What is «ஆவணம்» – 6

Preserving archival materials at archive depot/ archival institution

The only available archive of Tamils at archival institutions is from the 1970´s, ’80s and ’90s. They are archive after «Redd Barna » (Save the Children Norway – Norwegian NGO), «Innvandreretaten», (immigrant Administration ) «tolkeseksjonen» (interpreting section), «Flyktning og Innvandreretaten» (Refugee and the Immigration Service ) (a merger of the Immigration Service and the Secretariat for Immigrants and Refugees). And a couple of master and doctoral thesis from the 2000´s and 2010´s.

Some of the above archival materials can be accessed on the Norwegian digital archive platform «Arkivportalen», by searching the keyword “Tamil”:
Other archival documents are under a clause to prevent public access for a minimum of 60 years. This is done to protect the privacy policy of individuals.

These are archives of Norwegian governmental bodies and international help organisations.
Based on these archives the history of the Tamils in Norway is put on the freeze to the time when Tamils came here as refugees for around 40-50 years ago. Where is the historical archive that tells about the development of these Tamil refugees to Norway? Did all Tamils come to Norway as refugees?  How has the journey been for the migrated Tamils to now? – The answers to all such questions are in the Tamil organizational archives. Sadly, they are not available for public access.

The first generation, who still has leadership positions at many diaspora organisations, are in the age of ’50s and above. These have experienced traumatic incidents such as burning of Jaffna library[i] in 1981 and other state-sponsored cultural genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
97 000 unique materials, including the only existing copy of the “Yalpana Vaipava Malai” were burnt to ashes. “Yalpana Vaipava Malai” was a history of Jaffna written by Tamil poet Mayil Vaakaanar in 1736. At this point, I would like to mention that Norway has also experienced that parts of their archive been confiscated by German invasion under the second world war.
The scares of oppression continue within Tamils and the fear to lose what they have in remain is one of many reasons that the archive is kept at private hands. Digitalising and keeping several copies are another reflection of this historical experience. 

However, this historical experience should be taken as a lesson rather than an obstacle. And that is a long-lasting social need.
We can even take the word “Eelam” as an example. “Eelam”[ii] is the indigenous name of the whole island, Sri Lanka. Henceforth DsporA Tamil Archive will use the term Eelam in this sense. Tamils from Eelam have a renewed recent urge to gather all archival and archaeological documents for the ancestral history of their existence. And they find and present various pieces of evidence in the form of inscriptions, printed books, archaeological artefacts from Sangam Era (centuries BC) and onwards. Since the records of the word “Eelam” were created and since the recorded documents were preserved, they become evidence for Tamils´ indigenous right and history. Likewise, contemporary records are important to be preserved for the unknown use and purpose of Tamil descendants back home and in the diaspora.

It is once again important to state that the first generation of migrated Tamils are thinking that the archive of Tamil struggle produced back home is the only valuable archive. But don´t forget that archive of diaspora Tamil organisations are also valuable for contemporary and future generations.
Even archival documents of Tamil struggle generated by diaspora Tamil organisations are as valuable as those produced back home. It includes all forms of freedom struggle and the various freedom struggle organisations. I would like to underline to prevent any misunderstanding. The last 30-40 years of freedom struggle is political for the first generation. It is partial political and partial historical for the second generation. But we have third and fourth generations of Tamils living in the diaspora. For them, as well as the future generation, the last 30-40 years of Tamil freedom struggle is history! And that has as equal importance as the history of Sangam Era for the continuity of Eelam Tamil existence! In an archival ethic perspective, archival activity should be objective and loyal to history.

Archival institutions – few archival terms:
  • Clause (klausul): Prevents access to information subject to the obligation of confidentiality (an article of the Norwegian Archival Law)
  • Access (tilgang): to identify an archive and gain access to archival materials for various use.
  • Ownership (eierskap): The owner and creator of an archive. That can be a private person, an organization or a department.
Two ways to preserve archive at an archive depot/ archive institution:

According to Norwegian archival law, private archives can be preserved at archival institutions under two different arrangements.

