21 April, 2018

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Upcountry Tamils In Plantations: Politics A Void Situation?

By Vijayanathan Loganathan

Vijayanathan Loganathan

Vijayanathan Loganathan

With the nomination saga ending mid-day 13 July both UPFA and UNP are widely covered by the media and political discourses drawing from the drama that unfolded during last few weeks. These ascendancies however have diminished the visibility of minor parties elsewhere in the country. There is attention paid to JVP as a third force covering much of its positions and speeches but seemingly less focus on plantations where there is sizable voters and once termed as a turning point in electoral politics. Late Thondaman was often referred to as a ‘king maker’ in the national political front. All such importance diminished with electoral politics being somewhat polarized after 2005 with entry in to active politics by forces playing Sinhala Buddhist pronouncements. During the times of late S Thondaman the politics of plantation people took a significant place if not a central role to support the ruling coalitions be it blue or green. As a leader of a population of 1.5 million (within and outside plantations), Late Soumiyamoorthy Thondaman positioned himself and acted with resilience and great responsibility. Through his political foresightedness and with a defined process taking in to confidence of many intellectuals he was able to reap the benefits for his people.

Upcountry TamilsLosing that importance in the national governance by the plantation community is due to not only polarization of electoral politics but also more importantly due to their own demonstrated weaknesses in political acumen and lack of coherent governance of the political system that they are part or in control of. In the absence of a clear vision or a strategic approach by the leaderships for their community, the politics surround often a wish list based support to either one of the national parties. These wish lists forwarded to the national parties as a bargain to support either coalitions to form the government. The wish lists are often easily acceptable to the national parties since they can get away with them unfulfilled. There were no serious interests to follow up on those wish lists since post-election scenario pushes them to settle only with some Ministerial positions and other benefits. Therefore, even the list that contains; developing schools, ownership of housing and land, youth employment, training opportunities etc come up again and again indicating that they have not been fulfilled on previous occasions. However, the support drama continues for merely providing a platform for getting elected and securing some positions. Unfortunately, the voters are unable to follow up and check the performance of their representatives due to weak institutional structures and backward nature. The vicious cycle has been in continuance for the past several elections both at provincial and national level. Like many other small political parties, there is no scope and place for professional role in the plantation-based parties since they are individual centric with a considerable financial capacity and or legacy.

On the other hand, the national level major political parties have reduced the role for minorities be it from the north and east or upcountry. Both UNP and SLFP have given less space for individuals from these geographical areas to be part in their central policy and decision-making and or in their cabinet. Empowering the weaker section of the Tamils of Indian origin living in the plantation regions becomes challenging when the voices are least heard at the central level. The challenge seems to continue until and otherwise there is a change in the political landscape of the community and leaderships.

The culture of political participation in the plantation needs an overhauling. The community will need a greater political movement above the mandate of trade unionism that is currently observed in the plantation areas.

A retired civil servant and a senior writer Neville Jayaweera in one of his memoirs analyzed the two main types of political leaderships. Most commonly seen are those who ride on the popular mood of the masses to attain his or her goals of power and then keep it going without making changes. There is No vision for the masses they seek to dominate and rule upon or there is no any effort to transcend to bring about positive changes in the life of the people. On the other hand, the masses too are weak and only seek to fulfil their immediate needs. This is very relevant situation to the plantations. Taking advantage of this feeble nature the political offices in the plantations intervenes to address basic needs and keeps intact the community. Trade unionism help to achieve the objectivity of ‘captivity’. The second type of leadership Neville Jayaweera enunciates is the one who is caught with a vision for a civilized society and attempt objectify it. Such leadership will have a long vision for a transformed society embracing rights and values. In the case of plantation, it will be democracy, growth, development, and many more dealing with human needs (hierarchy of needs). There is always a gap between the vision and popular mood and that the leadership has to fight to thin the gap. For this lot of mobilization and sacrifices will be needed to achieve the vision. Absence of such a long vision and development goals demonstrated by political parties makes the Plantation Community still weak and isolated.

The change in the culture of conducting politics along the lines outlined above becomes a decisive need rather than a sophisticated tool for transformation of the community to a status on par with others in the country.

