Repatriate Sri Lankan Tamils of Kerala Stare at Unkept Promises

KULATHUPUZHA (KOLLAM): “What difference does it make whether we live here or there? Life is life after all,” feels 88-year-old Anchala, an innocent smile nestling in her eyes. Ask her whether she wants to return to the land where she was born — she pauses for a moment and back comes the enigmatic smile on her wrinkled face.

Anchala belongs to one of the first batches of Tamil repatriates from Sri Lanka that came to Kulathupuzha in the late 70s. The Rehabilitation Plantation Estate at Kulathupuzha, near Thenmala in Kollam, where her family of eight stays hosts around 700 families and has a voting population of close to 6,000. With elections around the corner, the repatriate Tamils from Lanka are still waiting for the promises to be fulfilled.

Almost four decades later, life is still a vicious circle for most of them. Most of their demands fall on deaf ears. Obtaining caste certificates for the younger generation, getting the ‘repatriate’ tag in their passports and maintaining a decent household still remain distant dreams.

Obtaining caste certificates is a major problem faced by the Tamil repatriates as local offices verify records right up to half a century old. “As per the law, records dating back to 50 years should be verified. But then it’s not possible for the repatriates to present such records,” says Kerala Plantation Workers Federation general secretary H Rajeevan.

Though the issue has been raised before the Assembly more than once by sitting MLA K Raju, the stalemate continues.

Getting the names of the younger generation included in the passport is another major issue for he Sri Lankan refugees, says Raju. “The older ones who migrated to Kerala in the 1970s have ‘repatriate’ mentioned in their passports. They were given jobs in the plantation. But the later generations, who were born here, are obviously not included in this category. Hence, they are not entitled to be permanent employees at the plantation,” the MLA adds.

“I still vividly remember how we first arrived at a place called Mandapam (in Tamil Nadu) in 1978 and later settled here with my parents and siblings,” says Anchala’s son Subramanian,65.

In the 70s the expats were rehabilitated in two plantations at Ayiranalloor and Kulathupuzha estates. The families who came here later married locally. They have relatives across the border too. A few of them keep in touch with relatives in Sri Lanka over the phone. Though some of them wish to visit Lanka at least once, the fear of the unknown keeps them away.

The expatriates say they have been ignored by the authorities for long. “Unlike the Tamil Nadu government which had given up to 5 acres of land to the Sri Lankan refugees who migrated in the 70s, Kerala hasn’t given us any land. I heard (DMK leader) Stalin has been gifting bicycles and laptops. I wish our children too got something similar,” sighs Subramanian.

Crammed and suffocated, they live inside shanties with battered chimneys, cracked brick walls and asbestos-sheeted roofs set up in the 70s. Most of these dilapidated dwellings are overcrowded with a couple of families staying in each.

Recently retired, Murugesh and his family share the quarters with his brother at 9B Colony. He married from within the community while his children chose to look for spouses outside.

There are a couple of colonies like 1C, 2J, 2F and Chandanakkad where close to 80 families stay. According to plantation workers’ union representative Ajay Prasad, there are more than 1,200 workers from around 700 families who belong to the Sri Lankan community.

Thyagarajan from the 9B Colony reiterates that it’s time their houses were repaired. “Living in Kerala has naturally made us more of Malayalis than Tamilians,” says Jayan, son of 60-year-old Maruthammal who migrated in the 70s.

“Won’t we wish for good education and jobs for our kids? For that we need caste certificates and government support. It’s time the authorities took the next step to make us feel part of Kerala,” says another expat from the older generation.

Four decades later, they still continue to wait for the government to wake up.

[[These two Dravidian parties have alternately been able to impose anti-people policies and promote corruption on a scale unseen in the rest of the country — prakash karat, CPM leader