Controversial Chinese project in Colombo threatens to deepen Sinhala-Tamil divide

A signboard outside a prominent park in Colombo Port City—a Chinese project in Sri Lanka–is threatening to deepen the Sinhala-Tamil divide in the island nation. It says ‘Central Park’ in Sinhala, English and Mandarin, but not in Tamil—the country’s second official language. Several well-known Tamilians in the country have reacted strongly to Tamil being dropped from the signboard and even questioned the inclusion of Mandarin text.

Tamil is spoken by over 11 per cent of the nation’s population, and along with Sinhala is compulsory on all official institutions and is the second official language. Shanakiyan Rasamanickam, a Tamil parliamentarian from Batticaloa, recently tweeted an image of the ‘Central Park’ signboard and said, “Tamil text is missing, that’s alright! Soon Sinhala will be missing too. Hope Sri Lankans wake up at least then.” The Chinese embassy in Colombo responded saying, “We noticed an interim sign in a JV building site not abiding by trilingual rules.Request raised. We respect all 3 official languages in Sri Lanka, and urge China companies to follow.” But Rasamanickam tweeted back “the cat is really out of the bag”.

“The Chinese government decides what goes on name boards in SL…this really indicates how little control the SL Gov has over the situation,” he wrote. Tamil Progressive Alliance leader and opposition parliamentarian Mano Ganesan tweeted that the Chinese are “violating language law” by dropping Tamil.

Experts on Sri Lankan affairs told ET that there is historic evidence of discrimination against the minority Tamil community, beginning with the ‘Sinhala Only Act’ of 1956. It was only after the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1987 that Tamil was also accorded the status of an official language. The Port City Bill was passed last week in the Lankan parliament with the contents of the law shrouded in secrecy.

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The Bill was placed on the order paper of Parliament during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year break, leaving anyone who wished to challenge the constitutionality of the Bill with barely two days’ time to do so, according to critics.



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