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Latest comments

  • 1
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    What I have observed over especially the past ten years or so is the rather upward mobility of the plantation Tamil community. This transformation is no doubt dut to the efforts of the late S. Thondaman and his political strategies. However, his successors from the

    • 6
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      Thanks for highlighting the changing dynamics of leadership in the plantation sector. As in the rest of Sri Lanka the Plantation sector needs a NEW and YOUNGER and CLEAN generation of leadership with strategic vision to end the CULTURE of DEPENDENCY in the plantation sector.
      The fact of the matter is that people of the plantations have long been exploited by their so-called political leaders (like the junior Thondoman who behave like war lords), as much as by the Plantation Management companies. Today ironically the SL government is saying that it wants to bail out plantation companies, but really there should be a new labour deal and the old British Plantation political economy built on exploitation of Indian origin Tamils must end with LAND OWNERSHIP, training and livelihood assistance for the workers, to become tea small holders – as in Malaysia.
      A new generation of Plantation leaders should demand LAND OWNERSHIP and Title for plantation families and communities who for generations have been denied the right to own the land that they live on and labour on..
      Having their own plot of land and home outside of crowded line rooms will enable the Indian Origin platation Tamils to break out the current CULTURE OF DEPENDENCY on exploitative Estate Management and Labour Unions, and stand on their own feed, get education and vote for DECENT and Honest politicians.

      • 2
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        Very true.

        Like the Tamils who were exploited by their so-called leaders of the LTTE, EPDP, TNA etc, plantation communities are exploited by their so-called leaders.. who are merely middle men who negotiate a few hand outs from the Plantation ownership and Sinhala politicians.

        They are trapped and caught ina vicious cycle of exploitation by their so-called saviors, just as the Tamils in the north were trapped by LTTE and TNA..

        • 1
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          Laxmi
          What did the successive governments from the time of independence do to the Tamils till 2009?
          Look at what conscientious Sinhalese told LLRC in 2010.
          What did Rajapakse government do to the Tamis in the last six years?
          Look at the keynote speech by the Chief Guest Northern Provincial Governor at the 176th AGM of Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

          • 0
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            [Edited out] Please write instead of posting links – CT

  • 5
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    This is what I call an uneducated guess. The guy guesses because he is uneducated.

    The Plantation Tamil of Ceylon is best paid yet least productive of any tea producing country in the world. A Ceylon Tamil plantation worker get paid more for less number of hours than a comparable worker in Tamil Nadu.

    In fact because of over payment the tea industry has become unsustainable in Ceylon. Its no longer sustainable because India and Kenya produce tea at almost half the cost. Not only that the workers are on strike demanding more in wages.

    • 4
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      The poor productivity is largely the result of poor management in the plantations. Further, the higher cost of living in Sri Lanka and higher expectations, make it very difficult to live on daily wages offered in the plantations. This also leads to much frustration at the level of the workers.

      Dr.RN

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        Dr. RN,

        So how did you come to know the issue with productivity?

        The productivity targets are set by the unions. So are you saying there are non-union tea workers?

    • 3
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      Imbecile,

      Shooting from your hip is your speciality! Engaging one’s head before one speaks is a concept that is completely alien to you. You have allowed demons within you to consume you and Tamil-bashing is your pastime unfortunately. It would be interesting to study your ancestry; I am sure there would be Tamil connections!

      • 1
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        Intelligent burning issue
        What is your point that you want to make relevant to what is written, I don’t see anything useful here in your comment and other comments made by you elsewhere. Not sure how CT allows such comments

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          Sira,

          My comments do have relevance in terms of historical significance as far as the CT debates are concerned. I suggest that you learn to read between lines. Obviously you have not come across the drivels that this imbecile spews out about the Tamils!

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            So drivel against Tamils is not ok but drivel against sinhala is ok..If tamils have a problem in SL they should leave SL and go back to tamil country or ask their slave masters in Britian to grant them British citizenship.

            We have paid them for what they did and did nothing to get back the lands owned by Sinhala farmers prior to British occupation

            • 4
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              sachooooooooooooo

              Good to hear from you.

              “So drivel against Tamils is not ok but drivel against sinhala is ok”

              Drivel against Tamils, Sinhalese or Buddhists is not okay.

              However drivel against Sinhala/Buddhists are fine, in fact we want more of it and not less. They deserve it. The deserve it three times a day, 7/52.

              • 2
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                You can have drivel against Sinhala Buddhists in Tamil homeland which is TN,,,in Sinhala buddhists country, it cannot be done…It is invasion.

                and dont come with your fake vaddha thing, because you are an ashamed tamil

                • 4
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                  sachoooooooo

                  “You can have drivel against Sinhala Buddhists in Tamil homeland which is TN”

                  Fine take your Sinhala/Buddhists back to their ancestral Thamil homeland.

                  “and dont come with your fake vaddha thing, because you are an ashamed tamil”

                  If you are not ashamed of yourself you wouldn’t defend Sinhala/Buddhists.

                  In fact you would be proud of either being a Sinhalese or a Buddhist, not the shameless politically manufactured Sinhala/Buddhist mask wearing bigots, racists, stupid, ………

    • 5
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      I have to mention this, as you said The Plantation Tamil of Ceylon is best paid compare to other countries but upcountry Tamils who are working in plantation, they don’t have a proper infrastructure or housing scheme, education system and medical facilities. They will not demand for more in wedges or strike If the government implements such essential facilities above mentioned.

