23 October, 2020

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On The Road From The Clash Of Cultures To The Meeting Of The Minds

By Lakshman I.Keerthisinghe –

Lakshman Keerthisinghe

Last Saturday morning while relaxing on my armchair I heard a beautiful song played over the radio titled Kusumalatha Ramalingam written by the veteran lyricist Sunil T.Gamage which spoke about the plight of a young girl born to a Sinhala mother and a Tamil father. The youngster sang that her name is Kusumalatha Ramalingam and was questioning Lord Buddha and Lord Murugan as to her non-acceptance by both communities one in the South and the other in the North of her country for she was unable to understand the reason. She sang ‘I know the Subashitha and also the Tirukkural but please tell me where do I, find the answer to this problem.’ She appeared to be lost on the road from the clash of cultures to the meeting of the minds. Plainly put isn’t this the question that is plaguing our Nation today?

Mundane questions such as the demand to sing the national anthem in Tamil and Sinhala seem to take center stage on the road from the clash of the cultures. In Sri Lanka the National Anthem has been sung in Sinhala from the time it was introduced with the participation of all Sri Lankans of all communities without any heartaches and with the intervention of the diaspora and other parties hell bent on de-stabilizing our Nation this matter has been brought up to create disunity among our people. Even in India home to the large majority of Tamils the National Anthem is not sung in Tamil. The Indian National anthem, composed originally in Bengali by Rabindranath Tagore, was adopted in its Hindi version by the Constituent Assembly as the National Anthem of India on 24 January 1950. It was first sung 27 December 1911 at the Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress. The complete song consists of five stanzas. The lyrics were rendered into English by Tagore himself. Thus it is very clear that this question is brought up in Sri Lanka by people interested in creating a division among our people.

Sinhalese culture encompasses many rituals and tradition which are greatly influenced by Buddhist festivals as well as Hindu rituals. A majority of Sri Lankan Tamils follow Hindu customs and traditions similar to south Indian rituals. A great majority of the Sinhalese including the President and a majority of the Ministers in the Cabinet and Members of Parliament are devotees of Lord Murugan and pray at the Kataragama Devale on a regular basis while the Tamil Hindus are also devout followers of Lord Murugan. Both the Sinhala Buddhists and Tamil Hindu communities celebrate the New Year on the same date in April and follow the same auspicious times on that day.

The conflicts and rifts between the two communities that have been magnified to unprecedented proportions by disgruntled politicians greedy for power and the diaspora aided by the USA and allied Western Nations aiming to establish a puppet regime in Sri Lanka have been principally based on the use of language. The President has realized this fact and established a separate Ministry for National Integration and has himself studied the Tamil Language and delivers his speeches in Tamil also to the great acceptance of our Tamil brethren.

It is a fact that one’s own language and culture are precious to their own people and all other communities must respect such differences when living side by side in a multiethnic multicultural society. The Sinhala Buddhists worship Lord Buddha who was born in India and have great veneration for Him as the Greatest Human Being ever born on Earth who preached loving kindness to all living beings as one of the basic tenets of that great Buddhist philosophy. Similarly they also have a great regard for Indian Statesmen such as Mahathma Gandhi and Great Indian Poets like Rabindranath Tagore.

The purported ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka could be amicably resolved by a meeting of the minds of the leaders of the two communities by consultation, compromise and reaching of a final consensus without unwarranted foreign interventions. As the President has said time and again leave Sri Lanka alone in order to reach its own homegrown solution to any disputes that we Sri Lankans may have among ourselves without meddling in the internal affaires of a sovereign state which plea seems to have fallen on the deaf ears of the USA and its allied Western countries. The obstacles placed in the path of reaching such a consensus is due to interested parties having other political agendas up their sleeves and interfering in reaching such a peaceful amicable solution in order to feather their own nests. Our Tamil brethren in the North have held many rallies and exhorted their brethren in the diaspora from attacking Sri Lanka as they have unequivocally held that they are living happily in Sri Lanka with love and friendship from their Sinhala brethren,

Our little island is too small to be divided into many parts. It is obvious that a State of Eelam if established in the North will lead to many problems for our Tamil brethren living and engaged in lucrative businesses in the South Similarly it will adversely affect the other communities living in Sri Lanka as well. Following the defeat of LTTE, pro-LTTE political party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), also the largest political group representing Sri Lankan Tamil community, dropped its demand for a Tamil Eelam, in favour of a federal solution. There are ongoing bilateral talks between President Rajapaksa‘s UPFA government and the TNA, on a viable political solution and devolution of power. Pro Tamil groups advocating independence for Tamil areas of Sri Lanka continue to run websites and radio telecasts. Since May 19, 2009 Tamil Eelam has ceased to exist as a physical entity but remains as political aspiration among sections of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora. Let all Sri Lankans pray and hope that the meeting of the minds of our leaders would solve this problem forever.

