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Sri Lanka: Resolve Sri Lankan Refugee Dilemma

Paper No. 6538              Dated 11-Feb-2020

By Prof. Surynarayan

After the Amendment to the Citizenship Act was passed by Parliament, statements were issued by responsible political leaders, very often contradictory in nature. P. Chidambaram, former Home Minister, demanded Sri Lanka to be included in the Citizenship Amendment Act, along with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.  The Dravidian parties – the DMK, the AIADMK and the MDMK –  demanded that Sri Lankan Tamil refugees should be conferred dual citizenship,  The Governor’s address in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly contained a reference that dual citizenship should be granted to Sri Lankan Tamil refugees. Replying to the debate on Governor’s address in the Legislative Assembly T Pandiarajan maintained that dual citizenship is possible and made a plea that New Delhi should enter into an agreement with Sri Lanka so that Sri Lankan Refugees become entitled for dual citizenship i.e.  they will be simultaneously Sri Lankan citizens and Indian citizens.

C. V. Wigneswaran, former Chief Minister of the Northern Province, who was on a visit to Tamil Nadu, preferred voluntary repatriation of refugees to Sri Lanka. He stated that the Tamil population in the Island has already declined due to war and migration of people to various countries.  He expressed the fear that if the refugees do not return their land may be occupied by the Sinhalese. On the specific question of grant of dual citizenship, Wigneswaran said that the refugees have lived for long years in Tamil Nadu and have developed “various commitments” and in order to tackle them he was advocating “dual citizenship”. He said that the refugees would not be having “voting rights” as they are the citizens of Sri Lanka. Alternately Wigneswaran suggested that the refugees should be granted “long term visas”. He pleaded that discussions among the concerned parties in India and Sri Lanka should take place, including “senior Tamil officials in the Government” to find a way out and, at the same time, be helpful to the remaining refugees.  He wanted New Delhi to “build up infra-structural facilities” that would be beneficial to the returnees.    

Unfortunately New Delhi has not clarified the position. Intervening in the debate in Parliament Home Minister Amit Shah stated that Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan were included in the list because these countries were theocracies, implying that Sri Lanka is not a theocracy. Whether Sri Lanka is a theocracy or not is a debatable proposition. According to Sri Lanka’s leading historian K M De Silva, “Sri Lanka has ceased to be a secular state, pure and simple, even if it has not become a theocratic state which Buddhist pressure groups would have liked it to be”. The distinguished Indian historian Prof. Sarvepalli Gopal has rightly remarked “To provide for one religion having the “foremost place”, while ensuring to all freedom of conscience and other fundamental rights is to compromise on secularism and to render the country … neither a theocratic nor a secular state”

Voluntary Repatriation –Preferred Option   

 New Delhi’s preferred option is voluntary repatriation of refugees to Sri Lanka, with UNHCR assistance. Though the war ended more than a decade ago, voluntary repatriation is taking place at a snail’s pace. According to the Policy Note of the Government of Tamil Nadu, between January, 2014 and March, 2018, only 4277 refugees have got repatriated to Sri Lanka.  My interaction with the refugees returning to Sri Lanka has made me realize that only those who have means of livelihood or have been assured good jobs are returning to the island. Most of the refugees in the camps are landless labourers and without job opportunities they feel that there is no sense in returning to Sri Lanka. According to media reports, few refugees who got repatriated to Sri Lanka have returned to Tamil Nadu and are now working with their former employers. The silver lining in the present situation is the fact that there is no pressure on the refugees to return to Sri Lanka.

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If voluntary repatriation is to be expedited, the main responsibility is with Sri Lanka. The Indian experience with the refugees who came from Pakistan after 1947 and how they were successfully integrated is of great relevance. The refugees were not only provided with housing they were also given reservation for a period of fifty years in recruitment to jobs, award of scholarships etc. Those who came from Pakistan not only got integrated into Indian society; some of them rose very high in their chosen professions like Man Mohan Singh, Ram Jethmalani, L K Advani, Dev Anand etc. New Delhi should persuade Sri Lanka to adopt similar policy with regard to the refugees who get repatriated to Sri Lanka.

