Citizenship and Related Issues

Issue of Sri Lankan Tamils and their citizenships


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NRC

Mains level : Read the attached story

The exclusion of Sri Lankan Tamils figured prominently in the debate on the Citizenship Amendment Bill has handed the opposition in Tamil Nadu a stick to beat the ruling party in the state.

Tamil refugees

  • About 1 lakh Tamils from Sri Lanka live in India, including some 60,000 in camps across Tamil Nadu.
  • These refugees are mostly Hindu, and are of both Sri Lankan and Indian origin.
  • Some 4.6 lakh repatriations from Sri Lanka have been officially recorded so far, besides thousands of Tamils of Sri Lankan origin who sought asylum in India.
  • At least 20 per cent of these refugees claim an Indian origin on the basis of Sri Lankan birth certificates that identify them as “Indian Tamil”, and documents that trace their links to Indian grandparents or other ancestors.

When did the refugees from Sri Lanka arrive in India?

  • Tamils who came from Sri Lanka can be separated into those who came before 1983 and those who came after, when the separatist movement in the island nation took a violent turn followed by a series of anti-Tamil riots.
  • Most of the 1 lakh documented Sri Lankan illegal immigrants who live in Tamil Nadu today, fled this ethnic conflict.
  • Those who reached India before 1983 were mostly Indian-origin Tamils whose forefathers migrated to Sri Lanka a century previously, mainly to work in the tea plantations.
  • In 1964, PMs Lal Bahadur Shastri and Sirimavo Bandaranaike signed an agreement to allow some 9,75,000 people of Indian origin in Sri Lanka, who had citizenship of neither country, to become citizens of the country of their choice.
  • Many of those who arrived in India until 1982 got legal accommodation; however, the process was not comprehensive, and was ultimately not completed.

What are the conditions in the Tamil Nadu camps like?

  • About 19,000 Sri Lankan families, comprising 60,000 individuals, live in 107 camps in Tamil Nadu.
  • Some 10,000 of these inmates are children below the age of eight, according to latest available data from August 2019.
  • Technically, those who arrived by boat and other informal, illegal channels during the war in Sri Lanka are considered illegal immigrants, not refugees.
  • Most of these “illegal immigrants” reached Tamil Nadu in the 1980s and 1990s.
  • Thereafter, a few hundred came over the years — until arrivals spurted during the last leg of war, which ended with the final defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009.

Aspirations of these refugees

  • They expect citizenship of India — because they fear persecution and violence at the hands of the Colombo government and the Sinhala Buddhist majority if they return to Sri Lanka.
  • Also, most of the Indian-origin Tamils have ancestral roots, relatives, and property in India.
  • Many could have got Indian citizenship under the Shastri-Bandaranaike Pact if they had chosen to come to India before the ethnic riots broke out in Sri Lanka.
  • There is no process in India to give them citizenship, and these camps were built as a temporary arrangement for people in distress, to make them feel safe until such time as they could return to Sri Lanka after normalcy was restored.
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