No scrapping Tamil version of national anthem: Sri Lanka

Colombo: Sri Lanka on Monday denied plans to scrap the Tamil version of its national anthem, saying the government had no intention of tampering with constitutional rights of people after Tamil leaders expressed worries that the move would harm the reconciliation process.

The denial came in response to a media report that said the Sri Lankan cabinet had decided to do away with the Tamil version and insist that it be sung only in one language -- Sinhala, the mother tongue of the majority community.

The report had troubled the country's already alienated Tamil community with its leaders saying that such a move would do no good to the process of reconciliation.

Public Administration and Home Affairs Minister John Seneviratne said the cabinet had not taken any decision to make any changes to the way the national anthem is rendered -- in Sinhala or Tamil.

"We will not do anything to take away the constitutional rights of our people," Seneviratne told PTI.

"We will continue with what we have been doing all this time and there is no banning of the singing of the anthem in Tamil," he insisted.

The minister response came after the local Sunday Times newspaper reported that the cabinet, headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, had ordered the scrapping of the Tamil version which is widely used by state institutions in Tamil areas.

In the absence of a clear government position following the report yesterday, several ministers were issuing contradictory statements.

While Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa reportedly hailed Rajapaksa for the move, Tamil minister Douglas Devananda said there was no such decision.

Seneviratne's Public administration ministry is responsible for setting out guidelines for the use of the national anthem as well as the national flag and also conducts national celebrations.

In Sri Lanka, even school text books have a Tamil translation of the national anthem. However, not all people are happy with the two versions of the national anthem.

Weerawansa told the private Derane TV channel that it was a joke to sing the anthem in Tamil. "It is a mistake that has been continued since 1978 (when the presidential constitution was adopted)," Weerawansa said.

"What we are trying to do is correct this mistake. It is a joke to sing the national anthem in Tamil," he said.

The minister incorrectly drew a parallel with India and said India's national anthem was in "Hindi."

Opposition Tamil National Alliance MP Suresh Premachandran said his own sources within the government suggested that the cabinet has not taken a formal decision in the wake of opposition from leftist ministers in the government.

However, Premachandran said if a decision was taken to outlaw Tamil, then it would be a major blow to the minority community and efforts at national reconciliation.

Sri Lanka's constitution sets out the anthem in Sinhala, but official government text books issued to students have a Tamil version.

The Sinhala version is widely used across the country except for the north and east where the majority speaks Tamil.

Sri Lanka's drawn out Tamil separatist conflict finds its roots in language discrimination which Tamils say has prevented them from getting jobs and higher education.