India reintroduces caste among Ceylon repatriates

Life in India has made Tamil repatriates of colonial Ceylon legacy and their descendants to retrace their caste identity and seek caste certificates to meet official requirements. Tamil Nadu is already issuing them caste certificates. On Tuesday, Karnataka announced that it would set up a committee to study the system in the neighbouring states to give such certificates. The Hindu came out with an article two weeks ago on the issue of caste-certificate-less repatriates from ‘Sri Lanka’. India reintroducing caste identity among the repatriates may cause adverse effects on the social progress of their kith and kin remaining in the island, commented a social activist in Colombo. Considering the historical legacy, current context and generations of misery, it would be ideal for India to recognize them with a common identity and extend equal SC-ST privileges to them, he said.

Further comments by the social activist in Colombo follow:

The plight of a people known as Tamils of Indian Origin in the island labelled today as Sri Lanka, but widely called as Siloankarar (from Ceylon) after repatriation to India, has been intertwined with the interests of two imperialisms in the region for 200 years – always for their benefits and to the misery of the concerned people.

They were taken to the island, largely as labourers from the lower echelons of the then poverty-stricken or famine-stricken agrarian villages of Tamil Nadu, to work in the island’s hill-country plantations introduced by the British after their imperial conquest of Kandy in 1815.

Being stripped of their citizenship by independent Ceylon in 1949, a major part of them were repatriated after a Pact of 1954 and an Agreement of 1964, when Indian imperialism, the successors of the British Raj in New Delhi, wanted to appease a chauvinistic Sinhala state in the island for geopolitical interests.

Neither the restoration of citizenship for the remaining in the island nor the repatriation ended the miseries. But, conditions in the island and absence of state-recognized caste had contributed for generations of them to grow with a different social process. As early as in the 1930s, a genius writer like Puthumaippiththan had insightfully recognized the differences in social norms resulting from bold encounters with challenges (Thunpakkea’ni: Pond of Miseries).

If the repatriates and their descendants now retrace the oppressed caste origins of their ancestors and demand for Scheduled Caste certificates that would give them reservation benefits, it is because India has failed in adequately treating them with opportunities and privileges due for repatriates with a legacy of miseries.

While the Scheduled Caste claimants among the repatriates get caste certificates in Tamil Nadu, their counterparts settled by Government of India in Karnataka and Kerala are not so ‘lucky’, views The Hindu feature dated 15 July by T. Ramakrishnan.

He was citing the case of a 32-year-old descendant of a repatriate in Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka who now heads the Sulia Taluk SC-ST Tamilians’ Welfare Association, but was denied of the caste certificate.

“In both States, the SCs account for over 50 per cent of the repatriates. They generally belong to three prominent groups — Pallan, Paraiyan and Chakkilyan,” says The Hindu writer.

988 families of repatriates were settled in Karnataka and 1,599 in Kerala, in government projects of plantations.

Karnataka considers them as ‘migrants’ of Tamil Nadu ancestry and wants them to get their caste certificates from Tamil Nadu.

According to media reports, answering a call attention at the Karnataka State Assembly by the Leader of the Opposition Mr. Siddharamaiah on Tuesday, the Social Welfare minister Mr. A Narayanaswamy has said that the 900 families came to Sulya in Puttur Taluk of Dahshina Kannada district have no proof of their caste, as there was no such practice of caste certification in Sri Lanka. The minister added that the state would now study the system in the other states to give them the benefit of caste certificates.

A large colony of Tibetan refugees started in 1960 could be found at Bylakuppe in Karnataka, a place not far from the Sulya settlement of the Tamil repatriates.

One cannot help comparing the difference in the treatment that made the Tibetans to develop into a highly advanced community without any ‘caste certificates’.

The best Government of India could do for the Tamil repatriates of Indian origin at this juncture is first giving a common identity to all of them and then at least granting them benefits on a par with other underprivileged people, if there is no will to concede an equal treatment between Tibetans and Tamils.

India and its states should also stop desecrating them by the ‘Sri Lankan’ prefix given to them. Their migration and the Agreement for their return took place under Ceylon. Let them not be disgraced by the term ‘Sri Lankan’ that has now become almost a synonym for Tamil genocide.

The plight of Ceylon’s Up-Country Tamil repatriates also questions the wisdom in asking for Indian citizenship for the Eezham Tamil refugees languishing in the camps for more than quarter a century.

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