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Sri Lankan Pres Wickremesinghe Promises Policies For Better Integration Of Indian-Origin Tamil Workers

The treatment of Tamils in the Sinhalese majority nation has historically been a major friction point in India-Sri Lanka ties. India’s diplomatic intervention led to the inclusion of the 13th amendment to the Lankan Constitution in 1987 that guaranteed safeguards for protecting Tamil language and culture.

Sri Lankan Head of State Ranil Wickremesinghe
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President Ranil Wickremesinghe has said his government will appoint a committee to seek how best to integrate the Indian-origin Tamil workers in the hill plantation regions further into the Sri Lankan society.

Wickremesinghe's remarks came on Sunday during an event in Colombo to accept a consignment of medicine donated by the Union Territory of Puducherry at the request of Ceylon Worker's Congress (CWC), a leading political party representing the Indian-origin Tamils in the Central Province.

“While some of the Tamils of Hill Country origin had integrated successfully into the Sri Lankan society, some have failed and measures would be taken to assist them to do so,” he said.

Tamils in Sri Lanka: A historical stress point for India

Wickremesinghe said that the government will appoint a committee to seek how best to integrate the Tamils of Hill Country origin further into the Sri Lankan Society.

The President recalled the Sirimalwatte-Shastri Pact between the then Indian and Sri Lankan leaders under which some of the Indian-origin plantation Tamils were repatriated. The pact was signed on  October 30, 1964 between the then Prime Ministers of Sri Lanka and India - Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Lal Bahadur Shastri.

It was a significant agreement in determining the status and future of people of Indian origin in Ceylon.

Wickremesinghe recalled that it was the Ceylon Workers Congress founder the late Saumyamurthi Thondaman who had obtained citizenship for some people who should have gone under Srima-Shastri Pact but decided to stay back in Sri Lanka.

Land titles for Indian-origin Tamils

“The government is also encouraging the building of houses and issuing lands to the people of Indian origin in the Hill Country because they must have their own lands and a place to live in just like other groups in the hill country,” he said.

Steps would be taken to review the plantation economy that could be affected by people leaving the plantation areas after being educated.

“As people are being educated, more and more are leaving the plantation sector. The government has to find jobs for them as well as for other Sinhalese and Muslims who leave their areas to settle elsewhere,” Wickremesinghe said.

Hill Country Tamils descended from workers sent from South India to Sri Lanka in the 19th and 20th centuries to work in coffee, tea and rubber plantations in the country.
He was hopeful of resolving the ethnic problem in the island nation.

Ethnic persecution following LTTE’s rise

The Sri Lankan government became aggressive against Tamilian groups following its war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The LTTE ran a military campaign for a separate Tamil homeland in the northern and eastern provinces of the island nation for nearly 30 years before its collapse in 2009 after the Sri Lankan Army killed its supreme leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

According to the Lankan government figures, over 20,000 people are missing due to various conflicts including the three-decade brutal war with Lankan Tamils in the north and east which claimed at least 100,000 lives.

International rights groups claim at least 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in the final stages of the war, but the Sri Lankan government has disputed the figures.

The treatment of Tamils in the Sinhalese majority nation has ever since been a major friction point in India-Sri Lanka ties. India has advocated for better political representation to Tamil minority people, and India’s intervention led to the inclusion of the 13th amendment to the Lankan Constitution in 1987, that guaranteed safeguards for protecting Tamil language and culture.

(With inputs from PTI)

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