British crimes against Tamil indentured laborers (coolies)
Posted on February 11th, 2016

Shenali D Waduge

Winston Churchill said I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion” and that they were ‘breeding like rabbits’ so what did the British do, they transported them all over the world to be used as labor and to fester clashes under their famous divide and rule policy. No sooner slavery ended, indentured labor began, to end only in 1920. Some 3.5million people from India were transported to the 178 countries that the British Empire ruled over barring just 22 countries. These Indians were plucked from their homes and exported to all corners of the world in most inhuman and cruel conditions. It was these same Tamils that fought alongside the British Army against India and no sooner indentured labor ended in the 1920s the Tamils began to ask for a separate Tamil Nadu state. All post-independent colonies are carrying headaches manufactured by the British.

The short and sweet of the argument is this. Indentured Indian Tamil laborers were transported to all corners of the world to help Britain earn profits. From 1834 to the end of the WWI, Britain had transported over 3 million Indian indentured workers to 19 colonies including Fiji, Mauritius, Ceylon, Trinidad, Guyana, Malaysia, Uganda, Kenya and South Africa. Many of these coolies were low caste Tamils (dalits). The calculated emigration of Dalits from India is very much similar to the manner the British got rid of its convicts by sending them to America and Australia. The proposed bridge connecting Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu will end up in millions of Tamil Nadu Dalits freely flowing to Sri Lanka.  

None of the countries to which these Tamils were transported during colonial rule wanted them or even asked for them. Britain as invading occupiers of lands that were not their own were doling out land to these Tamil laborers as if the lands belonged to them. Thereafter, after giving independence having made off with profits and looting every country’s treasures, the British insists that the newly independent colonies give citizenship to people the British transported. What kind of logic is this? It is the British who needs to look after all the people they forcefully transported for their profit without forcing other countries to keep them. They are not citizens of these countries and they never were.

When indentured laborers formally ended towards 1920 the laborers in Guyana, Surinam, Trinidad, Jamaica, Malaysia, South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ceylon some decided to stay, some wanted to return to India while others went to the UK in the 1950s. That is how Indians came to be part of the demography in the West Indies, South Africa and parts of Asia to which the British transported them so the British could become rich and leave behind trouble for the natives to sort out and the Brits could fan these issues into further chaos.

The first batch of Tamil labourers came around 1823 from Tamil Nadu, then called the Madras Presidency. They first came to work on coffee plantations. At least 40,000 per year started flowing from India to Sri Lanka. These numbered far more than the Indians that had come earlier from Tamil Nadu. By independence in 1948, Sri Lanka had over 1million Indian Tamil indentured laborers. The total population of the country was 8million..

Even a formula was created – there were to be 7 women for 25% of the total and males were not to exceed 3 times the number of females dispatched.

Table: Tamil Population in Sri Lanka, Burma and Malaya 1871-1981 – (figures in thousands)
  1871 1881 1891 1901 1911 1921 1931 1946
Sri Lanka 203.3 320.2 313.3  497.9 563.8 635.7 854.8 816.2
Malaya  27.5 36.3 62.7 98.0 220.4 387.5 514.8 461.0
Burma   35.1 71.4 99.6 125.7 152.3 184.l 90.0
Total 230.8 391.6 447.4 695.5 909.9 1175.5 1553.7 1367.2
As proportion of Tamil Nadu
Population (per cent)
1.5 2.5 2.5 3.6 4.4 5.4 6.6 4.9

Sri Lanka: Population of Tamils and Indian Moors according to censuses from 1911 onwards; figures for 1981 [Guilmoto, 1987]; indirect estimates before 1911 based on the total Tamil population.
Malaya and Singapore
: Tamil-speaking population, estimates before 1931 based on the population of Indian origin.
Burma: Tamil-speaking population according to censuses; free estimates for 1946 and 1981 due to lack of statistical information.

 Source: Censuses of countries concerned and my own estimates.

