The International Dalit Solidarity Network
"Working globally against discrimination by work and descent"
Sri Lanka and descent-based discrimination
under the International Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
Submitted to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) On the occasion of the Thematic Discussion on Descent Based Discrimination 61st, Session, 8 - 9, August, 2002, Geneva.
Prepared by: Human Development Organization
P.O. Box. 171, Kandy, Sri Lanka.
Sponsored by: Minority Rights Group International, UK
Assisted by IMADR, Geneva.
The Human Development Organization (HDO) is a legally registered NGO in Sri Lanka working on the issues of human rights, social justice and sustainable development of the marginalized and minority communities in Sri Lanka. It was formed in 1991 and is dedicated to promotion and protection of human rights & social justice of the minority and oppressed communities in Sri Lanka. . The HDO was also accredited by the UN High Commission for Human Rights for the World Conference Against Racism and actively worked on having descent-based discrimination recognized and condemned by the international community.
Sri Lanka : Country & Target Group: A Brief Historical Background
Sri Lanka is one of the developing countries in South East Asian region with 18 million strong multi-ethnic, multi-religious population. In terms of human development status, Sri Lanka stands highest among the countries in South Asia. There is however, a considerable concern about the high level of poverty, unemployment, decline in nutritional status, the situation of the illiterate groups and women in the tea plantations and interior rural areas. As in many developing countries, in Sri Lanka too the civil societies / people are in constant struggle for the last several decades to uphold democracy, human rights and peace. In the multi-ethnic, multi-religious Sri Lanka there is a steady erosion of the democratic system and values in the socio-economic and political spheres resulting from threats to the fundamental democratic rights. This is an obstacle and a threat to a sustainable, equitable and socially just development.
Modern Sri Lanka has one of the finest social welfare records among developing countries. The island's welfare polities are funded through revenue derived from the agricultural sector, which is still dominated by tea plantations. But the workers and their families do not benefit from this system.
The Plantation People ( Indian Origin Tamils) come from a minority community that consists of about 5.1% (2001) of the population in Sri Lanka. The Plantation people originally came from the Southern Indian Dalit community and were brought to Sri Lanka as semi slave laborers to work on the plantations during the period of British colonial rule in and around 1820s. Often kept as captive labour happened to be of those oppressed low castes (Dalits). These laborers, were defined as Tamils of Indian Origin, who lived on the Plantations under a regimented system of labour management and were denied any welfare rights including health and education and the supply of goods needed. This system has undergone change, in ownership with the nationalization of plantations and subsequent privatization and through a system of management with the growth of trade unions. Totally the people living on the Sri Lankan plantations have been subjected to various and continuous oppression concerning their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development. The Plantation Tamil labour force, speaking Tamil and Hindu by religion, were located in central part of Sri Lanka within a Sinhala Buddhist population living in the surrounding areas.
Restricted to the tea and rubber estates, the Tamil population did not have much opportunity of interacting or integrating with other communities. They have remained largely un-integrated with the rest of the population and subject to discrimination in many areas; large number of them are still deprived of citizenship and franchise rights.
Caste System in Sri Lanka.
In Sri Lanka there are two caste systems, one for the Sinhalese and the other for the Tamils. Although they both have their origin in India, the Sinhalese caste system is not linked to the Hindu varna. It was an aspect of a feudal society which divided people according to their hereditary roles and functions. The caste system was a secular hierarchy.
The stratification took into account as many caste and sub-caste groups as there were feudal services and functions or temple services to perform in a disputed hierarchical order. There were no untouchables in the Indian sense. The classification was based on feudal demands and at presently it is continued by decent. "Traditionally, the numerically large "Goyigama" (high caste) caste were farmers and the other caste groups such as "Batgam", " Vahumpura" and "Rodiyas" communities which are considered low or depressed castes. Sri Lanka's upper class and political power base is predominated by the Goyigama majority". Even today, Buddhist monasteries are divided along three major caste lines - a practice shamefully abhorrent to the Buddhist philosophy itself.
Lord Buddha was a decisive force in breaking the caste barriers in India for a certain period of time.
