BY Siva Parameswaran
A resolution to this effect seeks to take India, Sri Lanka, and the United Kingdom (UK) to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to seek redressal for the gross violation of human rights for two centuries.
The meeting was organised by a group of people, namely the Indian Origin Upcountry Tamils Front (IOUP), comprising of those who were repatriated to India under the controversial Sirima-Shastri Pact (the references are to former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike and former Indian Premier Lal Bahadur Shastri) in 1964, at a time when the country was known as Ceylon.
“The declared objective of this agreement was that all persons of Indian origin in Ceylon who have not been recognised either as citizens of Ceylon or as citizens of India should become citizens either of Ceylon or of India”.
Over 525,000 persons who were repatriated under the Pact claim that they have not been fully integrated into Indian society and have been constantly facing socio-economic difficulties coupled with serious livelihood related problems.
“The repatriation has put us in a very vulnerable position and that was due to the very wrong policy of the British, Sri Lankan and Indian Governments. The British Government took us as indentured labourers to work in coffee and tea estates to suit their economic benefits. After a century and a half, the Sri Lankan Government under Bandaranaike, in a sinister move to satisfy the growing demand of the right wing Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism, repatriated us, dividing our families and friends. The Indian Government which accepted us did not take the necessary steps to reintegrate us into the Indian society. As such, we are living in a state of limbo for over six decades,” said the National President of the IOUP, M.S. Selvaraj. Pointing to the plight of the Sri Lankan refugees living in various camps in Tamil Nadu, Selvaraja said that most of them lodged there are Indian origin Tamil persons who relocated to the war zone in search of employment and due to various natural disasters at various points of time. “They live on the doles given by the Government which is not sufficient”.
Tamil Progressive Alliance Leader and Samagi Jana Balawegaya Colombo District Opposition Parliamentarian, Mano Ganesan who participated in the meeting as the special invitee, said, “the Indian foreign policy on Sri Lanka by successive Governments has failed, and that’s the prime reason for not only the issues faced by the upcountry Tamils but also the Eelam Tamils.” Ganesan added that the time has come for the Indian origin Tamils in the Sri Lankan highlands (Malaiyaha Tamils) and those repatriated under the ‘devious Sirima-Shastri Pact’ to work jointly to seek justice from the international community. “I support the move to internationalise the issue.” Citing the examples of indentured labourers from India taken to work in sugarcane, tobacco, coffee, tea, rubber and other plantations in the Caribbean, Fiji, Mauritius, Malaysia, and other places, he said, “the lives of those who went there are far better than the lives of those who were taken to Sri Lanka whose lives are still miserable. While they have been fully integrated into the mainstream society socio-economically and politically, those in the nearby Island nation were left in the lurch”. Adding further, Ganesan said, “by dividing the Indian origin Tamils, we were politically weakened. If such a repatriation had not happened then, numerically, they would be the second largest community in Sri Lanka. In such a scenario, the number of Tamils MPs in the present day context would have been at least 40 with a minimum of 25 being elected from the upcountry.” He further blamed the policies of the Governments of Sri Lanka, India and the UK for their plight and misery of the upcountry Tamils across the Palk Strait.
The President of the Kerala State Agriculturalists’ Federation, P.T. John called upon the meeting to pass a resolution to take the case of the upcountry Tamils in both India and Sri Lanka to the ICJ, which was passed. He recalled how the plantation Tamils in Kerala and Tamil Nadu stood with the Eelam Tamils in their struggle for over 40 years. “We were always with them, and their support to us globally would be very helpful when we face an uncertain future”.
Tamil Nadu based senior journalist and human rights activist, T.S.S. Mani echoed the sentiments of the repatriated plantation Tamils from Sri Lanka, saying, “this is a fit case to be brought before international forums including the ICJ. The backwardness and plight of these people was part of a planned strategy by Sri Lanka and India aided by the British to divide and weaken the strong plantation community Tamils in Sri Lanka”. He further said that internationalising the issue is the first step towards seeking natural justice and reparation for the Indian origin Tamil people in Sri Lanka.
“The Indian foreign policy should be based on the welfare of the Tamil people rather than maintaining a friendly relationship status with Sri Lanka,” said the President of the Tamil Nadu Agriculturalists’ Protection Movement and human rights lawyer, Esan Murugesan. He called upon the State and Central Governments to convert the plantation workers into agriculturalists, adding that it is easy for them to do it.
The Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Agriculturalists Joint Federation, K.A. Subramaniam pointed out the trend both in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka of tea estates being gradually closed, which jeopardises the lives of thousands of workers whose only livelihood was out of the skills related to the tea plantations and its production. He cited the move by the Tamil Nadu Government to close the State owned Tamil Nadu Tea Plantation Corporation (TANTEA), by gradually reducing the workforce and not developing the plantations. “My relatives in Sri Lanka tell me that such a move is happening in Sri Lanka and that the estate owners are colluding with the Government there to gradually close down plantations, in particular the smaller ones”.
A joint action committee to work for internationalising the plantation community Tamils issue was formed at the meeting with Ganesan as its Honourary President.
(The writer is a journalist and the World News Editor at The African Gazette.