January 25, 2020 / Worth Repeating
Tamils working in plantations in Sri Lanka were brought back to India under the Sirimavo-Shastri pact. Still marginalised, impoverished and largely landless, they now carry the new fear of being unable to prove citizenship. Rohan Premkumar reports on their trials and tribulations
Valliyammal M., who was repatriated to India from Sri Lanka more than four decades ago, has been living in the same house in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu that the government built for her and her husband then. She has now partitioned the small single-room house into two, so that her son, Selvaraj, and his family can live in one half.
As she boils water on a wood stove, the 75-year-old recalls how difficult she found life in India for the first two years after her return. “We were first put up in a camp in Mandapam in Rameswaram, set up to house repatriates brought back from Sri Lanka. Then we were brought here to Gudalur [a municipality in the Nilgiris district]. For the first 10 months we stayed in small huts with thatched roofs in the middle of dense forests. We cleared the forests ourselves so that tea could be planted,” she says. When she arrived in 1978-79, Valliyammal and her husband were among the 37 families who were given jobs at the Tamil Nadu Tea Plantation Corporation (TANTEA) estate in Pandiar in Gudalur. “I was about 30 years old then. My daily wage was only a few rupees,” she says. Valliyammal recallsthe nearest shop being over 10 km from her home in Pandiar estate. <<< Read More >>>