Although it has been half a century since India signed the Indo-Sri Lankan agreements (Sirimavo-Shastri Pact of 1964 and Sirima-Gandhi Pact of 1974) to resolve the status of Indian Origin Tamils (IOT) in Sri Lanka, the Indian government has yet to fulfil its treaty obligations, according to the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on Thursday.
“While India was obliged to repatriate and grant citizenship to not less than six lakh IOTs from Sri Lanka, as of date only 4,61,639 IOTs have been conferred with Indian citizenship,” Justice GR Swaminathan said.
Pointing out that Article 51 of the Indian Constitution mandates that the State should endeavour to foster respect for treaty obligations in the dealings of organized people with one another, the judge opined that India will have to confer citizenship on not less than 1,37,000 IOTs to fulfill the above agreements.
The judge made the observations while passing orders on a petition filed by one T Ganesan seeking Indian Citizenship. After 33 years of being called a ‘refugee’ in his own land, the 70-year-old repatriate from Sri Lanka finally gets a new lease of life, thanks to the judge, who directed the Indian government to recognise Ganesan’s status as an ‘Indian Citizen’ and ordered rehabilitation of him and his family.
Ganesan’s lawyer, Romeo Roy Alfred, told TNIE that the order is a watershed moment for Indian-origin Tamils who are classified as refugees in their own country.
“Tamil Nadu has 104 refugee camps, with over 57,000 Sri Lankans.” In addition to them, 34,000 refugees live outside the camps. Alfred claims that “at least half of the refugees inside the camps and 80% of the refugees living outside the camps could be Indian Origin Tamils.” Even if all of these people were granted Indian citizenship, the figure agreed upon and left unfulfilled by the Indian Government in the 1964 and 1974 agreements, he added.
He further stated that recently, a preliminary survey was conducted by the government in the refugee camps to identify IOTs and even as per the preliminary data, nearly 5,130 inmates were found to belong to IOT category. He urged the Central and State governments to conduct a full-fledged survey to identify IOTs and confer Indian Citizenship on them. Only then, people like Ganesan who got abandoned by the Indian government’s suspension of the repatriation attempts due to the Black July genocide and were forced to spend decades of their life in refugee camps in their own soil, would get justice, he added. He also expressed hope that the present order will strengthen the pathways for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who are longing for decades to attain Indian Citizenship.
Ganesan was born in 1954 to an Indian-origin Tamil family which was engaged in tea plantation work in Sri Lanka. He had applied for a passport in 1970 when he was 16 years old. However, the Attache/Assistant High Commission of India, Kandy issued a passport to him only on August 22, 1982. Since the Indian government had temporarily stopped the repatriation mission in 1984, Ganesan and his family had to flee to India on their own efforts in 1990.
However, the Indian government refused to recognise Ganesan’s status as a ‘Indian Citizen’. Though they acknowledged that his passport was genuine, they stated that the photograph on the passport was of a much younger person (a photo submitted by Ganesan when he applied) and instructed him to bring conclusive evidence to prove that the document was issued to him. As a result, Ganesan has been unable to prove his citizenship and has spent the past 33 years living in a refugee camp in Karur with his family, including grandchildren.
“Issuance of a passport is a sovereign act,” Justice Swaminathan observed. When the authenticity of the passport is established, the exercise of matching the photograph found therein with the claimant must be undertaken solely by the authority in question. The applicant cannot bear this burden.” He directed the government to recognise Ganesan and his family members as Indian citizens and to provide them with the government’s relief and rehabilitation measures for repatriates like him.
Source : Daily Mirror