Healing the wounds | Daily News

Healing the wounds

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has noted that genuine reconciliation between ethnic groups have now become a reality as evidenced by the singing of the national anthem in Sinhala and Tamil throughout the country. Speaking at the launch of the Sirikotha Gamata programme in Bandaragama on Sunday Premier Wickremesinghe said; both Sinhala and Tamil speaking people say in their respective languages “We are all children of one mother when they sing the national anthem. We did not see such a thing in the past. All ethnic groups in Sri Lanka agreeing to sing the national anthem in their own tongues is an act of marching towards reconciliation”.

It is not that the national anthem was not sung in their own tongue by the Tamil community in the past. This was so in schools and Government offices in the North. However the practice was brought to an end, though, curtsy Mahinda Rajapaksa shortly after the end of the war. In fact the former President discontinued the singing of the national anthem in Tamil with one stroke of the pen. This was out of pique that his lecture to the Oxford Union was cancelled by the organisers following a demonstration by Tamils in London, over Rajapaksa's presence.

The move, needless to say, alienated the Tamil community further, adding to the wounds already inflicted by the victory parades and other displays of triumphalism that made the Tamils feel they were a conquered race. Not only that, immediately following the war victory, Rajapaksa at a special session of Parliament declared that devolution to the Tamils, if at all, will be a homegrown one and not one that will be implanted from outside, clearly demonstrating his disdain for the 13th Amendment turning in the knife further, so to speak. If that was not enough, Rajapaksa told a group of supporters at his Tangalle retreat, soon after his electoral debacle, that he did not consider the set-back as a defeat since he was done in by the votes of the Tigers mang peradune koti chanda nisa. This, after campaigning for weeks in the North in order to woo the Tamil vote, and resorting to other gimmicks, such as distributing gold items, believed to have been stolen by the LTTE, allegedly to their rightful owners.

Why should not the Tamils sing the national anthem in their own tongue? It is only through singing the national anthem in a familiar tongue that the feeling and emotion towards one's motherland would be greatly pronounced. Even Galle District Joint Opposition MP Ramesh Pathirana, a staunch Rajapaksa loyalist, supported the practice of Tamils singing the national anthem in their own tongue. In India all the states are free to sing the country's national anthem in their own distinct languages and is not confined to Bengali.

Besides, it is not only Sinhala leaders who gave leadership to the independence struggle in this country. Members of all communities were in the vanguard to fight for Independence. Tamil leaders such as Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Ponnambalam Arunachalam, the Coomaraswamys and Muslim stalwarts such as T. B. Jayah too were in the forefront to wrest Independence from the colonial rulers. Their contribution in this regard is still being appreciated by the majority community.

Petty political gain is the main reason for dividing a once united nation on communal lines culminating in a long drawn out civil war that destroyed the national fabric and ate into the vitals of the nation. And we are yet to learn from this experience, given the communal drum still being beaten by power hungry politicians, even going to the extent of politicizing the national anthem by segregating the two communities based on language. Even during the recent political crisis the racist undertones were never below the surface, with the Joint Opposition striving hard to create a UNP-TNA conspiracy to cater to separatist demands.

To her eternal credit, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga did her utmost to remove the communal label attached to the SLFP and make it an entity that embraced all communities. Nay, she went to the extreme in this regard and begged forbearance from the nation for the folly of her late father in introducing Sinhala Only. Regrettably, there are still elements in that party who are hard put to rid themselves of old habits and see no other alternative than playing the communal card to garner votes.

President Sirisena, though, has proved to be an exception in this regard and has sought to make amends for the follies of the past. He has genuinely reached the hand of friendship towards the Tamil community and has struck a ready rapport with the Tamil political leadership. His attempts to heal the festering wounds, resulting from the long years of war and estrangement, too, is to be acknowledged and appreciated. His recent efforts to accelerate the release of military occupied lands to their original owners and the resettlement of the displaced, no doubt, is a huge step in the current reconciliation effort that has even been praised by Tamil political leaders and no doubt is bound to bring him rich dividends if and when he runs for President.


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