  1. Handing over (Avlevering)
  2. Depositing (Deponering)

The main difference in the two arrangements is the ownership of the archive.
In the “handing over” arrangement, the ownership of the archive is given away to the archival institution. The institution will have full authority to consider access based on protecting any confidential or personal details (confidentiality and privacy policy/ taushetsplikt og personvern) in the archival materials. Based on the confidential or personal details (privacy policy/ personvern) in the archive, the archive depot can clause archive materials or whole archive. This is done based on Norwegian archival law and can be laid under 60-100 years (normally 60 years) clause. A clause means to hold archival materials away from public access for certain years to protect the privacy and security of the individual(s). This clause is made only if there are confidential and personal details (privacy policy/ personvern) in the archival documents. Otherwise Norwegian archival law act on the access/ transparency policy (innsyn) to give as much access/ transparency as possible (mer innsyn).

On the other hand, “depositing” means that the archive creator holds the ownership while the archive is preserved at an archival institution.
For instance, if “DsporA Tamil Archive” decide to deposit these posts at an archival institution, the posts will be preserved at an institution for future. When someone applies for access to the posts, the archival institution will send the access request to me. Then I will consider the request and grant access or give partial access to the posts (archival materials). Or even deny access. By doing this the archival materials are preserved for the future at the same time the access is monitored by the archive creator (arkivskaper). This means also that “DsporA Tamil Archive” can also take back the deposited archival materials from the archival institution. This is a possible disadvantage of depositing. Even if the community concerned with that archive wants the archive to be preserved, it is up to the archive creator to preserve the materials for the future. 

When you give your archive under one of the mentioned arrangements, the archival institutions can help you to assess archival valuable documents. If they find any documents without archival value, they can give back to you rather than throwing them away.
Secondly, based on privacy policy, the materials can be given as much access as you wish. And make them available at “Digitalarkivet.no” (website for digital access). All these kinds of specifications can be made in your “handing over” or “depositing” agreement with the archival institution.

Important benefits to preserve archival materials at an archival institution:
  • Paper-based archival materials will be protected from any natural destruction damage such as water, fire and temperature. Over time, even the temperature and air condition can damage the paper and the writing in a material.
  • Digital materials will be transformed into readable platforms when the technology evolves.
  • Publishing on a website is the first step of creating a record (பதிவேடு). But posting on social media is not creating a record (பதிவேடு). That is sharing your activities with the world. The records on a website can also be shared on social media. These shares let the world know about the activities of you and your organisation. But that is not preservation! Websites can be preserved. But posts on social media are challenging to preserve. Preservation means that the contemporary and future generation can easily find and use the document by searching on a centralised platform or place. Posts on social media and the Internet are like finding something in the ocean.
Preserve at archival institution? or not?

It is understandable that it is a process to build trust to either “hand over” or “deposit” your archive at an archive depot/ institution. As a first step please give a chance to visit an archive depot to establish a relationship with the archive depot and get familiar with preservation activity.

As I mentioned before, creating such trust and gaining knowledge about preservation is a social process. At least please keep the basic details that are mentioned throughout the series “What is ஆவணம்?” in mind when you do your local archival collection activity. And more importantly, create some opening to the next generation. So that they in future can continue to preserve the archives that tell the history of Tamils.

Please do not forget that you are keeping a piece of Tamil cultural and historical heritage at your home. Please give the public access to that heritage.