My second suggestion is that the Government of Sri Lanka, in consultation with the Government of India and the provincial governments in the Northern Province and Eastern Province should make an in-depth study of various problems associated with the economic development of Tamil areas, which were devastated by prolonged ethnic conflict. The study can make an estimate of the man power requirements for economic transformation – carpenters, masons, electricians, welders etc. Necessary training for these jobs could be provided in the refugee camps in Tamil Nadu and when they return to Sri Lanka they can be successfully absorbed and they would become productive citizens of the country.

What is Sri Lanka’s Policy?

 Since the Tamil Nadu Government wants an agreement to be signed with Sri Lanka for conferment of dual citizenship it is essential that we have a clear understanding of Sri Lanka’s political evolution and the Citizenship Acts which were enacted soon after independence. In his book, Indo-Ceylon Relations since Independence, Prof.  Shelton U Kodikara has put forward the Sinhalese point of view. The question of permanent settlement was the most “germane” issue. While the Government of India and Indian public opinion were of the view that the Indian workers had become “permanent residents” of the island, the Government of Ceylon regarded them as “birds of passage” without permanent interest in the island. They argued that the workers sojourn in the island generally coincided with the “duration of their employment”.

What was the objective of the citizenship enactments which were introduced in Ceylon soon after independence? In the 1947 parliamentary elections, held under the Soulbury Constitution, the Indian Tamil voters mainly voted for the candidates of the Ceylon Indian Congress (CIC) and the left parties. The leftward swing of the plantation voters sent shock waves among the UNP leadership. They were determined to debar the vast majority of Indian Tamils from Ceylon’s citizenship. If the Government could restrict the citizenship and, therefore, the franchise of the Indians, a large number of Marxist and CIC candidates could be eliminated and the UNP could win the seats in the Kandyan areas very easily.

 The Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948, the Indian and Pakistani Residents Act of 1949 and the Parliamentary Elections Amendment Act of 1949 not only disfranchised the Indian Tamils, but also made them stateless. When applications were invited, nearly 8.75,000 applied for Ceylonese citizenship, which was clear evidence that the overwhelming majority of Indians wanted to permanently settle in Ceylon. But the Government granted citizenship to only 1, 34,168 applicants. All the others were rendered “stateless”. It must also be underlined that the provisions of the Citizenship Act were complicated and cumbersome and naturally the plantation workers were not able to produce certificates to the satisfaction of the Ceylonese bureaucrats. The Indian Tamils were thus ostracized from the political mainstream of the country. Speaking on the Ceylon Citizenship Act, Pieter Kueneman said in Parliament that even D S Senanayake could not comply with the clauses, because, according to his own admission, he could not trace his father’s birth certificate.

We can understand the deep rooted anti- Indian feelings among important Sinhalese leaders from the speeches that they made during this period.  D S Senanayake, even during the pre-independence period, was very critical of the British Indian Government. To quote from his speech:

The Indian Government did not want to disassociate themselves from their people who came out here. They wanted to protect them as Indians. The point I wish to make is this. The Indian Immigrants continue to be citizens of India and receive protection from the Indian Government. It is too much for these immigrants to ask the right to influence the local government when they are receiving special privileges as citizens of another country.

 The arguments put forward by D S Senanayake are not based on facts. The concept of Indian citizenship came into being only when the Indian Constitution came into force on January 26, 1950. The legal status of the Indian Tamils during the years of British domination was the same as the Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamils. All were British subjects. If one reads Senanayake’s speech carefully the implication is that the Indian Tamils wanted dual citizenship. The British Government in India and the Indian nationalist leaders never subscribed to this view.

Vincent Coelho, former Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, has written: “A deep and abiding fear that the Indian estate worker will submerge the Sinhala villager has been a recurrent theme of the spokesmen of hill country peasantry. Thus the Tamil estate worker has to be regarded as a political, economic and social threat to the safety and well-being of the Sinhalese”.

 It may not be out of place to refer to the speeches made by J R Jayewardene, who in 1977 became the Prime Minister and one year later became the President of the country. Speaking in Parliament on August 10, 1948  Jayewardene said:

Whatever the reasons for the influx of Indians in Ceylon may be, today we have in our midst 700,000 Indians, a large number of them can be said to be immigrants who have one foot in Ceylon and one foot in India. When the first Japanese bombs fell in Colombo, these people shut up all their shops in Colombo and ran away to India, because Ceylon was not their motherland.


