Angry Tamils seek changes in Lanka’s constitution

Place: Sri Lanka | Courtesy: hindustan Times
| Date: 20000331

THE LEADERS of the Tamils of Indian Origin (TIO) are lobbying for an amendment of Sri Lanka's draft constitution to enable TIOs who were “forced” to take Indian citizenship by bilateral agreements between India and Sri Lanka, to secure Sri Lankan citizenship.

“These are people who have been living in this country for generations. They point out that the Sirima-Shastri and Sirima-Indira Gandhi pacts, which apportioned the 975,000 stateless people of Indian origin between the two countries, were concluded without taking their consent.

“They were forced to take Indian citizenship,” said Mr.P.P.Devaraj, MP representing the Ceylon Workers' Congress, the premier organisation of TIOs.

Mr.Devaraj's leader, the late Mr S Thondaman, was more blunt. In a public speech he had said these pacts had treated the TIOs as “commodities” and not as human beings. As per the Sirima-Shastri Pact of 1964, India pledged to take 525,000 of the 975,000 stateless TIOs and Sri Lanka pledged to take 300,000.

The balance of 150,000 were to be taken up in 1974. As per the Sirima-Indira Pact in 1974, India and Sri Lanka agreed to absorb 75,000 each.

But out of a total of 600,000 apportioned to India, many did not apply for citizenship and many who were granted Indian papers did not leave the country at all. In 1984 for example, only 506,000 applied for Indian citizenship. Of these only 257,759 were granted citizenship and only 209,458 were repatriated.

In 1986, under pressure from Mr Thondaman, Sri Lanka by an act, agreed to absorb 94,000 apart from the 375,000 allocated by the bilateral pacts, taking the total to be granted Sri Lankan citizenship to 469,000. In 1988, again thanks to Mr.Thondaman, Sri Lanka brought in an act whereby, a person could get Sri Lankan citizenship by filing an affidavit to say that he was a permanent resident of the country and not a citizen of any other country.This enabled 233,000 TIOs to get Sri Lankan citizenship.