The British Government that points fingers at nations and talks about human rights, treated these coolies as slaves. They were made to work under harsh working conditions, long hours, little food & water, low wages and anyone grumbling were severely dealt with. Children as young as 5  years were made to work and today these very countries speak about child labor. Work started not at 9a.m but at 3a.m. in the morning. Anyone getting up late was whipped. Rain or sun, these Tamils had to work.

The Kenya-Uganda Railway built between 1895 and 1902 was by Indian laborers. 7% of these laborers actually died due to the harsh conditions. Anyone who tried to escape had their 5 year contract doubled and sent to prison!

They were put to work on sugar, cotton and tea plantations and rail construction projects

It is not the successive Sinhalese Governments that has to be faulted for treatment of Indian Tamils but the British who brought these Tamils from India to work on British plantations under sub-human conditions.

It is not the fault of Ceylon/Sri Lanka that these Indians were treated as aliens, with no right of asylum. That was how the British wanted their status to be. The British only spoke for their rights when they were preparing to leave Sri Lanka.


With these realities staring at us, the present government needs to seriously relook at allowing a wave of Indians to enter after ECTA (CEPA) is signed opening doors to Indian service sector to enter Sri Lanka. Previously the Indians were brought by the British, why is this government foolishly doing the same mistake?

What is relevant about the Indian Tamils used as labor by the British and the current decision to allow Indian workers to freely arrive, work and live in Sri Lanka is that Indians are poorer than their Sri Lankan counterparts and are willing to work under severe conditions for cheaper wages. It was the Dalit low castes of Pariah, Kallar, Sakkili and Palla that came during British rule and probably the same will return.

That India is keen on Mannar is a reminder that these Indian labor came from Mannar during British rule. They had to walk 150miles to Matale. Many died walking. The British human rights then did not permit medical attention because the British did not wish to spend a penny on any non-white. Those who died were just left to decay. The British human rights was such that they didn’t even provide toilets. There was nothing known as a company’s assets are its staff then! The British would not hear of educating these coolies. You cannot have educated coolies as slaves!

The usage of the term Indian Tamil came in 1911 during the census. Those that argue claiming Indian Tamils were disenfranchised need to wake up and realize that these Indians brought as coolies by the British were not citizens of Sri Lanka in the first place. Therefore the question of disenfranchisement does not arise. The issue was that the Indians did not want to take back the hundreds and thousands of Indian Tamil coolies while the Sri Lankans awaiting independence did not wish to have them in Sri Lanka. India did not wish to take these coolies back because the 3.5million indentured laborers scattered all over the world would have also had to be taken back which Nehru did not want.

Sri Lanka had every right to decide how it was to keep people belonging to another nation. Under the Citizenship Act of 1948, only 5000 out of about 800,000 Indian laborers were able to show two generations residence in Ceylon. Under the Indian & Pakistani Residents Citizenship Act of 1949 those who could show 7-10 years residence in Ceylon were given citizenship. 134,000 qualified from the 800,000. The Indian laborers were all Indians and it was subsequent to arriving to work on British plantations that they had generations of children. It was India’s fault that their mission in Colombo refused to register all Indian laborers which eventually made them stateless. Under the Indo-Ceylon Agreement of 1954 known as Nehru-Kotelawala Pact, stateless Indian Tamils were categorized separately in the electoral register for 10 years in order that they learn Sinhala. By 1964 Indian Tamils were 975,000 and under the Sirima-Shastri Pact India agreed to take back 525,000 while 300,000 were absorbed by Sri Lanka.  What is important about both the 1954 and 1964 agreements is that India accepted that over 50% Indian nationals in Sri Lanka were India’s responsibility. The 1974 Pact Sri Lanka agreed to take 75,000 of the 150,000 left. Eventually 514,000 Indians were to remain in Sri Lanka.

Then politics interfered. The government changed in 1977 and repatriation stopped. A secret agreement between JR Jayawardena and Thondaman absorbed 94,000 Indians Tamils while 83,000 who were preparing to leave for India were given employment. Not stopping there the Citizenship by Affidavit Act 39 of 1988 allowed anyone to become a citizen of Sri Lanka by signing an affidavit. This paved the way for 469,000 Indians to become citizens in Sri Lanka. In 1986 only 233,000 Indians had registered while bogus affidavits had been submitted. K H J Wijedasa former secretary to President Premadasa said that Sri Lanka ended up saddled with 634,000 Indians.

