By Faizer Shaheid –
Almost a year ago, a debate sprung from Valaalai in Jaffna as to whether the National Anthem ought to be sung in Tamil too. Although not as deeply rooted as other problems, reasonable conjecture has gathered that the Tamil version must be permitted. The debate lost traction in the wake of many other burning issues such as corruption, the budget and the rising crime rate, but was once again revived as the Independence Day draws closer.
While I am not opposed to the National Anthem being sung in Tamil, I am of the opinion that the National Anthem should only be sung in one language. This ensures uniformity and solidarity.
In any case, I am opposed to the communal mindset that suffers from an inferiority complex of sorts and continues to condescend based on which language or ethnicity is more superior. It is even more a threat that this condescending mentality utilizes the human rights notion of substantive equality to further their cause. On many previous occasions too the conflict as to the national interests and human rights has arisen, and the complexities are of such nature that Leaders are yet trying to reconcile the differences. These very complexities, arising from the rift between Sinhala and Tamil speaking masses, are identified as the national problem.
The Leaders of the current regime have constantly expedited experimental methods to reconcile these differences between the Sinhala speaking and Tamil speaking masses in attempting to resolve the national problem. However, what remains to be understood is that the problem may never be resolved as long as this inferiority complex between the two ethnicities stand.
The inherent problem pertaining to the National Anthem contains moral roots for certain, and Tamil speaking masses have left no stone unturned in pointing this out. The claim is that the Tamil version of the National Anthem was sung even during the early stages of independence when the ‘Namo Namo Maatha’ was first sung as the National Anthem. The Minister of National Co-Existence, Dialogue and Official Languages, Mano Ganesan has constantly emphasized on holding social events with the National Anthem being sung in Tamil even in the presence of those who do not speaking in Tamil. This is to promote reconciliation, he claimed.
However, irrespective of the moral standpoint, the bigger barrier to singing the National Anthem in Tamil officially is a legal one, and morality does not overcome a barrier this big too easily. Strangely, most people including prominent politicians seem to have overlooked this obstacle in their path. It is not too surprising considering that the provisions of the Constitution and the law somehow seem to elude those in power.
Article 7 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka states that the National Anthem of the country will be ‘Sri Lanka Maatha’ and that the words and music are set out in the Third Schedule. Now, the Third Schedule in the Constitution contains the music and the lyrics only in Sinhala. Therefore, as according to the Constitution, the National Anthem can only be sung in Sinhala, and any other version will be either a distortion or an unofficial version.
One may argue that if the current regime so desired, all that is required is an amendment to the Constitution. However, it must also be understood that Article 7 is an entrenched provision protected by Article 83 of the Constitution. This means that any amendment to Article 7 requires a Referendum. There would also be those who may argue that only the Third Schedule may be amended so as to avoid a Referendum, but following in the footsteps of various reported cases, here too the Third Schedule must be read in conjunction with Article 7.
Therefore, irrespective of what the Government politicos may feel, the National Anthem ought only to be sung in Sinhala for now. Any other move would result in a violation of the Constitution and a distortion of the National Anthem, unless it is expressly identified as not being the National Anthem.
The National Anthem has never really stolen the spotlight as a major issue in politics. Neither has it been one that is identified as a reason for the persistence of the national problem. It is merely the politicos who somehow make it seem like having two National Anthems could help reconcile the differences. The issue with having two separate National Anthems is that it does not promote reconciliation, but rather encourages both ethnicities to grow separately. If the Government truly aims at promoting reconciliation, their moves should be directed towards integration and not division.
As of now, the Government cannot and must not have the National Anthems sung in two languages, unless they wish to blatantly violate the Constitution. If they choose to amend the Constitution, they may want the National Anthem sung in two languages, but such a move comes ill-advised.