According to BBC reports, the Sri Lanka government has decreed that the Tamil version of Sri Lanka’s national anthem cannot be used on official occasions anymore.

The BBC reports says: ‘Now the national anthem, Sri Lanka matha, can only be sung in the majority Sinhala language at official functions… . [The Tamil version] was an exact translation of the Sinhala version, sung to the same tune, and had been in use since Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948.’ The BBC further notes, ‘ The decision to scrap the Tamil version was taken at a cabinet meeting headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.’

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This is a further example of attempts by the government to alienate Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority. For many, it will bring back memories of the Official Language Act of 1956. This act made Sinhala the only official language of Sri Lanka and became one of the major symbols of Tamil oppression. To make such a provocative decision, at this point in time, calls into question the current government’s commitment to peace building and bridging the divides between Sri Lanka’s different communities. Rajapaksa has justified his decision by saying that no other country has a national anthem in multiple languages. This is incorrect and examples can be found from New Zealand (in Maori and English) to Canada (French and English). South Africa’s anthem uses five of its eleven official languages. However, these languages are official languages of the countries discussed. A
real gesture of unity would be if the Sri Lankan government madeTamil an official language and kept the Tamil translation of the anthem. This issue may seem trivial compared to the huge problems Sri Lanka is facing. But in its small way, it is highly symbolic, this is and another symptom, of the current government’s attitude towards reconciliation.