Caritas SED Galle along with CODESEP who work for the betterment of plantation community in Galle Diocese, organized a Ceremony named “Malayagam 200” in Deniyaya on 20th August 2023 to commemorate 200 years since the arrival of Sri Lankan Plantation community (known as persons of Indian Origin) who have been brought to Sri Lanka by the British to work as labour on estates. This commemoration was organized under the Project “Lighting the Lives of the Plantation People”.
The Bishop of Galle (Most Rev Dr Raymond Wickramasinghe), Hon. Dr Willie Gamage (Governor of Southern Province and Her Excellency Smt Ratnamala Chalamcharla (Vice Consular General –Admin of Indian High Commission) were the chief guests. Over 3,500 persons participated at this Commemoration Ceremony including High ranking Government Officials, Divisional Secretaries and their staff, members of Civil Society Organizations, Caritas CBO and SHG members, Inter-religious forum members, CODESEP and Caritas SED Galle staff and Estate workers and the communities.
The Bishop of Galle (Most Rev Dr Raymond Wickramasinghe), Hon. Dr Willie Gamage (Governor of Southern Province, Her Excellency Smt Ratnamala Chalamcharla (Vice Consular General –Admin of Indian High Commission and a Buddhist Monk from Bagawantalawa addressed the gathering .
Although they (these Sri Lankan Tamils) have been granted citizenship, they remain to be one of the most marginalized and discriminated economically, socially and politically. Although they have contributed largely for Sri Lankan economy, they have been bonded as labourers on the tea/rubber estates and have never been integrated into the political or cultural life of Sri Lanka or mainstream of the society. They face issues relating to education, livelihood, health and hygiene, housing and land issues and live in dilapidated line houses.
The participants including estate workers and the communities organized a walk from Deniyaya town up to St Mathew’s College Play Ground with various traditional form of dancing (such as kummi, ceragem dancing and Kottayam dancing) to showcase their cultural traditions that included costumes, music and dances. They also displayed statues of village Gods whom they worshipped as Hindus. They also carried a symbol of a Ship which transported Indian Tamils (Men and women) from India to Sri Lanka, on how they endured life threatening risks and immense hardships and a significant number lost their lives along this journey. Today, even after 200 years, the community continues to face systemic discrimination, crippling poverty and are denied equal rights.
The walk is significant as it conceptualized and led by the community themselves. The objective of the walk commemorates workers who were made to undertake this journey and their struggle while highlighting ongoing demands for the freedom and equality in Sri Lanka.
What the Sri Lankan Estate Tamils request are for Government intervention to prepare a National Policy for their development and for them to be integrated into the society and national mainstream as they have contributed to national economy for the past 200 years.
This Malayagam 200 commemoration ceremony was telecast/shown live on You tube, Facebook, Online Deniyaya, Payanam Seidhigal etc. An article was also published in Dinamina dated 22.8.2023 relating to this commemoration ceremony.
On this occasion, a foundation stone was also laid by the Bishop of Galle (Most Rev Dr Raymond Wickremasinghe) for the construction of two classrooms at St Mathew’s Maha Vidyalaya , Deniyaya in the presence of Hon. Dr Willie Gamage (Governor of Southern Province), Her Excellency Smt Ratnamala Chalamcharla (Vice Consular General –Admin of Indian High Commission), Rev Fr Lasantha Fonseka (Director of Caritas SED Galle), The Principal of St Mathew’s Maha Vidyalaya and other participants.