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Plight of Tamil estate workers: Malaiyaha Community’s ‘long march’ for a better ticket to life

11 August 2023 12:01 am – 2      – 379

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Malaiyaha Tamil Community began a walk on July 28 from Talaimannar intending to showcase the need to trace the roots of their migrant Indian ancestors and to underscore the discrimination faced by Tamil tea estate sector workers. The walk is expected to conclude on August 12

 

  • One of the main purposes of the walk is for the participants to trace the path that their ancestors took way back in 1823 to arrive in Sri Lanka as migrant workers from South India 
  • There is an absence of a proper early childhood education system within the estate sector 
  • Members of the estate community state that there is a flouting of their Human Rights in an unreasonable manner 

 

 

The Malaiyaha Community commemorates 200 years since its arrival in Sri Lanka and to remind its demand for 11 rights including equal rights, members of the ‘Maanbumigu Malaiyaha Makkal Community’ organised a walk from Talaimannar to Matale which began on July 28. The walk is expected to conclude on August 12.

 

The Daily Mirror was there to witness the procession when it was in Mihintale and was able to speak to Attorney-at-law and a social activist Balachandran Gowthaman. He added that this walk has three different objectives. The first perspective is to trace the path that their ancestors took, and it is considered that in 1823 the first set of migrants from South India were brought to Sri Lanka to be employed in coffee plantations. Gowthaman further stated that they landed in Talaimannar, a place close to Arippu and from there they made their way by clearing forests. In the process, they had to brave diseases and the presence of wild animals to arrive at Matale. Quite a number of people had died on their way. Therefore, this journey is to retrace the path that the ancestors took in order to reach Matale and thereby connect with their ancestors. He added that it is a time for them to reflect and also connect with their roots.

 

“We have a large number of Malaiyaha youth who want to leave the plantations, but they are saturated in very low-paying jobs. They don’t have a proper pathway or solid technical training and due to financial constraints members of this Tamil community aren’t able to afford such courses,”-Balachandran Gowthaman Attorney-at-law and a social activist 

 

 

“The second objective is to use this long walk as an opportunity to win our rights,” affirmed Gowthaman.
He added that for this walk to be successful, they need other communities to also voice out on behalf of the Malaiyaha Tamil Community.

The route of the walk from Talaimannar to Matale

Further Gowthaman underscored the difficulties faced by this community when pursuing education.

He observes four problems in the field of education. As the very first problem, he focused on the absence of a proper early childhood education system. According to him, across the country and particularly in the plantation areas, this is a big issue. The second problem he referred to is the lack of qualified teachers. There is also a lack of teachers for subjects such as English, Mathematics and Science and according to him this demotivates children; hence they drop out from school.
“The quality of teaching has to improve considerably among the Malaiyaha Tamil Community,” added Gowthaman.

“The third concern is vocational training. We have a large number of Malaiyaha youth who want to leave the plantations, but they are saturated in very low-paying jobs as construction workers, three wheel (tuk tuk) drivers. They don’t have a proper pathway or solid technical training. Due to financial constraints, members of this Tamil community aren’t able to afford such courses. What we are looking at is a proper solution which will enable these youngsters to be a part of that kind of process,” added Gowthaman.
Executive Director of Plantation Rural Education Development Organization Michael Joachim discussed with this writer about the child development centres within plantation areas.

 

“Actually, we operate about 260 pre-schools. Getting the estate management to allow a preschool to be run on the plantation was a problem. Even for a child to enjoy the right to education, he or she has to obtain permission from the manager. Even at present you have to fight and then only win that right,”

– Michael Joachim Plantation Rural Education Development Organization Executive Director

 

 

“We operate about 260 pre-schools. Getting the estate management to allow a preschool to be run on the plantation was a problem. Even for a child to enjoy the right to education, he or she has to obtain permission from the manager. Even at present, you have to fight and then only win that right. Even after that, they won’t give you the building and the land to build the preschool. We have fought and then managed to build 260 pre-schools. But the point is that the estate management still wants the children to go to the crèche (it is a kind of daycare centre in estates). The long-term motive of the estate management is for the estate child to not receive a proper education”, added Joachim.

Another participant at this walk, Jeewaratnam Suresh – a civil activist – shared his views with the Daily Mirror.
“Still the estate people don’t have personal addresses. So it’s clear that one of the main rights of these people has been denied to them. The Human Rights of this community have been flouted unreasonably. The government should take responsibility for this. The parliament has named August 10 as a special date to discuss this problem. But they must be very concerned about putting into practice the things they talk about,” added Suresh.

 

 “Since the plantation sector people aren’t permanent residents local government officials are not reaching the plantation community. This discrimination against the estate community should end,” – Nadeshan Suresh Representative Uva Shakthi Foundation

 

A representative from Uva Shakthi Foundation Nadeshan Suresh shared his views about the plantation sector.
“There is a structural violation by the government sector. When we entered the political arena in 1987 there was the 13th Amendment to consider. Section 32 of the amendment clearly states that a person who belongs geographically to a local government area must be entitled to receive the full service offered by that local government.
“However since the people in the plantation sector aren’t permanent residents local government officials are not reaching the plantation community.
“So this is what we are focusing on during this walk. This is a reform we’re considering. This discrimination against the estate community should end,” concluded Nadeshan.

 

Walking towards their rights

 

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