Lankan Tamils seek right to sing national anthem in their language

COLOMBO: The controversial issue of Lankan Tamils singing the Tamil version of the national anthem has cropped up again as Sri Lanka gets ready to celebrate its Independence Day on Feb 4.

As both Sinhalese and Tamil are official languages in the country, the Tamils of Sri Lanka have asserted that they would like the Tamil version to be sung at the Independence day function along with the Sinhalese version.

Some of those with loyalties to former president Mahinda Rajapaksa contend that singing the anthem in Tamil will be unconstitutional because the constitution mentions only the Sinhalese version.

However, the cabinet sub-committee on developing a composite Sri Lankan identity based on the concept of unity in diversity has suggested that people be given the right to sing the national anthem in Tamil or Sinhalese.

Tamils point out that they have been singing the Tamil version, an exact translation of the official Sinhalese version, since the anthem was officially adopted in 1951.

In 2010, following the defeat of the LTTE, Sinhalese nationalists demanded that the Tamil version be officially banned as being unconstitutional and Home Minister John Senewiratne submitted a cabinet paper proposing a ban.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa did not take any decision, but the security forces stationed in the Tamil majority north and east of the country disallowed the singing of the anthem in Tamil.

Tamil politicians point out that those who oppose the Tamil version forget that it only hails Sri Lanka as a united country and not Tamil homeland or a separate Tamil state.

Analysts warn that the singing of the anthem only in Sinhalese at the independence day function would send a negative message to the Sri Lankan Tamils.

Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2016