[i] Journeyman Pictures (Producer). (2009, 19.07.2020). The Library Which Sparked a Civil War in Sri Lanka. Hentet fra https://youtu.be/cT6z8irTXHg

Nihari Film Circle and Productions (Producer). (2008, 19.07.2020). Burning Memories/எரியும் நினைவுகள். Hentet fra https://youtu.be/8kY0_Q0XYUM

[ii] IBC Tamil News (Producer). (2020, 19.07.2020). ஈழம் இலங்கையின் பூர்வீக பெயர்? | Eelam is Ancient Name Of Sri Lanka | Eelam history. Hentet fra https://youtu.be/hQjgraa5OUE

TamilNet. (2008). Eezham Thamizh and Tamil Eelam: Understanding the terminologies of identity. Hentet fra https://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=99&artid=27012

Veluppillai, Alvappillai. (1997). Language.  Hentet fra https://www.tamilnet.com/img/publish/2015/11/Tamil_Language_and_Eelam_Tamils_by_Prof_A_Veluppillai_July_1997.PDF

Picture reference:

Sri Kantha, Sachi. (2013). Book Burning in 1933 and 1981: Nazi and Sinhalese goons: style comparisons. Hentet fra https://sangam.org/book-burning-1933-1981/

Reproduction of this article is allowed when used without any alterations to the contents and the source, DsporA Tamil Archive, is mentioned.

What is «ஆவணம்»? – 4

This post is based on the original post at facebook page, “Archive of Tamils in Norway”, on 25th June 2020.

What is archival material?

According to Norwegian archival law, a document is: a logically defined amount of information stored on a medium for later reading, listening, displaying or transmission (“ei logisk avgrensa informasjonsmengd som er lagra på eit medium for seinare lesing, lyding, framsyning eller overføring”.)
And record/ archive is: documents that have been created by or have come into an activity as part of an enterprise’s solution, case management and administration. (“dokument som vert til som lekk i ei verksemd»)

Traditionally, a document refer to a paper. But from electronic era, a document is technology neutral and independent. So, an archival document can be found in variety of information carriers. They can for instance be readable text on paper, digital material in databases, maps, drawings, photos, film, audio tapes and more. The difference between “பதிவேடு” and “ஆவணம்” is (1) active archive “பதிவேடு”, which is in daily use in the organisation that creates the archive (records creator/ பதிவேட்டை உருவாக்கியவர்) and (2) terminated, historical archive “ஆவணம்”, ie archive that is out of use of the records creator. So, old and terminated archives that are around 5-8 years old are given to an archival institution.

Below are few examples of different kinds of documents. Please note that I have only taken few examples to demonstrate different kinds of information carriers.

Document: Letter
Records creator/ பதிவேட்டு உருவாக்குனர்: Norwegian Tamil Health Organisation
Traditionally, this will be in paper. But now it is publied digitally. This is an example for active archive at the organization. This document is still relevant and in use.):

Document: Photo
Records creator/ பதிவேட்டு உருவாக்குனர்: Muthamil Arivalaiyam (Tamil school in Oslo). Photographer: unknown

Document: Photo
Records creator/ பதிவேட்டு உருவாக்குனர்: Prateesh Memography (Photographer)
Independent photographer´s photo of Tamil Murasam radio event in Oslo.

Document: Graphic
Records creator/ பதிவேட்டு உருவாக்குனர்: Kri Thirunavukkarasu
The artist has created graphic for a different cause and organization.

Document: Booklet
Records creator/ பதிவேட்டு உருவாக்குனர்: Norway Tamil Sangam (Organisation) (preserved at the online archive, Noolaham. This is an example for terminated archive that is at an archival institution.)

Document: Web page (Article)
Records creator/ பதிவேட்டு உருவாக்குனர்: Namathumalayagam (An article about Norway Tamil Sangam by Namathumalayagam)

Document: audio visual
Records creator/ பதிவேட்டு உருவாக்குனர்: Thainilam Kalaiyakam
This is a documentary film created in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of Annai Poopathi Tamil Cultural Center. This is a tamils school in Oslo.

Document: Audio visual
Records creator/ பதிவேட்டு உருவாக்குனர்: Vaseeharan Creations
Even if the interviewee is a Candian Tamil, the production belongs to a Norway based organization because it was created by a Norway based organization. Therefore this document should be archived in Norway.