S W R D Bandaranaike, who became the Prime Minister of Ceylon in 1956, shared the same feelings. In fact there was competition among the Sinhalese leaders as to who championed Sinhalese interests better. Bandaranaike made his infamous statement: “Nothing will please me more than to see the last Indian leaving the shores of Ceylon … then I shall die a happy man”. D S Senanayake put venom when he declared: “I do not think a greater blow has been dealt even by the Germans of Poland than what has been done by the enfranchisement of many Indian labourers”. Howard Wriggins wrote years later: “They began to project the Indian Tamils as a potential “Indian fifth column”, a strategically placed bridge-head in the centre of the island”.

 Prof. Hugh Tinker has pointed out in his scholarly work, Under the Banyan Tree: Overseas Emigrants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, by denying citizenship to the Indian workers Sri Lankan Government imposed upon the Indian Tamil population a form of “apartheid” which was just as severe. Paul Sieghart, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the British Section of the International Commission of Jurists, has pointed out these enactments were a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states: 1) Everyone has the right to a nationality and 2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Nehru’s Principled Stance

During his visit to Ceylon in July 1939, on behalf of the Indian National Congress, to study the problems of Indian workers in the Colombo Municipal Corporation, Jawaharlal Nehru came face to face with the chauvinist stance of the Sinhala nationalists. Nehru found the Board of Ministers and the Ceylon Government officials to be adamant and unresponsive to Indian sensitivities. In his Report to the Congress President, Nehru wrote:

When the British Empire fades away, where will Ceylon go? She must associate herself economically at least with larger groups like India and India is obviously indicated. Because of this it is unfortunate that many of the leaders of Ceylon should help in creating barriers between India and Ceylon. They do not seem to realize that while India can live without Ceylon in the future to come; Ceylon may not be able to live without India.   

 The future of the Stateless Indian Tamils vitiated India- Sri Lanka relations for many years after independence. Taking into consideration the fact that the Indian Tamils had become permanent residents and also their invaluable contribution to the economic prosperity Nehru consistently advocated that they should be conferred Sri Lankan citizenship. He said that accept those who voluntarily opted for Indian citizenship the rest of them was the responsibility of Sri Lanka. The successive Sri Lankan Prime Ministers, on the other hand, maintained that only those who fulfilled qualifications laid down by the Sri Lankan Government could become Sri Lankan citizens, rest of them were the responsibility of India.

Betrayal of Indian Tamils

         With Lal Bahadur Shastri as the Prime Minister and C S Jha as the Commonwealth Secretary Nehru’s principled policy was given up. In order to come out of diplomatic isolation following the Sino-Indian War, Shastri was very keen to mend fences with Colombo. Nehru‘s policy was given up and New Delhi decided to solve the stateless problem on the basis of “give and take”. The astute politician that Sirimavo Bandaranaike was she made the best of the situation and clinched a deal favourable to Sri Lanka. By the Sirimavo-Shastri Pact of October 1964 New Delhi agreed to confer Indian citizenship on 5,25,000 persons plus their natural increase, while Colombo agreed to confer Sri Lankan citizenship on 300,000 persons plus their natural increase, on the basis of 7:4. The future of 1, 50,000 persons was left to be decided at a later date. This was settled by Indira Gandhi- Sirimavo Bandaranaike Agreement of October 1974 by which each country decided to confer citizenship on 75000 persons plus their natural increase.

 It is a matter of great regret that in signing the two agreements New Delhi never cared to ascertain the wishes of the concerned people, namely Tamil workers of Indian origin. In other words they were converted into a merchandise to be divided between the two countries in order to promote state-to-state relations. Savumiamurthy Thondaman, the undisputed leader of the Indian Tamils, told me that the wanted to come to India to represent the wishes of his people, but he was not granted a visa by the Indian High Commission in Colombo. What is more, important leaders of India, C. Rajagopalachari, Kamaraj Nadar, C. N. Annadurai, P Ramamurthy and V K Krishna Menon were opposed to the inhuman agreements.

