The Sri Lankan national anthem has been sung in the Tamil language at this year’s official independence day celebrations in Colombo as a move towards reconcilation between majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil Sri Lankan groups.
Though the anthem was also sung in Sinhalese, this is the first time the anthem has ever been sung in Tamil in an official capacity, since the country’s independence from Britain in 1948.
The inclusive decision was made by President Maithripala Sirisena, to promote peaceful cohesion between the two formerly warring group.
However his decision did face backlash and criticism from die-hard nationalists, including the nation’s former president, Mahindra Rajapaksa.
“It is in our constitution, I don’t know why people make an issue with this,” said Sirisena’s cabinet minister Harin Fernando to the BBC.
However, the former president Rajapaksa argued the national anthem should be sung in only one language, in spite of Sri Lanka’s mutlilingual community.
He went on to site India as an example. claiming in spite of being a nation of several languages, the Indian national anthem is only performed in one language, Bengali – in which it was originally penned.
In 2010, the former president even debated imposing an official ban against a Tamil translation of the anthem being sung at public events.
“It’s the same song, same tune, and same meaning. If it is sung in Tamil, Tamil people will understand the true meaning of it, they will also be part of it,” Minister Fernando said in defence of the reconciliatory decision.
“When one speaks in one’s own language, one is more engaged and takes more responsibility, that is what we need as Sri Lankans.”
The tension between Tamil Tigers and ultra-nationalists who deny the Tamil identity in Sri Lanka have persisted for decades; however an all out war between the two groups was put to rest seven years ago.
Tamils are a minority group in Sri Lanka, constituting only 15 per cent of the country’s population.