By National Peace Council
There are reports that the government has decided that the national anthem would be sung only in Sinhala at all official and state functions although the Constitution of Sri Lanka states that both Sinhala and Tamil are official languages. It is also reported that a government directive to use only the Sinhala version will soon be sent out which will mean that even in the Tamil majority parts of the country, where Sinhala is not commonly spoken, the people will have to sing the anthem in a language they do not understand.
The National Peace Council notes that language can be a potent instrument of unity or disunity within a country. When Sri Lanka was deciding on the replacement of English as the official language in the mid 1950s, Dr Colvin R de Silva said that it was a choice of two languages and one nation or one language and two nations. The language issue made the Sinhalese-Tamil cleavage the most divisive one in Sri Lankan society and the forerunner to the thirty year war. We need to learn from the past. A threat to language or its demotion can become seen as a threat or demotion of the community itself.
Especially in the aftermath of the war, the government needs to consider the issue of co-existence between its ethnic majority and minority communities and to ensure that all feel equal as citizens. In Canada, where there have been tensions between the two largest communities the national anthem is sung in both languages at official functions, usually with a mix of English and French verses. In Switzerland, the national anthem is sung in the four national languages, German, French, Italian and Rumantsch. In South Africa the national anthem is in three languages Xhosa, Afrikaans and English and in New Zealand there are separate English and Maori versions with the Maori version usually sung first.
Last year, President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave honour to the Tamil language and to the Tamil people of Sri Lanka and worldwide when he became the first head of state to address the General Assembly of the United Nations in the Tamil language. The National Peace Council calls on the government to act in this spirit of statesmanship and to honour the constitutional promise of Sinhala and Tamil as official languages and have the national anthem sung in both languages. We also call on parliamentarians to respect the two language policy and work towards ensuring national and social integration.