NATIONAL ANTHEM AND NATIONALISM
Once upon a time there was a beautiful island with wonderful people and it was called the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean “. The island is still beautiful and the people are still wonderful except for a few who consistently engage in a diabolical attempt to make it “Ugly “.
This is my response to the article published in the Daily Mirror of March 21st titled “Mother Lanka as Sri Lanka Thaye “ written by DBS Jeyaraj. He says that the Tamil version of the National Anthem too salutes Mother Lanka and not an “Eelam”, and it was his hope and prayer that patriotic Tamils would be able to hail “Mother Lanka “as “Sri Lanka Thaye” in their “Thaai Mozhi” ( Mother Tongue).
This subject came on stage when Mr. Mano ganeshan sought approval from the National Executive Committee to sing the National Anthem in the Tamil language. Approval was granted and immediately thereafter those who objected to it were branded as “Extremists”, “Communalists” and “Chauvinists”. In addition to that, the learned and moderate Tamil opinion makers/ journalists like Jeyaraj make evocative comments such as that by way of being “a most affected minority community” in this country, the Tamils would at least get some molecule of relief by having this request acceded to. But is thisthe reality? Who are they – Jeyaraj, Manoganeshan and those of their ilk – trying to deceive? As a matter of fact, do those who object to the National Anthem being sung in Tamil, really despise and block the progress of the Tamil people? In comparison to the other nationalities, are the Tamils discriminated against in our country? By allowing the National Anthem to be sung in Tamil will all the alleged discrimination disappear? I think it is high time to lay bare the nudity of those who very cunningly try to paint a wrong picture, locally and internationally, about the Sinhalese and Tamils in our country, in order to achieve their vicious objective.
Let us for the moment move away from dealing with the terms such as communalism, nationalism, patriotism, emotions etc. and examine the Constitutional provisions relating to singing of the National Anthem in Tamil. Article 7 of the Constitution stipulates that the National Anthem of Sri Lanka should be “Sri Lanka Matha”. The words and the music should be as spelt out in the Third Schedule. The English transliteration rightly carries the words “Sri Lanka Matha”. But the Tamil rendering is a translation, not a transliteration. This means that instead of writing the same Sinhala original words in Tamil characters, the Sinhala words of the National Anthem have been “translated” into the Tamil language. The most important thing here is that the very act of translation is done in a wrong manner. If it is done in the same manner the English script should have been Sri Lanka “Mother or Mater”!! It is very clear that the decision/initiative taken to “translate” it into Tamil had been taken with a predetermined mind set with ulterior motives such as to create communal unrest at a later stage.
In view of this “translation”, people like Manoganeshan argue that singing the National Anthem in Tamil is in conformity with the Constitution. However, the moment the National Anthem is sung in Tamil, Article 7 of the Constitution is violated, because, in it, it is clearly stated that the National Anthem should be Sri Lanka “Matha” and nothing else. This has led to an inconsistency between the two texts and in the event of such an “inconsistency” Article 23.1 clearly says that the text in which the written laws was “enacted” should prevail. In other words the Sinhala text should prevail over the Tamil one. Thus it proves beyond reasonable doubt that the singing the National Anthem in Tamil definitely violates the Constitution of the country.
We know that it is illegal to violate the Constitution of the country for whatever the purpose. Avenues are openeven to impeach the President of the country, if it can be proved that he has willfully violated the Constitution. In such a context, if a person takes up the position that singing the National Anthem in Tamil is a violation of the Constitution, can anyone brand him a communalist or a racist?
Most people who use the word “Racialism“ or “communalism” do not know the difference between “racialism” and “nationalism”. Racialism is primarily the belief that one’s own race is superior to others and suppress or deny the lawful rights of other communities. Nationalism, on the other hand, is patriotism, is loyalty and devotion to one’s community; to come forward and selflessly protect the interests of the community in the face of any danger. Germany and Japan became powerful nations after the Second World War as there were people with such patriotic mind sets.
