From Sri Lanka to Sullia

Rubber plantation workers in a rehabilitation camp in Sullia taluk.H.S. MANJUNATH  

Before the 2013 Assembly elections, a group of rehabilitated Sri Lankan Tamils stood their ground in Sullia, in the foothills of the Western Ghats, for over three months, demanding their “rights” as Indians.

While they had voter ID cards, they had been denied caste certificates since the 1990s after the local administration misread a Supreme Court order and termed them “foreign nationals.”

The protests worked, and the Congress government eventually ordered the distribution of caste certificates. However, now they realise that this was only a minor victory.

As candidates approach them again, the workers, who were brought to rubber plantations after the 1964 Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement on rehabilitating Indian-origin indentured labourers, point to notices outside their quarters, ordering them to vacate immediately or face action.

“They have to shoot us to evict us. I have nowhere to go and I will die here,” says a belligerent Palaniyandi, 62, who lives in the Nettar colony with seven family members.

The Karnataka Forest Development Corporation, which started more than 44 of rubber plantations in the district to absorb 926 refugee families in the late 1960s, provides jobs for two generations of them. In the Nettar colony, 10 of 40 families are facing eviction, and 165 families in 42 plantation colonies have got notices.

“For most of my 35 years of work (he worked along with his ageing father), I earned a pittance. Before that, it was a pittance. How can we save up for life after retirement with this,” asks Ratnaswamy, 63, who lives with his wife and 28-year-old mentally challenged son. He has been given eviction notices about six months ago.