Amidst heated debates about the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 (CAB), Sri Lankan Tamils being omitted has raised a furore in Sri Lanka and in Tamil Nadu as well. This comes even as the government’s most ardent justification for CAB is protection people who are citizens of neighbouring countries but can trace their roots back to India and are being persecuted for being religious minorities.
In the Sinhala-Buddist dominated Sri Lanka, Tamils who are predominantly Hindu have been fighting for their rights and feel further cornered since the Rajapaksa brothers have won a landslide victory in the recent elections. Along with spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravishankar, several political parties too have been demanding that Sri Lankan refugees too should be given citizenship as per the bill. DMK’s demand for inclusion of Sri Lankan Tamils has found support in Shiv Sena and BJD.
AIADMK’s unanimous support for the bill, without even raising the issue of Sri Lankan Tamils, has been slammed from their political opponents as well as citizens of Tamil Nadu. Reminding them of former CM and their party President J Jayalalithaa’s promise in 2016 where she has assured that not just will she fight to get dual citizenship for Sri Lankan refugees but also strive to create a separate state for Tamils in Sri Lanka.
Actor turned politician Kamal Haasan too questioned the exclusion of Sri Lankan Tamils in the bill. 'Why are Tamils who are subjected to a methodic genocide and Muslims facing discrimination, be excluded from the bill? If it's a genuinely benevolent bill and not a vote garnering exercise, then why won't this CAB stop to pick up stranded Tamils & troubled Muslims of Sri Lanka?, tweeted the Makkal Needhi Maiam founder.
Ironically, in 1948, Ceylon Citizenship Bill excluded Tamils originating from south India from the citizenry, rendering over 70,000 people without a state. Just between 1983 and 1987, over 1.7 lakh Sri Lankan Tamils sought to live refuge in India to escape the brutalities of the civil war in their home country.
According to the official figures provided by India authorities, between July 1983 and August 2012, 304,269 Tamil refugees arrived in Tamil Nadu. Several of them have applied for Indian citizenship and are awaiting their official papers and most of them are given refugee status. They have been living in India, scattered in 109 refugee camps, in a state of limbo for decades now.
In Sri Lanka, the Tamils who are closely watching CAB debates in their neighbouring country express angst that they will have nowhere to go if the current regime in Lanka continues with what they allege are anti-minority policies. Suguma Tamilarai, an activist from Trincomalee says, ‘our fears have been amplified since the Rajapakse brother came back to power in our country but now when we see how even in India, the latest bill does not feature us, we feel in the subcontinent, there is nobody we can turn to if even Indian political parties like AIADMK don't take up our cause’.