Rehabilitation must be as per refugees’ choice, says expert

She was hardly 10 years old when her mother Rajini Thiranagama, an iconic Tamil human rights activist and feminist of Jaffna, was shot dead by cadres of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) right in front of their house in 1989. Immediately, her father Dayapala Thiranagama took her and her sister to London where they grew up. Now an anthropologist with Stanford University, Sharika Thiranagama is candid that there must not be any external compulsion on Tamil refugees from the Island nation to decide on their future.

At a time when efforts are on to send Sri Lankan refugees in India to their native country, Ms. Thiranagama said there must not be any unilateral package of rehabilitation in the case of Tamil refugees. “Let individuals and their families decide on their future. Those who wish to return to their native can do so. Others must be permitted to decide on their own future,” said Ms Thiranagama in an exclusive interaction with The Hindu.

Author of a number of books including In My Mother’s House, an anthropological study on the refugee and displacement questions in the Island nation, Ms. Thiranagama was in Palakkad as part of her research on rural agrarian economy and library movement in Kerala.

“Wealthy and powerful refugees from Jaffna had migrated to the West, while the poor and those in the lower strata of society took asylum in India. If the poor are forced to return to Sri Lanka, they must not be able to get better jobs and restoration of livelihood,” she said.

“Those who wish to become Indian citizens must be conferred of that status. Others can return to the native. The issue must be addressed with extreme compassion and concern,” she said.

“Most of them have reached India after selling all their possessions. They already have acquired cultural and social integration with people in Tamil Nadu. If forced to return, they may not be able to address the realities of present Sri Lanka,” said Ms Thiranagama.

According to her it is true that Sri Lankan Tamil refugees are struggling to find a home in the world but returning to homeland is just one among the many options.

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