Jeyaraj says that the Tamils should be allowed to sing the National Anthem in their own language for greater national unity and ethnic reconciliation, implying that Tamils are a deprived community compared to the Sinhalese. Is this true? Today one must ask what the Tamil grievances are; one can ask what “injustice “Tamils face because of being a Tamil”. They live in Colombo happily and comfortably, purchase land, build houses, send children to school, engage in businesses, are properly employed, build Kovils/Hindu temples and freely engage in religious activities. Only 48% of Tamils in Sri Lanka live in Jaffna; 52% live in the rest of the country amongst the Sinhalese and other communities. Do the Sinhalese harass Tamils at sight? There are hundreds of shops belonging to Tamils in Hetti Veediya (Sea Street), Kotahena, Wellawatta, Bambalapitiya, Pettah etc. The monopoly of the business of major food items such as sugar, potatoes, dhal etc. are in the hands of Tamil multi millionaire buisnessmen. Have the Sinhalese objected to it? What will happen if all the Sinhalese boycott the Tamil shops and businesses? They do not do that because the Sinhalese strongly believe in living in harmony and in reconciliation. The Sinhalese in general do believe that the Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils are members of the same Sri Lankan family.
Today the Tamils have bought over/acquired most of the land/properties in the metropolitan area. For instance in most of the lanes in Kotahena there are no Sinhalese news papers for sale because there are no Sinhalese living there. Have the Sinhalese revolted against that? Not at all.
While that is the position of the Tamils in Colombo – for that matter in the entire country, what is the position of the Sinhalese people in the North? Can a Sinhalese purchase a piece of land in Vavunia, Mulative, Kilinochchi, Point Pedro or in Jaffna? Everyone knows it is impossible. Why? Because they are “born” as Sinhalese and that is the tragic truth. What happened to around 25,000 Sinhalese who lived in Jaffna prior to 1983? Who talks about their land and properties? Who stands up for them? Mr. Vigneshvaram, Chief Minister of Jaffna, who was born among Sinhalese in Colombo, studied with the Sinhalese, lived with the Sinhalese for more than 60 years in Colombo, having acquired land and built houses in Colombo, has the audacity to tell that the Sinhalese do not have any right to own land in the North. People like Manoganeshan whilst living a lavish life in Colombo and engaged in various businesses have viciously blocked the Sinhalese from running any business in Jaffna. Any Tamil student can get enrolled in any University in Sri Lanka but can a Sinhalese student get enrolled in the Jaffna University without creating trepidation in the hearts and minds of the parents? The Sinhalese do tolerate this situation and the contemptuous racial attitude of the Tamil politicians not because they are cowards but mainly because of the “discipline” and “tolerance” they have acquired through the practice of Buddhist Philosophy through the centuries.
Today who wants the National Anthem to be sung in Tamil? It is not the ordinary and enlightened Tamil people but the corrupt Tamil politicians together with their acolytes and ‘torch bearers’ who are hell bent on creating disharmony in the country. We have to accept the fact that when Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksha took over the country in 2005 it was virtually or de facto a divided country. In the North they had their own banks, a separate administrative system, a separate court system, a separate taxation system and a separate police force. Such a divided country was united and unified by Mahinda Rajapaksha. This benefitted at the outset the Tamil people at large. If a separate national anthem is demanded to be sung in the North, withIn a country which has been united after so much of strife isn’t it reasonable to consider it as a “threat” to the unitary status of the country? Is the demand for a separate National Anthem a prelude to demanding once again, a separate state?
