Grads create first-ever scholarship in Tamil studies

Nagaratnam (Siva) Sivalinga
Nagaratnam (Siva) Sivalinga

A York alumni couple has established the first-ever graduate award in Tamil studies in memory of a pioneer and leader of the Tamil community in Canada.

Nagaratnam (Siva) Sivalinga
Nagaratnam (Siva) Sivalingam

Harini Sivalingam (LLB ’05) and husband Gary Anandasangaree (LLB ’05), lawyers and graduates of Osgoode Hall Law School, created the N. Sivalingam Award in Tamil Studies with an endowed gift. The gift was matched by York’s Faculty of Graduate Studies through the Graduate Support Matching Program. The Sivalingam award, the first of its kind in the country, is intended to encourage and promote research on Tamil language, history, culture, society or the Tamil diaspora – something Nagaratnam (Siva) Sivalingam, Harini’s father, spent his entire life advocating.

“When my sister and I were growing up in Toronto, my father encouraged us to take Tamil language classes, classical dance and music classes, and we always talked about what was going on back home,” recalls Harini, currently a PhD candidate in Socio-Legal Studies at York. “He wanted to make sure that we had a strong sense of identity and that we knew where we came from. That was infused in our everyday life during our childhood.”

However, while Harini can understand the language, she has difficulties conversing in Tamil. At her father’s 70th birthday not long before he died in 2010, Siva was asked what his biggest regret in life was.

“He answered it was that his two daughters don’t speak Tamil properly and fluently,” Harini says. “Now that we have two kids of our own, I don’t want to have the same regret my father had.”

Siva, who came to Toronto in 1966, dedicated his life to promoting Tamil culture and language in Canada. He co-founded the Tamil Eelam Society of Canada to bring the Tamil community together, and to provide opportunities and services to newcomers and immigrants from the Tamil community and other cultures. During the 1980s, as the civil war began in Sri Lanka and more Tamil refugees arrived in the city, he played a key role in the settlement of many Tamil families, picking newcomers up at the airport and hosting them in his home.

“He brought passion to his community and, in many ways, his daughters witnessed the growth of the Tamil community,” says Anandasangaree, Siva’s son-in-law.

Because of where York is located and its commitment to diversity, the couple says they felt the University is best positioned to house the award. “York will be able to broaden the Tamil studies program and support students, especially when tuition is skyrocketing,” Anandasangaree says. “We want to encourage young people to pursue studies that may not always be financially rewarding, but are important.”

Philip Kelly, director of the York Centre for Asian Research, describes the award as a generous gift to support future graduate students, and an important milestone in the development of Tamil studies at York. He hopes the annual award, which will provide approximately $5,000 to assist a graduate student undertaking such research, will eventually lead to a wide range of other initiatives such as courses, research projects, a lecture series and an endowed chair.

“We hope it will mark York as an institution that takes Tamil studies seriously,” Kelly says. “The award encourages students to consider research topics in the field of Tamil studies. It also highlights the diversity of our community and the depth of Asia-focused research and teaching at York.”

To find out more about the N. Sivalingam Award in Tamil Studies, visit the York Centre for Asian Research website. The application deadline is Feb. 9, 2015.