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Indian Diaspora: Sri Lanka’s Malaiyaha Tamils

GS2/GS Paper 1

 Syllabus: Indian Diaspora/ Indian History 

 

Source: TH

 Context: The Malaiyaha Tamil community in Sri Lanka has released a declaration calling for greater recognition, political rights, and improved living and working conditions.

 

Who are Malaiyaha Tamil community?

The Malaiyaha Tamil community refers to a historically marginalized group in Sri Lanka who migrated from southern India around 200 years ago to work in British-run plantations. They mainly work in tea and rubber estates, contributing significantly to Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange earnings. Their population is roughly around 10 lakhs (out of which around 1.5 lakh people work in tea and rubber estates)

 

Problems faced by the Malaiyaha Tamil community in Sri Lanka:

Problems Specific Examples
Structural Exclusion Limited access to resources and opportunities compared to other communities. Poor human development indices compared to other communities.
Discrimination and Exploitation Deprived of citizenship rights until 2003. Subjected to discrimination and exploitation in various aspects of life.
Inadequate Living Conditions Many families still reside in colonial-era line rooms without basic amenities.  A UN body  highlighted in 2021 that the community is living in “inhumane and degrading” conditions
Economic Distress The financial crisis in Sri Lanka further exacerbated their economic hardships. More than half the population living in estate areas is pushed into acute poverty.
Low wages Their daily wage of LKR 1,000 (about ₹373) is tied to the target of 18-22 kg of plucked tea leaves every day, while braving leeches and wasp attacks.
Limited Political Representation Lack of recognition as a distinct identity and equal citizens. Demand for appropriate political power sharing and proportional electoral arrangements.

 

To alleviate these problems, the Malaiyaha Tamil community has released a declaration demanding the following:

  • Design, resource, and implement a 10-year development plan based on affirmative action to address decades of structural exclusion.
  • Reduce poverty, provide land and housing, and enhance public health and education access.
  • Ensure labour rights, including fair living wages and legal protection.
  • Recognize the Malaiyaha Tamils as a community with a distinct identity and equal citizenship.
  • Establish appropriate political power sharing and a proportional system of electoral arrangements.

 

Assistance provided by India:

  • Grant projects cut across sectors such as education, health, livelihood, housing, and industrial
  • The Indian Housing Project aims to build 50,000 houses in war-affected areas and estate workers in the plantation areas. However, the progress on it has been slow.
  • India now offers about 710 scholarship slots annually to Sri Lankan students.
  • The reconstruction work of a century-old railway track in northern Sri Lankaunder India’s assistance

 

Conclusion:

India and the International community must pressure Sri Lanka into providing the community with greater recognition, political rights, and improved living and working conditions through affirmative action and long-term development plans.

 

Insta Links

Sri Lankan Tamils issue

 

Mains Links

‘Indian diaspora has a decisive role to play in the politics and economy of America and European Countries. Comment with examples. (UPSC CSE 2020)