      • 2
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        Plantation Tamils in Ceylon are the best paid, have the best health facilities, housing and education compared other tea producing nations. Although they productivity is the opposite. The produce far less than the others.

        the labour productivity and effective plucking time is among the world’s lowest in the tea industry in Sri Lanka – despite wages and other benefits including housing being among the best among tea producing economies. While the daily plucking average of a tea plucker in Sri Lanka is approximately 18kg, in Kenya and Assam (in India) the figures are 48kg and 28kg respectively.

        http://www.adaderana.lk/bizenglish/regional-plantation-companies-wage-proposal-enables-workers-to-earn-rs-1000-a-day/

        • 3
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          Vibhushana, you are absolutely correct.
          When looking at productivity, however, let’s not restrict ourselves only to the harvesting of tea leaves (or ‘plucking’ as it is commonly known).
          The Female workers, whose main work on a tea estate is the plucking of leaf, work hard and put in the normal hours of work – 8.00 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. with the usual tea and lunch breaks.
          But now let’s look at the Male workers. They start work at 8.00 a.m. but work only upto 1.00 p.m. with a minimum 30 minute tea break in-between –
          yes, 4.5 hours of working time, for which they get a full day’s wages.
          Even when Males are deployed to pluck, they work only upto 1.00 p.m.
          Now can anybody dispute the issue of low productivity of Sri Lankan plantation workers?

  • 2
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    What I have observed over especially the past fifteen years or so is the upward mobility of the plantation Tamil community. This transformation is no doubt due to the efforts of the late S. Thondaman and his political strategies.The internal momentum that has established itself within this community, will carry it forward, come what may. They are no longer the people I saw in their thousands in the refugee camp in Kandy, in the aftermath of the 1977 riots. They yet have problems Iike unemployment, housing, quality of schooling and health care. However, they seem to know what they want. This is progress , despite the leadership they currently have. They are also not isolated in the plantations as before. They are mobile, ready to seek employment elsewhere and become part of a larger community. What impresses me most is that they have become comfortable with their identity within the country and have discarded the ‘ slave’ mentality built into them in the plantation sector of yore. This is the greatest progress they have made.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    • 2
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      Hello Dr RN,

      Vibushana, above, writes that the SL plantation worker is comparatively overpaid and less productive. If higher wages are paid to these workers then costs rise and the price of our tea becomes uncompetitive. The more educated and better off these workers are they will opt out of being a plantation worker. So the worst case scenario for plantation owners and political parties representing workers is the upward mobility of there workers. So doesn’t it flow from there that while these political parties pretend to work for the betterment of their electorate, sheer necessity dictates that they will collude with plantation owners to ensure that the progress of that community is slower than the rest of the population in the country?

      The only meaningful battle waged by the likes of Azeez and Thanda was on the stateless issue. After that the bulk of the CWC strikes and agitations centered around the daily wage and the festival allowance. The mobility issues that face this community are more nuanced than that which meets the eye.

    • 0
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      I just happened to see this. Between 1988/90 until he died the late Thondaman chose a group of reasonably educated and successful businessmen based in Cbo of recent Indian origin to build a new leadership of the community in the Colombo District. He saw a different sub-community in the Indian community here in the WP. He created a set of leaders among them viz: Yogarajan, P. Radhakrishnan became MPs. The Indian Govt was impressed with his foresight and helped him in many ways. The new hospital gifted by the Indian Govt in Hatton is one. There was much help in the area of education from India. Thondaman Snr. changed the mindset and vision of the young plantation generation. The liberated present generation of Malainattu Thamilar are proud of their heritage. Several have sent their children to study in the English language and graduate in the professions in S. India. They don’t try to ape the Jaffna Tamil accent and are proud of their own. It is a fact many Jaffna Tamils now speak with an Indian Tamil accent due to post-1983 reasons.

      Some credit is due to the late Minister P. Chandrasekeran, who took advantage of the weaknesses of the subsequent CWC leadership. He has produced an alternate leadership of Tamils in the hill country through his UP-Country Liberation Front. Had he lived longer Chandrasekeran may well have eclipsed the CWC lead by Arumugam Thondaman, which finds itself at its weakest position in 7 decades.

      Since the death of Thondaman Snr. there is a vacuum.New leaders English-Sinhala speaking men like Mano Ganesan, Sadhasivam, Loganathan, Digambaram, Radharishnan, Madiyugarajah are trying to fill in the void. The younger Thondaman is fastly losing his grip and the community is disappointed with his personal weaknesses. During Thondaman Snr’s time there were 9-10 MPs. It is now down to 2. The new generation of Indian Tamils speak Sinhalese well and are keen to educate their children in both in English and Sinhalese. Many young girls are educated and work as teachers and in other professions. Many young men are successful small-time businessmen in different parts of the island. Through trading and industries, the community in recent times has produced several millionaires particularly in the Colombo District and the Central Province.

