by Prof. Michael Roberts
14 December 2010
His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa,
President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
FAX = 94-11 254 2919
A few years back I had the pleasure of seeing the Royal-Thomian rugger match on television and watched you Sir, present the winner’s cup to the Captain of the Thomian rugger team, none other than your son, Namal. On this ground I earnestly request you and your sons to sit together and watch a replay of any recent rugby international between the New Zealand All Blacks and the South African Proteas.
There, you will hear New Zealand’s “God defend New Zealand” sung in both English and Maori; while the South African anthem is sung by all the players, whether Black, Coloured, or White, in Xhosa, Afrikaans and English. There are also versions of the latter in two other languages and it is said that “South Africa's anthem pulls together two anthems, five languages – and over 49-million people.”
Please note that this national anthem bears the imprint of Nelson Mandela. If you have the time, also please absorb the film Invictus in association with your sons. When he came to power Mandela deployed rugby as a unifying arena. This will be evident when you watch any rugger match today and see how the players, mostly White, sing the anthem in three languages so passionately. It is truly a stirring moment and a testimony to Mandela’s vision – revealing the manner in which he enticed the powerful White and Afrikaans forces to abide by their country after the Black take-over.
The point I am making will not be lost on you: it is in your power to emulate Mandela by enabling reconciliation through many steps. One such step will be for every Sri Lankan to be nourished as Sri Lankans through their ability to sing Sri Lanka Matha in both Sinhala and Tamil.
You, President Sir, have already shown us the way by speaking at the United Nations in Tamil as a symbolic gesture. By adopting a bi-lingual policy that enables us to express our patriotism through the inspirational Namo Namo you will, I stress, be adding further force to the programme already in place to teach both swabasha languages in all schools. Nursery rhymes and songs are the best way to learn another language. The bi-lingual anthem will assist both Tamils and Sinhalese to learn each other’s native speech.
This letter was sent by fax and post in late December, with address and other details included as a matter of form. I have waited a suitable length of time since then before venturing to enter this intervention within the public realm – appropriately after Independence Day was celebrated by some Sri Lankans. I did not anticipate a direct response because the head of state can hardly spend time answering sundry letters. What interests me is action and practice. It is still unclear
(1) whether any decision was taken by the Cabinet on this important topic when it was addressed in December 2010;
(2) what practices schools follow in the north and east
(3) and in the other areas of Sri Lanka;
(4) what the general practice is at official functions where Sri Lankā Māthā is deployed.
I welcome first hand empirical information on this topic as comment or sent to firstname.lastname@example.org