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Sunday, 14 February 2016

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Singing the national anthem in Tamil:

Building unity, reconciliation and friendship

Tribute should be paid to President Maithripala Sirisena for allowing the singing of the Tamil version of national anthem during the island's 68th Independence Day celebrations. Addressing the ceremony to mark the event, he called on all citizens to work collectively in harmony, friendship and brotherhood to face the decades ahead.


School children singing the National Anthem.

This was a welcome gesture, especially at a time when desperate racist forces led by defeated politicians were making every possible effort to regain power by exploiting such a move by rousing anti-Tamil feelings.

In fact, only a year and half ago one could not even dream of such a move in the highly corrupt, communalised and criminalised political environment under the Rajapaksa regime.

Calling for unity and brotherhood during his address to the nation, President Sirisena said that, 'almost every government which came to power gave priority to develop physical resources to build the economy. However, had they concentrated on building unity, reconciliation and friendship, terrorism that affected the country for 26 years could have been avoided'.

The national anthem of the country 'Namo Namo Maatha' was adopted in 1952. It was translated into Tamil by M. Nallathamby, a famous Tamil poet. The words were changed from 'Namo, Namo Maatha' to 'Sri Lanka Maatha' in 1961.

Emotions

Tamils in general expressed their emotions freely on the singing of national anthem in Tamil. Tamil National Alliance and Opposition leader R. Sampanthan and Northern Province Chief Minister C. Wigneswaran were in tears. Columnist D.B.S. Jeyaraj said he was in tears on seeing school children singing the national anthem in Tamil language.

After watching the National Day ceremonies, Chief Minister Wigneswaran drove straight to Sri Naga Vihara in Jaffna and offered lotus flowers to the Buddha and lit oil lamps. He said there that, if the Sinhalese took one step, the Tamils were ready to take ten.

President Sirisena, by allowing the singing of the Tamil version of the National anthem, has set in motion the path towards the long and arduous journey to reconciliation.

His efforts need to be supported by all communities as extreme positions only brought disaster and misery. For example, extremists among the Sinhalese think that this country solely belongs to Sinhalese as they were the first to arrive in the island. Under today's circumstance this is unrealistic and disastrous as almost one third of the population constitute of non-Sinhalese.

Meanwhile, some Tamils still consider north and east of the island as their exclusive homeland while living all over the island. This attitude is equally disastrous. However, a large majority of people want to live in a united Sri Lanka recognising the plural nature of the society and respecting each others' religion and culture.

For example, a group of Sinhalese intellectuals, professionals, activists and even Bhkikkhus took the initiative to organise a forum of the three communities to explore means to bring about reconciliation.

The initiative was taken by political analyst and former Daily News Editor Jayatilleke de Silva. The meeting was held at the Mahaweli Centre in Colombo on December 14, 2015.

First to speak was a Sinhala senior attorney at law who explained in brief the proposed constitutional reforms. Then a member of Northern Provincial Council who was a lecturer at Colombo University made a lengthy speech reiterating that North and the East of the island was Tamil homeland and they should be allowed to live in their own soil with all rights.

Throughout his speech he did not utter a word about the presence of Muslim population in the North and East though they constitute around 40 percent of the total population there. He also failed to understand the reality that east is a region where Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese live.

The need of the hour is for flexibility on the parts of all, taking into consideration the changed political situation and the emerging destructive racist forces which have all the potential to turn this country into a killing field again.

Speeches

His speech reminded me of the speeches often made in the 1970s by late TULF leader A. Amirthalingam stating that Tamils who once ruled should rule themselves again. Such speeches contributed a great deal for the radicalisation and militarisation of Tamil youths especially in the context of Sinhala leaderships' arrogance and indifference towards their legitimate aspirations.

However, the third speaker, a Muslim journalist, had to point out some home truths, especially in the context of the ethnic cleansing of the entire Muslim population from North who still languish in refugee camps in and around Puttalam and other places ignored by almost everyone, including their own politicians.

Reconciliation is a comprehensive process and not confined only to Sinhalese and Tamils. In this context aspirations of Muslims need to be taken into consideration.

Thus, harmony between Tamils and Muslims is essential especially in the north and east while there should be reconciliation among all communities in the country.

While President Sirisena provides hopes for Tamils, isn't it time for Tamil leaders to give some hope for ethnic cleansed Jaffna Muslims in refugee camps as reconciliation must be comprehensive, covering all communities.

Isn't it a moral obligation of the Tamil community to undo the sufferings of ethnic cleansed Muslims? Of the ten steps Chief Minister C. Wigneswaran promised to reconcile with Sinhalese, isn't it time that he takes one step to heal the Jaffna Muslim refugees' plight?

Isn't it time that Tamil political leaders take some initiative to help Muslims return to their lands and homes and rehabilitate themselves?

Muslims were part and parcel of northern soil and society. Over centuries this was their only place and their Tamil neighbours were the only people whom they knew. Most of them often felt alien when they visited the island's south due to different social environment, especially when it came to speaking in Sinhala.

Activities

Their main activities were retail and wholesale hardware trade, lorry transport, jewellery and tailoring besides agriculture and fisheries. They owned houses and properties besides paddy lands and fishery boats. Muslims dominated the trade at one stage to such an extent that two-thirds of the blocks in the new market in Jaffna, built by the late Mayor of Jaffna. Alfred Duraiappa was monopolised by them.

Condemning this, President of TULF V. Anandasangaree once said;

'Championing the cause of the Tamils the LTTE even drove every Muslim out of the Northern Province. The Muslims, merely because they are Muslims, had to leave all their possessions and the land where they lived peacefully with the Tamils for several generations. They are now languishing in refugee camps in the south, with the Sinhalese, in Puttalam and Anuradhapura Districts, without privacy and their basic needs met. As long as refugee camps exist in our country, whether the inmates are Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims or of any other group, we have no moral rights to boast of democratic principles. With one section of our people undergoing untold hardships, being deprived of their democratic fundamental and human rights, we can't boast of our country as one enjoying full democratic rights. Loss of democratic rights, fundamental rights and human rights amount to slavery. I am convinced that the time has come for the country to find a solution reasonable enough and acceptable to the minorities and the international community.'

Community

Ignored by all, including their wheeler-dealer politicians, their own community and the government, more than a quarter century later, today these unfortunate Muslims continue to rot in the refugee camps where they try to rebuild their lives within their means.

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