Struggling to reclaim their identity

B.Tilak Chandar

Theni: They do not view themselves as refugees. It has been 30 years since they have settled down here, but do not have a permanent patta for the land.

The Srilankan Tamils arrived in batches to different parts of Tamil Nadu following the outbreak of the civil war. Under the then Chief Minister M.G.Ramachandran, the Tamils were given land in Annai Indiranagar colony.

“It was on the 22nd July, 1984 that we came here”, said S.Karthikeyan who now drives an auto rickshaw.  “We are Thayagam Thirumbiyavar (repatriates) and not refugees. We have Indian passport and election Identity cards”, said Palani who runs a local store in the colony.

About 225 homes were built for the families and one member per family was given a job at the local thread making mill which was set up by the government.

Most of the residents were born in Sri Lanka. “We were born in Sri Lanka. Our forefathers were taken to Sri Lanka to work in the estates”, said Vijayalakshmi, who is a construction worker.

About five families live under one roof. The families have expanded to the next generations. They built extensions to accommodate the families. There are about 500 families living there now.

Most of the residents have the several identity cards such as voter I.D, Aadhar Card, Ration card and an Indian passport.

The local mill does not provide opportunity for everyone anymore. The people have to look for jobs outside the colony. Some of them are working in places like Chennai, Madurai and Coimbatore as mechanics.

They do not get loans as they do not have permanent patta. Their income depends on the work they do. They take up jobs as construction workers in the nearby areas.

Government has set up a school and a hospital in the colony for the people. The children go to the school which has classes till class 8.

Thiruselvam who has studied till class 10 said he could not afford higher education so he stopped after class 10 and now works in a photo studio.

“We still keep going to Sri Lanka to meet our relatives there”, said Selvaraj who used to work in tea estates in Kandy. When asked about the current situation in Sri Lanka he said that still fear still exists among the Tamils.

S.Karthikeyan who lives with his family consisting of his wife, son and daughter said that his elder sister who lives in Rathinapuri, Sri Lanka did not get an Indian passport, so she stayed behind in Sri Lanka. She works in a rubber estate there, he added. They had visited him during the Christmas vacation last year.

Piligrims from Sri Lanka come and stay in the colony during the Sabarimala season. They walk from the colony to Sabarimalai which is a few kilometers away for darshan dressed in the traditional attire.

Though electricity is not an issue, the colony is facing water problem. There are a total of 1200 votes in the colony. “We have been casting votes for more than 10 years”, said Rohini, a construction worker.

The Ceylon colony which comes under the Thirumalapuram panchayat is the biggest and the highest revenue generating panchayat in Theni they said. They hoped that their situation would change for the better in the future.

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