Very little praise given for positive measures enacted by ‘Yahapalanaya’
Tamils who want to sing national anthem in their mother tongue are neither separatists nor extremists
Valalaai event initiated by Maithri-Ranil-Chandrika triumvirate a harbinger of hope
Return of Rajapaksa rule given rise to drastic changes, both positive and negative
This is my third and final column in the trilogy of articles about the singing of Sri Lanka’s national anthem in Sinhala and Tamil languages. I would have very much liked to write about hot topics like Ranjan Ramanayake’s voice recordings or President Gotabaya’s policy speech or internal troubles of the UNP, but I shall stick to this issue that I feel very strongly about. I have been deeply touched and vastly encouraged by widespread response to the previous two articles in these columns. Most of the responses I received were of a positive nature while a few were certainly negative. Interestingly enough, many of the negative ones were from Sinhala and Tamil expatriates residing in western countries while positive ones were preponderantly from readers living in Sri Lanka. This pattern was most revealing.
Another refreshing phenomenon was the appearance – in some English newspapers – of several articles, viewpoints and letters in support of the national anthem being sung in both languages. They were somewhat critical of the incumbent government’s declared intention of banning the national anthem from being sung in Tamil at the forthcoming 72nd Independence Day celebrations on February 4 in Colombo. I was greatly elated by the fact that almost all of these positive viewpoints were expressed by Sinhala people ranging from filmmakers to opinion-makers. It made me realise that in spite of poppycock uttered on this topic by political ignoramuses ensconced in seats of power, there were multiple enlightened and courageous voices within the majority community who are willing to speak truth to power.
I am aware that these are all silver linings in dark clouds. They should not make us entertain illusory hopes or lull ourselves into a false sense of complacency. Nevertheless, we do need such happenings to feel good and also to retain our sanity in an adverse atmosphere. It is against this positive backdrop that I commence this week’s article on a personal note about the singing of the national anthem in Tamil.
Nowadays, the question of singing the national anthem in Tamil is one I care strongly about. However, I do yearn nostalgically for the “blissfully ignorant” past where this was not an issue at all to me. When I was a student at St. Thomas’ Prep in Kollupitiya (1959-64) during the times of J.T.R. Perinpanayagam as headmaster, we used to sing the national anthem at end of term assemblies and other important events.
The students were multi-ethnic – Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher and Malay – with a sprinkle of cultural minorities like Colombo Chetty, Bharatha, Sindhi. Bohra, Parsi,Chinese, Malayalee and Telugu (a great great-grandson of the last king of Kandy was a student too).
LIVELY AND LILTING TUNE
We were given “roneo” cyclo-styled sheets with words in Sinhala and Tamil and the Sinhala version scripted in English. We were free to sing in whichever language we wanted but almost all of us being fluent in English preferred to sing the Sinhala words via the English script. As a Tamil, I don’t think I then understood the meaning of the Sinhala words fully but at that primary school tender age it did not matter. The words had a musical tone and the tune was lively and lilting. Later on as my Sinhala proficiency improved after learning practical Sinhala, the Sinhala words became more meaningful.
It was after I relocated to Jaffna in my mid–teens that I started hearing the national anthem being sung in Tamil. The students at JaffnaCollege in Vaddukoddai were almost entirely Tamil, with one or two Muslims and Malayalees. By this time, one had got “politicised” in terms of ethnicity. We were more aware politically as secondary school students. Besides, the early seventies of the 20th century was also the era of standardisation that caused much upheaval amid Tamil students. “Tamil Eelam” consciousness had not entered our lives then, but we did feel strongly about discrimination and perceived racist oppression.
However, it was while singing the national anthem or listening to it in my mother tongue Tamil that I really understood the meaning fully and began feeling a sense of patriotism and above all, gained an understanding of what this island was all about. These feelings were enhanced in later years by A.E. Manoharan’s Tamil pop song “Illankai Enbathu Nam Thaai Thirunaadu” (Lanka is our Motherland) which instilled affection and endearment towards the land of my birth.
