Steadfast in their demands for caste certificates, several Sri Lankan Tamils who had been repatriated into rubber plantations across Puttur and Sullia taluks, are sitting on an indefinite dharna in front of the taluk office here.
Under the banner of Joint Action Committee, workers of rubber plantations managed by the Karnataka Forest Development Corporation (KFDC) began their strike on Friday with their primary demand being issuance of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe certificates and government facilities.
The Tamil-speaking workers, who were brought here from plantations in Sri Lanka after the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of 1964 are refused caste certificates on the grounds of “being from out of the country”. More than 926 families had been repatriated in the 70s, with many coming under Scheduled Castes of Chakkiliyan, Pallan, Paraiyan and Adi Dravida, said the committee.
“We have voter IDs. Politicians come once in five years to ask us to vote, but when it comes to issuing caste certificates, we’re suddenly treated as outsiders,” said R. Shivkumar Kowdichar, a protester. He said while his parents were brought to the country, his generation and his children were born and brought up here. “We learnt Kannada in school. We live, work, spend our money and die in Sullia. And yet they consider us as outsiders?” he asked.
President of the committee, A.S. Chandralinga said the district administration had been haphazard in their allocation of certificates. While some, including himself, were given the certificates, those who applied after 2002 had not been given, he said. Among the protesters was 66-year-old N. Krishnaswamy who was repatriated in 1974 from a tea estate in Badulai, Sri Lanka. “Even my children who were born here have neither received any facilities, nor any benefits under government schemes,” he said.
Talking to The Hindu, H.S. Vaidhyanath, Sullia Tahsildar, said the high-powered committee, which involves Chief Secretary-level bureaucrats had asked for a report from the district administration. “We have said that under the current provisions – the Government of India states that for caste certificates, the person or his family must have been born here before January 1954 – caste certificates cannot be provided to the repatriates,” he said.