Document: Audio
Records creator/ பதிவேட்டு உருவாக்குனர்: Tamil Education Development Council
Organisation based in France. Produces teaching materials for Diaspora Tamils.

As you can see, apart from “Norway Tamil Sangam anniversary booklet 1983” (1983), all other records are only available at social medias and websites. All activities are at record creation lever (பதிவேடு). But they need to be progressed to archive (ஆவணம்).
If the website shut down or the social media block or loose the content, the materials will be lost forever. Unless the individuals have a backup or original at their home. Another problem with materials that are spread across social medias and on internet is that it is tremendous time consuming to search for materials. Most of the time, the person would not find the appropriate material. On the other hand, it will be disorganized and can be unreliable.
If the materials end up in an archival institution, they will be gathered in one place. It will save time and effort. Archive preserved at every country will become an archival heritage for Tamils all over the world. They will be a social documentation for Tamils.

There is noticeable that Tamils have re-started to discuss about preserving archive of Tamils. The internal and social discussions will help Tamils to find an appropriate solution on how and where to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of Tamils. But please don´t forget that without records captured and stored at organizations (பதிவேடு), there will be no archive (ஆவணம்).

For info:

To be continued…

Next post: What is «ஆவணம்» – part 5: Which records become archive?

Please do not forget that your are keeping a piece of Tamil cultural and historical heritage at your home. Please give public access to that heritage.

Reproduction of this article is allowed when used without any alterations to the contents and the source, DsporA Tamil Archive, is mentioned.

What is «ஆவணம்»? – 3

This post is based on the original post at facebook page, “Archive of Tamils in Norway”, on 21th June 2020.

Why should Tamil organisations keep records?

Record keeping is a systematic way of keeping track of activities in an organisational structure.
They capture and record information of incoming and outgoing activities in an organisational structure. Before 1990´s all record keeping where paper based. When the electronic era started the record keeping moved over to electronic systems for record keeping. But still paper based record keeping are in practice in some organisations, and in some countries.

Tamils have formed various kinds of organisational structure in the migrated countries. On the one hand non-profit organisational structures, such as charitable organisations, associations, clubs, foundations. On the other hand, profit making organisational structures, such as shops, other business companies.
However, few organisational structures are in between these two.

If we categorise all the Tamil organisational structures (“non-profit” and “profit making” and “in between”), they will be something like this:

• Educational organisational structures –Tamil schools, arts institutions, organisations that create teaching materials and exam board, so on
• Media organisational structures – Television, radio, website, newspaper, so on
• Political organisational structures – such as a representative organisation of a political ideology
• Human rights/ help organisational structure
• Religious organisational structures
• Community organisational structure – such as Sangam/ Inaiyam/ Manram in the name of a place in their homeland, established in a diaspora country. As well as general Tamil Sangam.
• (if any other category let me know)

However, many other organisational structures than “Human rights/ help organisational structure” do have a part of their mission to help Tamil people in diaspora and back home.

From now on I will use “organisation” as a collective term to make it simple and I will mention the category name if necessary.
Even though I focus on organisations, the work of individual artists and creators have a major role and importance for the historical and cultural heritage of Tamils. For instance, photographers and their photos are essential archival materials. It is said that one image is equivalent to 1000 words.
Photos of all activities arranged by Tamil organisations are resting within Tamil freelance photographers. Same with Tamil writers, reporters and researchers, that can function individually. They are major contributors to the historical and cultural heritage of Tamils.

Here is a link to Norwegian national archive. They write about Ole Friele Backer who was a war photographer in second world war. It is given digital access to the photos. 

There are many Tamil organisations around the world with variety of activities at various levels. But there is a worrisome situation of record keeping at majority of organisations. If there are any records kept, they are not available or accessible for public use. They are neither available for the organization for their internal access and use. I will look at the purpose of access and use in my future posts.

