Sri Lanka: Indian Tamils - A fertilizer for the economic well-being of the country
'Before I go into my story I would like to give a brief introduction to myself. I am Subashini Selvaraj from Ratnapura District which is located in a beautiful hilly part of Sri Lanka. Originally I am an Indian Tamil girl who is unrecognized in the country with broken dreams and hopes. Thanks to God that I have got a chance to help my community though. Currently I am doing my final year in Asian Studies in Asian University for Women (AUW) in Bangladesh. I have enough confidence and courage that I will be a leader not who leads the people but who support people to become leaders.
Can a dew drop make changes in a desert? The challenge is figuring out how to get there and to stick with it. Have you ever wondered how identity takes an important role in a person’s life? Can there be people who do not posses any identity? Our personal version of reality is heavily influenced by what we focus on, how we filter that information, and the way we set our priorities. Living in a society where we feel lonely, helpless, hopeless, and worthless will be the worst part of a human’s life.
“Indian Tamils in Sri Lanka” - have you ever wondered who these people are and how and where do they live? Indian Tamils are a “very minority” distinct ethnic group representing about 8% of the population and live in the Sri Lankan hills. The British brought them to Sri Lanka in the 19th century as tea and rubber plantation workers, and they remain concentrated in the "tea country" of south-central Sri Lanka. They were not given any fundamental rights because they were not considered as citizens of Sri Lanka.
Plantation people live in semi-slavery, unable to get reputable jobs, education, and shelter compared to others in Sri Lanka. They are paid only a basic wage of 121 rupees, (US$ 1) per day which is not even enough for their daily meals. In plantation sector, only 15% of the children get proper pre-school education: plantation management does not allow pre-school education inside the plantation because they think if children are educated, there will not be anyone to continue the estate work, such as plucking tea leaves, cleaning roads and removing garbage and working as domestic workers in the cities.
There are a few members to represent these people in the parliament to raise voice for the plantation people, yet due to the discrimination by the others they are unable to support these poor plantation people. Even though there are few, when they go to politics the promises are becoming dreams. Since the plantation sectors do not have enough schools with facilities, students get the higher failure rate in Advanced- Level, they are losing the opportunity to enter in universities. 45,000 students enrolled in Sri Lankan universities in 2000, but only 0.5 per cent, which is 220 students, was from plantation-worker families. Is it fair for these people not to be treated equally as any other Sri Lankan citizens? To whom they have to blame for their suffering? Just they want the same rights and facilities as other communities since they are also human beings, who have the same dreams and hopes towards their lives.
I am proud to say that I am an Indian Tamil with dreams of a successful life for my community, who have sacrificed their lives for a long time without knowing that the Sri Lankan government keep using them as fertilizers to grow the economic well-being of the country. It hurts when I realized how we have been marginalized by the other communities.
AUW is the place where my dreams and hopes of challenging the problems faced by my community get courage. I was teaching in a pre-school after I completed my high-school where I started my first journey of supporting my people. It was a small pre-school in the middle of a tea plantation. Former AUW Executive Director of the admissions office Dr. Regina Papa visited there. When she came to interview students she blessed me to have a bright future to continue my work for my people who led me to be here now at the AUW (and I am the only one from plantation sector until now.)
I love my dreams since they reflect my people. I am not going to say I will build a school or will give money or establish an NGO for my people. Yet, I will let them know that we do not have an identity to say who we are because we are not belong to any country neither India nor Sri Lanka, so we have to make ourselves stronger to have a brighter future which can be only achieved by education.
My target group will be women, and I will urge them to overcome the challenges to get at least basic education from government founded schools where they are lacking behind without realizing how important it is to be educated. I am their example of success, so I am planning to educate women in my community regarding why education is significant. Then, they will be able to encourage their children to attend schools. Teaching my people each summer vacation along with my friends in my community is my current plan, because I believe a very small change can make a big difference.
I will be the dew drop to my people who are yearning to have a brighter future. Tears have the ability to express each one’s feelings whether they are happy or sad, but my people always smile, which not only reflects their suppressed feelings but also their hard work.'
Along with other other international and Sri Lankan organisations, MRG is campaigning to improve the situation of the thousands of plantation workers who are the backbone of million dollar industry and a much loved brand but live and work in appalling conditions. Join our call to action here.