Althugh Buddhist of all castes can attend temple services at any caste -distinct temple, However it should be noted that all chief monks in Central Sri Lanka belong to the Goyigama (high) caste ( Rosani Gunawardane, Human Rights Law Journal, Vol. 11,No1,2, 1990). The exception is the caste of Rodiyas from very early times. Many legends surround their origin, and it is said that they were banished for a heinous crime and condemned to a life of begging or, more accurately, soliciting for alms. They were denied land and work and subjected to many disadvantages and degrading treatment. They were always a small community.
Through the efforts of the Backward Communities Development Board, Rodi children were able to attend village schools. Government land was given to them for cultivation. however, there is no major evidence of any atrocities committed against the Rodiyas now. After the 1930s, due to the emergence of left forces (Lanka Samasamaja Party - A Left Party ) and Missionaries intervention in education, brought about some changes in the caste structure among the Sinhalese people.
The caste system of the Tamils, who are mostly Hindus, is also occupation based. The caste system was imported from India etc but took the form of occupation based discrimination as linked to and continuing from descent based discrimination. The caste system was imported from India etc but took the form of occupation based discrimination as linked to and continuing from descent based discrimination.
The caste hierarchy continues to date and descent and occupation relegate low cast to an existence of social exclusion and economic and political marginalization and dis-empowerment. Tamils have high and low caste groups which show a stronger concept of pollution and social distance. At the bottom of the caste hierarchy are three castes of untouchables who suffer social disadvantage more than others. Descent is still important in Tamil society and prejudice is openly shown. It is difficult to identify some one the caste, but it is practiced in social events, eg. Marriages and religious (Hindu) places. There are in certain geographical areas the low caste people are settled. For eg. Mahiyawa in Kandy of central province, Wilgamuwa in Kurunegal district of north central province and in section in Colombo city the low caste people are live in a colony of their own.
Therefore the people of Kandy, Kurunegala and Colombo will know the caste of the people, from were they live. When a persons tells that he/she is from the plantations (tea, rubber or coconut), he/she coincided low caste Tamil.
The 1978 Constitution prohibits discrimination on the ground of caste (Article. 12(2)) and prohibits subjecting a person by reason of his caste to any disadvantage with regard to accessing shops, public restaurants, etc. and places of public worship of his own religion. Discrimination based on descent and caste have not disappeared, it is a hidden factor in social problems. The constitution must be more stronger to outlaw any form of discrimination not even in the hidden form.
Article.2.1 Non Discrimination and Article 5 (d) (iii) the right to nationality:
Continued statelessness of Tamils of Indian origin.
Sri Lanka is one of the few countries in the world that adopts discrimination on the grounds of citizenship for the Indian Tamils only which does not apply for the Sinhalese, Tamils of the North & East and the Muslims. The system of apartheid in Sri Lanka is based not on skin colour but on ethnic identity. The Sinhalese, North Eastern Tamils and Muslims became automatic citizens of this country by birth or living. Just because the Tamils of Indian origin were brought by the British to open-up plantations, they were rented stateless and had to apply for citizenship under the Citizenship Act of 1948 and obtain a certificate to prove that he/she is a citizen of Sri Lanka which does not apply the communities which mentioned above. The Sri Lankan government after independence made this Act on ethnic basis and ultimately the end result of the Act is to make the low caste Tamils of Indian Origin stateless, because of their illiteracy, ignorance and socially, economically and politically weaker society.
The citizenship problem arose following the independence of Sri Lanka in 1948. Before the independence the parties failed to achieve an agreement on the definition of citizenship. Hence Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948 with a constitution that omitted citizenship. In the same year the new parliament enacted the Citizenship Act of 1948 thus making all Indian Tamils stateless. The Citizenship act conferred citizenship by descent on all persons who were born in Sri Lanka and whose father was born in Sri Lanka ( citizenship Act No 18, 1948).
The same act provides for citizenship by registration. Application for citizenship by registration was in first instance only open to persons who were born out of a mixed marriage where the mother is and the father is not a citizen of Sri Lanka. The citizenship law of 1948 discriminates against people who had come to Sri Lanka “recently” and as such only the community of the Indian Tamils were in a vulnerable position under the law. This vulnerable position was further aggravated by the discriminatory implementation of the law. The Indian Origin Tamils were made stateless by default and had to prove that their father was born in Sri Lanka. The members of all other communities automatically became citizens of this country. Furthermore the condition to produce the fathers birth certificate was in many cases an impossible task as the registration of births is only of recent origin. Many people would not have been able to produce their father’s birth certificates, but only the Indian Origin Tamils had to face the consequences.