      Almost the entire community of Sri Lankans of recent Indian origin acknowledge their gratitude to the late Minister Thondaman for changing the face of the community – against great odds from 1947.

      R. Varathan

  • 2
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    Indian Tamil indentured /serfs labour force forced on Kandyan lands. Rampant alcoholism, incest in line rooms, ignorant lower class forcing their daughters into marriage to older men, and the most exploited servant class. Looked down upon by northern racist Tamil Vellalas. Without them they’ll be no “Ceylon tea ” . Deliberately kept ignorant by Indian Tamil leaders who became filthy rich. Some of them also engaged in incest where grandfather is the father not the alcoholic fathers who drank themselves to death. And their son/grandsons just continue their drunken corruption.

    • 4
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      OberoiCWClover

      All right, I take it that you are honorable concerned person who has first hand experience of upcountry Tamil people’s life.

      What the hell were you doing while all those inhumane activities have been taking place among them.

      If you are really concerned about them you would have done something to change their life and life style.

      Are you a sadistic pervert who enjoy watching, talking, reminiscing … other people’s suffering?

      Go get a life.

    • 0
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      I fear this may be the plight of the North(and Tamil areas of the East) soon with the continued rule of the army: after the President’s tolken return of some land, the army is having its own policy of bothering the returnees. The army has taken over not only their fertie part of the farming land but continues the rule.

  • 0
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    A poorly written article. However writing something on plantation sector is very good. Something is better than nothing.

  • 1
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    It’s heart warming to read an article about the plight of the plantation sector Indian origin people’s political stand in Sri Lankan politics.Being underprivileged for decades these people are manipulated by their own politicians and by the government time and again. From Thondaman to present day politicians did nothing to improve the standard of the up country tamils.The rulers who came to power with the support of these people amassed their wealth instead of ameliorating the standard of these innocent people. No politician has a political vision for upcountry tamils because no politician has genuine intentions to genuinely serve these people.

  • 2
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    Sach

    you are a fool. since you are talking about tamilnadu, the fact is that the majority of Sinhalese people today originate from tamilnadu, kerala region. so if you are really talking about people going back to tamilnadu you will also have to go there aswell and the island would empty save 3000 veddhas.

    Also remember that the evolution of the Sinhalese language owes a lot to tamil not the otherway around.

    • 0
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      majority of Sinhalese people today originate from tamil nadu, NOp majority of sinhalese have bengal origin

  • 1
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    @lipwe

    Actually it is you who are wrong. Vijaya only came with 700 people. When vijaya came landed the island was by no means empty. So it is hihgly unlikely that all present day sinahlese descended from west bengal. Ofcourse you could argue that some bengalis would have continued to arrive after vijaya. However given the close proximity to south india there would have been greater migration from places such as kerala.

    Also if you look at many sinhalese surnames such as tennakoon, ahalakoon, kariyawasam similar surnames are found in souhtern india not in bengal. the food we eat such as indiappam, pittu are found in kerala not in bengal. So basically you live right next to south india, have south indian sounding names, eat south indian food and you still cling on to the idea that most sinhalese are descended from bengalis. How ridiculous does that sound.

    Also by the way even bengalis are classied mostly as mongoloid dravidians with some aryan amongst the upper castes. Therefore even if you were to argue that the sinhalese are descended from bengal it still doesn’t prove that they are aryan because most bengalis are not fully aryan. Basically you are desperate to prove that you are aryan eventhough you probably have very little aryan. BTW remember there is no such thing as a black aryan!!!

  • 2
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    @lipwe

    Actually it is you who are wrong. Vijaya only came with 700 people. When vijaya came landed the island was by no means empty. So it is hihgly unlikely that all present day sinahlese descended from west bengal. Ofcourse you could argue that some bengalis would have continued to arrive after vijaya. However given the close proximity to south india there would have been greater migration from places such as kerala. Also if you look at many sinhalese surnames such as tennakoon, ahalakoon, kariyawasam similar surnames are found in souhtern india not in bengal. the food we eat such as indiappam, pittu are found in kerala not in bengal. So basically you live right next to south india, have south indian sounding names, eat south indian food and you still cling on to the idea that most sinhalese are descended from bengalis. How ridiculous does that sound. Also by the way even bengalis are classified mostly as mongoloid dravidians with some aryan amongst the upper castes. Therefore even if you were to argue that the sinhalese are descended from bengal it still doesn’t prove that they are aryan because most bengalis are not fully aryan. Basically you are desperate to prove that you are aryan eventhough you probably have very little aryan. BTW remember there is no such thing as a black aryan!!!

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