Let all Sri Lankans forget their differences and forgive each other for the mistakes of the past which has caused untold misery and harm to our people and live peacefully united as one in our little beautiful Pearl of the Indian Ocean.
In conclusion let me say with Lord Alfred Tennyson as he said in his famous poem the Idylls of the King on differences and disputes thus:

It is the little rift within the lute,
That by and by will make the music mute,
And ever widening slowly silence all.

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Latest comments

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    It is true that the Indian National Anthem is sung in a single language by all Indians. But it is also true that this acceptance of the anthem in Hindi came after the central govt gave the different states a certain amount of autonomy. Nehru and Patel were statesmen first, not politicians only. Its a pity we didnt have the same forethought and wisdom.
    A little dignity and generosity on the part of the majority would have paid tremendous dividends.

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    Pray why is the SL Govt acquiring all the fertile lands in the North.
    This is no way to bring about reconciliation.The biggest problem in SL is that there has never been a meeting of the minds, hence the involvement of the International Community in the internal affairs of the country.

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    Initially there has to be trust and the gradual disengagement and withdrawal from aggressive poses and rhetoric. Justice needs to be done in matters of land and liberty which is a big issue with the military administration of the North. Hopefully after the elections Northern people will be able to administer themselves.

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    Good observation, Lakshman.

    I do not know Tamil. Yet in my professional career I was able to work with Tamils and Muslims who do not know Sinhala. In the public cervice, it is a must for all public servants who sit for Efficiency Bar Examination to pass the language test. Sinhalese who visit N&E find it difficult to communicate in Tamil but the Tamils and Muslims manage to communicate in Sinhala with a few words. It is like getting business done with “OK” and “No problem.”

    As regards the integration the problem is with not devolution of power but in communication. Pundits may say English as the link language would solve the problem. Farmers of all communities understand farming without English and the Traders of all communities get their business done without English. Problem arises in understanding basic documents used in civil administration.

    Tuition masters have a golden opportunity to profit from teaching Sinhala to Tamil speaking students and Tamil to Sinhala speaking students. To activate the market forces towards this business of tuition in Sinhala and Tamil the only thing the government has to do is to make learning Sinhala and Tamil compulsory at primary school level. After one generation of students leaving schools the effect could be measured. “Edu vaalai. Vaa sangadi” (Ganu kaduwa. Enu satanata) will be a thing of past.

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    The story of the Tamil version of the national anthem:

    “History

    The song was officially adopted as the national anthem of Ceylon on November 22, 1951, by a committee headed by Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne. The anthem was translated into the Tamil language by M. Nallathamby.[5]

    The first line of the anthem originally read: Namo Namo Matha, Apa Sri Lanka. There was some controversy over these words in the 1950s, and in 1961 they were changed to their present form, Sri Lanka Matha, Apa Sri Lanka, without Samarakoon’s consent.[5] Samarakoon committed suicide in 1962 apparently due to the change in words.[citation needed]

    The Second Republican Constitution of 1978 gave Sri Lanka Matha constitutional recognition.[6]

    Multilingual
    The Sri Lankan national anthem is one of a number that are sung in more than one language: Canada (English, French & Inuktitut), Belgium (French, Dutch & German), Switzerland (German, French, Italian & Romansh), South Africa (Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans & English), Suriname (Dutch and Sranan Tongo), and New Zealand (English & Māori). Majority of Sri Lankans (more than 80%) speak Sinhala language and Sinhala version is mainly used in Sri Lanka for public and private events. This version is the only version used during international sports and other events representing Sri Lanka. Due to popularity of the song and it’s rich meaning, it’s being translated into several other languages. Although the Sinhala version of the anthem is used at official/state events, the Tamil translation is also sung at some events.[5] The Tamil translation is used at official events held in the Tamil speaking regions in the North and East of Sri Lanka.[5] The Tamil translation is sung at Tamil medium schools throughout the country.[5] The Tamil translation was used even during the period when Sinhala was the only official language of the country (1956–87).[5]

