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Namo, Namo...:

A matter of language

In what is being described as a radical reconciliatory move by most media, President Mathripala Sirisena on Wednesday announced his decision to remove the unofficial ban on signing the national anthem in Tamil. The decision is to be publicised through a circular sent to all government institutions.

The issue of the national anthem was raised by the leader of the Democratic Peoples’ Front (DPF), Mano Ganeshan, at the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held last week.

The unofficial ban in singing the national anthem in Tamil came into effect in 2010, when former President Mahinda Rajapaksa let it be known that the government would not tolerate the national anthem being sung in any other language other than Sinhala. The unofficial ban was in operation in all schools and institutions that had upto then been singing the Tamil version of ‘Namo Namo Matha’ since 1951.

Minister of Public Administration and Home Affairs, W. D. John Seneviratne, introduced a Cabinet paper on December 12, 2010, making the ban official. Reportedly the Cabinet paper had been drafted on the Singaporean model where the national anthem is sung in the official lyrics and not in any translation of the lyrics. Based on this, the paper recommended that the Sri Lankan National Anthem only be sung in Sinhala and the Tamil translation be abolished.

However, academics and political analysts point out that the Cabinet paper overlooked the fact that the official lyrics of the Singaporean national anthem is in the Malay language, which is a minority language whereas 75% of Singaporeans are Chinese! It is so in India, where the national anthem is not in Hindi, the most widely spoken language, but in Bengali which is, a minority language.

Although former President Rajapaksa, who headed the Cabinet in 2010, did not officially commit himself to Seneviratne’s proposal, word spread that his government did not favour the use of the Tamil version.

Radical move

The international community has acknowledge President Sirisena’s move to remove the unofficial ban as a positive sign of good governance and a magnanimous recognition of the dignity and greatness of a nation.

National Anthem in more than one language

The major criticism brought up by nationalist-minded political parties who claimed, that in no other country was the national anthem used in more than one language. However the national anthems of Canada, South Africa, Belgium, Switzerland, Suriname and New Zealand are being sung in various other languages according to the ethnicity of these respective countries.


History

The Sri Lankan National Anthem was written and composed by the late Ananda Samarakoon in 1940. It was officially adopted as the National Anthem of Sri Lanka on November 22, 1951, by a committee headed by Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne. Samarakoon who was a student of the great Indian musician Rabindranath Tagore and reportedly the tune had been influenced by Tagore's genre of music.

The Sri Lankan national anthem was translated into Tamil by M.Nallathamby and for decades, both versions were sung without any restrictions, although only the Sinhalese version had constitutional sanction. As the majority of Sri Lankans speak the Sinhala language, theSinhala version of the National Anthem is mainly used in Sri Lanka for State and private events. The Sinhala version is also the only version used during international sports and other events.

The Tamil translation is used at official events held in Tamil speaking areas in the North and the East of Sri Lanka. Tamil schools throughout the country were allowed the sing the Tamil translation of the anthem. The Tamil translation was used even when Sinhala was the only official language of the country (1956–87).


Significance of a National Anthem

A National Anthem is considered as one of the most important aspects of a country's independence and sovereignty. It is the umbrella under which the country can rally and be proud of its sovereignty. The main purpose of a country to have a national anthem is maybe, to instil patriotism and nationalism in citizens during a time of need and crisis.

Anthems around the world often speak of very similar sentiments. Although one of the most prevalent themes among the world's national anthems is war and the struggles of revolution and rebellion, Sri Lanka’s national anthem is all about the beauty, the prosperity, unity and the many positive aspects of humanity.

It is obvious that when these sentiments are mentioned over and over it reminds people of how their nation came to be and how they should be proud of being who they are. Yet to understand how a short song can bring a whole country together it is necessary to understand the anthems themselves and how they came to be.At this point language plays a major role.

If a country has many nationalities who speak different languages, it is of paramount importance to have the opportunity to sing the national anthem in their own language. If a citizen of a country has to sing the national anthem in a different language which he/she is not familiar with, it's a similar feeling of singing some other country's national anthem or just another song in some other language. If the whole idea behind having a national anthem in a country to have the patriotic ideas alive with its citizens, what a pity if the language stands as a barrier for a citizen to understand the real meaning and feeling of the national anthem?

----------------------------------------- Civil society members and politicians say...  -----------------------------------------

 

 

SLFP agrees with National Anthem sung in Tamil

The SLFP is in agreement with the lifting of the unofficial ban against the singing of the National Anthem sung in Tamil. MP Dilan Perera said that the SLFP agreed 100 percent with the decision made by President Maithripala Sirisena recently to remove the unofficial ban to sing the National Anthem in Tamil.

MP Dilan Perera speaking in Parliament said “It is vital to understand that the Tamil people have a right to sing the national anthem in their own language just as we have the right to sing it in Sinhala.

