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Home >Tamils - a Nation without a State> One Hundred Tamils of the 20th Century > Chellapah Amirthalingam

One Hundred Tamils of the 20th Century

Chellappah Amirthalingam

[Nominated by Sachi Sri Kantha]

Amirthalingam, born on 29thApril 1903, was the youngest son of Chellappah and Meenachchi of Urumpirai and a brother of Suntharalingam M.P.

After a brilliant school career, he obtained the B.Sc Degree with Honours and proceeded to Cambridge where he got his Doctorate in Zoology.

He was Director of Fisheries in the Andaman Islands for a short time. Returning to Ceylon he held the post of Asst. Marine Biologist in 1938, and Director of Fisheries in 1941. He was also Lecturer at the Ceylon University College for some time. Later he proceeded overseas and held the post of Professor at the University of Sudan for a long time, before retirement. He passed away on 21st January 1982. (from S.Arumugam's Dictionary of Biography of the Tamils of Ceylon - published here with permission)

Annotation by Sachi Sri Kantha:

"I searched for some information on marine biologist Amirthalingam in the internet and located two funny items. One was a news story published in the Ceylon Daily News (June 7, 1999) authored by Paneetha Ameresekere, which reported the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations at Rahula College, Matara, where President Chandrika Kumaratunga had delivered a speech. Strangely, she has cited the name of scientist Amirthalingam, probably without knowing anything about his reputation. To quote,

"She [President] said that in the 75 years of Rahula College's existence this Buddhist school's second principal was a Tamil, Hindu called Dr. C.Amirthalingam. This shows that at that time the people did not differentiate a person according to his race or religion."

If we analyze Chandrika's remarks, the corollary reveals something which is obvious to all Tamils now. "At that time the people did not differentiate a person according to his race or religion". But now, people indeed are differentiated according to his race or religion in Sri Lanka!

The second point which Chandrika didn't bother to elaborate or acknowledge was the fact that during the colonial era, scientists of the caliber of Amirthalingam also contributed a lot to the science education of Sinhalese children in the southern Sri Lanka without rancor or rabid parochialism.

It is also well known that the spiritual father of Eelam campaign, Chellapah Suntharalingam (the elder brother of Amirthalingam) served as a vice principal of Buddhistic Ananda College, Colombo, during its incipient period.

The second item, which I located in one of the internet postings was funny indeed. In an entry related to a first collection of a bony fish named, Notobranchius virgatus, in Sudan in 1965, Dr. Amirthalingam (who was then affiliated to the University of Khartoum) is identified as "the late Pakistani C.Amirthalingam". It will be a miracle to find a Pakistani scientist having such an Eelam Tamil-Hindu name 'Amirthalingam'. But this is how, information is transmitted in the internet these days, replete with errors and omissions.

This should sound as a wake-up call for the younger generation of Eelam Tamils living in the diaspora, that they have a responsibility in their shoulders to study and correct errors of omission and commission which glut the ether medium now."

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