Sepia Tone

Monday, July 12, 2004

Tamil on the Web

Naa. Govindasamy's Interview in 1995, soon after his efforts to upload "Keyed in Tamil scripts" on the Internet succeeded. Before that the Tamil fonts were uploaded in pix format.

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Tamil Net 97 and 2000

Tamil Net 97

Profile of Dr. Kalyanasundaram - Interviewed soon after the Tamil Internet Conf. in 2000 / Singapore.

Murasu Anjal's Muthu Nedumaran talks on Tamil Internet to Times of India -
Tamil Internet Conference : 2000 - Singapore. - Economic Times Article archived here:

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Aruna Srinivasan.

Date Line:

In another six months, on July 1st, 1997, Hong Kong - one of the few remaining colonies of the erstwhile British Empire - will drop the prefix " Royal" from all its communications. The new prefix, " Special Administrative Region " (SAR) of the Peoples Republic of China will be replaced instead.
For the Chinese, it is a great occasion welcoming back a lost province. The countdown in a central market square in Beijing started on July1st, 1996 with a huge electronic clock ticking down the number of seconds, minutes, hours and the days for the final handing over of the British territory to the Chinese. Preparations are afoot in Beijing as well as Hong Kong to celebrate the big day. All the hotels in Hong Kong are booked full for June 30th and July 1st. New hotels are also springing up to meet the demand when the world's attention turns to this cluster of islands. Brides and grooms in China, it is reported, are postponing their wedding dates to coincide with the historic day.

But there are mixed feelings among the HongKongers themselves about their return to the mainland. Apprehensions, to some extent, are there that things might go wrong after July '97. Talks have been rife about HongKongers moving out of the island, apparently under the notion that the territory may not remain as open and free under a communist China rule and that China may impose repressive rule in this territory of 6.2 million people.
Many have pitched their tents elsewhere in the world, in anticipation of the aftermath of handing over. There was an interesting report sometime back about Hong Kong emigrants spending thousands of dollars to ship dead from the territories cemeteries to new resting places in North America or wherever they are moving over to. According to their tradition, Chinese visit and " tend " the graves of their ancestors every year during a particular lunar month. Since the emigrants cannot possibly be flying back to Hong Kong every year, they prefer to have the ashes of their dead relatives close by. One memorial park manager in San Francisco reportedly said that business was booming in shipping and relocating the sets of ashes from Hong Kong.

While Chinese make the majority ( 97%) of the population in Hong Kong, the other minority communities form the remaining 3 %, comprising of Filipinos, British, Indians, Portuguese and Americans. Indians form about 1/2 % of the population map. And it is believed that Indians are also are relocating themselves in the wake of the handover. Because, the government of the People's Republic of China will automatically grant Hong Kong’s ethnic Chinese, Chinese Nationality on 1st July 1997 by granting them Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) passport but makes no such provisions for non-Chinese minorities. This passport will be issued only to Chinese and not others as the Chinese Nationality Law does not recognize dual nationality. Nor does Indian Nationality Laws.
As per Indian laws, to be an Indian citizen one should return to India and live there for a specific period of years. But the ethnic Hong Kong Indians, many of whom are third and fourth generations of the early settlers may find living in India alien, since most of them have no roots there. And the efforts by the Indian campaigners who are trying to persuade the British government to give citizenship to the ethnic minorities of Hong Kong have not been successful yet, notwithstanding the Queen's personal concern in the matter. Thus, given a go-by from all sides, many Hong Kong Indians wonder " what next ?"

In a radio programme in July this year, Mr. Chris Patten, the Governor of the territory said that about 8000 people could be rendered stateless after the handover. Presently
the minorities have a British Dependent Territory Certificate (BDTC), which will be null and void after July '97. But the British National (Overseas), which many of them hold now, will be valid. However, the latter is a travel document, which does not give right of abode in the United Kingdom. Further, the form of nationality that of BN(O) is not transmissible to a second generation.
The champions of the minority groups have been knocking at doors of the Mainland Chinese government as well the British and the Indian governments to solve the identity crisis of the ethnic minorities. One such veteran is Mr. Hari N. Harilela, of Harilela group, President of the Council of Hong Kong Indian Associations (CHIA), and Hong Kong Affairs Adviser to China. He was also in the Selection Committee which elected the Chief Executive designate Mr. Tung Cheehwa, earlier this month. He says , " I have lead several delegations to the United Kingdom requesting them to issue British Passports with right to abode in the UK. Unfortunately CHIA has only succeeded in obtaining the assurances of the British government that if the Indian community comes under pressure they will permit affected people to enter the United Kingdom. However, Indians have full confidence in the future of Hong Kong and have no plans to leave the territory. Beijing also understands and appreciate the contributions made by the Indian community for the success of Hong Kong and would like the community to continue to live in Hong Kong and contribute further to the success of the territory."