So why should these Tamil organisations keep records? (please look at the images)

1) «பதிவேடு» – Record keeping:
The primary value of record keeping is the organisations´ administrational control. Record keeping is essential for internal administrative control and security. It is the base to protect the rights of the organisation, as well as the customer/ consumer/ user´s rights. Thereby record keeping maintains democracy inside the organisation and among the society.

The secondary value of the records are informational value and evidential value for contemporary and posterity.
Informational value: The records of activities of an organisation give information about an incident, phenomenon, period, or an era.
evidential value: A record is an evidence for an action, activity or one´s right.

2) «தெரிவு» – Appraisal:
The records will be evaluated and selected based on the record´s informational value and evidential value. Then the selected records will be given to an archival institution for long term presentation.
The records with informational and evidential value together give us a historical and cultural heritage. This heritage has various contemporary use, as well as unpredictable future use for the future generations.

3) «ஆவணக்காப்பு» – Archive:
The records are preserved at an archival institution for long term preservation. The records will be given public access if they don´t contain personal or confidential information about a person.

People can lose their memories. Thereby the information can be distorted. They can change their mind set or point of view during their lifetime. But the records/ archive will be a piece of document that will freeze the time that something happened. But it is important to notify that even a document can be created and preserved genuinely, but the content would not be true.
So, basically this is a process of capturing and preserving memories and evidence of our activities.

To be continued…

Next post: What is «ஆவணம்» – part 4: What is archival material?

Please do not forget that your are keeping a piece of Tamil cultural and historical heritage at your home. Please give public access to that heritage.

Reproduction of this article is allowed when used without any alterations to the contents and the source, DsporA Tamil Archive, is mentioned.

What is «ஆவணம்»? – 2

This post is based on the original post at the Facebook page, “Archive of Tamils in Norway”, on 16th June 2020.

Why do Tamils lack knowledge or awareness about the archive?

Archaeological evidence from Keezhadi dates the Sangam era and the Tamil script “Tamil-Brahmi” around 300 years further back than 3rd Century BC. That means that Tamils were a well-settled civilisation in 6th Century BC. That automatically raises a question on when Tamils started to develop their script and civilisation when they were already a well-settled civilization in 600 BC.

Artefacts, such as clay pottery, from the Sangam era, shows that Tamils have used the Tamil script “Tamil-Brahmi” to document who a clay pot belongs to. This is also a record. Another example is inscriptions (கல்வெட்டுகள்), where Tamil kings have used Tamil script to carve on the stones to document their history.

For info for comparison:

Private archive and the Norwegian archive law

Since the migration, Tamils have been operating forces for Tamil organisations in the diaspora. On the other hand, many Tamils are functioning as individual artists or creators.
Records created or collected by individuals are usually called “collection” or “personal archive”. The records created by individuals can be a result of an interaction with society. But not necessarily. However, Tamil organisations, like any other organization, function for social interaction.

According to Norwegian archival law, all organisational structures, apart from governmental bodies are “private organisations”. Therefore, they create “private archive”. There are many categories of “private archives”. Records by an organisation is an “organizational archive”. “Personal archive” and “collection” are two more categories of “private archive”.
According to the Norwegian archival law, private organisations do not have a duty to keep records (except financial records). Neither they have a duty to give away their records to an archive depot for long-term preservation. Nevertheless, the majority of Norwegian private organizations, non-profit and charitable organizations do create and keep records for their use of administration, control and democracy. I would like to emphasise that this does not mean that the Norwegian archival institutions do not want to have private archives. They lack private archives, especially archives of immigrant communities.

Disadvantage: Record-keeping and archiving of “private organization” is not mandatory

The result of “no obliged duty” for record-keeping and archive gives a major risk to private organisations. The risk is even higher for immigrant organisations to fall out of the sphere. Because the archive is evidence of our rights. They protect our existence in history.
As I wrote in my post from 05th June 2020, there are no traces of Tamil historical and cultural heritage at Norwegian archival institutions. But I have also observed that Tamils are sceptical to give away their archive to archival institutions related to a government, which I will look at in my future posts.

