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Towards An Independence Day For National Unity And Reconciliation

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

It is only four days to go for the Independence Day celebrations. It seems that the good input from the Minister of Foreign Affairs has come to make the celebrations far more meaningful. Earlier indication was to have the day on the theme of ‘wholesome motherland, dignified tomorrow’ (piripun maubimak, abiman heta dinak).

That was adequate if Sri Lanka have been to celebrate the occasion under standard circumstances. However, Sri Lanka is now moving away from the previous Rajapaksa policy of ‘belligerence’ and ‘militarism’ and as a result it is more pertinent to have the theme of ‘National Unity and Reconciliation’ in addition or in its spot.

It is now announced that ‘A Statement of Peace’ will be produced at the 67th Independence Day celebrations based on some of the important principles of the LLRC Report. The Cabinet has authorized a joint proposal by the Acting Foreign Minister and the Minister of House Affairs to this effect on Wednesday.

There are two organizations, 1 primarily based in Colombo and the other outdoors the country, in Sydney, which have proposed that the National Anthem be sung in both Sinhala and Tamil at the Independence Day celebrations as a mark of country’s commitment to national unity. The Colombo based organization is the Friday Forum (FF) and the Sydney primarily based organization is the Sri Lanka Reconciliation Forum (SLRF). This is apart from a number of men and women and writers raising the issue of the bilingual national anthem. Although the Friday Forum issued a public statement (25 January 2015) to this effect amongst other matters, the SLRF has directly written to the President, Maithripala Sirisena, on this and a number of other matters (27 January 2015).

Let me initial quote the relevant section from the Friday Forum statement below.

“We urge that the celebrations be kept basic and dignified with out major military and military hardware demonstrating parades, floats, and the use of school young children. The occasion ought to promote new standards of straightforward and disciplined lifestyles. Most essential is to use the opportunity to remember the victims of the civil conflicts which Sri Lanka has endured because independence, to pledge our collective commitment to peace and reconciliation, and to resolve that there need to by no means be such violence in our country once more. We get in touch with upon the government, as a sign of our commitment to national unity, to guarantee that the national anthem is sung in each Sinhala and Tamil, and that this practice be continued.”

Just before quoting the mentioned letter to the President by the Sri Lanka Reconciliation Forum, let me briefly outline the importance of emphasising ‘national unity and reconciliation’ at the Independence Day celebrations.

Some Past Landmarks

When the Independence Day was celebrated in 1948 and even thereafter, for some years to come, the event resembled one particular of the colonial events with couple of of the artifices of the new nation state. The flag and the national anthem have been of the latter genre. As Nira Wickremasinghe noted (Sri Lanka in the Contemporary Age: A History), it was like the Golden Jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria with flag hosting, military parades, religious ceremonies, speeches and acts of charity. The acts of charity integrated the distribution of rice packets to the poor and five cents!

Air force officer holds Sri Lanka's national flag as the sun sets at Galle Face Green in ColomboThe elitist nature of the celebrations largely changed right after 1956, but as an alternative, practically the exclusive Sinhala character of the event predominated. From the beginning, there was an attempt to more than- establish the Sinhala identity over the celebrations. This was a usual ethnic competition. It was not only a query of equality but the lack of inclusiveness.

Sri Lanka adopted the National Anthem in 1952. There have been no actual qualms of possessing it in Tamil at the beginning. In many celebrations, particularly in bicultural contexts, it was sung in both languages. An ambiguity was created when the Sinhala only version became incorporated in the 1978 Constitution as the Fourth Schedule. There was no certain necessity for a constitution to incorporate a national anthem at all. Ironically, it was the same constitution which recognized Tamil as a national language and thereafter as an Official Language in the 13th Amendment in 1987.

The matters became considerably worse in the course of the war. There was retaliation. There had been instances where the national anthem or even the national flag could not be employed in Tamil speaking areas. As Apratim Mukarji (Sri Lanka: A Unsafe Interlude) reported, the national anthem could not be utilised even at a sports event in Vavuniya in October 2004. This occurred throughout the ceasefire period. One particular of the most impacted Independence Day celebrations simply because of the war was in 2008. A quantity of bombs exploded setup by the LTTE in Colombo exactly where 12 civilians plus a soldier had been killed.

Right after May possibly 2009

Maybe it was again as a retaliation to some of these incidents that the military did not let the singing of the national anthem in Tamil language in Northern regions soon after May possibly 2009. They insisted that it need to be sung only in Sinhalese, even by the Tamil (only) speaking college kids. Even so, retaliation was not the appropriate policy on anyone’s element. Then there was mistaken ‘theorization’ that only in one language that a country ought to have its national anthem overlooking several of the other nations like South Africa, Switzerland, Canada, Belgium and so forth. The ‘theory’ became accepted by the Rajapaksa cabinet in 2010.

A lot worse was the way the Independence Day celebrations were held after 2009. It once more took an imperial glamour. The Rajapaksas went around the country with heavy military hardware to commemorate not the independence but the war victory in May 2009. I never ever had any problem with defeating the LTTE militarily. It was a political or a military necessity which must have been kept at that. Apart from particular atrocities that have been justified, directly and indirectly, ‘triumphalism’ was the tone of the Independence Day celebrations.

