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The ‘Letchumees’ of Sri Lanka

4 October 2015 07:15 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Reading the article  titled “Child labour in the tea plantations in Sri Lanka” in your issue  of September 30 by  President’s Counsel  Maureen Seneviratne,  my thoughts go back to my  childhood days, when  we  lived in the hill country  surrounded by tea estates.  
Since my eldest brother was a planter during the time when tea estates were owned and managed by Europeans, we spent our holidays on estates where he worked.  The  impression I got of the life of Indian estate labour, as a school boy,    in my later years, I expressed  in the following poem  about ten years ago and appeared in several news papers, which gives the true picture of our Indian Estate labour, which prevailed then
It will be interesting  to know the circumstances under which  these workers were brought to Sri Lanka, then called and  known as Ceylon, by quoting an address to the second annual Agricultural  Conference on March,11, 1927 by Governor Sir Hugh Clifford where he   quotes  Emerson Tennent:  “The temptation of wages and no prospects of advantages has hitherto availed to overcome the repugnance of the Sinhalese and Kandyans to engage in any work on estates except the first process of felling trees” and continues “Disliking wage labour on its own account but detesting even the cold and the wet amid which work had to be carried out up yonder on the mountain heights and slopes, which Europeans had converted from forests into tea gardens.

 

"Any  action taken by governments to ameliorate the living conditions of the present estate  Tamil  labour in providing  decent living quarters, good schools for their children and health facilities is a fitting tribute to their ancestors"




That Ceylon estate supply of perennial supply of voluntary immigrant labour is one of the  happy accidents, which  have contributed to the welfare of this fortunate isle; but if  the soil in the district of Madras Presidency from which supply was drawn were fertile as is that of the most thickly populated  parts of Ceylon, the estate owners might whistle in vain  for Tamil labourers to flock to their assistance and our principal agricultural industries would quickly languish on the place of those estate workers on the upland tea estates, at least could never be taken by the people  of this  land”
It will be seen and understood, that circumstances under which Indian Tamil labour had to be engaged, which was solely due to our laziness and inherent easy living.   Any  action taken by governments to ameliorate the living conditions of the present estate  Tamil  labour in providing  decent living quarters, good schools for their children and health facilities is a fitting tribute to their ancestors, who had undergone  untold  hardships  for the  economic and social well being of this country and its people.

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