The Sunday Leader

Living Without An Address In The Estate Sector

  As Recounted By Lionel Guruge

An oldern Sinhala phrase about“vilaasmak nathim anusayek” refers to the isolation of a person without any communication.

However it is apparent today that an entire community has evolved without a secure way of receiving their correspondence: more than 200,000 families living in Sri Lanka have never had an address to call their own.

They are found among the Tamil plantation sector workers, of more recent Indian origin, and other communities have not been sensitive to their problem. The relevance of this issue is easy to overlook, among a number of more pressing concerns,this issuewhich has remained unsolved for a number of years, of the lack of a household address, at first glance simply does not reveal its many deep implications.  The basic fact of a person not having an address of his own means that he is automatically stripped of a number of his basic human rights. Without an address of one’s own, which is taken for granted among most people around the world, the right to receive important and personal communications to ones name is continuously disregarded. For those affected this is the harsh and unpleasant reality.  Personal correspondence in the estate sector is addressed to the estates, and received at the superintendents’ office, to be distributed later at the pre work parade. There are often cases of people with the same name, and ambiguity as to where the letters should go. People who don’t work are excluded.

The result of this system is that  important once-in-a-lifetime opportunities such as job interviews, and university admission notices can be lost completely, urgent notices such as EPF or otherofficial correspondences, and personal communications of a life changing nature can be lost forever, innocent people can end up being interrogated by the police and the guilty get away, and in fact the variety of injustice stemming directly from this situation ranges over the entire spectrum of human life in communities that are already impoverished, disadvantaged and disheartened.

Estate Sector population – Family wise

Consider the  case of a very studious young man named Kanthaiah, if he had only received the letter that told him that he had in fact been selected for university admission? After studying very hard, amidst great odds, a chance of a lifetime, a way out of a life of deprivation and hardship, was missed because of a single letter misdirected. He is now a teacher in a remote village in remote Monaragala, and has lost this chance simply because one letter was lost.

More equally disheartening cases have been recounted of how pawned jewelry notices have gone astray thus leaving the owners  to lose their meager possessions, struggling students who have been cheated of news of university entrance,  hopeful youth have waited in vain for a job interview letter, and many more.

This leads to administrative problems, problems with voting, and problems for the police. There is also the repeated marginalisation and stigma attached to youth who may have by their determination escaped from drudgery on the estates, to jobs or higher education in the cities, when their home addresses are mentioned as Laimas or Line homes which are externally recognised as backgrounds of poverty eg TakaranLaima. They naturally prefer to have distinct and worthwhile home addresses, with meaningful place names.

The attention given to this issue by politicians, civil society organisations, trade unions and social workers is woefully inadequate.  The various key figures in the estate sector themselves often neglect to draw attention to this problem. There is no evidence that the political parties working in these areas have paid attention to this, although this is one they are best equipped to handle.

Obtaining addresses for the Tamil estate communities would be the basic first step in ensuring their other human rights, and it is imperative upon other communities too, to ensure that these processes are initiated.

 

Safeguarding the civil rights of plantation sector workers

 

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) along with a local partner Uva Shakthi Foundation, has worked on a pilot project in Passara ,Badulla(Uva Province) aimed at bringing a modicum of dignity into the lives of this  marginalised  community whose human rights have been routinely denied. In early 2013 this project arranged to provide permanent addresses, for the first time ever in the plantation sector, for no less than 3000 families of estate workers. The project also organised setting up secure mail collection boxes in 20 localities, selecting road names and providing signage for 40 estate by-roads in the area, in an endeavor to safeguard the delivery of correspondence.

These interventions were made with the participation of local communities and involvement of all stakeholders such as local authorities, post masters, the police, district secretaries, grama nilardaris and the PradeshyaSabha. Though there was enthusiasm and support from all involved, the estate management was often unsympathetic and insisted on disregarding the problem.

Nevertheless the project garnered the co operation of most stakeholders, including community and officials and worked according to a structured plan, hitherto unnamed roads were named with community consensus and the names gazzetted, and then houses numbers were assigned.

Mobile clinics were also hosted to speed up the application process for more than 300 National Identity Cards, which may otherwise reach owners late or never.  The latter is particularly relevant to a large number of students who were due to sit for exams shortly.

A government and political parties that speak of good governance should intervene on this matter; there is a new minister for infrastructure development, who needs to pay attention to this matter.

In Local Authority elections, the peoples vote is taken, and yet the people’s problems such as this matter are not addressed.

Rates are not levied from communities, which means that the local authorities cannot be held accountable by the people who cannot expect the usual services. Underlying infrastructures are not developed, so it has to be emphasised to people and authorities that it is important that rates are levied and paid.

It is recommended that provincial council statutes be drafted and so as to allow estate workers to become rate payers, and thus benefit from the system.

There are compelling reasons why the current government cannot ignore this problem, not the least of which is the fact that more than 70% of the estate sector votes contributed to its very establishment.

For communities to become stakeholders in good governance it is important to structure the system so as to ensure the foundation of their rights, which is the establishment of identifiable addresses. This issue has gone on unaddressed for way too long.

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