Politically, I found the content of the Sri Lankan national anthem unobjectionable as the words were about Mother Lanka and the virtues of the country and not about any particular ethnicity. However, I must admit that though I understood the national anthem better in Tamil, I liked hearing it being sung in Sinhala as the words seemed to sound mellifluously and exuding a mood of joie de vivre. Despite this personal opinion, I was and am not prepared to let go of or be denied the cherished right to sing the Sri Lankan national anthem in my “Thaai Mozhi” (mother tongue) which is Tamil. A few days ago, I mentioned this to a Tamil friend in Sri Lanka who was very fluent in Sinhala. He too felt the anthem sounded better when sung in Sinhala but concurred with me that our right to sing it in Tamil cannot be forfeited.
Last week’s article in these columns related in detail on how the first Rajapaksa regime of President Mahinda Rajapaksa created a controversial crisis regarding the national anthem in Tamil. The years between 2010 and 2015 had seen the country experiencing an unnecessary problem in the singing of the national anthem in the Tamil language due to an ill-advised measure by the Rajapaksa regime.
A Cabinet paper advocating that the national anthem (NA) be sung only in Sinhala was “shelved” after a heated intra-government debate. Orders however went out quietly to government officials and officers of the armed forces that the national anthem should not be sung in Tamil. There was no official decree but “officially sanctioned unofficial instructions” resulted in silencing the national anthem from being sung in Tamil. The issue hurt the sentiments of Tamil-speaking people widely. Besides, it seemed utterly absurd to prevent a Tamil version of the NA from being sung in areas where Tamils were concentrated or in functions connected to Tamil medium schools. Sadly, this was the prevailing situation until the regime change in January 2015.
It has become fashionable after the regime change ushered in by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to find fault with the “good governance” government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for various acts of omission and commission. Very little praise is given for the positive measures enacted by that regime. The split between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe along with the Ranil- Sajith tussle has brought about a situation where nothing good is being said about the previous government. Sajith Premadasa who was part and parcel of that regime seems to be thinking he can gain political mileage by disassociating himself from that government.
In such a situation, the previous government is being depicted as totally bad without a good word said in its favour. This is not true. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Government did enact several constructive achievements. Chief among them was the climate of ethnic amity and harmony it brought about. A key factor in this was restoring the practice of singing the national anthem in Tamil again. This change was best illustrated by the singing of the national anthem in Tamil at the annual day of independence celebrations. It has been the practice from 2016 to 2019 for the national anthem to be sung in both Sinhala and Tamil at the freedom day event. The ceremony began with singing the anthem in Sinhala and ended with singing it in Tamil. It was symbolic of the fact that Tamil too was an official and national language of this country. Singing the NA in Tamil at the Independence Day event boosted the image of Sri Lanka immensely.
It is this very desirable practice that the new Rajapaksa regime under President Gotabaya is now aiming to discontinue. When Public Administration Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon came out with this “bombshell” announcement, there was widespread shock and disbelief. Why was this government attempting to disrupt the practice of singing the NA in both languages at a national event? There were fears too that the move was a precursor to the elimination of the singing in Tamil of the NA altogether.
TPA LEADER MANO GANESAN
The first Tamil political leader to react against the contemplated move was former Cabinet minister and Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) leader Mano Ganesan. The Colombo District MP expressed his criticism through posts on Facebook and Twitter. More importantly, Ganesan wrote to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa protesting against the proposed move and released the contents of the missive to the media.
Ganesan pointed out that Tamil was enshrined in the Constitution as an official and national language and urged the President to desist from such a course of action. He also reminded the President that sidelining Tamil was contrary to the pledge Gotabaya made at his swearing in where he said he would function as the President of all Sri Lankans.
Ganesan followed up his letter to the President by participating in many meetings and televised programmes and expressing strong criticism of the proposed move to abolish the singing of the NA in Tamil at the Independence Day event. He has also been posing the question as to whether the government wanted to set up a “Sri Lankan Rajya” or “Sinhala Buddhist Rajya.”