Repatriates not cared for

 Repatriation of those who were conferred Indian citizenship started only in 1968 due to indifference and redtapism of Sri Lankan Government. More tragic, the Government of India and Government of Tamil Nadu did not chalk out any meaningful programme to make the repatriates honourable citizens of the country. Except for those limited number of repatriates who were absorbed in tea plantations and other avenues like spinning mills etc.  (13.0 per cent)   rest of them (68.0 per cent)  were granted business loans amounting to Rs. 5000/- The plantation workers had no business acumen and almost all of them lost money in business ventures. Unable to eke out a living they migrated to Kotagiri and started working for Badaga landlords. Few others migrated to Kodaikanal, where they became bonded labourers. Dr. Vedavalli, one of my students who worked on Rehabilitation of Repatriates in Kotagiri for her doctoral dissertation has narrated a pathetic incident in her book.   An old woman, with tears in her eyes, asked Vedavalli  “Idu Thai Nada, Nai nada?” (Is it mother country, or dog’s country?”) The tragedy of the repatriates was that they were referred to by the local people as Sri Lankan Tamils, a position which they never enjoyed in Sri Lanka after many years of residence.

It should be pointed that the DMK had come to power in Tamil Nadu in 1967 and the policy of the DMK Government towards the Sri Lankan repatriates was, to say the least, not at all helpful.

The repatriates languished in different parts of Tamil Nadu for many years. Gradually winds of change began to sweep their lives. They had no problem of integration with local people; they became part of the poor and joined various political parties. A catalyst in their lives took place when a top bureaucrat, sympathetic to their cause, permitted them to declare their castes through an affidavit. In Sri Lanka caste is not mentioned in any document. The repatriates are either Dalits or they belong to the most backward castes. After coming to India repatriate children began to attend schools, they began to get scholarships. The brighter children joined universities. The educationally qualified youth are well employed and they earn good salaries. Their standard of living is going up. Couple of years ago one of the repatriate children qualified in the IAS and is now working in the Kozhikode Collectorate. In fact, compared to their counterparts in Sri Lanka, there is greater upward mobility among the repatriate youth in Tamil Nadu.

Long Struggle to end Statelessness in Sri Lanka

The main problem facing the Indian Tamils in Sri Lanka was to bring to an end the tragic state of statelessness. After many years of parliamentary and extra – parliamentary struggle President Premadasa enacted the Grant of Citizenship Act to Stateless Persons, Act no 5 of 1986, under which all stateless people, numbering about 85, 000 were granted Sri Lankan citizenship. In a masterstroke of diplomacy New Delhi decided not to extend the two India-Sri Lanka Agreements of 1964 and 1974         The Agreements expired on October 31, 1981. The repatriation of Indian citizens came to an end in 1984 when refugees started to pour into Tamil Nadu. The main task of Thondaman was to get citizenship to all those Indian Tamils who were resident in Sri Lanka, which included those who were given Indian citizenship, but yet to be repatriated to India. Chandrika Kumaratunga wanted to solve the problem once and for all. In fact the draft Constitution of 2000 contained provisions which would have enabled all those born after Oct0ber 31, 1964 or resident in Sri Lanka after 1964 to become Sri Lankan citizens. The draft Constitution failed to get passed in Parliament because of the non-co-operation of the UNP. Three years later, the UNP Government passed the Grant of Citizenship to Persons of Indian Origin, Act no 35 of 2003 which solved the problem. In 2009 another Act was passed which enabled a person “who was compelled to Leave Sri Lanka” and who was stateless to apply for Sri Lankam citizenship. As a result, if the Indian Tamil refugees, who are stateless, if decide to go back to Sri Lanka they can get Sri Lankan citizenship. The necessary documents for the purpose would be issued by the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission, Chennai. But the moot question is do they want to go back?

Sri Lanka and Dual Citizenship

Since the Dravidian parties are demanding dual citizenship for Sri Lankan Refugees, let me analyse the provisions relating to dual citizenship in the Sri Lankan constitution. Sri Lanka recognizes a single status of citizenship known as the “status of a citizen of Sri Lanka”. There is no difference, at present, between citizens of descent and citizenship by registration. The subjects relating to citizenship – naturalization, immigration and emigration – are vested in Parliament.

 A citizen can lose his citizenship by express renunciation or if a Sri Lankan citizen becomes a citizen of another country by operation of law of that country and fails to renounce the citizenship of that country within the prescribed period of time or voluntarily becomes the citizen of another country. As a general rule, no person can be granted or continue his Sri Lankan citizenship if such person is citizen of another country.