It is not only the Tamils in the North who felt excluded from the Independence Day celebrations. Daniel Bass who researched on the problem (Each day Ethnicity in Sri Lanka, p. 43) commented that “Sri Lanka’s Independence Day on February 4 has tiny meaning to most Up-country Tamils…” This was not the case amongst the Muslims previously, but things have changed significantly in current years.

It is not only in the North that these sort of difficulties of conflict existed in the country in the past. When R. Premadasa was elected to the Presidency in January 1989, 1 of his problems was what to do with the JVP? He utilized the Independence Day celebrations to appeal to the nation to desist violence and come to the primary stream. It didn’t perform quickly, but had an effect in the extended run. That was a sensible approach for social reconciliation, elimination of social alienation.

No one can say the circumstance is comparable right now or Premadasa was completely right particularly in respect of the LTTE. The predicament these days is considerably greater. The LTTE is no a lot more. The key political celebration of the Tamil neighborhood, the TNA is cooperating. Even they sit with the JVP and the JHU in the National Executive Council. For that reason, what Maithripala Sirisena could do at this Independence Day celebrations as the President is to make a genuine appeal to every person and all communities to work towards reconciliation.

In respect of the national anthem what may possibly be most acceptable is the recommendation of the LLRC. Soon after observing two views expressed by those who gave proof, the LLRC recommended the following in para eight.296.

On the question of the National Anthem, the practice of the National Anthem getting

sung simultaneously in two languages to the identical tune need to be maintained and supported. Any adjust in this practice at the present time would only produce a major irritant which would not be conducive to fostering post conflict reconciliation.”

SLRF Letter to the President

This is exactly what the Sri Lanka Reconciliation Forum (Sydney) has also asked from the President, in a letter dated 27 January 2015 amongst other items. The Reconciliation Forum is an organization of a group of Australians of Sri Lankan origin belonging to all ethnic communities specifically living in Sydney and New South Wales with an open door policy for any individual interested in reconciliation to join. They pursue reconciliation both in Sri Lanka and in Australia.

The letter has congratulated the President on his election and in the appointment of Ranil Wickremasinghe as Prime Minister. They say, the “SLRF strongly believes that your election, which was endorsed by people of all ethnic and religious communities, would pave the way for national reconciliation in addition to democratization of the nation.” They also say:

“We complete heartedly assistance the ‘100 Day’ Program and think that you would also do your utmost to take the initial steps towards creating national reconciliation (while safeguarding national safety) inside the identical one hundred day period.”

They are especially cheerful about the formation and the composition of the National Executive Council which includes virtually all the relevant political parties and a specific mention is created about the TNA’s participation. What they have not stated about is the desirable inclusion of the leader of the opposition in the Council.

The concentrate of their letter being on reconciliation, they have appreciated the following 3 steps so far in that path.

  • Appointment of a civilian Governor for the Northern Province.
  • Lifting of the ban on overseas passport holders to check out the North and East.
  • Appointing a Committee to look into the military presence and land connected concerns.

As it was mentioned previously, they have expressed that, as they say, “We hope that you would enable and encourage the National Anthem to be sung in each Sinhalese and Tamil starting with this Independence Day celebrations.” One particular of their major focuses has been on the “full implementation of the LLRC recommendations,” by “ensuring a effectively-resourced and powerful mechanism firmly in spot to do this.” The letter advocates a synergy amongst excellent governance and reconciliation as a corollary of democratization in the nation and says the following.

“We strongly think in the reintroduction of the 17th Amendment, which along with the setting up of the needed Independent Commissions and the abolition of the executive presidency, would pave the way for good governance, accountability and guaranteeing the independence of judiciary and rule of law, which in order will boost the reconciliation approach.”

Yet another highlight of their letter has been on human rights. For that reason, they have emphasized “the value of safeguarding and promoting human rights by way of a mixture of channels, which includes legislation, institutional mechanisms and education” and expressed the view that “This, we believe, should have an additional focus on ethnic, religious and social reconciliation and understanding.” The following appears to be their motive behind their letter and the efforts for reconciliation.

“Though living in Australia, we are deeply committed to helping Sri Lanka create as a peaceful and just democracy exactly where all the citizens of the country can appreciate the fruits of its prosperity and growth.”

It appears that this is only an initial letter that they have sent. They have said, “As it is not achievable to place forward all our proposals in this quick letter, we would appreciate if you could kindly inform us of any institution or particular person with whom we need to communicate to submit our proposals and go over methods in which we can contribute.” Possibly what they are pointing out is the lack of a focal point for reconciliation at present (i.e. a Minister or President himself taking up the initiative) for them to submit their proposals or tips.

The letter is signed by Samira Wanigatunga, Sris Ponniahpillai and Shanaz Razeem, on behalf of the Sri Lanka Reconciliation Forum. Copies of the letter also have been or are getting sent to the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe Minister for Resettlement, Reconstruction and Hindu Religion, D. M. Swaminathan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mangala Samaraweera Higher Commissioner for Sri Lanka in Australia Higher Commissioner for Australia in Sri Lanka and all Members of the National Executive Council.

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