Greetings to everyone!
In South Asia, Sri Lanka is a very important country. The history and issues of the country are known to many. For example, the Eelam struggle is known to many around the world. But it is not only the Eelam issue, there is the important issue of upcountry Tamils. This has been intentionally obscured by the Indian, Sri Lankan and European governments. The history is that at the time in Tamil Nadu because of poverty, drought, and caste, the white man was able to take people from here to Sri Lanka. Saying that we will grant you prosperity and a good life. So saying they took these people. They put together entire families from villages in Tamil Nadu, from Thirunelvelly, Thanjavur, Thiruchi, Perambalur, taking them to Mandapam camp in Ramanathapuram. From there they took them by ship to Thalaimannar in Sri Lanka. From there they had to walk all the way to Kandy. If a 1000 people went only 100 would be left with the rest dying in the forest through disease or animals.
Going like this, they changed that land into a land of wealth. With struggle it was upcountry Tamils who even gave a shape to this land. After much struggle upcountry Tamils united as a class and lived together. As they lived alongside Eelam Tamils and Sinhalese independence came about. In order to divide them upcountry Tamils vote was taken away. When they were disenfranchised the wealth of Sri Lanka decided these people should return to Sri Lanka. Before that there were upcountry Tamils in parliament. After disenfranchising there was only one. In 1964 there was an accord between Sri Lanka and India that split these people for some to be in Sri Lanka and some to be in India, without ever asking the people’s preference. Through this accord their human rights were stripped and they were victimized for the benefit of the Europeans and the states.
So when this accord was done and the Sri Lankan government asked for applications to India, nobody put in an application. With the many riots that followed, the government plotted to somehow send away the upcountry tamils. So after 1964 when many people came to India, the Indian government promised that they would provide job opportunities, housing, education facilities, and farming loans. Not only did they promise that, they made this a big campaign internationally. However, whatever struggles people faced in Sri Lanka when they came to India was worse and continues today. All the plans of the Indian government were failures and did not succeed.
Further when you look at the State Tea Plantation Corporation called TANTEA and was made for returning upcountry Tamils. But now 55 years later the government is planning to hand over the plantations to forestry, shut down operations and suspend the workers giving various reasons. So we have been continuously advocating for upcountry Tamils here, for other communities also, but also for upcountry Tamils. We are fighting and the important demand we are making is you cannot continuously keep people as daily wage workers and must instead give them their own land. Whatever was promised in the Sirima-shastri agreement and everything that was promised must be implemented in full.
Otherwise this will become an international issue. In places like the United Nations, we will bring it forward as an important question. India is a very large democratic country, and within this country Tamil Nadu is these people’s motherland. Many Tamil Nadu politicians bring up many issues but I don’t know why this is one thing they never talk about and don’t care about. So what I’m saying is that the leaders of Tamil Nadu must come to know about this and be vocal about it. So Eelam is its own issue and upcountry Tamils need specific attention for their own problems. They are a nation of their own with half the people in Sri Lanka and half in India. Even today the Indian and Sri Lanka governments are tearing them apart and separating them. So for 200 years from the beginning this cruelty has taken place with people initially being grabbed and taken from their villages, then again separating them and sending people back to India, and now by closing TANTEA scattering people again in various places. This has continuously happened throughout history.
Another thing I want to say is that this problem and the issues in Sri Lanka are an important lesson for countries in South Asia. So we are asking that it be given a lot of attention. upcountry Tamils are the ones who have generated so much wealth and brought Sri Lanka up and developed its economy. Their contribution is very important here in Tamil Nadu especially in the states of Nilgiris and Kanyakumari districts. They have generated crores of wealth and handed it to the state. Their bravery and the history of their fight is very important. At the same time it is crucial to bring the knowledge of their struggles all over the world in many places on this anniversary of 200 years, and that is what we are trying to do. So we are asking that upcountry Tamils around the world, human rights activists and all who can give their service to the people to cooperate in this. Thank you.