A study of estate sector Tamils permanently migrating to the City of Colombo has revealed a host of problems faced by them in relation to the loss of State provided accommodation and difficulties in the raising of capital for renting a space or the purchasing of a house.
A social scientist’s study which looked at such populations based in Armour Street and Mattakkuliya further revealed that those (in certain cases entire families leave or some family members leave while a few stay back and work) who were working in estates and were living in line rooms provided by the State, who boldly took the initiative to migrate from the estates and the line rooms, could only afford to rent rooms or spaces in shanty communities.
In the case of the latter, some managed to earn a little extra while living in the shanty, enough to make it out of the shanty and move to a better location and neighbourhood within the City, while others had to resort to permanently living in such impoverished communities and neighbourhoods. Those who leave are able to provide those who stay with more of an income.
Senior Lecturer (Grade I) at the Department of Social Studies of the Open University of Sri Lanka, Dr. Anton Piyarathne, author of the research paper titled ‘’Estate Line Rooms to Colombo City: The Story of Estate Tamils ‘Home’ Construction in the City of Colombo’’, who had conducted approximately 40 interviews as data for the ethnographic study, said that the relocation was totally dependant on whether they could find the capital to buy a house.
Because estate workers earn a pittance, it is not possible for them to save from their earnings which come from daily wages. Dr. Piyarathne highlighted the need to develop capital, adding that it would be helpful if banks or private institutions could assist in this regard.
He noted that there was also a Sinhalese estate community which was however a minority when compared with the Tamils in the estate sector.
Due to a fear psychosis, estate Tamils leave the plantations and seek to live in communities with other Tamils, he further said.
Another challenge faced by those migrating internally is that they have to familiarize themselves with the watte/shanty culture. He further added that therefore there was a steep learning curve involved.
“People in plantations are constrained in terms of personal and family development. In an ethnically divided society, where what we all have are politicized ethnicities, theirs is, having faced the 1983 riots and the ethnic crisis, a continuous struggle where they have to undergo a lot of issues.
They are caught in a trap. In terms of getting out of the trap by leaving the estates, those bold enough to take the initiative to migrate to the City do so at great risk the moment they take the decision to leave. as it is only if they stay on and work that they are entitled to the line room provided by the State. They however wish to establish their lives and in this context, a home is a space which is both secure and safe, where they can thrive. This is why they want to own a house permanently,” Dr. Piyarathne said.