The population in India is about 1.3 billion and the Tamils constitute 65 million. In Sri lanka the population is 22 million with approx. 2.8 Tamils. In India there are many ethnic groups such as Hindu, Muslim, Marati, Gujarati, Tamil, Bengali, Panjab, etc but the National Anthem is “ Jana Gana Mana Adinayaka Jayahe Bharatha Baghya Vidhatha” written by Rabindranath Tagore in a highly Sanskritized form of the Bengali language. Although we do not understand the Bengali language, when we browse the internet and listen to the Indian National Anthem sung by Latha Mangeshkar lying on sprawling sandy shores, we too are inspired and enthralled by its stirring melody and words. Indian cinema artists, with Sharook Khan as the main actor, jerk white men and women in England off their seats, make them spring up from their seats in salutation when the Indian National Anthem is played in his film. What would the response of Prime Minister Modi be, if the 65 million Tamils in India (as Jeyaraj thinks it fit to say it here) ask that they be allowed to salute “their” motherland, which gave them Knowledge, Truth, Strength, and Inner Faith, to be saluted by singing the “ jana gana mana” National Anthem in “Tamil”! Why not the fond heart of Jeyaraj feel for the 65 million Tamil people in India, in like manner?
Jeyaraj maintains that the Tamils get the “real national feeling” of the Motherland only if the National Anthem is sung in their own language. To me it is no patriotic statement. In the same token then, for the Veddhas to get the national feeling, the National Anthem should be altered to say “Sri Lanka Ammila Eththo” instead of “Sri Lanka Matha”. As a person who has been in India on several occasions for training I have observed, on very sensitive occasions, the eyes of Indians, be they Marati, Gujarati, Hindu, Tamil or Muslim, filling with tears when they sing the Indian National Anthem. According to Jeyaraj it may be because of conjunctivitis, for, the Maratis, Gujaratis & others do not get this national feeling because they do not understand the Sanskritized Bengali!! In some schools in India, the meaning of the song is taught to students. But when the National Anthem is played, tears well up, not because they all understand each & every word but because it generates patriotic emotions and the feeling that it symbolizes the nation – the feeling that this is our country, it is the “honour” and “pride” of our country, we are Indians, not different nations; and whatever enemy forces advance towards us we will protect the nation at any cost. Irrespective of the different ethnic identities they all think as “Indians” and that is the very reason why there is no demand from any one of the communities to sing the National Anthem in their respective languages.
As in the case of India, if one argues that in our country the National Anthem should be in the original/single language is’nt it because one thinks of oneself as a “Sri Lankan”? If that be so, if people like Jeyaraj, Manoganeshan, Dilan Perera and Handunnethi demand that the National Anthem should be allowed to be sung in Tamil also, that is because they do not think of themselves as “Sri Lankans” or people of one country. Who then are the racists? According to Jeyaraj the racists are the “so called patriots” like us. But aren’t the racists the very same people who try to destroy efforts towards national reconciliation by making this type of request?
Even though we strictly do not follow the dictates of astrology, planetary configurations etc., it is no secret that we generally take them as a guide to important activities. When a child is born s/he is named having consideration for the planetary positions prevailing at the moment of birth. This is because we consider that it has a benevolent effect on the child every time the name is called (pronounced). Even the Anthem is composed on the same principles. When the initial words of the song were changed from ’Namo Namo Matha’ to ‘Sri Lanka Matha’ the composer of the song Ananda Samarakoon threatened to commit suicide! People generally believe that the resonance of the ‘gana’ and ‘mathra’ of the song when pronounced correctly, the sound waves that are generated will have a benevolent effect on the nation. Whether or not such belief is substantiated by logic or reasoning, any demand to sing the National Anthem in different words will be considered a contemptible insult to an age old valued sentiment/belief of our people.
We expect a much greater contribution from the moderate writers of the calibre of Jeyaraj to establish national reconciliation. I wish to enumerate briefly the sacrifices and contributions made by the Sinhalese in that regard. It is the Sinhalese soldiers who liberated the people of Jaffna from the grip of terrorism. Since I was the Commander of the Northern Naval Area in Jaffna when the so called peace accord was signed in 2002, I witnessed the hardships the Tamil people had to undergo under the jack boot of the terrorists. Some shop keepers committed suicide as they could not pay the ransom to terrorists. At least 75 % of the catch of fishermen were confiscated by the terrorists daily. At least 50% of the remittances received from their next of kin living abroad was grabbed by the terrorists. The School principals who did not release students for demonstrations were shot in public. It was a common scene to see weeping and wailing mothers at the security check point at Muhamalai to find whether their children abducted the previous night, were taken into the terrorist controlled area. On most occasions Sinhala soldiers ventured, despite threat to their lives, to save such affected persons and they were highly respected by individual Tamils.
