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A Beautiful Island Where The National Anthem Is Sung In Two Languages -1

By

D.B.S.Jeyaraj

Jeyaraj’s Jottings

(Jeyaraj’s Jottings was a series of short articles written some time ago by me to be posted on my Blog. However due to pressure of work I discontinued the jottings for quite a while. With the advent of the year 2020 I have resumed posting “Jeyaraj’s Jottings”again on my Blog. This is the first part of the first post for the new year)

Once upon a time there was a Beautiful Island with wonderful people that was regarded as God’s own country. After gaining Independence from a colonial power, the modern nation with an ancient civilization adopted a national anthem of its own. The anthem was written in the language spoken by the majority of its inhabitants. It was also translated into the language widely spoken by three of its minority communities. While the song in the language of the majority received pride of place, provision was made for both versions of the anthem to be sung whenever or wherever necessary. The melody composed for the original was the same for the translated version also.

Both versions of the National anthem were sung or played in all parts of the country on appropriate occasions. When Independence day was observed the majority language version was sung at national level because it was the sole official language then. However, in regions where the minority language was spoken most, the version sung at district level was that of the minority language. Similarly, in schools where the medium of instruction was in the majority language ,
the national anthem was also sung in the same language.

Likewise schools where the minority language was the medium of instruction sang the national anthem in their language. In some places both versions were played one after the other. The anthem played at official functions at national level was in the language of the majority which had been enshrined as the country’s sole official language. This however did not deter the minority communities from singing the national anthem with patriotic fervour in their mother tongue on suitable occasions.

Serpent Entered Garden of Eden

Sadly, the serpent of communal discord and ethnic strife entered this idyllic garden of Eden. Events deteriorated to the point where the premier national minority began to regard itself as a distinct nation and demanded the creation of a country of its own. An armed struggle was launched and civil war erupted. Substantial portions of the Island’s territory came under the control of separatist elements. Ethnic relations between the majority and chief minority community disintegrated widely and people speaking the language became increasingly alienated from the state and estranged from the majority community.

A symptom of this malady was in the singing of the national anthem itself. Gradually it was being sung only in the majority language. With the secessionist state of mind pervading community consciousness , there were no singers of the national anthem in the mother tongue of the minority community. Although the minority language version of the national anthem had been subsequently given Constitutional status, it was not sung in practice. The minority language had also been elevated as an official language by a Constitutional amendment. But in the climate of strife and confrontation it was not implemented widely. The national anthem in the minority community mother tongue was also not sung in practice though there was no legal or Constitutional barrier.

And then there was a change! The long war ended with the total annihilation of the armed organization espousing the separatist cause. The Island from north to south and east to west again came under the sole writ of the democratically elected government. Members of the minority nationality began re-entering the national mainstream again. They picked up the shattered pieces of their existence and began embarking upon a brave new journey of reconciliation. Once again these members of the minority group began to think of themselves as belonging to the country where their ancestors had lived for generations.It was farewell to secessionism and an embrace of the motherland at an emotional and spiritual level. It was a strengthening of unity while retaining diversity.

What better way to celebrate this return other than to sing the national anthem once again in their mother tongue now constitutionally recognized as an official language? Would it not be significant to salute their country as mother in their own language in which language they think and feel? Would it not be great to thank the mother who gave them “Knowledge, Truth, Strength and inner faith,” and was also their “light divine and sentient being”. Would it not be most meaningful for an estranged and embittered people to sing of an end to “ill-will, hatred and strife” and to sing of themselves again as a “ Mighty nation marching onward, all as one and enfolded in love”?

In any other land or country this development would have been welcomed and encouraged. The symbolic value would have been recognized.The State would have given every assistance and help to promote the singing of the national anthem in their mother tongue by members of an ethnicity that had been out in the political cold for decades. They would have encouraged an estranged people to re-enter the national mainstream again by promoting the singing of the national anthem in the language spoken by the minorities. Echoing the patriotic sentiments expressed in the national anthem in their own language which they knew best would have paved the way for greater national unity and ethnic reconciliation.

Officially Sanctioned Unofficial Diktat

But this did not happen! Instead, moves were initiated to do away with the Constitutional right to sing the national anthem in the mother tongue of the national minorities. A draft law to forbid the national anthem being sung in languages other than the majority official language was mooted but was shelved due to opposition within Cabinet ranks. This resulted in uncertainty about the legality of the singing of the national anthem. However in practice, very clear signals were conveyed “unofficially” that only the majority language version of the national anthem should be sung everywhere. The bureaucracy as well as the armed forces were used to enforce this officially sanctioned unofficial diktat.

This naturally resulted in huge disappointment and despondency. It was a slap in the face of those members of the minority ethnicity seeking to re-enter the national mainstream and foster ethnic reconciliation and harmony. It was perceived as one more instance of majoritarian arrogance. The majoritarian supremacists who had plunged the country into chaos and despair were riding high once again adding insult to injury.

Dispassionate foreigners such as diplomats, academics, media and NGO personnel were aghast. They could not believe this was happening in a land that had been torn asunder by ethnic strife and was now on the path of ethnic amity and national unity. Why this intolerant attitude and heavy handed response to an issue that would have never been an issue in any sane and sensible country?

More however was to follow with a regime change…….

(To be Continued)

D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at dbsjeyaraj@yahoo.com

Jeyaraj’s Jottings

(Jeyaraj’s Jottings was a series of short articles written some time ago by me to be posted on my Blog/ However due to pressure of work I discontinued the jottings for quite a while. With the advent of the year 2020 I have resumed posting “Jeyaraj’s Jottings”again on my Blog. This is the first part of the first post for the new year)