Tamil-language anthem dropped from Sri Lanka independence party

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan Navy personnel fire a 21-gun salute to mark the island nation’s 72nd Independence Day at the Galle Face promenade in Colombo yesterday. Sri Lanka commemorates its independence from British rule on February 4, 1948. – AFP

COLOMBO: A Tamil-language version of Sri Lanka’s national anthem was dropped from independence day celebrations yesterday, with critics saying the move was a setback to reconciliation after years of ethnic civil war. A Tamil-language version was included in the 2016 event as part of a push to heal the wounds of a 37-year war between Tamil separatists and the Sinhalese-majority.

But at celebrations yesterday marking the 72nd anniversary of independence from Britain, the anthem was sung only in Sinhala. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s 20-minute speech in Sinhala, however, was translated into Tamil-the language of the largest minority, who account for just over 15 percent of the country’s 21 million people. Rajapaksa won a landslide in November elections with the backing of the majority Sinhalese, for whom he is a hero.

He was a key figure in the crushing of the Tamil Tiger separatists that ended Sri Lanka’s conflict in May 2009. The war claimed more than 100,000 lives between 1972 and 2009. Opposition legislator Mano Ganesan said dropping the anthem in Tamil was disappointing. “By rejecting the anthem in Tamil… in front of local and the international community, the government has justified discrimination, and has disappointed patriots,” said Ganesan, a former minister of national integration and official languages.

Several private media organizations also said dropping the Tamil version was a setback to reconciliation. Authorities insisted the anthem could still be sung in either language. In his address, Rajapaksa vowed there would be no discrimination. “As the president today, I represent the entire Sri Lankan nation irrespective of ethnicity, religion, party affiliation or other differences,” he said. – AFP