Sitting on her mother’s lap, three-month-old Cinderella was the cynosure of all eyes at the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commissioner’s office here on Saturday. She was there to receive her birth certificate, issued as part of the mission’s second special consular service aimed at facilitating the return of refugees to Sri Lanka. Her mother Anna Mary landed at the Mandapam camp near Rameswaram in 2006 and Cinderella’s four year-old sister is in kindergarten.
“One day we have to leave India for our country. But the education available here for our children makes us think twice before taking any decision,” said Anna Mary, a resident of Puzhal refugee camp. She acknowledges, however, that money does play a role in getting a good education here.
Despite the efforts made by the Deputy High Commission and Organisation for Eelam Refugees Rehabilitation (OfERR), returning to Sri Lanka is not an easy decision for the refugees, given the advantages of staying in India and the lack of clarity about the situation in their homeland.
The Deputy High Commissioner R.K.M.A. Rajakaruna distributed 50 birth certificates, 130 citizenship certificates and 60 passports on Saturday.
Mr Rajakaruna said Tamil was not an official language of the country at the time when Tamil left Sri Lanka to seek refuge in the shores of Tamil Nadu. However, the situation has changed now and Tamil has attained the status of official language on a par with Sinhala.
“The military presence in North has been drastically reduced. The claim of militarisation is only an academic theme. There are no soldiers at every house or under every tree as claimed by anti-Sri Lanka elements,” Mr Rajakaruna said.
While the Eastern Province is being rebuilt through a mega-development programme, ‘Kilakkin Udhayam’ another programme ‘Vadakkin Vasantham’ bringing in development to the Northern Province.
The Deputy High Commission also screened a film on rehabilitation and reconstruction going on in the country with the help of the army, seeking to reassure the refugees that situation had become normal for them to return. The film included a scene in which army personnel offer worship at a well-decorated temple.
The founder of OfERR, S.C. Chandrahasan, who frequently visits Sri Lanka, told the refugees that he had come across a lot of graduates who had taken their degrees in Tamil Nadu who had been absorbed in the government departments.
“We have a duty for our country and a role to play,” he said, regretting that exaggerated reports and incorrect information about the ground realities were preventing Tamil refugees from making a decision on their return.
Though many refugees shared Mr Chandrahasan’s optimism, a section of the new generation born and brought up in India finds it extremely difficult to return for more reasons than one.
“I will go there one day. But my son, who is doing his engineering here, spurned our proposal. He argues that India is his country and when there is a cricket match between India and Sri Lanka, he supports only India. I also feel it will be difficult for him to adapt to the food available in Sri Lanka as he enjoys sambar and idli,” says a volunteer who works for OfEER.
Another girl, pursuing her graduation through correspondence, wanted to go to Sri Lanka only to make preparation for her settlement in the UK, where she has relatives.
Mr. Chandrahasan, however, stressed the need for them to return and wanted the Sri Lankan government to dispense with the practice of charging Rs 25,000 for issuing birth certificates from refugees who have crossed 18 years of age. EOM