    Tamil version controversy
    On 12 December 2010 The Sunday Times reported that the Cabinet of Sri Lanka headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa had taken the decision to scrap the Tamil translation of Sri Lanka Matha at official and state functions, as “in no other country was the national anthem used in more than one language” – even though the national anthems of Canada, South Africa and those of several other countries have more than one language version.[7] The Cabinet’s decision had followed a paper on the national flag and national anthem produced by Public Administration and Home Affairs Minister W. D. J. Senewiratne.[5][8] The paper had drawn on the Singaporean model where the national anthem is sung in the official lyrics and not any translation of the lyrics.[5] Based on this the paper recommended that the Sri Lankan national anthem only be sung in Sinhala and the Tamil translation be abolished.[5] The paper’s authors had failed to realise that the official lyrics of the Singaporean national anthem are in Malay, a minority language (75% of Singaporeans are Chinese).[9]

    A Government minister Wimal Weerawansa had labelled the Tamil version a “joke” on Derana TV, and had cited India as an analogy.[10][11][12] Some journalists (E.g. DBS Jeyaraja) [5] claimed that it was wrong of Weerawansa to cite India as an analogy because according to them the Indian national anthem was not in Hindi, which is the most widely spoken language of India, but in Bengali, a minority language.[13][14][15][16] Indeed, although sources based on an official Government of India website state that the Indian National anthem was adopted in its Hindi version by the Constituent Assembly of India,[17][18] the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly of India on 24 January 1950 does not mention that the National Anthem was “adopted”, nor does it mention that it was done so in its Hindi version.[19][20] In any case, in actual practice the unaltered Bengali version is the version sung as the National Anthem, with its words in original Bengali Tatsama, a highly Sanskritized form of Bengali that has Sanskrit words common to both Hindi and Bengali.[21]

    The alleged Cabinet’s decision to scrap the Tamil translation caused much furore in Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan government denied allegations that the Tamil translation of the anthem was to be abolished.[22] The Presidential Secretariat has stated that there was no basis to the media report and follow up reports which intimated the same.[23]-Wikipedia”

    I was at a public event a few days back and was surprised to hear the ‘Namo Namo Matha’ version-the original- of the national anthem being sung. Is this version back in vogue now? Did an astrologer advice the change?

    The decision not to use the Tamil version of the national anthem was the most stupid among many made by this government in the post-war circumstances. It paved the way for further alienation than reconciliation, on the basis of irrational justifications.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

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      Dear Dr Raja Naren and other learned friends;

      To me all this is some rubbish like.

      Any body can sing the SRI LANKAN National anthem, In any language. Even they are Sinhalese, tahmizars, muslims, Burgers, chinese.Malays, Gipsies [Nadodhis],or malayaalies.
      That does not matter.

      “But It is not comming from their heart,not adhering to it, What is the point of the singing of the National anthem.”?????????????.

      JUST FOR THE NAME SAKE OF NATIONAL ANTHEM????????.

      ISN’T IT A BIG QUESTION ???????????????.

      for me it is.

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        I have to disagree. The issue is about forcing the anthem to be sung in a language the Tamils or other Tamil-speaking people do not understand. It is also about a practice that was followed for 60 years being abruptly banned. Further, your comment is also based on the assumptions that all Tamils will not sing it from their hearts. When are you planning to win over the hearts and minds of the Tamils. Are we singularly incapable of thinking on a long term basis? Further, are you also implying that the Sinhalese also do not sing it from their hearts?

        Dr.RN

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    Beautifully iterated Truth. Thank you Mr. Keerthisinghe!
    But will our Tamil leaders walk an inch away from the Vaddukoddai Resolution that they keep repeating endlessly, yet which they know is a Non-Starter?
    And, from the “Little now… More later” policy of Mr. Chelvanayakam?

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    Sir,
    You said “Even in India home to the large majority of Tamils the National Anthem is not sung in Tamil.”
    The time you spent writing this article just become a complete waste by saying stupid thing like this. Or did you wrote this purposely to mislead people.. Just search Google to find out population of India and population of Tamils in India. ??? and do some mathematics to find percentage if you know how to…
    Worst is this is common myth spread among Sinhalese in SL as well.

    King Dutugamunu is big thing in SL, we were taught about his bravery in school text books (Tamil kids as well). Many times I have asked my beloved Sinhalese patriots whether they know how many years back Dutugamunu lived, was it 500 years back or 1000 or 2000 years. About 90% have no idea, but in their hearts they feels like that their brave king who couldn’t sleep well because of ….. lived about 200 years back….
    METTA and KARAUNA to you Sir.
    (I feel like calling your sir because of your complexion in the photo. :-) That is how I grown up )
    Anura

