Indian Tamils of Sri Lanka

Indian Tamils of Sri Lanka
மலையகத் தமிழர்
ඉන්දියානු දෙමළ ජනතාව
SriLanka TeaTamilWoman (
Hill Country Tamil woman working in a tea plantation in central Sri Lanka.
Total population
(4.2% of the Sri Lankan population) (2012)[2]
Regions with significant populations
Related ethnic groups

Indian Tamils of Sri Lanka are Tamil people of Indian origin in Sri Lanka. They are also known as Hill Country Tamils, Up-Country Tamils or simply Indian Tamils. They are partly descended from workers sent from South India to Sri Lanka in the 19th and 20th centuries to work in coffee, tea and rubber plantations. Some also migrated on their own as merchants and as other service providers. These Tamil-speakers mostly live in the central highlands, also known as the Malayakam or Hill Country yet others are also found in major urban areas and in the Northern Province. Although they are all termed as Tamils today, some have Telugu and Malayalee origins as well as diverse South Indian caste origins. They are instrumental in the plantation sector economy of Sri Lanka. In general, socio-economically their standard of living is below that of the national average and they are described as one of the poorest and most neglected groups in Sri Lanka.[3] In 1964 a large percentage were repatriated to India, but left a considerable number as stateless people. By the 1990s most of these had been given Sri Lankan citizenship. Most are Hindus with a minority of Christians and Muslims amongst them. Politically they are supportive of trade union derived political parties that have supported most of the ruling coalitions since the 1980s.

Tamil-speaking communities

Percentage of Tamils of Indian origin per district based on 2001 or 1981 (cursive) census.[4]
Distribution of languages and religious groups of Sri Lanka on D.S. division and sector level according to the 1981 Census of Population and Housing

Today there are two groups of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The first are the Sri Lankan Tamils, who either descended from the Tamils of the old Jaffna kingdom or who migrated to the east coast. The second are the Indian Tamils or Hill Country Tamils, who are descendants of bonded labourers sent from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka in the 19th century to work in tea plantations.[5]Many came as laborers to work in the plantations, but few of them came as business people. Most of the recruits came as they were recruited by the head man in their villages, mostly by high caste Tamils, Kallars and Vellars.

Sri Lankan Tamils mostly live in the Northern and Eastern Provinces and in the capital of Colombo, whereas Hill Country Tamils largely live in the central highlands.[4] The Hill Country Tamils and Ceylon Tamils historically have seen themselves as separate communities.[citation needed] In 1949, the United National Party (UNP) government stripped the Indian Tamils of their nationality, including their right to vote. Prominent Tamil political leaders such as S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and his Tamil opposition party opposed this move.[6]

Under an agreement between the Sri Lankan and Indian governments in the 1960s, around 40% of Hill Country Tamils were granted Sri Lankan nationality, and many of the remainder were repatriated to India.[7] However, the ethnic conflict has led to the growth of a greater sense of common Tamil identity, and the two groups are now more supportive of each other.[8] By the 1990s most Indian Tamils had received Sri Lankan citizenship, and some were not granted Sri Lankan citizenship until 2003.[7][9]