About 495,000 land mines strewn by terrorists in the area were cleared by Sinhalese soldiers disregarding the threat to their lives. It is the Sinhala soldiers who took into safe custody the gold and jewelry of the escaping Tamils around 290,000 and then later delivered to them intact when they were resettled. They were the Sinhala soldiers who de-activated about 4950 anti-tank mines and made it safe and secure for the Tamil residents to move in. It is the Sinhala soldiers who constructed about 8000 houses for the Tamil people contributing even their personal funds as a gesture of goodwill. When Prabhakaran used the Tamil people as a human shield, the Sinhalese soldiers marched through the heavily mined fields, without firing heavy artillery, knowing that they would even lose life and limb. This was just to save innocent Tamil lives. When pregnant Tamil women were escaping from the terrorists and running into the arms of our Sinhalese women soldiers, they went forward to meet them, knowing that there were tiger suicide women with bombs attached to their bellies. Many Sinhala women soldiers died in the processes whilst trying to identify the innocents from the terrorists.
Should we need any more examples to show the contribution and the commitment of the Sinhalese towards national reconciliation? Have the champions of reconciliation in the likes of Manoganeshan or Jeyaraj or any other do gooders offered even a cup of tea to the valiant soldiers as a mark of gratitude? Have they written a single article to the newspapers appreciating their services? I cannot recall any such.
Around 29,000 Sinhalese soldiers have sacrificed their lives in the protection of the unitary state of the country; 14,000 were permanently disabled too. (Here I wish to recall with deep respect the memory of the officers and men of other communities as well.) The National Anthem is the symbol of “Sovereignty” and “territorial integrity” of the country. At the end of 30 years of war shouldn’t we consider that, allowing the National Anthem to be sung in Tamil in the North, as a symbolic infringement on the territorial integrity of the country that we selflessly liberated? Isn’t It a way of disgracing the valiant soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the country? If that too is done by grossly violating the Constitution of the country, is’nt it a green light for the potential Elamist to raise their ugly head again?
I recollect here an interesting incident that occurred at Karainagar camp where I served as the Commanding Officer in the year 1993. During the war, the food for the island inhabitants were brought by the Navy with great effort despite the threat by the sea tiger terrorists. Since electricity was not available I brought kerosene oil from Trincomalee by using Chinese built attack crafts so that the Tamil children could do their studies. With the food quota of the sailors and officers we provided free food voluntarily to the starving families. I got the pension rights restored for many a public servant who were deprived of it for long years.
I was admired and respected by the people of Karainagar. However I was once targeted but I happened to change my plans. The terrorists being unaware that I had alighted from the vehicle attacked it and my driver and the junior officer were killed. The following day the entire village stormed my camp and apologized profusely, weeping and wailing. When I was transferred to Colombo they wrote to higher authorities to defer my transfer. At a simple farewell party organized for me a few little girls sang the National Anthem in Sinhala. The way they pronounced the words brought tears to my eyes. There was similar reaction by the villagers as well. Isn’t it adequate evidence of “genuine national reconciliation”? Those days no one agitated to sing the Anthem in Tamil. Then who were the people who injected the virus of hatred and communalism into their innocent hearts? They are the communalist Tamil politicians. They are the ones who demand a National Anthem in Tamil purely for political reasons. Is’nt it very unfortunate to note that even the moderate journalists such as Jeyaraj too are trying to justify this demand?
Rear Admiral (Dr). Sarath Weerasekara
Member of Parliament.