Social media uproar in Sri Lanka | International

Amid Twitter spat, move to replace Mandarin board in Sri Lanka

Some Twitter users in Sri Lanka, including lawyers and journalists, questioned the inclusion of Mandarin in official signage.

Some Twitter users in Sri Lanka, including lawyers and journalists, questioned the inclusion of Mandarin in official signage.

Sri Lanka’s Attorney General’s Department on Saturday removed a plaque at a recently opened library on its premises following social media uproar over the omission of Tamil, an official language, while including Mandarin in the text.

“The plaque made to declare open the Smart Library of the AG’s Department, by an inadvertent omission did not contain the script in Tamil language, has been removed now and is being replaced with a new plaque,” the public prosecutor’s spokesperson said.

The development comes following considerable twitter backlash from users who shared the picture of the Attorney General — along with the Chinese Ambassador — unveiling the plaque, with text in Sinhala, English, and Mandarin. They questioned the exclusion of Tamil. Prominent Tamil legislators too raised the issue on social media.

Many in Sri Lanka see the omission of Tamil in official signage as a reflection of the ongoing — and historic — discrimination against the minority community, beginning with the infamous ‘Sinhala Only Act’ of 1956, one of the root causes of the country’s more than three decade-old ethnic conflict. It was only after the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1987, that Tamil was also accorded the status of an official language. Despite the law, residents of the Tamil-majority north and east, and elsewhere, frequently point to the absence of Tamil in police stations and some government offices. “Exclusion of Tamil is certainly not new!” Tamil legislator M.A. Sumanthiran said in tweet on Saturday.

Meanwhile, some Twitter users in Sri Lanka, including lawyers and journalists, questioned the inclusion of Mandarin in official signage. Responding to a journalist, the Chinese Embassy said: “It’s an internal E-Library in the AG’s Department, funded by the Government and People of China. Chinese language is displayed as a kind gesture towards China, which is highly appreciated.”

This was the second instance of the Chinese mission responding to tweets flagging Mandarin text in sign boards. Last week, Batticaloa MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam shared on Twitter an image of a sign board of the ‘Central Park’ coming up at the China-backed Colombo Port City, with text in Sinhala, English and Mandarin, and said: “Tamil text is missing, that’s alright! Soon Sinhala will be missing too. Hope Sri Lankans wake up at least then.”

The Embassy said in a tweet on the same day: “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,” sharing images of other Chinese-built structures that also included Tamil text in their name boards.

Responding, Mr. Rasamanickam said “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 tweeted. The MP also vehemently opposed the recently passed law governing the Port City and said the country had become “Chi-Lanka”.

Weighing in on the developments, Tamil Progressive Alliance Leader and opposition parliamentarian Mano Ganesan said in a tweet that by dropping Tamil, the Chinese are “violating language law”. In a subsequent tweet, he said the Chinese Embassy told him that the Board [at the Port City] was an old one and has been removed. “It appears Chinese learn to ignore Tamil from our government since GoSL’s usage of Official Language Tamil is no better,” said the MP, a former cabinet Minister for National Co-existence, Dialogue and Official Languages.

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2022 8:36:19 am |