom. All these countries have a sizable Tamil population.

Those wishing to contribute to the institution of the Toronto Tamil Chair in University of Toronto, can do so here.

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