By Latheef Farook –
President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to provide official sanction for the singing of the National Anthem in Tamil language is cheerful development for the country battered due to racist politics of the two main political parties-the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
This is good omen for a better future as the two main political parties, UNP and SLFP, which were responsible for denying the right to sing national anthem in Tamil language have supported the move.
In a major reconciliatory move President Maithripala Sirisena who has brought about a silent political revolution in the country which was sliding towards lawlessness and emerged as the only hope of all communities, deserves credit for this bold and farsighted initiative.
Reconciliation among communities remains a long and tedious journey for a country which was torn apart by the ethnic war caused by racist politics. In fact depriving the Tamil language equal status contributed a great deal for the ethnic conflict which divided communities and turned the peaceful island into a killing field. As a result precious resources which otherwise could be used for the development and raise people’s living standard were wasted on this unwanted war while politicians and their sidekicks flourished in weapons deals while the country suffered.
The election of President Maithripala Sirisena had shown that mainstream Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and others wanted to live together. Thus the need of the hour is for bold initiatives and measures, above petty politics, to avoid past mistakes and bring the communities together.
However as the Chinese adage says that “one thousand mile journey begins with a step”, this may be that first step towards uniting the divided communities.
At the 17 March 2015 meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC), President Sirisena announced his decision to lift the language bar when the leader of the Democratic Peoples’ Front (DPF), Mano Ganeshan, raised the issue. Reacting swiftly President Sirisena also agreed to issue a circular to all concerned including government institutions and heads of schools informing them about the official approval for the singing of the National Anthem in Tamil language too.
Had this wisdom dawned on politicians who flourished on racist politics since the early days of independence in 1948, Sri Lanka could have averted the unfortunate carnage which it had to endure during the subsequent years and remain truly a Paradise Island.
The National Anthem was composed in 1940 when Sri Lanka was still under British rule by Ananda Samarakone, a product of Rabindranath Tagore’s Shanti Niketan in India. His Sinhalese-language song “Sri Lanka Matha, Apa Sri Lanka” was adopted by the newly independent Sri Lanka as the national anthem in 1951.
Simultaneously, a Tamil version, “Sri Lanka Thaaye Nam Sri Lanka”, translated by Lankan Tamil poet, M. Nallathambi who worked as a teacher at Colombo Zahira College during T.B.Jayah’s period, was also adopted.
For decades, both versions were sung, although only the Sinhalese version had constitutional sanction.
This situation continued even during the 30 year LTTE war to set up a separate state of Elam in the North and East of the island.
However, in the aftermath of the defeat of the dreaded LTTE in May Sinhala extremist parties such as Jathika Hela Urumaya, JHU, and National Freedom Front,NFF, instead of stretching hands of friendship to Tamils, began demanding imposing a ban on the Tamil version on the ground that countries sanction use of only one language for singing the national anthem. This only showed that these extremists did not learn any lesson from ethnic war which ravaged the country. The Tamils’ argument that in several countries, including Canada and South Africa, national anthem is sung in different languages fell on deaf ears.
It was in this atmosphere then Home Minister W.D.John Seneviratne introduced a cabinet paper on December 12, 2010 to officially disallow singing the national anthem in Tamil. Though President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who headed the cabinet, did not officially support Seneviratne’s proposal, his government did not favor the use of the Tamil version. In doing so the country lost the golden opportunity to heal the wounds and unite communities.
Reflecting Rajapaksa’s policy of chauvinism security forces insisted on the use of the Sinhalese version only even in the predominantly Tamil areas.
As a result an unofficial ban came into being since 2010 on singing National Anthem in Tamil despite the Constitution of Sri Lanka making special provision for it to be sung in Tamil.
However even today and, that too despite the changing political climate, handful of Sinhala chauvinists continue to oppose the singing of national anthem in Tamil. They even claim that President Maithripala Sirisena could not issue such a circular permitting the singing of national anthem in Tamil language because it was against the constitution.
In fact what these chauvinists failed to understand is that it was the 1972 constitution of late Prime Minister Mrs. Srimavo Bandaranaike and the 1978 constitution of racist megalomaniac JR Jayewardene, depriving Tamils of their legitimate rights, plunged the country into a killing field.
In fact 37 years later today the island is struggling to free itself from the shackles of Jayewardene’s all powerful executive presidential constitution which paves the way for democratically elected autocratic dictatorship which remains above all laws and answerable to none. In fact Jayewardene’s constitution remains responsible to a very great extend for the current chaotic state of affairs in the country.
If the constitution deprives a community of its legitimate rights isn’t it time to change the constitution rather than clinging on to a constitution which divides communities and destroying the country. After all constitution, though respected and abided by all, is man made and not divine document.
However, it appears that they have learnt no lesson from the past though the country as a whole began waking up to realities and started adopting a live and let live policy ensuring a better future for all.