The main reason for Ganesan’s concern over the national anthem issue is perhaps due to the fact that the TPA leader played a constructive role in restoring the rightful status of the national anthem in Tamil. In fact, it was Mano Ganesan who started the ball rolling in gaining recognition for the NA in Tamil after the 2015 regime change.
Media reports appeared in early March 2015 that Mano Ganesan – who was not an MP then – had raised the issue of the national anthem being sung in Tamil at the National Executive Council, the then President Maithripala Sirisena had responded positively and reiterated the constitutional position that there was no bar on the national anthem being sung in Tamil. He had guaranteed that the NA would be sung in Tamil too.
Q & A
Upon reading these reports, I contacted Mano Ganesan via electronic mail and posed a question to him on the matter. He replied in detail. Both my question and Mano Ganesan’s answer were published in then. I am reproducing both here:
Q “What were the circumstances that motivated you to raise this issue at the National Executive Council meeting and how do you feel now that the President has answered positively?”
“The national anthem and national flag are elements of expression of nationalism of a citizen of any country. This goes with us in Sri Lanka too. During the last regime, this subject was a highly heated up issue in year 2010. Weerawansa, Gammanpila, Bodu Bala Sena and several others were on a (war) path of totally rejecting this constitutional right of the Tamil-speaking community. They went to the extent of getting the then Interior Minister John Seneviratne to submit a Cabinet paper to “order” citizens and State and school administrators to refrain from singing the national anthem in Tamil.”
“But due to our combined opposition, Mahinda Rajapaksa who gave tacit support to this backtracked. I remember saying then that those who claim to be “Deshapremi” patriots should, on the contrary, support the Tamil national anthem. It is not about Eelam but about Sri Lanka. It is bringing in the Tamils into the national mainstream.”
“But I failed to convince the hardliners. Although they stopped at that point, the fear psyche had already gone into the minds of State administrators in Tamil-speaking regions. Tamil regional GAs and AGAs and school principals either refrained or blocked the use of the Tamil national anthem due to their fear of the regime. The army in the north added brutality to this. They trained the schoolchildren band to sing only the Sinhala version and barged into civil events and at times stopped the Tamil national anthem. The Sinhala only law was in action.”
“These hardliners failed to understand the basic facts. The Tamil anthem is not a new strange song about Eelam but only the translation of the Sinhala version praising Mother Lanka and the music score is also the same. Therefore, these hardliners are nothing but severe racists who reject anything Tamil and who are trying to take our country backwards.”
“Now, this is the era of good governance and real reconciliation. So I thought of raising this issue at the National Executive Council. I am not in Parliament. If I had been, I would have raised it there.”
“The latest is that many local media – electronic and print – have taken up this issue. Yesterday, I was interviewed and thus spoke in many Sinhala radio channels. Last night, I was in Rupavahini TV live. This morning, Weerawansa came on Neth FM radio live and blasted me. He said there could only be one language, one national anthem in this country, since this was a Sinhala country. But to my pleasant surprise, former Interior Minister John Seneviratne who brought the Cabinet paper to ban the Tamil national anthem said, on the same radio, he regretted his earlier stance also adding that Tamils should have the right to use the Tamil national anthem.”
“So DBS, my efforts have brought about some positive developments. I was one of those who agreed with the idea of not putting the Tamil national issue in the Maithri manifesto during the presidential election. We did not want to give any opportunity to hardliners. But it does not mean that we have to keep quiet all the time. We must choose the right time to raise issues and create discussions. It is my policy.”