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    “Meeting of minds” is there, and has been always. Mr Keethisinghe’s’s own example of shared culture, as well as the day-to-day interaction of people as people, bring that out. The problem is not the minds of the ordinary people, but the machinations of power hungry politicians. What we need are honest, intelligent, and visionary politicians. Our nation’s crisis is a crisis in leadership. We have no leaders worth talking about, in the government or the opposition.
    President Rajapaksa gave leadership to the war, but failed miserably to give leadership to the peace. This is because he is too busy staying in power and building a dynasty, and has neither the time nor the inclination to build a nation, that by definition should be based on democratic principles. On the contrary, Mr Rajapaksa has, ever since his ascendency, systematically undermined the democracy we had.
    To bring about a meeting of minds at the level of leadership we need a statesman at the helm, like a Mandela or a Gandhi, who can rise above tribalism and personal aggrandizement. Mandela and Gandhi had no hatred towards the imperial power that oppressed and imprisoned them. They both looked upon all ethnic groups as equal citizens of the country. Mugabe of Zimbabwe on the other hand was the opposite of Gandhi and Mandela, and has become a disgrace to his country and to humanity. At the end of the war president Rajapksa had a golden opportunity to be a Mandela. But he has happily chosen to be a Mugabe.
    Keethisinghe seems to blame outsiders, like the Tamil Diaspora, for the lack of inter-ethnic harmony. The best way to neutralize the diaspora would have been to treat the Tamil people with respect and civility at the end of the war. Instead, the president indulged in triumphalism, and continues to evoke it for purposes of cheap popularity with his Sinhala Buddhist base. That has given much needed ammunition to the diaspora, which has now regained most of the clout it lost at the end of the war, both with fellow diaspora members, and the international community. Keerthisinghe touts the government line about sovereignty and “home-grown” solutions. It has been over four years after the war, more than enough time to home-grow, but nothing has grown. Why? “home-grown” was empty rhetoric. Rajapaksa had no intention of effecting any solution, home-grown or imported, except his own tribalist, hegemonic solution, backed by the military. “Home grown” was mere tactical babble to ward off criticism for the moment.
    “Meeting of minds” of course is good. But what we need is a carefully crafted broad opposition to this regime that is driving the country down a precipice, so that it could be defeated at the polls, and a new government elected. The meeting of minds that that new government should really encompass is first of all a new constitution that restores democracy, by replacing the presidency with a supreme parliament elected exclusively on the first past the post system, with a cabinet of no more than 15 members, and no religion enjoying privileged status. A good blueprint to use is the Soulbury Consitution, the best we had, a secular constitution with built in minority safeguards.

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      Kuveni you have said it all and hit the nail on the head. To me Keerthisinghe does not come off as genuine. I am most surprised and disappointed at his subtle racist asides. He has no benevolence or generosity to even allow the national anthem to be sung in Tamil. How can he give more?

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    Wickramasiri
    I have stated the facts about the Indian National Anthem being sung in Hindi although Tamil is also a national language in India when there are according to the official figure of ‘mother tongues’ spoken in India is 1,683, of which an estimated 850 are in daily use.
    However, only 21 are officially recognized languages in India, namely:
    1. Assamese
    2. Bengali
    3. Bodo
    4. Dogri
    5. Gujarati
    6. Kannada
    7. Kashmiri
    8. Konkani
    9. Malayalam
    10. Maithili
    11. Manipuri or Meithei
    12. Marathi
    13. Nepali
    14. Oriya
    15. Punjabi
    16. Sanskrit
    17. Santali
    18. Sindhi
    19. Tamil
    20. Telugu
    21. Urdu
    The Portuguese Bughurs,The Dutch Burghurs and the Malays ARE ALSO SRI lANKANS They too can insist on the Anthem being sung in Dutch,Portuguese or Malay languages in addition to Sinhala and Tamil.Then wouldn’t it take a long time to be sung and wouldn.t it finally sound like a baila. National Anthem in any country is usually sung in one language.Let us be practical.

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      Laksman,
      One reason why Indian anthem sung in Hindi doesn’t irritated others or made major tribal issues could be that there are 18 or 21 (as you said) official languages there.
      Another important reason could be that genius person like Rabindranath Tagore had used lot of Sanskrit words which was the base of most Indian languages (except Tamil ?) in the anthem. I can only speak Sinhalese and no Tamil and bit of English, still when I hear Indian anthem, it get into me or get inside my Self. I understand Sanskrit words in it and again it could be the great R Tagore who made me feel the song….
      It looks like Sinhalese Anthem could’t qualify to this level…
      Anura

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      ‘ Usually’ , does not imply ‘ Always’. What is the sudden compulsion to be the usual? Why not sing the national anthem only in Tamil? India sings it classical Bengali- a minority language and Singapore does in minority Malay?

      Dr.RN

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      I am sorry I differ. Why do we have to be like India? If the Tamil people like to sing the Anthem in Tamil why cannot we say ‘go ahead’. What does it matter in which language you sing? What has happened to the generous Sinhala spirit?

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