SRI LANKA: The plantation workers walk for “tracing our roots to win our rights”

A Statement from COLLECTIVE FOR MAANBUMIGU MALAIYAHA MAKKAL forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission

Today (28th July 2023) groups of men and women working in the plantations, in the hill country will begin a walk from Thalaimannar to Matale. This walk is organized by COLLECTIVE FOR MAANBUMIGU MALAIYAHA MAKKAL. The walk will end only on 12th August 2023. On the way there will be gatherings at Thalaimannar, Talaimannar to Pesalai, Pesalai to Mannar Town, Mannar Town to Murunkan, Murunkan to Madhu, Madhu, Madhu Junction to Cheddikulum, Cheddikulum to Medawachchiya, Medawachchiya, Medawachchiya to Mihintale, Mihintale to Tirappane, Tirappane to Kekirawa, Kekirawa to Dambulla, Dambulla, Dambulla to Nalanda, Nalanda to Matale

Objectives of the walk 

According to notice issued by the organizers the objectives of the walk as  follows. We are re-tracing the journey of the first groups of women and men brought to Ceylon/Sri Lanka to work in the plantations, in the hill country. Over the years, thousands of workers who were shipped here from India to work, landed in Mannar, and were made to embark on a dangerous trek on foot to Matale. They endured life threatening disease, cleared jungles and braved wild animals throughout their journey. In some groups, as many as 40% died along the way, and were buried or disposed of. We are inviting all of you to join us on this journey – a pilgrimage to reflect and connect with the first generation who made this arduous trek, 200 years ago.

The “Malaiyaha Ezhuchchi Payanam” is also about the future – it is about the demand of the Malaiyaha Tamil community to be recognized as free and equal citizens of Sri Lanka. Since the community came to this country 200 years ago, its existence here has been one of struggle. The demands flow from their continued appeals to successive Sri Lankan governments for recognition and equal status, as distinct and integral people of Sri Lanka. This echoes the community’s struggles for an identity as a constituent people of independent Ceylon/Sri Lanka on par with other communities.

The “Malaiyaha Ezhuchchi Payanam” is also a conversation with our fellow citizens.

This journey is aimed at raising a basic level of understanding about the history, struggles, achievements, contribution, current socio-economic and political status, and aspirations of the Malaiyaha Tamil community, among the Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamils, Muslims and other fellow citizens.

This walk is organize for making the following appeal.

The Malaiyaha community, in commemorating 200 years since their arrival to Ceylon/Sri Lanka have an appeal to become full and equal citizens, participating fully/ meaningfully in Sri Lankan life. In addition to the walk from Mannar to Matale being one of reflection, this is also a solidarity walk in support of their Appeal.

In order to become meaningful citizens of Sri Lanka, the Malaiyaha Tamil people call for the;

  •         Acknowledgement of our history, struggle and contribution,
  •         Recognition as a constituent people of post-independent Sri Lanka, with a distinct identity on par with other main communities,
  •         Affirmative action on Education, Health and Social Safety measures, to achieve parity with national averages,
  •         A living wage, decent work, legal protection and equal pay for men and women workers,
  •         Land with secure tenure for housing and livelihoods
  •         Equal use and parity of status for the Tamil Language
  •        Equal access to Government Services
  •        Demarcation of plantation human settlements as new villages
  •        Protection of domestic workers
  •        Preservation and promotion of Malaiyaha culture
  •        Equitable and inclusive electoral system and power sharing that give a meaningful role in governance at all tiers of government

The views shared in this statement do not necessarily reflect that of the AHRC. 

Document Type : Forwarded Statement
Document ID : AHRC-FST-002-2023
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Civil and Political Rights, Democracy, Labour rights, Land rights, Minorities,