SIGNIFICANT EVENT IN VALALAAI
Shortly after this email exchange with Mano Ganesan, a significant event took place in the north. A symbolically-meaningful event unfolded on March 23, 2015 at Valalaai in the Jaffna peninsula where President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and former Premier cum President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga were present. Over 400 acres of land taken over by the Sri Lankan armed forces to maintain a high-security zone was handed over to the long-deprived, rightful owners during the occasion. The presence of the top trio at such a simple ceremony in the north demonstrated avowed sincerity and goodwill of the new government in bringing about ethnic reconciliation and amity. Furthermore, the Valalaai event served to relay another simple yet powerful signal in the sphere of ethnic relations. The Sri Lankan national anthem was sung in both Sinhala and Tamil at the event.
The national anthem was first sung in Tamil and then in Sinhala. The music was played on tape while a “choir” from the staff of the Jaffna District Secretariat sang in both languages. The gathering including the distinguished leaders stood to rapt attention. It was truly a heartwarming spectacle and harbinger of hope. It demonstrated clearly that the new dispensation of Maithri, Ranil and Chandrika would proceed slowly but steadily in seeking remedial action in issues such as the singing of the national anthem in Tamil. It was a symbolic gesture! The Tamil version of “Sri Lanka Matha” echoing in Valalaai resonated politically throughout the island. There were howls of protest from predictable quarters. A campaign of misinformation and disinformation about the national anthem being sung in Tamil got underway.
The Valalaai event was a harbinger of more glad tidings. Gradually, the practice of singing the national anthem in Tamil began to re-emerge after being “silenced” under the Rajapaksa rule. Meanwhile, parliamentary elections took place in August 2015. A coalition government comprising the UNP-led UNF and Sirisena-led faction of the SLFP/UPFA was set up. Things moved smoothly and the singing of the NA in Tamil began to gain wider currency.
And then came Sri Lanka’s 68th anniversary of independence on February 4, 2016. The official commemorative event was held at Galle Face Green. The highlight of the day was the singing of our national anthem in both Sinhala and Tamil. The following paragraphs are excerpted from the article I wrote in then:
“During the past decades, I have seen many official commemorations of Independence Day occur. However, for the first time in my life, I witnessed a scene via the internet which I thought would never ever happen during my lifetime. I saw and heard a youthful choir of boys and girls exuberantly rendering the Sri Lankan national anthem in my mother tongue Tamil. It took 2 minutes and 32 seconds. The singers were students of Bambalapitiya Ramanathan Hindu Ladies’ College and Colombo Vivekananda College. They sang harmoniously. After several decades, the national anthem was being sung with official approval at the State-sanctioned commemoration of independence.”
STATE OF EMOTIONAL ECSTASY
“I was in a state of emotional ecstasy. I did something which I have not done before when Sri Lanka’s national anthem was being played. I cried! I am not ashamed to say that! I kept replaying the clip. My eyes turned moist and tears trickled down my cheeks. I even sobbed a few times involuntarily. It was with the greatest difficulty that I controlled myself. When the Rupavahini camera panned on the distinguished gathering, I saw those very important children of the Sri Lankan mother – most of them Sinhalese – standing respectfully erect as the words rang out clearly in Tamil. It was truly a defining moment!”
“I realised that the land of my birth had embarked on a new and exciting journey. After decades of post–independence conflict, fuelled mainly by ethno-linguistic contradictions, the nation at large was realising and recognising its pluralistic national identity. While Sinhala continued to retain its rightful place, the country was now marching forward on the path of inclusion and was prepared to accommodate what had been excluded before. The 68th Independence Day ceremony was a good omen of the brave, new Sri Lanka that was being envisaged by the new dispensation in power.”
“US Astronaut Neil Armstrong, after his historic lunar mission, described his first step on the moon as a small step for a man but a giant leap for mankind. Likewise, the singing of the national anthem in Tamil at the official Independence Day ceremony is a great leap forward of tremendous symbolic value in the right direction. It is a signal to the long-alienated Tamils of Sri Lanka that it is time for them to come in from the cold and re-enter the national mainstream. The Tamil language recognised constitutionally as an official language is now being given parity of status. Tamil is not only spoken by Sri Lankan Tamils but also by upcountry Tamils of recent Indian origin and a substantial number of Sri Lankan Muslims. The language spoken by nearly 25% of the population was granted symbolic recognition at the Independence Day event.”
