(Excerpted from Compilation of Viewpoints Presented by Kamanthi Wickramasinghe in the “Daily Mirror” under the Heading “Singing National Anthem in Sinhala only Tug of war continues over ‘Matha’ and ‘Thaaye’)
“I am strongly in favour of the national anthem being sung in both languages whenever and wherever appropriate, certainly at national Independence Day celebrations,” said Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, a retired civil servant who has served the country since 1959.
“There are 3 million Tamils, all Tamil speaking, and 3 million Muslims, mostly Tamil speaking, whose patriotism is intimately tied up with the use of their mother tongue, as much as the patriotism of the Sinhalese is tied up with the use of their mother tongue.
Patriotism is a mutual relationship in the sense that it is about a citizen’s love for the nation, and the nation’s respect for its citizens, including its treatment of all citizens as equal members of the nation. This should be understood by the Sinhalese speaking Sri Lankans who voted to deprive the Tamil speakers of the opportunity to express their patriotism in their language,” he reflected.
“I grew up learning that we come from a tradition with two noble languages, four great world religions, many interlocking cultures and an openness to the world in respect of language, religion and culture,” he added.
“I consider myself to be a patriotic Sri Lankan, but also a person whose mother tongue is Tamil. My patriotism clashes with the deprivation of the use of Tamil in the singing of the national anthem, and the use of Tamil in dealings with the state. This is so even if I may opt to speak English rather than Tamil in daily usage. Everyone lost when Tamil ceased to be an official language, and everyone gained, i.e. the entire population of Sri Lanka, when Tamil was restored as an official language. Similarly, everyone lost when Tamil ceased to be used in singing the national anthem at official functions, more so when that was officially prohibited. That prohibition is seen, and perhaps is intended to be seen, as damaging the patriotism of the Tamil speaking people,” said Dr. Nesiah.