Both Sinhalese and Tamils turned away, say students and professionals; recent agitation has made their situation worse

A month ago, when 19-year-old Samaara approached a hostel in Egmore for a room, the owner assured her she could move in by March.

The student of literature from a reputed arts college in the city did not know then that it would only take a series of protests in the city to change the hostel owner’s mind.

“When I went there last week, they said they wouldn’t take in Sri Lankans. When I told them they had promised me accommodation, they said the situation was different now, and that they had even evicted a Sri Lankan student without giving her any notice,” she said.

Samaara’s story is not unique. Landlords and hostel owners across the city are wary of renting their homes and rooms to Sri Lankan students or citizens, believing it will get them into trouble.

“I then approached anther place that took in paying guests. Here too, the owner did not give me a room, but was sympathetic. She said the police would have to check her premises if she let it out to me and that she wanted to avoid the hassle. It is very difficult to convince people here that we are not fugitives,” said Samaara.

It is not just Sinhalese students who are denied accommodation — the bias extends to all Sri Lankans, students say.

“House owner believe Sri Lankan Tamils could have dangerous, militant connections. Sri Lankan Muslims and Sinhalese students are denied accommodation right away,” said Dikshanda, an IT professional who works at Tidel Park.

“I wanted to rent a flat in Adyar or Thiruvanmiyur but all my potential landlords were reluctant to sign the rental agreement. Since we are foreign citizens, as part of the procedure, they also need to accompany us to the local police station, and this puts them off. They refuse to even consider us,” he said.

Dikshanda now lives with four other professionals in Velachery. “It is easier when there is a group as then the landlords don’t know where we are from,” he added.

Two weeks ago, when students in college hostels were asked to vacate the premises, Sri Lankan students panicked first. “We have abstained from all protests because there is so much monitoring of our activity here. We had nowhere to go so we requested the university officials to keep the hostels open for us. Most of us stayed confined to our hostels,” said a student.

While some colleges such as Women’s Christian College allowed their Sri Lankan students to stay back in hostels despite having been instructed to have them vacated, many others asked the students to go to their local guardians or back to refugee camps where many of their families live.

All the Sri Lankan students were strictly warned not to participate in any protest. N. Aramugham who runs a hostel for students in Egmore said he does not let out rooms to Sri Lankans. “I have not given them rooms since the death of Rajiv Gandhi. The students have to have a verification done, and have documents signed at Shastri Bhavan and police stations. Also, the police monitor their movement. It is just too much hassle,” he said.