“The announcement that the national anthem was going to be sung in Tamil also on February 4 had earlier brought in its wake loud howls of protest. A motley group of pseudo-nationalists kept ranting and railing that the singing in Tamil would threaten national security. Some alleged that Eelamists were trying to divide the country by singing “Sri Lanka Thaaye.” The pater familias of nepotistic corruption shed crocodile tears for the country’s independence. People who never bothered about constitutional provisions regarding Tamil as an official language not being implemented turned overnight into constitutionalists insisting that the Constitution was being violated.
A sanctimonious cat even warned of President Sirisena being impeached in this regard.”
MAITHRIPALA, RANIL AND CHANDRIKA
“An orchestrated campaign was underway to create an illusion that the national anthem being sung in Sinhala and Tamil on Independence Day would bring about a great calamity upon Lanka and her people. Given the deep divisions within and outside the government over this matter and aggressive hostility displayed by influential politicians, I had thought that the government would back down on this issue. Happily, my fears became liars! I thank President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and all other ministers and members of this government who made possible the singing of “Sri Lanka Thaaye.” I salute them for their political courage in doing the right thing in the face of opposition.”
“Politicians from both sides of the ethnic divide have time and again pursued politics of the irrational by appealing to raw emotions of the electorate. These political elements continue to thrive because Sri Lankan people of all hues have demonstrated time and again that they can be whipped up into a frenzy at elections through emotive yet empty slogans and cheap political stunts. Thus, it is a vicious circle of interdependence where the people continue to get the leaders they deserve.”
“What has prevented Sri Lanka from descending into total chaos and utter misery is the ability of some of its leaders and people to take corrective measures at times and undo some, if not all, of the damage caused. What’s more these corrective measures are enacted through democratic methods:
“Democracy in Sri Lanka may be flawed but the country can be proud that it remains basically democratic. One set of rascals may be replaced by another but these are done through democratic elections. Dictatorial tendencies are curbed through casting of the vote. These have been the silver linings prevalent in the dark clouds looming over the island’s political horizon.”
“One such silver lining was visible last week in the case of the national anthem being sung in Tamil at the Independence Day ceremony. The new dispensation under President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is striving valiantly to rectify some of the wrongs perpetrated by the previous Rajapaksa regime. The 68th independence anniversary commemoration was truly a heartwarming spectacle and harbinger of hope. It demonstrated clearly that the triumvirate of Maithri, Ranil and Chandrika would proceed slowly but steadily on the road to interracial justice, ethnic amity and national reconciliation.”
“Above all, the singing of the national anthem in Tamil at the Independence Day event has conveyed a strong symbolic message to Tamil-speaking people that they and their language are an integral part of evolving Sri Lanka. This has made all those Tamils desiring to live as equals in a united, undivided Sri Lanka very, very, very happy.”
LEGAL CHALLENGE IN SUPREME COURT
Shortly after the national anthem was sung in Tamil on February 4, 2016, a legal challenge was mounted against the move. A fundamental rights petition was filed in the Supreme Court. After considering submissions by all parties concerned, a three-judge bench in November 2016 refused to grant leave to provide with the petition. A news report in the Daily News by its courts reporter Lakmal Sooriyagoda stated as follows:
“The Supreme Court yesterday refused to grant leave to proceed with a fundamental rights petition filed by three residents of Kelaniya, challenging the government’s decision to sing the national anthem in the Tamil language during Independence Day celebrations.”
“Taking into consideration the submissions made by the Attorney General and intervenient parties of the petition, a three-judge bench comprising Justices Priyasad Dep, K.T. Chitrasiri and Prasanna Jayawardena decided to dismiss the petition in limine.”
“The three petitioners Sanjeewa Perera, Pradeep Asiri Zoysa and Don Premaratne sought a declaration that the national anthem should be sung in Sinhala language with Sinhala words in accordance with the Third Schedule of the Constitution. The petitioners cited President Maithripala Sirisena and the Attorney General as respondents.”
