Posted on March 14th, 2016

Sudath Samarasinghe

This is a response to Dr. Carlo Fonseka’s rejoinder on 3rd March in The Island, to a letter by Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera earlier, the on the subject of singing the national anthem Tamil language. I believe matters such as national anthem are emotional issues where logic does not play much of a role both for and against the language of singing etc. This is why I pointed some time earlier that since the constitution stipulates what exactly the National Anthem is and how it should be sung,  in whatever other way at may be sung does not make it the National Anthem. Period. There is no question of anybody being forced to sing one’s own national anthem. I believe, if anyone does not want to sing it in the language it is, there could not be any problem if he did not sing it. That  would be his personal choice. Also I believe, when those Sri Lankans who had acquired British citizenship or Australian citizenship or even Italian citizenship, they would not demand that they be allowed to be singing the national anthem of those countries in either Sinhala, Tamil, Arabic or Malay because it is their respective mother tongues, and because those countries profess Multiculturism. If one were to make such a demand one would be laughed at, simply because their national anthem is that, and nothing else. Of course, one may be able to argue one’s case logically but it does not happen that way. That is why I say that there is no logic in such emotional matters. One would not sing it if, one could not identify oneself with it either for reason of language diction or the tune or any other. But I suppose one could not demand that he would sing it only if it he could sing it the way he wants.

Prof. Carlo also says that in Belgium their national anthem is sung in French and Flemish. We do not know the reason why. But it is interesting to note that closer home, in India, despite the fact that there are more Tamils there than in Sri Lanka, numbering over 60 million, there is no known demand there, to sing the Indian national anthem in Tamil, by the Tamils of Tamil Nadu, or for that matter anyoneone, in any other 28 odd states, despite all their racial and religious strife, none of them question why they are made to sing their national anthem in Bengali. They don’t even ask why Bengali is being forced down their throats either. Not even in the strife torn in Kashmir! Again, I do not understand any logic in all this.

Then the professor proceeds to let bad blood on the Sinhalese, rather unusual for the suave person that he is. He refers to ….people who insist that Tamil speaking people should be forced to sing our national anthem in Sinhala. They do so because being powerful, they enjoy demonstrating their superiority to numerically weaker Tamil speaking people” etc. That is the construction of Prof. Fonseka whether it is logical thinking or not. Does he attribute the same reason to the state of affairs in India referred to in the above paragraph? The reason why it is held that the Sri Lankan national anthem should be as it is, is explained in the above two paragraphs.

The Sinhala Buddhists want to have a say in these matters not merely because they happen to be the numerical majority, but also because it is their ancestors during the past 25 centuries who founded this nation, gave it a unique civilization, fashioned her culture and gave it an unique identity to be known in this world as Sihaladweepa from which came the nomenclatures ‘Serendib’, ‘Zeylan’, ‘Ceilo’ and eventually Ceylon, all originating from ‘Sinhale’. It is these people who fought relentless wars all by themselves down the ages against foreign powers like the Cholas, Cheras, Kalingas, Portuguese, Dutch and the British to maintain this civilization and identity against all odds, despite being a tiny island with a small population. Perhaps, it is the Sinhala Buddhists who held out longest against the Western Colonial Powers in this part of the world until they ceded the country due to internal squabbles like today. So they consider that it is the duty of the present day Sinhala Buddhists to safeguard this identity. Such effort is not because they enjoy demonstrating their superiority to numerically weaker Tamil speaking people.” As made out by the good professor.

Then the learned professor goes on to say further that ….the Sinhala nationalists who want Sinhala national anthem rammed down the throats of our Tamil-speaking brethren”. He speaks of a Sinhala national anthem”. As far as I know, there is no such song. I believe he is talking about the National Anthem of Sri Lanka written in a language which is spoken by at least over 85% of the people of this country? Similarly, when he refers to the Indian National Anthem, does he say it is the Bengali national anthem? Why does he make this subtle distinction here?

As stated above, nobody here want to ram down anything on the throat of anyone. They only stated, let the national anthem be as it is. If anybody finds it unacceptable, let them not sing it. Nobody insisted that they should or that if they did not, they would be punished. Now that the prof. referred to being rammed down the throats of our Tamil-speaking brethren”, When he speaks of ‘ramming down the throats:” I am reminded of such a thing happening when India rammed the 13th Amendement to our constitution down our throats under duress in 1987. I do not recall any protests of Prof. Fonseka at that, which no Sri Lankan asked for and not even Prabhakaran. We recall that there were wide spread protests in this country where some 21 protestors were shot dead, followed by the JVP taking to armed insurgency in protest. Is trying to defend one’s country and its identity ‘Sinhala nationalism’or Sri Lankan nationalism? There was probably no problem here for Prof. Fonseka in this instance? I wonder where he was at that time?

Then, the leaned professor in his erudition takes us through socio-biology and tells us that this kind of conduct is nothing but ‘tribalism’. I am wondering whether an effort to defend the purity of one’s country’s National Anthem could justifiably be called ‘tribalism’ however misconstrued it may be? Standing up for the unity, integrity of one’s country is tribalism or patriotism?  What we were taught in school, was that it is patriotism. We do not stand for a part of the country but the whole country. That is what our ancestors did down the ages, defending their country. If they did not, saying that all that was tribalism, by now Sri Lanka would have been either another Tamilnadu or a little Goa or something like Philippines with its original Anglo-Saxon name Ceylon, and like the Filipinos, become Ceylonese. It reminds me that Buddhists’ resistance to unethical conversion of Buddhists and Hindus to Christianity. Is that too ‘religious intolerance’ on the part of the Buddhists? If the Sinhala Buddhists had followed this definition, by now what happened to Buddhism in India, Indonesia, Maldives and the latest in South Korea would have happened here too. And Theravada Buddhism would be confined to the internet.

Down our long history, it is the Sinhala Buddhists who defended this country, its civilization, language and culture. Did they all this at the sacrifice of so many lives, for mere tribalist reasons? Another interesting aspect is that, when the Sinhalese stand up to defend their country it is ‘tribalism’ and ‘chauvinism’ but when the LTTE terrorists take on the lawfully elected government asking for a separate state, killing people of all three communities, it is not tribalism but fighting for minority rights which should be given into. Isn’t that a strange configuration of ideas? Now where does logic stand in such circumstances?

Prof. Fonseka, like many others of that line of thinking, throws at the Sinhala Buddhists, Buddha’s preachings which he exhorts that they should observe. If all followers of the great religious teachers always followed their respective teachers’ preachings, this world would certainly be a beautiful place. Perhaps, the very reason why those great teachers taught so was precisely because the world was not a perfect place. When one reads the history of the different nations and religions it is full of activities and political ideologies that are quite the contrary to what their religious teachers upheld. Even in such circumstances, Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism are the only religions in the world that did not use aggression and violence to make non followers to convert to their religion. Placed amidst such an environment of adversity, how does one expect Buddhism and Buddhists to survive? One has only to look back how the Nalanda University was destroyed by the Moguls while thousands of Buddhist monks there looked on passively. This is the reality of the world. So what will happen if the Sinhala Buddhists kept mum in their own country in the face of the simlar aggression, now coming up in a different garb like what Prof. Fonseka preaches?

Sudath Samarasinghe

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