The lack of archival duty creates a lack of knowledge or awareness about the archive. Because there is no obligation to think about archive. Archival awareness is vital for private organisations, especially immigrant organisations for their administration control, democracy and to document their cultural and historical activities.
Another major factor for lack of knowledge or awareness is that Tamils already work as volunteers. They sacrifice their leisure time to contribute to operating a Tamil organisation. The organisations already lack manpower, resource and time. However, they should not forget that they are carrying a social responsibility, which I will look at in my next post.

To be continued….

Next post: What is «ஆவணம்» – part 3: Why should Tamil organisations create records?

Please do not forget that you are keeping a piece of Tamil cultural and historical heritage at your home. Please give the public access to that heritage.

Reproduction of this article is allowed when used without any alterations to the contents and the source, DsporA Tamil Archive, is mentioned.

Updated: 20th September 2020

What is «ஆவணம்»? – part 1

This post is based on the original post at facebook page, “Archive of Tamils in Norway”, on 13th June 2020.

In the past couple of years, there is a new wave of shared thought among Tamils around the world about the archive of Tamils. It is noticeable on websites and social media that they are developing an urge to tell their stories to the world. They are struggling to protect and preserve their stories. They are publishing historical and contemporary videos, photos, documents about Tamil language, art, culture and history on websites and social media.

“But what is “ஆவணம்” (aavanam)? asked one of my friends. She pointed out that even the Tamil term «ஆவணம்» (aavanam) could be unknown for many. Based on her question, I am trying to explain what «ஆவணம்» (aavanam) is in a series of posts.

What is «ஆவணம்» (aavanam)? – part 1: Create a common understanding of the terms:

When it comes to the translation of words, it is difficult to give an accurate translation regardless of language. In our case, Tamils live in various countries and the translation might be perceived differently based on resident country and language. Because a word carries its meaning and definition based on its region, culture, history and origin. So, I take the English words “Archive” and “record-keeping” into account to create a common understanding.


  • “Record” is “பதிவு” (pathivu), “ஏடு” (eedhu)
  • “Record-keeping” is “பதிவேடு செய்தல்” (pathiveedhu seithal).
  • “Record management” is “பதிவேட்டு முகாமை” (pathiveedhu muhaamai).
  • “Archive” is “ஆவணகம்” (aavanaham) / “ஆவணக்காப்பகம்” (aavanaha kaapaham).
  • “Document” is “ஆவணம்” (aavanam).
  • Documenting/ Archiving is “ஆவணப்படுத்தல்” (aavanapadhithal).

Use of terms among Tamils:
Tamils usually say “பதிவு இருக்க வேண்டும்” (It need to be recorded/ registered) or “பதிய வேண்டும்” (We need to make a record/ register). They widely use the word “பதிவு“ (pathivu which means record/ register). That refers to “பதிவேடு” (record-keeping). But they lack a full understanding of how an “பதிவு” (a record) should be created. And to see the connection between “பதிவு” (record/ register) and “ஆவணம்” (archival document).

On the other hand, they say “ஆவணப்படுத்த வேண்டும்” (need to document). They commonly think that “ஆவணம்” (aavanam) is only the historical publications created by another organisation or organisational structure. For example, booklets, books, magazines, photos, audiovisuals and so on from the past. In particular, the archival documents are considered to be the records of the struggle for the rights of Tamils. However, I would like to underline that these publications are important “ஆவணங்கள்” (avanangal – archival documents). But “ஆவணம்” (aavanam) contains many more aspects.

To be continued….

Next post: What is «ஆவணம்» – part 2: Why Tamils lack an understanding of “பதிவு” (pathivu – record) / “ஆவணம்” (aavanam – archival document)?

Please do not forget that you are keeping a piece of Tamil cultural and historical heritage at your home. Please give the public access to that heritage.

Reproduction of this article is allowed when used without any alterations to the contents and the source, DsporA Tamil Archive, is mentioned.

Updated: 20th September 2020