By S. Sivathasan –
“Will they be thinking of their own land?
Longing for the day to see it again, or
will they dream of their Mother’s abode?
They have wept and wept;
And wept and wept again.
Now they have lost their strength,
Even to weep any more”
A century old song of Bharathy in Tamil, on the plight of Tamil expatriate labour in the cane fields of Fiji.
Urge to be Back
If the above lines that melt anybody’s heart, do not apply harshly to the condition of the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu, the benign treatment they have received would explain. Ethnic affinity has played its part. But having run its course, it is on its way yielding to fresh compulsions. However benevolent the host is, overstaying one’s welcome for decades and beyond, needs rethinking. For thoughts of a return to their land of birth, political environment is changing with a new government in position. Ground conditions too are turning for the better.
The country will soon see a return of the prodigals. About all what conditioned their past as exiles and what impels a life reborn, one may hold with the lines of Sir Walter Scott.
“BREATHES there the man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
‘This is my own, my native land!’
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d
From wandering on a foreign strand?”
Not too “foreign” and not too far one would say. To the reality of renascent lives, both governments Indian and Sri Lankan would certainly respond positively and happily.
Moving with poets is comfortable and pleasurable too. Not as much is the nitty gritty of seeing the operation through. A population of 120,000 comprising 3 generations call to be transplanted. Documentation from Birth Certificates to Passports is basic. The administration on both sides is equipped for the whole gamut of clerical operations. What is needed is to dedicate these cadres specifically to this operation. As protracted will be logistics for land transport to Rameshwaram and thence by ferry to Talaimannar. Air travel may be extended to the infirm and children.
Colombo to Jaffna 1983
The above operation has given us a great deal of experience. When the hour strikes, Sri Lanka responds. To 30,000 refugees by ship to Jaffna, much had to be done. Volunteers from many a strata happily came forward. Officials to engage with colleagues in Colombo and Jaffna, medical specialists and other personnel to attend to refugee needs were at hand. Very many society leaders and ladies provided food and drinks on arrival. Provisions flowed freely. Of invaluable assistance was free transport from KKS to refugee homes given in familial spirit by VAN DRIVERS. There was little time for planning and execution. Yet the effort spread over 5 weeks was a saga of success.
India to Sri Lanka 2016
Refugees to and from India at four times the 1983 numbers, is a different proposition. Organization needed for this long drawn out operation may last two years if the inflow per week is 1000. When they spread out to the North and East of Sri Lanka to settle down in towns and villages, accommodation and food on a prolonged basis will become necessary till they become self-supporting. Schooling will call for proactive responses from Principals and departmental officials.
Amidst the odds those who have roughed it out, burnt their midnight oil and made good their future would require sympathetic consideration. They are about 3,500 graduates. Not to be ignored but deserving attention are those qualified at Advanced Level or its equivalent. In this area governmental intervention will be needed. They will certainly sustain their families when they turn income earners.
Not leaving all responsibility to the government, but with capacity to take a share is the private sector. Captains in that wealthy segment will certainly extend their cooperation. Voluntary associations can take this as an opportunity to have them absorbed in the private sector. Younger ones not in the employable stream yet, can be adopted to be suitably trained. The better placed in society owe this duty by those battered for long. Employment is the ‘Fatted Calf’ that will sustain the prodigal families. Sri Lankan society aware of it fully can easily meet it.
A Rare Challenge
Receiving a human transplant of one’s own kind seldom happens. To minds empathetically conditioned, it can be a happy occasion. The writer was able to see such a happening at Trincomalee harbour in 2003. With all issues methodically attended to at Chennai end with personal attention by the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commissioner Sumith Nakalanda, 55 refugees engaged in fishing returned to Trincomalee in 53 boats. They were received with eats and drinks by AGA Arumainayagam who bore the brunt of the work. He is now GA Kilinochchi.
What was unique was the very friendly reception extended by officials of the Navy, Immigration officials and Customs officials. On display was Sri Lankan culture at its best. A repeat performance at Thalai Mannar and Palali can be looked forward to. This will be a challenge to draw on one’s stamina for two years.