The Sunday Leader

Breaking The Language Barrier

by Easwaran Rutnam

Singing of the National anthem in Tamil at the National Independence Day celebrations this month went a long way in giving the Tamils a sense of optimism towards government efforts in breaking the walls dividing some Tamil and Sinhalese communities.

However, in the public sector the language barrier still remains and, if not addressed soon, will continue to give the Tamils a feeling their rights are still being suppressed.

The language issue was noted by some couples who had visited marriage registrars to obtain pink forms for their marriage.

One marriage registrar in Colombo had told a couple that she has been instructed to ensure the details in the forms are written in Sinhalese.

The couple had filled the relevant document in English to obtain the pink form but the registrar had written the pink form in Sinhalese.

Another couple had to bring a translator with them to have the forms filled in Sinhalese as they were not fluent in Sinhalese.

When the issue was raised with the Minister of National Dialog Mano Ganeshan, he said that he will look into it as it is key that the public can fill the forms in Tamil or Sinhalese.

“I will have my language commissioner loom into it,” he said.

Under the official languages policy, the fundamental law pertaining to the languages in Sri Lanka is enshrined in Chapter IV of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (1978).

The provisions thereof have been amended by the 13th and 16th Amendments to the Constitution respectively in 1987 and 1988. Moreover, Article 12 (2) of Chapter III of the Constitution recognizes the right to language as a fundamental right.

The Sinhala and Tamil languages are both Official and National Languages in Sri Lanka while English is the link Language. Apart from the statutory provisions for the implementation of the Official Languages Policy, administrative provisions have been made in implementing the same.

“Provisions of Chapter IV of the 1978 Constitution provides for the use of Sinhala and Tamil as the official languages of Sri Lanka. They also provide for the rights of ordinary persons in any part of the country with regard to the use of Sinhala, Tamil or English in communicating with officials of the government and receiving responses thereto, and, for the rights of persons to give information with regard to the commission of an offence to a police or peace officer in any of the three languages.

“It is not only the lack of staff capable of working in the Tamil language that had been the main cause of non implementation of the provisions of the Constitution with respect to Language, but the indifference of many heads of departments that had resulted in this situation, and consequently, Tamil speaking persons (i.e. Tamils and Tamil-speaking Muslims) have been encountering difficulties in their interaction with the State,” Chairman of the Akhila Ilankai Tamil Mahasabha, Dr. K, Vigneswaran said.

Dr. Vigneswaran says he has even proposed to the committee accepting proposals for a new constitution that a person must be entitled to give information as regards any birth, death or marriage in any of the national languages, and to receive the original certificate of such birth, death or marriage in the language of record of the area together with a translation thereof in any national language, or, in the official language of the person’s choice if both official languages are languages of record of the area, together with a translation thereof in any national language.

He also says that in order to facilitate better communication among the ethnic groups and to promote national integration, Sinhala, Tamil and English languages must be made compulsory subjects at the GCE (O/L) examination.

Implementation of the official languages policy will help compliment what has already been achieved by singing of the national anthem in Tamil at the Independence Day anniversary.

Singing of the national anthem in Tamil earlier this month drew the praise of the Tamil community and the international community as well.

Northern Province Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran visited the Naga Vihara Temple in Jaffna the very next day to show support to the decision taken by the government to sing the national anthem in Tamil.

Speaking to reporters at the Temple, Wigneswaran said that if the Sinhalese people take one step forward and move towards the Tamils then the Tamils will take ten steps forward towards the Sinhalese community.

“We are very happy that the national anthem was sung in Tamil yesterday,” Wigneswaran said.

The Northern Province Chief Minister said that while singing the national anthem was a small gesture, it went a long way.

The cabinet in 2010 had decided that the national anthem will remain only in Sinhala and that the Tamil version will no longer be sung at any state function.

However, the new government decided to lift the unofficial ban on the Tamil version of the anthem as part of moves to reconcile the Tamil and Sinhala communities.


1 Comment for “Breaking The Language Barrier”

  1. With the idea of promoting national integration, the government should make Sinhalese, Tamil and English as compulsory subjects with credit passes at the GCE ‘O’ Level examination, for every body.
    If this was done at the SWRD’s time i.e. Some 50-60 years back, most of the problems we face now would not have taken place. This is never too late, as this is not only connected with national integration but also with basic national education, getting a very useful university degree and then a suitable job and live respectively as Sri Lankans.

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