Suicide of a Refugee : Plight of Sri Lankan Tamils in Tamil Nadu

-- C Mathivanan

ON 6th March this year, a 45 year-old Sri Lankan Tamil refugee Raveendran climbed up to the high-tension electric tower in the Uchapatti refugee camp of Madurai, and electrocuted himself by touching the wire, falling fifty feet. Before he committed suicide, witnesses who tried to dissuade him, said that he shouted that he was sacrificing his life to free the refugees from oppression. The final straw for Ranveendran, which made him take his life, was the fact that the retired Revenue Inspector taking the roll call in the camp, refused to mark his 14 year-old son Pradeepan as ‘present’; Pradeepan is a haemophiliac and was in hospital. Being marked absent can lead to removal from the rolls – with dangerous consequences for refugees. Removal from the roll is nothing but the death of a living person in a foreign country and there is a chance of being branded as a Tamil Tiger.

Raveendran had been a skilled fisherman from Triconamalai of Sri Lanka and had reached India 20 years ago. He lived in the Uchapatti camp with his wife and children. Pradeepan, his haemophiliac son, needs injections costing around Rs 12,000 every week. Raveendran had to travel all the way to coasts and earn a living to manage the medical expenses of his son.

As a result he often failed to attend Roll Calls as he was away earning - or caring for his son who required frequent hospitalisation. On 6th March, 2016 he could not produce his son during the roll call and the concerned official threatened to remove the name from the roll. Raveendran and his father pleaded with the official but the latter only made some humiliating taunts.

The suicide was followed by a protest by the refugees who spoke of the inhuman conditions in which they live in the camps – denied dignity and security. The refugee camps have thatched huts measuring 10x10, built at least two decades ago and never maintained. The refugees receive paltry rations (Rs 100 per man + Rs 750 per woman + Rs 300 per child, which is inadequate to maintain a family. They have to attend roll calls twice a month. Ever since the killing of Rajiv Gandhi, they are also treated as potential terrorists, and incarcerated in the camps whenever dignitaries like the Indian PM or Sri Lankan leaders visit Tamil Nadu.

Many of the refugees are fisher people. But they are not allowed to earn a living by fishing, and are instead forced to remain inland, in the name of preventing them from using the sea to escape from the clutches of TN Police and state. So they work as painters and at various other menial jobs to meet the cost of living, education and medical expenses. And they cannot work where they please in the State because they have to be in the camp at every roll call.

Now the wards of refugees are in their twenties and they cannot join colleges easily or get employment as they are seen as ‘Eelam People’. Even those who complete higher education have to work at menial jobs. The young generation never knows their ancestral land, and the older generation have nothing to which to return. So most of them want to remain in India; youngsters in particular consider themselves Indians in every practical sense. As of now there are 1,02,259 refugees in the camps of Tamil Nadu. While the issue of the Sri Lankan Tamils is raised politically according to the convenience of various ruling class parties of the State, the fact is that there is no serious political will to end the suffering of the refugees and grant them citizenship. Raising these issues, the CPI(ML) has been asking all parties in Tamil Nadu to clarify their stand on the question of citizenship to the Tamil refugees.

An AIPF-PUCL fact finding team led by Prof. R Murali, State Campaign Committee member of AIPF and many scholars and AISA members visited the Uchapatti camp, met refugees and members of the victim’s family. Later the team also met the PA (G) to the collector of Madurai.

The report was released on 12th March, 2016 at Press Guild of Madurai, where

The Report demanded:

  1. Compensation to Mr. Raveendran’s family (Rs 25 lakh) and continued treatment along with total medical care for his son and family at the expense of Government.
  2. Citizenship to all Tamil refugees willing to live in India.
  3. Removal of Q branch supervision over refuges which prevent refugees from raising their voice
  4. No more roll calls, a practice which reduces refugees to the status of ‘jail mates’
  5. Many other reforms till the refugees get citizenship
  6. India to sign International Convention on the Status of Refugees-1951 and Protocol on the Status of Refugees- 1967 and to formulate its own refugee policy/Act, instead of selective action in various states to suit political needs.

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