Sri Lanka and India reached many agreements to solve the problem of the Stateless Tamils without the participation of their representatives and without their concerns and those of their leaders being reflected. However up to 1983, 337,066 Indian Tamils had been repatriated to India, around 374,000 granted Sri Lankan citizenship by registration, 84,000 Indian Tamils had received their Indian passport and 85,000 were waiting for their passports. They are still waiting because India stopped issuing passports and the India stopped the ferry service in July 1983 because of major ethnic violence against Tamils in Sri Lanka. The people that applied for Indian citizenship on behalf of their respective families are old or no longer alive. The majority of their children, who were under 18 when the applications were submitted in and around 1970s, are still living on the plantations. This new generation is therefore reluctant or unwilling to leave to India. The human rights of this new generation are totally violated in many ways such as, right to participate in politics, vote, employment, higher education, land & settlement and other welfare facilities.
The Plantation workers were enjoying equal rights as other citizens in Sri Lanka till 1948. But by Citizenship Act, Citizenship and Voting Rights were removed. Five Acts have been passed as follows to answer this crisis of the number game for the last 50 years but still around 250,000 people of Tamils of Indian Origion are stateless.
Citizenship Act No. 18 of 1948 enacted on 15th November 1948
Indian & Pakistani Residents Act No. 3 of 1949
Indo-Ceylon Agreement (Implementation) Act No. 14 of 1967
Grant of Citizenship to Stateless Persons Act No. 5 of 1986
Grant of Citizenship to Stateless Persons ( Special Provisions ) Act No. 39 of 1948
This problem continues to date as descent and the associated discrimination goes on. When a father does not have the Citizenship as per the requirement of the Citizenship Act, the generation becomes stateless and discriminated against. The majority of these stateless persons are from low castes Tamils of Indian origin.
Reference to following quotation from Goonesekeres Report on Descent and Work based Discrimination as submitted to the UN Sub Commission on Human Rights, addresses descent (caste) based discrimination against Indian Origin Tamils in Sri Lanka.
“A recent allegation of discrimination based on descent is that made by Tamils of Indian origin employed mainly as tea estate workers in the hill country. With regard to wages, housing, sanitation, health and educational facilities, they were an oppressed group.
Improvements have slowly been made as a result of government policies and powerful trade union action. Integration with the rest of society is more difficult owing to prejudice, but this is breaking down. There are signs of upward mobility through education and non-discriminatory laws. Caste distinctions exist among themselves and complaints have been made that workers (mostly Dalits) are kept out of trade union offices by high caste supervisors. The citizenship laws enacted after independence rendered Indian Tamils, who numbered about 1 million, stateless, and they were denied voting rights".
Reference to CERD’s concluding observations of CERD/C/SR.1478 and 1479, on 7 and 8 August 2001 on Sri Lanka’s state report;
The Committee is concerned at the fact that a large number of Tamils of Indian origin, particularly plantation workers, and their descendants have still not been granted citizenship and that many of them even continue to be stateless. Tamils without Sri Lankan citizenship are allegedly discriminated against and do not fully enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights. The Committee recommends that early and effective measures be taken to solve this problem and that these persons should not be threatened with repatriation.
Article 5. (c)
The descendents of Tamils of Indian origin continue to be discriminated with regards to their political rights, in particular the rights to participate in elections-to vote and to stand for election-on the basis of universal and equal suffrage, to take part in the government as well as in the conduct of public affairs at any level and to have equal access to public service. According to Ethnic Proportion from the Government Sources 5.1% (2001) of the total population are Tamils of Indian origin yet only 0.1% are in the Government Services and 0.2% are in the Provincial council services. Even for employment within the plantation sector preference is given to the outsiders. For example 70% of the crèche attendants, and welfare officers are from the majority community servicing the minority. And 75% of the plantation staff are also given to the majority community.
