Nutshell - Plantation workers in Ceylon / Sri Lanka

(Chronicle Order)


1823 - Labourers from South India arrived in Ceylon/Sri Lanka to work in Tea, Rubber, Cocoa and Coffee plantations in the Upcountry. They came from the districts of Chenkelpettai, Coimbatore, Madurai, Thanjavoor, Thiruchirapalli and others parts in India.


1920 - Mr.Natesa Iyer becomes first Plantation Tamil representative to legislative council in Ceylon.


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


1931 - Universal adult franchise was introduced in Ceylon/Sri Lanka under the Donoughmore constitution. Plantation workers were granted franchise.


1936 - Registered voters of Plantation Tamil rosed from 100,000 to 145,000.


1939 - Resolution introduced in the State Council to deport 15000 Indians. A second resolution moved by Ceylon's 1st Prime Minister D. S Senanayake to deport all Indians appointed to government service after 1934 and to discontinue the service of all those with less than ten years experience.


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


1947 - Elections bring political strength to the Plantation 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 from Plantation Tamil 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 Plantation Tamils since proof of birth of two generations was necessary.


1949 - Enactment of Indian and Pakistani (Residents) Citizenship Bill. It laid down qualifications for citizenship as registered citizens. The qualifications inherent in the bill were designed to deny citizenship. This act disenfranchised almost all Plantation Tamils in the upcountry.


1951 - 237,034 applications requesting citizenship for 825,000 (90%) persons of Plantation Tamils of Indian origin were made.


Majority of applications were rejected as many were unable to produce evidence of birth in Ceylon/Sri Lanka, to provide proof of uninterrupted residency or to provide proof of an assured income.


1956 - Elections too proved negative to Plantation Tamils since they had no strength to field candidates because majority of them were disenfranchised.


1960 - The government created a nominated representation for the people of Plantation Tamils and appointed S. Thondaman – the leader of Ceylon Workers Congress to Parliament.


1964 – The government decided to solve the citizenship problem in keeping with the Sinhala thinking that persons of Plantation Tamils of Indian origin should return to India.


Indian delegation then led by Lal Bahadur Shastri agreed to accept 525, 000 back to India.


Ceylon/Sri Lanka had agreed to grant citizenship to 300,000 persons leaving the future of 150,000 people to be settled later.


1965 - The UNP government too nominated S. Thondaman to Parliament in return for his support to defeat the government of SLFP.


1974 - A further bartering was done under the Sirimavo-Indira Gandhi agreement, dividing the balance people between the two countries.


1977 – S. 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 from Plantation Tamils was elected to parliament by the people of Upcountry.


1978 to 1987 - 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 President 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.


07 Oct. 2003 - A bill to grant citizenship to 168,141 stateless Plantation Tamils in the Upcountry was passed in Sri Lanka Parliament. Hundred and seventy two (172) MPs who were presented out of two hundred and twenty five (225) members in the Parliament voted for the bill to amend the citizenship act.