Singing of the National Anthem in the Tamil language too at the Independence Day celebrations has been gathering momentum with scholars, both lay and clergy, expressing their views and the media giving much publicity to it. This article is intended to draw the attention of the intelligentsia of the country and the Government to the issue.
We inherited from the west the need of a national anthem, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t need any such. The national anthem plays a prominent role by bringing all communities of the country together.
Although the national anthem was sung in Sinhala and Tamil languages at the first independence ceremony held at the Independence Square on February 04, 1948, at present a crisis is brewing over it. The national anthem had been introduced as National Songs ( Jathika Gee) and sung in the two languages. In 1951 with several modifications, it received official recognition as the national anthem. However, it was sung in the Tamil language only in prominently Tamil speaking areas.
During the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government the national anthem had been sung in the Tamil language in the Tamil speaking areas. However, a crisis has been brewing since 2016 when the previous regime sung the national anthem in the two languages at the independence ceremony without a request being made by the Tamil people. The attempt to bring about national conciliation through it only gave rise to the crisis.
During the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government the national anthem had been sung in the Tamil language in the Tamil speaking areas. However, a crisis has been brewing since 2016 when the previous regime sung the national anthem in the two languages
However, the Tamils in 2016 were pleased with it more than their predecessors in 1948 when the national anthem was sung. There is no doubt that it brought relief to the war-weary Tamil community and they were struck with a strong feeling of patriotism when they realised their national identity had received due recognition. The Tamils love their language even when they are in a foreign country. However, it is in question whether the Sinhala people have such respect to their language. There are Sinhala people who are reluctant to accept their nationality.
Those who oppose the singing of the national anthem in Tamil argue that the Indian national anthem is sung in one language. Several states in India have pointed out that the Indian national anthem composed in Bengalese language with close relations to Sanskrit should be sung in the languages of their states. However their respect to the national anthem is interwoven with their respect to the great poet and scholar Rabindranath Tagore while they have individual state anthems.
Former President Maithripala Sirisena is seen singing the national anthem at the Independence Day celebrations in 2019 (AFP)
Sri Lanka that practises Buddhist philosophy should analyse this issue from a different standpoint. The war weary Tamil people have been disheartened due to the political propaganda that’s present and maintain that they have been marginalised by the Governments of Sinhala majority. They also complain about the hardships they suffer due to economic constrains. They believe that their demands and rights had been swept under the carpet by the majority. However, these claims are totally unfounded. Under the circumstance, it is the duty of the majority to consider whether it was justifiable to deprive the Tamils of the rights and privileges granted by the Government.
A way to bring about relief to a disheartened minority is to give them an opportunity to sing the national anthem in their language. It would bring respect to the majority, not dishonour. The national anthem contains communal harmony and prosperity in the country and nothing that creates a rift between difference communities. A peaceful atmosphere for all communities to join hands with love and patriotic feelings to build the nation should be created. It is not justifiable to sing the national anthem with ill feelings towards each other. Under the circumstance, the opportunity should be provided to all communities to sing the national anthem in their respective languages. It is meaningless to compel anyone to sing the national anthem in a language which he would not understand. The Tamil language has already been recognised as a national language and it is the official language in the North and the East. A translation of the national anthem has been included in the Constitution with notes similar to those of the Sinhala anthem. Meanwhile the national anthem is sung in Tamil at schools and ceremonies in the North and East. The Constitution hasn’t specified a particular language to sing the national anthem. Under the circumstance the opinion that the national anthem should be sung only in the Sinhala language isn’t conducive to communal harmony and national reconciliation.
Several states in India have pointed out that the Indian national anthem composed in Bengalese language with close relations to Sanskrit should be sung in the languages of
Gautama Buddha had allowed His disciples to learn His teachings in their respective languages. As a nation that upholds Buddhism and gives prominence to Buddha Sasana it should have a thorough understanding of the issue. It is the paramount duty of the laymen and the clergy who loves the country to study this issue in the light of the teachings of the Gautama Buddha. It is imperative that the all citizens in the country should be provided with the opportunity to have Sinhala and Tamil language proficiency to enable them to have a healthy dialogue to resolve the issues and to promote mutual understanding and brotherhood.
However, I am not of the opinion that the national anthem should be sung in Sinhala and Tamil at the main state Independence Day ceremony in Colombo. However, Government must order the singing of the national anthem in Sinhala and Tamil both at the independence ceremonies in the North and East as a step towards resolving the current issues. It is our responsibility to create an atmosphere for all communities to live in peace and harmony in a unitary state.