Controversy
Despite Dr Shiva Ayyadurai’s claims, the Tamil Chair Inc board, says their efforts to institute a chair at Harvard is still on and that they are considering legal action against him.
Wikimedia Commons

A controversy has broken out in the effort to institute a Tamil Chair at Harvard University in the United States. Indian American scientist Shiv Ayyadurai has claimed in a January 8 blog post that Harvard was exploiting Tamilians by making them pay for their own historic artefacts.

Slamming Harvard as a “tax-exempt Wall Street hedge fund”, he says that the co-founder of Tamil Chair Inc agreed to stop the effort after a phone call between the two. The Harvard Tamil Chair is aimed to promote Tamil studies at Harvard University.

In a blog post titled “Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai Stops Harvard’s Tamil Professorship Scam”, Shiv Ayyadurai, who is a US Senate candidate, has slammed Harvard and its efforts to house a Tamil Chair, labelling the whole thing a scam. The post published on January 8 claims that the co-founder of the funding effort decided to pull the plug having realised that it was a mistake.

Efforts to control historical narrative of Tamil?

Ayyadurai says, “Harvard is asking Tamilians to pay $6 million for a professorship that will be used to rob their own historic artifacts worth trillions of dollars representing the ‘Holy Grail’ of the world’s most highly-prized indigenous knowledge. Harvard will then proceed to use access to those artifacts to rewrite and hegemonize Tamil history, an unfortunate and recurrent process that Harvard has done for far too long to many indigenous cultures.”

He also alleges that there is evidence that “Hebrews in academia” were colluding in an effort to “reduce Tamil to a ‘goo goo ga ga’ language. The blog claims, “A comparison of the Hebrew script with the Tamil Brahmi script will confirm that Hebrew script is based on the older Brahmi script, an uncomfortable fact for the Hebrew chauvinists who suppress this fact.”

Proposing his own solution to the issue, Ayyadurai, who emigrated to the US from Mumbai at the age of 7, promises to “galvanize” the Tamil diaspora the world over. This he proposes to do by donating TamilNadu.com, a website owned by him to “build the first online Tamil University.”

Ayyadurai is not new to controversies. He continues to claim to be the inventor of EMAIL. “In 1978, a 14-year-old named V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai developed a computer program, which replicated the features of the interoffice, inter-organizational paper mail system. He named his program “EMAIL”,” his other website tamilnadu.com says, while conceding that others have countered these claims, stating that he is not actually the creator of the email we use today. 

Our mission will continue: Tamil Chair Inc

The Tamil Chair Inc board, which has been raising funds for the endowment for Tamil language at Harvard, has, however, put out a statement in response, stating that the efforts to institute the chair are still on, contrary to Shiv Ayyadurai’s blog post.

A statement was released by US-based cardiologist Dr Vijay Janakiraman and oncologist Dr Sundaresan Sambandam, who founded Tamil Chair Inc to ensure Tamil studies continues at Harvard as long as the university exists. Dr Janakiraman says in the statement, “It is true he (Shiv Ayyadurai) called me and stated that it is a waste and there are many ways to spread Tamil. I told him to give his ideas and if appropriate will work with him. I never said that we will stop the initiative and said that it not me alone any longer and worldwide Tamils are behind.”(sic)

Dr Sundaresan Sambandam also says in the letter, “Harvard had, has and will withstand trials and tribulations! (sic)” Assuring that the efforts will go on as planned, the letter thanks all the donors who have supported the project.

In the comments section of the Facebook where the letter is posted, the Harvard Tamil Chair page also mentions that legal action will be taken. It reads, “Harvard University is working on legal actions against the individuals who are slandering its name with respect to Tamil Chair. This has been communicated by Harvard officials in a conversation with Tamil Chair Inc.”

The Harvard Tamil Chair

In October last year, the Tamil Nadu government sanctioned Rs 10 crore for the Chair, in an effort to fulfil late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s 2016 poll promise. Actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan also donated Rs 20 lakh for the effort.

Once the chair is established, it is expected to pave way for research focused on Tamil language, history of Tamil rulers across the world, literature and digitization of palm manuscripts. Six PhD scholars can be funded at any given time to carry out the research. With this move, Tamil reportedly joins an elite club of six other classic languages including - Sanskrit, Hebrew, Chinese, Latin, Greek and Persian that have exclusive chairs at Harvard University.