The Real Facts about Plantation Tamils of Sri Lanka.

by Sebastian Rasalingam

I am extremely upset by the false, one-sided article by Mr. S. Makenthiran entitled "Uprooted plantation Tamils in Sri Lanka", which appeared in the World Sik News on the 20th February. My wife comes from the plantation-Tamil community, andd I wish to assert how the upper class, upper-caste Sri Lankan Tamils have been the real root cause of our problems. In 1977 Mr. J. R. Jayawardene, in colloobration with our leader Mr. Thondaman granted us all the demands we made, including citizenship virtually on mere affirmation. We are thankful to the Sri Lankan government for its generosity. It is the Hindu-dominated Indian government, and the Hindu upper-caste dominated Colombo Tamils who have worked against us. This article by Mr. Makenthiran is written simply to use our history as a means of support for their (Tamil-Tiger) war against the Sri Lankan government. We do NOT wish to become a cats-paw for other people's political agendas.

When the Donoughmore commission in 1931 proposed Universal Franchise for all Sri Lankans (Ceylonese) including the Plantation Tamils, the Colombo Tamils of the Vellalar caste strongly objected, pointing out that estate Tamils are a low-caste lot who do not deserve the vote or citizenship. Ponnambalam Ramanathan (an important Tamil leader) went to London to demand that the caste system be made a part of the legislative enactments. Peri Sundaram, the Tamil member for Hatton, an up-country Tea-estate area, refused to contest in the later elections saying that he does not even want to run for elections against up-start low-caste estate Tamils. Many sinhala Kandyan leaders were also opposed to Estate Tamils because they claimed that the Tea Estates were formed by driving out the Kandyan peasants from their lands by the British. However, many important leaders like D. S. Senanayake stated as early as 1928, and as late as 1941, that Indian workers should be given citizenship. The Senanayake-Bajpai resolutions in 1941 also said so. It was the Marxists who spoilt the show by bringing out the specter of revolution and trade union action in the estate sector. This frightened the colonial masters and the Sri Lankan politicians. The Estate Tamils came to work in the Kandyan tea estates because, even if the conditions were bad, they were infinitely better than in India. In the face of the leftist threat, the 1948 citizenship act limited the citizenship to Estate Tamils who could show permanent residency in Sri Lanka for at least 7 years. This was more lenient than what is required by many countries, even today, for permanent citizenship. Most Tamil leaders including the main leader, G. G. Ponnambalam supported this.

But the trade union leader Thondamon advised the Estate Tamils to tear up their passports and refuse to comply. This was a tactical move. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, a hard-line Tamil nationalist
who was seeking to oust G. G. Ponnambalam used this to declare that Ponnambalam was a "Traitor to the Tamil cause", and attacked the citizenship act. This was a surprise as Chelvanayakam was an upper-caste Colombo Tamil who had little regard for the lower castes or the Estate Tamils. But it fitted in with his political agenda. Chelvanayakam challenged the legislation in the Supreme Courts of Colombo and at the House of Lords, England. The learned judges of both institutions rejected Chelvanayakam's claims, and unequivocally stated that no injustice had been meted out to the Estate Tamils, either before the 1948 citizenship act, or after the act. Subsequently, the Sirima-Shastri pact, and finally the J. R. Jayawardene-Thondaman agreements completely normalized the situation of the Estate Tamils. Also, it should be noted that the Estate Tamils rejected the Vaddukkoddei Resolution favoring Eelam politics, spear-headed by the Colombo Vellalar Tamils.

It is the Indian-Hindu governments that refused to take back its immigrant workers after it gained independence in 1947. The British had taken Indian workers to Sri Lanka, Burma, Fiji,
Africa, West Indies etc, and India's Nehru feared that India cannot deal with the return influx. It is the Indian Hindus who abandoned us. It was the Upper-caste Colombo Hindus who rejected us at first, and then tried to use us for their political objectives. But Thondaman was far smarter than the Colombo Tamils. He astutely used the inter-party politics of Sri Lanka to empower the cause of the Estate Tamils. Today we are a vibrant community, and we say NO thanks to individuals like Suppiramaniam Markentiran who are fishing in troubled waters for their own political agenda. They are NOT friends of Plantation Tamils.The Sikh community knows these people very well, from what happened in India.

S. Rasalingam, CANADA

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