Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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HomeTamils - a Nation without a State > Struggle for Tamil Eelam  > The Plantation Tamils of Eelam > Privy Council Judgment On Constitutionality Of Citisenship Act, 11 May 1953


Privy Council Judgment On Constitutionality Of Citizenship Act, 11 May 1953
Plantation Tamils derived of Vote and Citizenship "In 1948, at independence, the Tamils had 33% of the voting power in the legislature. Upon the disenfranchisement of the estate Tamils (in 1950), however, this proportion dropped to 20%. The Sinhalese obtained more than a 2/3 majority in the Parliament, making it impossible for the Tamils to exercise an effective opposition to Sinhalese policies affecting them..." - Virginia Leary: Ethnic Conflict and Violence in Sri Lanka - Report of a Mission to Sri Lanka on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists, July/August 1981

Senator  Nadesan in the Sri Lanka Senate, 27 November 1947  "With regard to the franchise rights of the Indian labour, the consistent endeavour of the present Prime Minister, despite the fact that the presence of these Indian labourers is of the greatest use to us, and far from their being a hindrance to us they are helping us to earn whatever surplus revenue could possibly be earned,  has always been to reduce the number of voters who can possibly come from among them. Even if the entirety of the 700,000 of them exercise the vote they can at the most send 8 Members out of 101 to the House of Representatives. That is an aspect of the matter that has always struck me as rather curious - that today anybody who calls himself a statesman should take upon himself to say that we will get these persons to do all this work but so far as franchise rights are concerned, despite the fact that we will not be dominated, we will not give them any thing even though they are willing to declare themselves citizens of Ceylon. I should have thought that any Indian labourer who at the end of a period of 5 years residence in Ceylon is willing to renounce his Indian nationality and adopt Ceylonese nationality, should have no difficulty in acquiring citizenship rights. Then the whole problem of Indian labour in Ceylon will be satisfactorily solves for all time..."

The Indo-Ceylon Problem & the 1954 Nehru-Kotelawala Pact - Sir John Kotelawala, Ceylon Prime Minister 1953-56

The Plantation Tamils of Eelam

Time line - citizenship struggle of plantation workers

" ...We are in a Buddhist country! We are in a country, I believe, where a large section of the people believe in the theory that there is a reaction to every action; they believe in the karmic theory. It is not for long, Mr. President that one can mouth pious platitudes about the teaching of the Buddha and various other matters and continue to perpetrate injustices of this nature. And it is unfortunate that one of the first fruits of Ceylonese independence should be the attempted deprivation of the elementary rights of a section of the population in this country who, by their sweat and toil, have contributed immeasurably to the prosperity of this land... Is it not the height of folly, I ask, for any person who calls himself a statesman, to pretend that if an enactment of this nature were put on the statute book it would not have any repercussions? If we do that, we lay ourselves open to the charge that we, who profess to be lovers of freedom are a party to the disfranchisement of a class of persons who enjoyed citizenship rights for 18 years. " Ceylon (Parliamentary Elections) Amendment Bill Speech delivered by Senator.S.Nadesan during the course of the debate in the first Senate on 17 November 1949

1823: South Indian Tamil labourers recruited from districts of Chenkelpettai, Coimbatore, Madurai, Thanjavoor, Thiruchirapalli and others arrive to work in plantations.

1920: Mr.Natesa Iyer becomes first Indian representative to legislative council.

1924: Two Indians nominated to legislative council. Franchise was limited to elite. Indian Tamils represented 12900 out of 205,000 electoral college votes.

1931: Universal adult franchise was introduced in Sri Lanka under the Donoughmore constitution plantation workers were granted franchise.

1931-36: Registered voters of Indian origin rose from 100,000 to 145,000.

1939: Resolution introduced in the State Council to deport 15000 Indians. A second resolution moved by D. S Senanayake (independent Ceylon's first Prime Minister) to deport all Indians appointed to government service after 1934 and to discontinue the service of all those with less than ten years experience.

1939: Arrival of Jawaharlal Nehru on the advice of Mahatma Gandhi to unite all the groups. Emergence of the Ceylon Indian Congress.

1947: Elections bring political strength to the Indian Tamil community with the election of seven out of the 95 member Parliament. This was equal to the seven Tamil members elected from the North East.