This is the stand taken by the SLFP and we are not afraid of the hate speeches made by extremist groups such as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) who were against this progressive step made by the President.

We must remember that this type of hate speech was one of the main reasons for the downfall of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. It is high time that we understand the pulse of the common man and think as one nation,”

President Mathripala Sirisena recently announced his decision to send a circular to all institutions about the unofficial ban on singing the national anthem in Tamil being lifted.

President Sirisena expressed his decision, answering the question regarding the issue raised by the leader of the Democratic Peoples’ Front (DPF) Mano Ganeshan, at the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held last week.

Although the National Anthem was sung in Tamil until 2010, it was unofficially restricted since 2010.

The next day after the President made this announcement, the BBS told the media that the circular issued by the President regarding the National Anthem was a violation of the Constitution and that the President could not issue such a circular.

The media has also reported that Minister Rajitha Senaratne said that there was no need to send a circular regarding the National Anthem because there was no official ban.

Gamini Viyangoda - Purawasi Balaya (Citizen's Power)

When we met President Maithripala Sirisena after his appointment as the President, the main request we made as the Purawasi Balaya collective was to re-establish the right of the Tamils to sing the national anthem in their own language which was stopped by the previous regime.

We are happy with President Maithripala Sirisena's bold attempt to allow the National Anthem to be sung in Tamil and we consider this as a victory for citizen's power in the country. It is a myth that the national anthem should be sung only in one language.

If the meaning is not altered, they have the right to sing it in their language.At the recent presidential election the Tamils in the country voted for a change and they accepted a Sinhala leader as their President.

They are part of the country as well as the Government. This will be an important starting point to convey the message from our end as the majority of the people in country, to accept their rights as being equal and to live in harmony as one nation.

For the past few decades we have destroyed all the links that would antagonise the two nationalities. It is high time to use every opportunity to bridge the gaps.

As a symbolic approach to win back the trust of the Tamils,the President's decision to re-implement the rights of the Tamils to sing the national anthem in their language is the first major step in the reconciliation process.

 

Ven Athuraliye Rathana Thera - Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU)

I don't think it's important to comment on this matter at this moment.We'll see about it in the future.

 

 

 

Mano Ganeshan - leader of the Democratic Peoples’ Front

It is the Tamil people's right to sing the national anthem in Tamil.As I raised this issue at the recent National Executive Council(NEC),the President understood the matter and agreed to send a circular to re-establish the Tamils right to sing the National Anthem in Tamil.

President Sirisena also said that he would clear the matter with the National Security Council shortly. We think it's a positive move as a nation.

 

Nishantha Warnasinghe – Media Spokesperson for the JHU:

The Tamil communities - those who live in the North and the East sang the national anthem in Tamil in their schools and at other public gatherings. According to the Indo-Lanka Act in 1987,the Tamil language has been accepted as a national language in Sri Lanka. It is useless to sing the national anthem in a language, which people don't understand or feel and it doesn't create any patriotism in people.

There's no issue of singing the national anthem in Tamil and we accept this as a right of the Tamil people in our country.

 

----------------------------------------- Public opinion -----------------------------------------

 

Sivabalan Thivakar - Student Mannar

The Sinhala language is not a familiar language to us. From the time we were small we sang the National Anthem in Tamil in school.There should be freedom to sing the national anthem in whatever language people prefer.

The ultimate decision lies with the person to decide in which language he or she wanted to sing the national anthem.

 

Sarath Nishantha Kaluthara

So far I have never heard our national anthem being sung in Tamil.Therefore I don't think it is necessary. Sri Lankan national anthem should be sung in only Sinhala which is the national language of the country.

 

Mahawaduge Lanthinu Peiris - Moratuwa

As a human being we all should have equal rights. It shouldn't be more or less because of the race or the language that we speak. The Tamil people should have the right to sing the national anthem in their language. As Sri Lankans we should be proud if our national anthem could be sung in different languages. I think it is a wise decision taken by President Sirisena as always.

 

Bjoery- Tourist-Germany

I have been here for three weeks. However we are well aware about the30 years civil war Sri Lanka has gone through. I think this should have been implemented soon after the war ended because a national anthem is something which represents the harmony of the country. It is a good decision and we wish Sri Lankans good luck as one nation.

 

Ishini Lakshika - Student, Veyangoda

I think it is a progressive step that President Maithripala Sirisenahas taken because it is Tamil people's right to sing the national anthem in their own language like the Sinhalese. I think it will help to win back the lost friendship and harmony within the Sinhala and Tamil communities if we can assure that we would secure their rights.

 

Indira - A senior journalist

There's no harm to permit Tamil people to sing the national anthem in their own language. As a nation we should be united as unity has always our strength.

 

Anusha Sujeewani - Housewife, Battaramulla

The Tamil people are also part of our country. It's vital for them to have equal rights as the Sinhalese. I don't see anything wrong in this decision. It's another wise decision by President MaithripalaSirisena.

 

 

 

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