There are two provisions which can be characterized as dual citizenship.  First, the case of a person, who has lost his Sri Lankan citizenship due to obtaining the citizenship of another country. He wants to become Sri Lankan citizen again, while continuing citizenship of other country. Second, in the case of a person, who intends to obtain citizenship of another country, while retaining his Sri Lankan citizenship. In both cases the person can make an application to the Minister to issue a declaration that they can resume or continue, as the case may be, their Sri Lankan citizenship, despite also being a citizen of another country. In order to grant such a declaration the Minister has to be satisfied that doing so in the circumstances of the case “would be of benefit to Sri Lanka”. The term “be of benefit to Sri Lanka” is vague and the Government suspended issuing dual citizenship between September 2011 and March 2015 because it thought the system was not benefitting Sri Lanka.  However, like the Overseas Indian citizen, dual citizens do not enjoy all the rights; they are prohibited from standing for election to parliament.

It may be relevant to mention a few words about the present President Gotabaya Rajapakse and dual citizenship controversy.  Gotabaya was born on June 20, 1949. He was a citizen of Sri Lanka by descent. He joined the Sri Lankan Army in April 1971 and was actively involved in military operations against the JVP and the Tamil rebels. He took voluntary retirement, specialized in Information Technology and migrated to the United States in 1998. He was given US Citizenship in January 2003. He returned to Sri Lanka to help his brother Mahinda in the Fourth Eelam War. He was Defence Secretary when the war against the Tigers was in full swing. When Mahinda was out of power he engaged himself in construction activities. He was offered dual citizenship in 2008, which continued till 2019. Before contesting the Presidential election Gotabaya renounced his US citizenship.   

Will Sri Lanka agree to enter into negotiations with India and confer Dual citizenship on Sri Lankan refugees?  The main objective of Sri Lankan citizenship enactments, as I have explained earlier, was to reduce the number of Indian Tamils and checkmate their growing political influence.  The Sinhalese leaders viewed the Indian Tamils as a “potential Indian fifth column” and as a group of people with “divided loyalties” – one leg in India and another leg in Sri Lanka . The sun may rise in the West but Colombo will never enter into negotiations with India on dual citizenship.

India’s Refugee Policy – Continuity and Change

 In the dark days before and after partition, there were large scale communal riots and millions of Hindus and Sikhs came from Pakistan to India. Similarly there was movement of Muslims from India to Pakistan. Those people who came from Pakistan were treated not as refugees but as displaced persons and were conferred Indian citizenship.  In later years, Tibetans, East Pakistanis, Chakmas, Tamils and Rohingiyas came to India as refugees.

 Jawaharlal Nehru clarified India’s refugee policy in 1959 with special reference to Tibetan refugees.  Speaking in Lok Sabha Nehru said that India’s refugee policy was determined by three factors: 1) India’s desire to maintain friendly relations with Peoples Republic of China; 2) Protection of the security and territorial integrity of India and 3) India’s deep sympathy for the people of Tibet.

 Consistent with the above policy, following the signing of the India-Sri Lanka Accord in July 1987 Sri Lankan refugees living in Tamil Nadu were persuaded to return to Sri Lanka. All camps, except two –Mandapam and Kottapattu – were closed down. Between 24 December 1987 and 31 August 1989, 25,585 refugees and non-camp Sri Lankan nationals returned to Sri Lanka by chartered ships. The remaining Tamils either returned to Sri Lanka without government assistance or continued to stay in Tamil Nadu either with their relatives or by their own means. According to Sri Lanka watchers, the period witnessed large scale movement of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees to different parts of Europe and Canada.

Welcome Change in Refugee Policy

  Prime Minister Narendra Modi has brought about a welcome change in India’s refugee policy. Taking into consideration that the Hindu and Sikh population are being subjected to forcible conversion into Islam and other discriminatory practices in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan he repeatedly stated that the BJP-led Government would grant them Indian citizenship. Where else can the Hindus and Sikhs go except to India? The result is the Amendment to the Citizenship Act under which non-Muslims from these three countries, who came to India, would be conferred Indian citizenship.