1948: The Ceylon Citizenship Act, though providing the qualifications to be a citizen, was designed to disqualify persons of Indian origin. The provision said that "only a person born in Ceylon prior to the date of the Act coming into force, of a father born in Ceylon could be recognised as a citizen". This decitizenized all persons of Indian origin since proof of birth of two generations was necessary.

Ceylon Citizenship Bill - Speech in the Ceylon Senate on 15 September 1948 - Senator S.Nadesan

The Ceylon Citizenship Act passed into law on 15 November 1948. The Speech made by Senator.S.Nadesan on 15 September 1948, in the Ceylon  Senate, during the debate on the Ceylon Citizenship Bill (Session: 1948-49:Senate Hansard Pages 1096-1127) remains an important, well researched study of the Plantation Tamil question.   Forty years later on 13 May 1998 the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights declared: "The Committee notes with concern the uncertain situation of 85,000 Tamils of Indian origin living in Sri Lanka. They possess neither Indian citizenship nor Sri Lankan citizenship, have no access to basic services such as education, and do not enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights." (Concluding Observations of  the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on the Report submitted by Sri Lanka under Articles 16 and 17 of the Covenant - E/C.12/1/Add.24, 13 May 1998 - see also Indictment Against Sri Lanka: Plantation Tamils Deprived of Citizenship)

"...after listening to the entirety of the debate, one cannot help feeling that the main reason which has brought about ... this Bill ... is that the Government wants to exclude as much of the (plantation Tamil) population as is possible from becoming citizens of this country ......Just a word at this juncture, Mr. President, on the unqualified statement made that Ceylon has the right, as every other country, to determine the composition of its population. When Germany under Hitler, started to de-citizenise the Jews, every civilised country in the world condemned it. Hitler said that he has absolute power to determine the composition of the population of Germany; and he did determine that to his own satisfaction. The question that arises is whether, by deciding upon the composition of the population of this country, in the manner proposed in this Bill, are we doing the right thing, the fair thing, the honourable thing? That is the question that one has to pay due regard to...."

1949: Enactment of Indian and Pakistani (Residents) Citizenship Bill. It laid down qualifications for citizenship as registered citizens (sic). The qualifications inherent in the bill were designed to deny citizenship.

1951: 237,034 applications requesting citizenship for 825,000 (90%) persons of Indian origin were made. Majority of applications were rejected as many were unable to produce evidence of birth in Sri Lanka, to provide proof of uninterrupted residency or to provide proof of an assured income.

1956: Elections too proved negative to the Indian origin people since they had no strength to field candidates.

1960: The government of Mrs. Bandaranaike created a nominated representation for the people of Indian origin and appointed Savumiamoorthy Thondaman to Parliament.

1964: Mrs. Bandaranaike moved to solve the citizenship problem in keeping with the Sinhala thinking that persons of Indian origin should return to India. India, then led by Lal Bahadur Shastri agreed to this move by agreeing to accept 525, 000 back to India. Sri Lanka had agreed to grant citizenship to 300,000 persons leaving the future of 150,000 people to be settled later.

1974: A further bartering was done under the Sirima (Sic) Indira Gandhi agreement, dividing the balance people between the two countries.

1965: The UNP government too nominated Savumiamoorthy Thondaman to Parliament in return for his support to defeat the government of Mrs.

1977: Savumiamoorthy Thondaman contested the Nuwara Eliya � Maskeliya multi member seat and was elected to Parliament as the third member. After thirty years since 1947 a member was elected to parliament by the people of Indian origin.

1978 to 1988: Thondaman made several representations for the expeditious grant of citizenship under the two Indo Ceylon Agreements. He also urged that persons who were left out of the two agreements be granted Sri Lankan citizenship. Only 506, 000 persons applied for Indian citizenship out of the 600,000 envisaged under the agreements.

1988: Grant of Citizenship to Stateless Persons (Special Provisions) Act No. 39 of 1988 was presented to Parliament by Premadasa and passed. This was opposed by the SLFP who voted against it. The people of Indian origin who were until then deprived of the rights flowing from citizenship were overwhelmed by their achieving their long dreamed goal.

2003: A bill to grant citizenship to 168,141 stateless Tamils in Sri Lanka descended from people who settled in the hill districts of the island in the 19th century was passed Tuesday without opposition in Sri Lanka's Parliament. All 172 MPs who were present in the 225 seat Parliament voted for the bill to amend the citizenship act.



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