On top of Indian indentured labor, there was also the case of the kallathonis – the illegal immigrants from South India and several lakhs had been coming between 1950-1970 to the Wanni region (could these have been the LTTE cadres?). The Task Force set up to tackle illicit immigration was disbanded by the UNP Government.

An article by Dilrook Kannangara titled ‘Wigneswaran should know eelam (Ceylon) Tamil ethnicity is only 105 years old” draws attention to how the British created an artificial ethnic group called Ceylon Tamils in 1911. Before 1911 there was no ethnic group called Ceylon Tamils (it is identical to how the British created Rohingya issue in Myanmar).

Any Tamil born in Sri Lanka or those born in India became Ceylon Tamils in 1911. To prove this he gives the 1881, 1891 and 1901 census where all Tamils were called Tamils only (people originating from India). Dilrook goes on to write that only after creating the Ceylon Tamil League in 1922 by Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam that divided the two as Ceylon Tamils and Indian Tamils at independence. It was these Ceylon Tamils that started Tamil homeland campaign. What Dilrook reiterates is that had the 1911 classification remained there would have been no homeland demands as all Tamils were referred to as Ceylon Tamils with their roots in Tamil Nadu, India so they would have had no right to seek a separate homeland in Sri Lanka. Dilrook also rightly points out that all Tamil inscriptions in Sri Lanka are of Indian origin from Chola dynasty. He sites Yalpana Vaipava Malai written by a South Indian in 1736 under colonial Dutch as being the only Tamil historical chronicle relating to Sri Lanka. Malaysia, Burma and Singapore who were recipient of British export of Tamils from India clearly defined them as Indian Tamils.

The British-Indian Tamil ties are long. Tamils served as Britains best cheap labor, they were ready to be transported anywhere around the world, they served their white masters without question, they were subservient and ready to even become part of the sepoy British army and fight against their own people. This chemistry between the British and Indian Tamils perhaps is what made the LTTE decide to choose London as their international headquarters as the British had no issues allowing LTTE to carry out their campaign from London. However, in turn the British treated Tamils like vassals – to be used, and used and used.

Given that nation-state borders are being redrawn by creating refugees and forcing them to cross continents, it is time that Tamils are wiser and as payback for their subservience to the British, demand entry to the UK rather than allowing open door policy for nationals from the Middle East/Eastern Europe.

13 Responses to “British crimes against Tamil indentured laborers (coolies)”

  1. Christie Says:

    ‘Winston Churchill said “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion”

    I couldn’t agree more.

    They breed like flies and lives off the smell of a rag. An Australian Labor politician Mr Arthur Calwell.

    Shenali Dalits were not allowed to leave their villages then and now. How on earth those Indian colonial parasites who had a free ride on the British be Dalits.

    These Indian colonial parasites were free to move and large numbers returned to India specially from Ceylon and Burma.

    There are no different breed of Tamils, they are all Tamils and are Indian colonial parssites like all other Indians who had a free ride on the back of the British.

    These Parasites first came to Ceylon as Peons (Administrators) from Malabar Coast to replace the Dutch administration in the Dutch possessions from 1792-96( (the period may be a bit different) when they were administered by the British from Madras. The Ceylonese rebelled against these Peoms and these Vellar Indian colonial parasites settled in Jaffna with the Dutch Vellars who were already in Jaffana growing Tobacco. Some of them returned to India with massive wealth stolen from the British and the Ceylonese.

    Then British tool Indian Sepoy to take over the Kandy Kingdom. Indian Coolie parasites came after that.

    The worlds most celebrated pedophile Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Mahathma Gandhi) was an Indian colonial parasite who was a Peon as well as a Sepoy.

  2. Dilrook Says:

    Burma, Fiji and Singapore who were recipient of British export of Tamils from India clearly define them as Indians; not even Indian Tamils. Although Malaysia conducts a more detailed census into ethnicity, all Tamils are classified under Indians.

    It was wrong for British Ceylon to create an artificial ethnic group in 1911 called Ceylon Tamils. Instead either the 1881, 1891 and 1901 classification should have continued or like all other countries, they should have been called Indians.

  3. Dilrook Says:

    Quoted from Wikipedia and Wilson, AJ, on Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam.

    [Quote] His scientific compilation of the National Census Report in 1911 was a masterpiece. The introductory report contains “the most luminous dissertation on the ethnological, social and economic conditions of the Island”. On his retirement from the Public Service in 1913, he was Knighted in recognition of his distinguished service to the country. [Unquote]

    It was this same person who formed the Ceylon Tamil League in 1922.

    British colonials should have been sensitive to local issues and prevented the creation of the “Ceylon Tamil” ethnicity in 1911.

  4. Fran Diaz Says:

    Unfortunately, Sinhala leaders of those times were crushed and badly informed about the machinations of Tamil leaders. One wonders whether they are well informed even now, judging by their actions in silencing the Parliament coupled with current deadly antics of Anglophiles, RW & CBK !

    Also, British Rule in then Ceylon was, to say the least, demonical for the local Sinhala Buddhist masses. Demonising and beastialising of the local population continues to this day by the likes of CBK/RW who are using more subtle methods than then. This combination appear to bring out the worst in the local populations, both Sinhala & Tamil.

    In those days, in 1915, even D.S. Senanayake and the other Sinhala Buddhist leaders were incarcerated on trumped up charges (as MR govt & the Armed Forces are now with false War Crimes and other charges !). Tamil leaders were USED BY THE BRITISH COLONISTS to be the next layer of command in colonial Ceylon. This mentality continues to this day, using both Tamil & Sinhala leaders (such as CBK/RW) who are NOT PATRIOTIC to neo-colonise Lanka.

    Shenali has brought out valid points here for which we thank her.

    The British just USED the local Tamils and their leaders in the usual callous fashion. The Tamil leaders became the perfect Anglophiles and the ordinary Tamils (then uneducated and completely at the mercy of their colonial crushed Tamil leaders plus the colonial masters, as they are even NOW, even though educated) were USED in various ways to consolidate power in the colonised countries.

    The least was given to the Tamil leaders under British colonists. Evidence of the pathetic one room per family line rooms for tea plucker Tamil indentured labor families evident in the Upcountry tea estates, seen to this day, is proof positive to that. The MR Govt (following the DEW Gunasekera Commission Report), gave ownership of these line rooms to the dwellers with 40 perches of land each. Where is the gratitude toward MR from the Tamils ? CBK/RW have ignored such acts of kindness.

    It were ONLY the Tamils of DALIT extract who were used as cheap indentured labor by the British colonists. Any Tamil Nadu Tamils of Caste of any significance NEVER came to work as indentured labor under the British colonists anywhere in the world, including then Ceylon. Even to this day, Tamils of Dalit extract are the ones who flee Tamil Nadu, as atrocities are committed against them. Neo-colonial hopefuls USE them !

    The attempts to continue the British Colonial saga continues to this day too, this time as neo-colonisation through far more subtle methods.

    Watch it Lanka and watch it India too !

  5. Christie Says:

    Shenali, Indian colonial parasites (Sepoys, Peons and Coolies) were not slaves. They were partners of the British and they screwed the British as well as thier hosts. They are still doing it.

  6. Fran Diaz Says:

    more ….

    Those locals, both from Tamil & Sinhala sectors, who converted to Christianity voluntarily (earlier to Catholcism under the Portuguese) and learnt the English language, found it easy to gain lead roles to play in Lanka under the Colonists.

    Today, Tamil leaders sport their Hindu-ness by sporting large red pottus on their foreheads, to join with Hindu India as well as speak in English – double strategy there. They also sport kalu western suits when colonial masters come to Lanka and the pottu is discarded for the timebeing.

    On the Sinhala side, RW always wears the kalu suit and CBK is now seen with a strange white pottu ! Of course, they both speak in excellent English. Meantime, MS is reduced to a mere : -ms …. This is the governing trio of Lanka, and the governing duo of the Tamils (Wigneswaran & Mr Sampanthan) sport pottus and black suits as the occasion demands !

    We need sincere leadership for the masses of Lanka, not fawning syncophants who are NOT GENUINE PATRIOTS.

    Need of the hour : PATRIOTISM FROM TAMIL LEADERS, and a PATRIOTIC well functioning GoSL. Then Permenent Justice will happen for the masses of Lanka.

  7. SA Kumar Says:

    all Tamil inscriptions in Sri Lanka are of Indian origin from Chola dynasty. !
    The Chola dynasty (Tamil: சோழர்) was one of the longest-ruling dynasties in the history of southern India. The earliest datable references to this Tamil dynasty are in inscriptions from the 3rd century BCE .

    Shenali D Waduge
    Since 1948 to 2016 What we have done ???

  8. Lorenzo Says:

    SL was controlled by BRITISH-ENDIA company!

    So both Britain and Endia were ruling SL.

    SOME coolies were treated better than others. Some TAMIL coolies were treated better than the Singhalese.

    The question is why govts. after 1948 did NOT stop special treatment given to Endian coolies in SL?

  9. Fran Diaz Says:

    Lorenzo has asked a very valid question : The question is why govts. after 1948 did NOT stop special treatment given to Endian coolies in SL?

    I think it was due to two reasons :

    1. British trained mostly Tamil folk to do governing of Lanka. After the British left, the same Tamil people remained in positions of power. They did not want to deport Tamil (Indian) people in Lanka.

    2. Cheap Tamil labor was needed in Sri Lanka for the tea industry and other labor work.

    Also, Mrs Bandaranaike attempted, under the Sirima/Shasthri Pact to send back Tamil people to India. India did not honor the Agreement and shut it all down after partial action.

    At present, with the Tamil Leaders demands for Eelam and the Vadukoddai Resolution (1976) still not officially revoked, the impasse remains.


    Since all Tamil leaders Separatism is stemming from the Tamil language :

    Best thing to do is to REMOVE THE TAMIL LANGUAGE as a Official & Nation language, through Amendments. If the 13-A is removed then at least the Tamil language is removed as an Official language and the PCs removed too. That way, the Tamil folk will integrate into mainstream life here and Tamil leaders will stop their destructive demands.

    However, the Yahap govt is more interested in Revenge (what for other jealousy & envy ?) from the MR govt & Armed Forces (why ??) and the Ranil/CBK dream theme of Neo-colonising Lanka with you-know-who. It appears that MS has been reduced to -ms.

    Such is the present impasse with the Will of the People vs Yahap, with the Law of Land broken on many fronts on fiscal matters, govt appointments, legal matters, etc.

  10. SA Kumar Says:

    The question is why govts. after 1948 did NOT stop special treatment given to Endian coolies in SL? Yes 1956 to 1983.
    than We all know 1983 to 2009 .

  11. Fran Diaz Says:

    Tamil leaders reacted sharply to Sinhala Language Act 1956. All the troubles and protests by Tamils started AFTER that. Have the Sinhala people NO RIGHTS in their own country ? This is a ridiculous situation.

    One wonders what would happen if the Tamil language is downed or forced into a corner in Tamil Nadu … ?

  12. SA Kumar Says:

    Have the Tamil people NO RIGHTS in their own country ?This is a ridiculous situation.

    One wonders what would happen if the Tamil language is downed or forced into a corner in Tamil Nadu … ? let me worry about my problem first than I thing about other TN or kerala or Solamila …..

  13. Fran Diaz Says:


    Unfortunately, Tamil Rights in Lanka have been interpreted by Tamil Leaders as :

    the Right to Kill Others and claim 1/3 of the country as Tamil Only ?

    What a shame on Tamil Leaders – they have misled their Tamil people to violence, not peaceful co-existence.

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