 The objective of the Citizenship Amendment Act is to enable non-Muslim minorities who have come to India without valid travel documents or those whose valid travel documents have expired during recent years to acquire Indian citizenship by the process of naturalization.  Under the Act such persons will not be treated as illegal immigrants for the purpose of the Citizenship Act. In a magnanimous gesture the aggregate period of residential qualification for the process of citizenship by naturalization is reduced from 11 years to 6 years.

What are the Impediments in the way of Sri Lankan Refugees?

There are two impediments in the way of Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu. The first is the instruction from the Central Government to the Government of Tamil Nadu that as refugees they are not entitled for Indian citizenship. The letter dated September 23, 1986 from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India addressed to the Chief Secretary, Government of Tamil Nadu on the subject of “National Status of Sri Lankan Nationals, who came to India as Refugees” states: 

I am directed to say that in the recent past many Sri Lankan nationals came to India as refugees due to ethnic disturbances in Sri Lanka. The Government of India has received enquiries regarding policy of the Government about the national status of these Sri Lankan nationals who came to India as refugees. After careful consideration the Government of India has come to the conclusion that no Sri Lanka refugees who came to India in July 1983 or after should be naturalized/registered under the provisions of the Citizenship Act 1955 and Citizenship Rules 1956. It is requested that suitable instructions may please be issued to the concerned authorities not to entertain the application of Sri Lanka refugees for the grant of Indian citizenship (Signed) K Subramanyam, Deputy Secretary to the Government of India.

The same point was reiterated in 2007. In a communication dated November 21, 2007 to the Special Commissioner for Rehabilitation, the Secretary to the Government of Tamil Nadu mentioned that there are strict instructions from the Government of India “not to entertain applications of Sri Lankan Refugees for the grant of Indian citizenship”. 

Sri Lankan Refugees treated as Illegal Immigrants

According to Indian Constitution citizenship can be acquired in five ways: 1) By birth; 2) By descent; 3) By registration; 4) By naturalisation and 5) By incorporation of new territory. Taking all relevant facts into consideration the only way by which Sri Lankan refugees can acquire Indian citizenship is through naturalization. And according to the Indian Citizenship Act, Citizenship by naturalization can be acquired by a foreigner (not illegal migrant) who is ordinarily resident in India for a period of twelve years. On receiving Indian citizenship the foreigner should surrender the citizenship of the country from which he had migrated to India.

Since India has not enacted any national refugee law, the refugees are treated as illegal immigrants. This point was clarified by the Minister for State for Home Affairs, Shri Nityanand Rai  in the Lok Sabha in answer to an unstarred (question number 2460 dated December 3, 2019).  The question posed by Shri Ravi Kumar was  “Whether the Government of India has any plan to give permanent citizenship to Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who are living in India for more than 30 years?” In his answer the Minister stated: “Grant of Indian citizenship is governed by the provisions of the Citizenship Act 1955 and the Citizenship rules 2009. Indian citizenship can be acquired under section 5 or by naturalization under Section 6 of the Citizenship Act, 1955. However, an illegal migrant is not eligible to acquire Indian citizenship by registration or naturalization”. 

Refugee Dilemma

If the Sri Lankan refugees are to be granted Indian citizenship under naturalization, the Government of India should be persuaded to act immediately. New Delhi should immediately withdraw the circular issues in 1986 which debars the refugees from Indian citizenship. Secondly, the refugees should not be treated as illegal migrants. They must be given the same consideration as the refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who were not treated as “illegal migrants”, but as asylum seekers.

Needless to say, the Sri Lankan refugees came to India in search of security. They were victims of ethnic violence.  After coming to India they have attained upward mobility by educationally advancing themselves.

The tragedy of the Malaiaha Tamils needs special mention. In the 1960’s they wanted to permanently settle down in Sri Lanka and wanted to acquire Sri Lankan citizenship.  But without ascertaining their wishes Lal Bahadur Shastri, advised by C S Jha, entered into an agreement with Colombo under which Indian citizenship was thrust upon them. And for most of the repatriates it was a bitter home coming. But with the passage of time, their lives have changed. The children of the refugees are getting educated; they have inter-married with local people and do not want to go back to Sri Lanka. Will Narendra Modi and Amit Shah positively respond to the voice of these voiceless Indian Tamil refugees?

Dr. V. Suryanarayan was founding Director and Retired Senior Professor, Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras. His e mail id: