Military personnel march in traditional dress holding national flags during Sri Lanka's 72nd Independence Day celebrations in Colombo on Feb 4. (Photo: Ishara Kodikara/AFP)
Tamil activist Sebamalai Sujithran has condemned the government’s decision not to allow singing of the national anthem in the Tamil language during Independence Day celebrations.
Tamils, who represent around 11 percent of the population of Sri Lanka, have sung the national anthem in their language on Independence Day in recent years. About 27 percent of Sri Lankans regard Tamil as their mother tongue.
"The government's failure to allow the national anthem to be sung in Tamil is seen as a great mistake during post-reconciliation," said Sujithran.
"It is the responsibility of the government to give the Tamil people the opportunity to do so. If the purpose of the national anthem is to bring meaning to people, it is important to interpret it in a language that is familiar to them."
After former president Maithripala Sirisena came to power in 2015, the main opposition United National Party and Sri Lanka Freedom Party sang the national anthem in Tamil at Independence Day celebrations.
The 72nd Independence Day celebrations on Feb. 4 saw protests in several cities against the government’s decision regarding singing the national anthem in Tamil.
In Colombo, activists clad in black sang the national anthem in Tamil. They said Tamils had lost the opportunity to share Sri Lankan identity at the celebrations.
Students in Jaffna staged a protest in front of the university, claiming that Tamil people are not free to celebrate Independence Day.
The students decided to abstain from celebrating Independence Day as Tamils have not been able to address the issues that have arisen since the end of the 26-year civil war (1983-2009) in which the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, better known as the Tamil Tigers, fought Sri Lanka's military in their campaign to create an independent Tamil state.
In his address to the nation on Independence Day, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said every Sri Lankan citizen has the right to freedom and security.
"I pay tribute to Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay and Burgher leaders who have dedicated themselves to achieving and ensuring independence,” he said. "We always ensure their right to freedom of thought and expression. We always respect the right of any citizen to the religion of his choice."
Mano Ganesan, a member of parliament and trade unionist, said he had written to President Rajapaksa to ask him to allow the national anthem to be sung in Tamil at this year’s celebrations.
M.A Sumanthiran, a Tamil parliamentarian, said the Tamil people are ready to live as equal citizens with equal rights in an undivided country.
Nalika Wickramasuriya, a university student, said many countries sing the national anthem in several languages, citing Canada, South Africa, Switzerland and New Zealand as examples.
"The national anthem of a country should not divide the people but should instill national pride," said Wickramasuriya.
"During the last government, it was decided to sing the national anthem in Sinhala and Tamil. This contributed to the reconciliation process, but unfortunately those in power cannot understand the depth of the issue.”