Significantly, half of those estimated in such a nationality- limbo status are from South - Asia. Complicating the situation is the fact that most of these South Asians came from the British India - an India which no longer exists. Thus tracing the roots of actual Indians - from the parts of the modern India today- is a next to impossible task which is one of the reasons why the Indian government hesitates to take them into its fold, say sources in Hong Kong.
And the professionals are insecure too to some extent, but are confident that they will have no problem as long as their companies are doing well in the Chinese ruled Hong Kong. Since China has repeatedly assured that business will be as usual in the SAR they are not worried also. Those who are left in the lurch, therefore, are about 4000 to 5000 Indians who hold either BDTC or BN(O) passports. Even if Britain agrees to issue them citizenship, many of the workers category cannot afford to relocate themselves to Britain as easily as the others. Moving to Britain is beyond their economical means. They will not be able to settle in India too because of the cultural, lifestyle and economic gap developed over the generations. The only recourse left for them is to continue to live in Hong Kong with a BN(O) passport which is so lacking in substance that for all practical purposes the minorities will be rendered effectively stateless.

Some observers however point out the incongruity in the whole situation. " When China is taking the province back into its fold in its entirety - the land and resources - it should as well absorb the people in it as they are. Why discriminate the people? Why not treat them as part of the deal ? " they ask. They opine that the Chinese government should amend the law to accommodate the Hong Kong non-Chinese under extraordinary circumstances. But China feels, explain the sources, that Britain did not give the right of abode in UK, for those who held BDTC. So why not they continue to live in the same status - as permanent residents of Hong Kong?

Meanwhile, there are also some isolated views that the problem of " statelessness" is a bit over played. According to some Hong Kong based business sources, most of the Indian community is prepared well for all sorts of contingencies. The total number of ethnic Indians in the region is pegged as 25000. A good number of them are businessmen who came to Hong Kong three or four decades ago in search of trade.
And today many have their strategies planned well in advance - as early as 12 years before, soon after the agreement between Britain and China about the handover. They have been developing alternative footholds by opening offices in places like Singapore, Europe and America. And most of them, the sources say, have managed to secure citizenship in UK, the US, Canada, Australia and so on. Many enjoy dual citizenship too.
And the businessmen who have dual passports and citizenship rights elsewhere in the world are not bothered about the Nationality crisis after '97.
" There will not be any identity crisis as feared by many. Nothing will happen to make HongKongers feel insecure. " says a Hong Kong based Indian businessman who has pitched tent in India and Singapore to safe guard against any " eventualities" which he is certain might never occur." Because, " he asserts, " China has assured that the SAR will remain a free trade area with a high degree of autonomy for at least 50 years. And the relationship between India and China are good. Business in Hong Kong is thriving as usual. I do not see any threat to the Indians in a post 1997 Hong Kong. "
And optimists like him believe that the issue of statelessness for the few thousands ethnic Indians would be solved automatically when the moment comes. " India is keeping quiet on this matter. But what happened in UAE a few months back ? When it was pushed against the wall- when suddenly there were thousands of Indians being rendered stateless, the Indian Embassy there issued them with passports without any great scrutiny into their origin. So, no one can guess what actually will happen at the eleventh hour." he says.

According to sources in the Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Hong Kong, Mr. Lu Ping, the head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office in China, has assured the Indian businessmen that business will not be affected under the Chinese rule. Sources point out that the Chinese top official has even drawn quotes from scriptures and talked about the importance of maintaining one's " Dharma" which for the business community is, business. And as long as the business community minded their own business without interfering in the political affairs, there may not be any problem at all, he has assured. Similarly, the recently elected Hong Kong’s first chief executive - designate, Mr. Tung Cheehwa has promised in his first address this week to the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce that free and economic environment will prevail in post '97 Hong Kong.

Assurances notwithstanding, some amount of pessimism does creep in Hong Kong minorities’ minds. Says a business consultant, " We have not ruled out any kind of eventualities absolutely. If things should go wrong contrary to our expectations, we are also prepared too. "

One of the arguments put forward by those who think that all will be well in post '97 Hong Kong is that China is keen to grow into economic power. And the Indian businessmen in Hong Kong contribute enormously to the island's growth. " It is because of the hard work of the Indian businessmen in Hong Kong that they form a significant component of the total trade of the territory. The Indians who figure hardly over 1/2 % of the total population, contribute to 10% of the total trade in Hong Kong. The Indian businessmen are held in high esteem. So much so that they are one of the four Chambers of Commerce, out of some 42 in Hong Kong, to get the prestigious " Certificate of Origin" - an important document for internationals trade. " they explain. As a sign of growing confidence in a post '97 Hong Kong, it is pointed out, many of those who relocated themselves are said to be returning back. Hong Kong’s unique competitiveness is its free economy. And the businessmen who are used to a thriving free market find it difficult to adjust to others which are more stringent with stifling regulations and hence prefer to make a come back.

Meanwhile, the world is watching with concern. Malaysia for instance has announced in a significant gesture that it was willing to employ British Gurkhas in Hong Kong since it is believed that Gurkahs are well trained and are known to be loyal and dedicated to their jobs. But it is not clarified whether they will be accorded citizenship in Malaysia.

The problems after all may or may not manifest in high proportions. But in the event of any helplessness on the part of the few thousands ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, hope perhaps might come in from different directions of the world.

Published in Economic Times Dated 24.12.1996.