“Deputy Solicitor General Viraj Dayaratne appearing on behalf of the Attorney General informed court that Article 18 and 19 of the Constitution unambiguously provides that Sinhala and Tamil shall be the official and national languages of Sri Lanka.”
“DSG Dayaratne further stated that the words and music of the national anthem in the Tamil language is constitutionally recognised by Article 7 read with the Third Schedule of the Tamil version of the Constitution.”
“He further submitted to court the national anthem that was sung in the Tamil language at the Independence Day celebrations on February 4, 2016 contained the same words and melody as entrenched in the Constitution in terms of Article 7 read with the Third Schedule of the Tamil version of the Constitution.”
“They alleged that the petitioners’ fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 12(1) and 12(2) have been violated through the government’s decision to sing the national anthem in Tamil language during the Independence Day celebrations.”
“The petitioners observed that they tend to name President Maithripala Sirisena as one of the respondents in the petition since he participated as the Chief Guest at the Independence Day celebrations while functioning as the Executive President.”
“The DSG appeared for the Attorney General. Senior Counsel Mahanama de Silva appeared for the petitioners. Counsel Suren Fernando with Senior Counsel Viran Corea appeared for the intervenient parties.”
CENTRE FOR POLICY ALTERNATIVES
Meanwhile, Colombo-based NGO Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) filed an intervenient petition in the case. A communiqué issued by the CPA stated as follows:
“Sanjeewa Sudath Perera and two others filed a petition dated February 26, 2016 in the Supreme Court challenging the decision to sing the national anthem in Tamil at the official Independence Day celebrations in 2016. The petitioners argued that singing the anthem in Tamil was contradictory to Articles 7 and 12 of the Constitution which relate to the national anthem and rights to equality and non-discrimination respectively.”
“On March 4, 2016, CPA and its Executive Director Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu filed an intervention petition which argued that singing the national anthem in Tamil was constitutional. The petition first referenced Articles 18 and 19 of the Constitution which state that Sinhala and Tamil are official and national languages of Sri Lanka. Furthermore, unlike subordinate legislation such as acts of Parliament, the Constitution contains no provision which stipulates that the Sinhala text shall prevail over the Tamil. As such, the words and music of the national anthem in the Tamil language are constitutionally recognised by Article 7 read with the Third Schedule of the Tamil version of the Constitution.”
“The intervention petition further referenced Article 12 of the Constitution claiming that a declaration that the national anthem be sung only in Sinhalese would be a direct violation of Article 12 which in turn would be a violation of the fundamental rights of Tamil-speaking citizens. The CPA also supported two additional intervention petitions that supported the constitutionality of singing the national anthem in Tamil.”
“The Supreme Court took up the case on November 18, 2016, discussing whether the petitioners made a strong enough case for considering the petition in court. During discussions, the DSG referenced Articles 18 and 19 of the constitution recognising both Sinhala and Tamil as official and national languages and that the singing of the anthem in Tamil was not in violation of the Constitution. The court therefore decided that the petitioners had not disclosed a case to be considered and subsequently their case was dismissed.”
EQUALITY, UNITY, HARMONY AND AMITY
The national anthem was sung in Tamil at the Independence Day events of 2017, 2018 and 2019. The precedent set in 2016 seemed to be taking firm root. The people of Sri Lanka were able to see and realise that the singing of the national anthem in Tamil was not harmful to the country or the Sinhalese majority in any way. As far as the Tamil people were concerned, the right to sing the NA in Tamil did not mean that all their lost rights were restored and that they had achieved equal status with the majority. Yet, the singing of the NA in Tamil at the Independence Day event was of symbolic value. It indicated bright prospects for equality, unity, harmony and amity in the future.
Alas, a fairytale ending was not to be! The election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as President and return of Rajapaksa rule has given rise to many drastic changes, both positive and negative. One such “change” was in the singing of the national anthem in Tamil at Independence Day celebrations.