Discrimination in the aforementioned area of civil and political rights create further discrimination. Since they do not have their basic human rights ensured, right such as- citizenship in the country in which you they were born, they do therefore, have no voting rights, and no rights of participation in politics or influence in decision-making.
Article 5 (e) (i)
Since there is oppression against them in social, economic, politics, most of them are still daily paid workers. From the British rule till now in the plantations the high caste community continues to be supervisors for the low caste community workers. when compared with the wages, basic wage for a day is RS. 105/-. They are daily paid workers for generations. It is the Tamils of Indian origin workers who are only daily pay workers including a few numbers from other communities, they work from morning 7 a.m. to evening 5.00 p.m.. It is the lowest wage when compared to other sectors. A plantation manual worker gets S.L. Rs. 105. For a day while a manual worker from in an informal sector gets a minimum Rs 250.
Article 5 (e) (iii)
When we looked into the housing, to date approximately 60 % of the workers are living in century old army barrack type of line rooms, which are like cattle sheds. These line rooms are also not owned by them. Since they are from a minority community, mostly low caste, they have been discriminated against for centuries, discrimination based on descent which continues largely unchallenged to date.
. Article 5 (e) (v) The Right to Education and Training Provision available for the education of the plantation sector is very minimal. There is shortages of around 3000 teachers in the plantation sector whereas in the plantation areas the Sinhala schools are overstaffed.
According to report of Plantation Schools Education Development Program, for the Nuwara Eliya District, with a higher number of plantation schools (populated by the children of Indian origin Tamil’s), the average pupil-teacher ratio in 1996 was 44:1, contrasting unfavorably with the national average of 28:1.
Furthermore, there are schools managed by only one teacher or with volunteers. A recent study ( May 2000 ) of the Human Development Organization on Educational Situation of the Tamils of Indian origin (Plantation Community) in Kegalle District, Sri Lanka shows that the total teacher shortage is 177 in 60 plantation schools. This again shows a denial of the right to equal distribution of resources.
Dropout rates in the primary grades in the plantation schools (among Tamils of Indian origion) are very high, while the government claims to be providing education to all, the school drop out rate steadily increases. This is the specific feature of the plantation sector as compared to the rest. The following table shows clearly the gap between the plantation sector and the rest:
Grade / Year National Average: Plantation Schools
Year 2 1.72 2.27 Year 3 2.70 6.06
Year 4 4.17 8.80
Year 5 4.6 28.57
Year 6 5.49 29.57
Source : School Census 1996, Ministry of Education and Higher Education.
Thus, it is apparent (this table and other studies) that the student drop out is higher at primary level and secondary level. This increasing drop out rate indicates that the investment in educational activities is without a desired result. For generations descent based discrimination continues in education. Victims of descent-based discrimination have been depressed for centuries and continue to be oppressed, poor housing ill-light and badly ventilated, lack of health facilities, and discrimination in access to such facilities, and deprivation of their civil and political rights continue to cause damage and deterioration in education and the cycle of deprivation and exclusion is thus perpetuated.
Of late, the Governments that came into power were concerned with solving the citizenship, education, health and housing problems, particularly as they effect the most marginalized groups such as the Plantation Tamils who when compared with the development at national level, are far more backward in development continue to face a citizenship problem that is not fully solved and are subject to historical and social discrimination in all facets of daily life.. Recommendations: To review and enact or amend legislation, as appropriate, in order to eliminate all forms of racial against Tamils of Indian Origin (Plantation People) as against other persons or groups, in accordance with the Convention.
To ensure that legislation regarding citizenship does not discriminate against members of Tamils of Indian Origin community in Sri Lanka.
To take in to account in all programs and projects planned and implemented and in all measures adopted the situation of plantation women, who are often victims of double discrimination.
To support the inclusion in the school system of all children of plantation community and to act to reduce drop-out rates, in particular among plantation girls, and for these purposes, to cooperate actively with the parents and community.
To take urgent and sustained measures in training, teachers educators and assistants from among plantation students / community.
To take necessary steps, including special measures, to secure equal opportunities for the participation of plantation minorities or groups in all central and local government bodies.
To involve the plantation community and their representatives at the earliest stages in the development and implementation of policies and programs affecting them and ensure sufficient transparency in the planning, implementation and evaluation of such policies and programs.
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