Shaping Tamil Identity And Language In The Era Of Digital Disruption

Tamil Nadu Minister Ma Foi K Pandiarajan shared his Durban experience at a Chennai conclave, underlining the importance of Tamil identity.

Tamils make up about half of the Indian diaspora abroad, said the Minister for Tamil Official Language and Tamil Culture, who was a key speaker at the inaugural edition of the Tamil Nadu Social Media conclave organised by the Tamil Nadu Young Thinkers Forum.

There are 1 crore, 37 lakh Tamils living outside of India, with just Durban, whose Deputy Mayor has often been a Tamil, home to 8 lakh Tamils, said Pandiarajan, who spoke elaborately on identity and social media.


Pandiarajan had just returned from the World Tamil Economic Forum in Durban, South Africa, an event which brought together more than 500 Tamil entrepreneurs from across 17 countries. The event, which was being promoted as an alternate to the World Economic Forum at Davos, was held last month to mark 167 years since Tamils landed in South Africa as indentured labourers.

Who are Tamils? – was the question that took centre-stage at the three-day conference.

Questions like “Who is an Indian, or Who is a Tamil” are being raised more than ever, Pandiarajan said.


Touching on the social media issue, he said Egyptian revolution represented one of the most powerful victories for social media.

“It is the first revolution, fostered by social media.”

“It was an identity-related mobilisation.”


The minister said the basic question asked during the regime change centred on identity.

“Tamil probably has a better way of expressing the idea of media”, he said, putting forward the example of how Martin Luther used print media to spread his ideas and views, which resulted in the rise of the Protestantism.

He recalled the time Doordarshan was established and the subsequent rise of the second wave of visual media after silent films. The minister pointed out to the reach famous movie stars such as MGR and NTR had among the masses.


Today, it is social media that is causing the ‘tectonic shift’ that television caused earlier in the media sector, he said. The five new evolving technologies – social media, mobility, analytics, cloud computing and Internet of Things are driving the way we use social media, Pandiarajan said.

Expanding on the rise of the Tamil identity on social media, he continued:

Back in 2001, internet penetration in India was at 1 per cent. Today, it is a 26 per cent – far below China’s 43 per cent. However, this increase in internet availability has empowered media across all fronts, be it print, digital and visual or social media. The evolution of technology from having one Trombay Digital Computer (TDC D12) in an engineering college to everyone using a smartphone today. This evolution has seen the rise of technology firms that today employ over a million people across India.


When the internet was “officially discovered” 25 years ago, Tamil was among the top ten languages in use, mainly due to the Sri Lankan agitation gaining momentum. As people migrated to different countries, Tamil became among the top three lingua franca in the world. However, this has gone down in the recent past to the tenth place. This can be attributed to a slow decline in people learning the language. Many people today don’t even tweet in Tamil and prefer English.

You can watch the rest of the video (in Tamil) below:

Get Swarajya in your inbox everyday. Subscribe here.
Buy Now - Only Rs 99/month
Read Swarajya, Read India Right
Buy the annual plan: 12 Monthly Print Copies and full digital access for a year.
Only Rs 1200.
Subscribe Now