JANAKA BANDARA TENNAKOON
Dailymirror stated: “The 72nd Independence Day celebrations will be held on February 4 at Independence Square in Colombo on a grand scale, the Public Administration Ministry said, adding that the national anthem would be sung only in Sinhala.”
Janaka Bandara Tennakoon, the Cabinet Minister for Public Administration, Internal Affairs, Provincial Councils and Local Government, told BBC that it had been decided to ban the national anthem from being sung in Tamil at the next Independence Day celebrations. Elaborating further, the minister said a national anthem was one and should not be split in two. Some other Sinhala ministers also made public comments indicating that the national anthem would be sung in Sinhala only and not in Tamil. One Cabinet minister said the 69 lakhs of voters who elected Gota as President voted for a “Sinhala only” national anthem.
Despite Minister Tennakoon telling the media that the NA would not be sung in Tamil, his Ministry Secretary said no decision had been made to that effect so far. A news story in The Island on December 29, 2019 said: “Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration, Home Affairs, Provincial Councils and Local Government, S. Hettiarachchi said yesterday the government had so far not taken any decision to sing the national anthem only in Sinhala during the upcoming Independence Day celebrations. The decision on the anthem would be taken soon after a discussion with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. Hettiarachchi denied reports that the government had made a decision to sing the anthem only in Sinhala. The Independence Day celebrations committee would meet again in January under the leadership of the Prime Minister and a decision on the anthem would be taken then, the Ministry Secretary added.”
MINISTER DOUGLAS DEVANANDA
The solitary Sri Lankan Tamil minister in the Cabinet and Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) Secretary-General Douglas Devananda was confidently optimistic about the future of the national anthem in Tamil. Devananda, the Cabinet Minister for Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, told Parliament on January 8 that there would not be any change in the singing of the national anthem in Tamil. The minister speaking on the second day of the debate on President Gotabaya’s policy declaration speech said neither the government nor the Cabinet of ministers had taken any decision on bringing about changes in the singing of the national anthem. He stated firmly that the national anthem would continue to be sung in Tamil and that there would not be any change in that practice.
This then is the current uncertain situation about the singing of the NA in Tamil at the Independence Day event. It remains to be seen as to whether Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon or his secretary S. Hettiarachchi is correct about a decision being taken or not. Likewise, only time will tell whether Minister Devananda’s confident assertions in Parliament about the status quo in singing the national anthem in Tamil continuing to remain are proved correct or not.
One can sympathise with Devananda’s predicament. He is a minister under a President who has been overwhelmingly elected by the Sinhala people. Had a sizable segment of Sri Lankan Tamils voted for Gota as canvassed by the EPDP, Devananda would have been in a better position to gain benefits for the Tamil people. As it is, Douglas is in an unenviable situation. However, many Tamils including this columnist would support Devananda in his efforts to ensure that the status quo remains as far as the singing of the NA in Tamil is concerned.
Let me conclude by reiterating that the government of Gotabaya Rajapaksa should not abolish the practice of the national anthem being sung in Tamil at the Independence Day event. The Tamils who want to sing the national anthem in Tamil are neither separatists nor extremists. One State minister has said those with Prabhakaran’s separatist mindset and fellow travellers of the pro-LTTE diaspora wanted the national anthem to be sung in Tamil. Nothing could be further away from the truth as this idiotic assertion.
TAMILS WANT TO IDENTIFY WITH THEIR COUNTRY
The silent majority of Tamils living in Sri Lanka want to sing the national anthem in Tamil because they belong to Sri Lanka and want to identify with their country. It is not a new right they demand but only the continuation of what has been and was available. While giving pride of place to the national anthem in Sinhala, they only want to sing it in their mother tongue wherever and whenever possible or applicable. Singing the national anthem along with Sinhala at the Independence Day national event is perhaps the best occasion to do so and is of great symbolic value.
D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org