Include the excluded minority community
In 1948, shortly after independence, the government introduced the Ceylon Citizenship Act which denied citizenship for the Indian Origin Tamil Community who was brought by the British Colonialists to toil in the coffee and tea plantations of Sri Lanka. Since then, the entire community became stateless and were excluded from all development process of the country. However, due to local and international pressure, gradually the community was given citizenship right from the 1970s onwards and the stateless problem was finally solved with the amendment to the Citizenship Act in 2003.
Though the community is exercising the voting rights and elect their representatives to the local institutions, the elected representatives are not in a position to implement development projects using the local government funds (Pradeshiya Sabha).
ISD lobbied on this issue thus bringing amendments to the section 33 of local government act of Pradeshiya Saba.
The advocacy campaign made policy makers accountable to bring amendments to the local government act which hindered the elected representatives of the plantation community to implement development projects using local government funds.
It aimed at reforms in local government act thus to include the plantation communities also in the development projects and services rendered by the government and not being excluded from the mainstream development projects.
HOW THE OBJECTIVES WERE ACHIEVED
The effort was a success of a long struggle that ISD started since 1994. Being an advocacy organization, from its inception ISD has identified this issue of exclusion of plantation community from general development plan of the country.
The objective was achieved through a series of multi stakeholder campaigns to enlighten them at different levels. Those stakeholders include communities, civil society organizations, trade unions of the plantations, regional politicians, government officials as well as national level policy makers.
Over the last 23 years, ISD continued its advocacy efforts to seek remedies for the same. The results of our effort came to a climax when ‘the amendment to the section 33 of Pradeshiya Saba’ was discussed by the politician in the last year election campaign despite their political ideology and party agenda.
The initiative was unique and new in several aspects. ISD was able to bring all stakeholders with different administrative and political ideologies into one forum thus highlighting the eternal deprivation and exclusion of the plantation community and need for a sustainable solution.
Our continuous work made politicians accountable to bring amendments to the local government act thus including plantation communities into mainstream development process.
Ruling and opposition party politician raised this issue during the last election campaign and winning party pledged to amend the local government act. As a result the issue and the proposed amendments were discussed in the parliament in December 2015.
On 6th January 2016 the proposal for amendments to the local government act was approved by the cabinet. This is the greatest achievement of ISD advocacy work history. Following the approval, a bill will be passed by the parliament next month thus reforming the local government act of Sri Lanka in which the plantation communities will also be considered as other citizens of the country who would equally enjoy the services rendered by the government. As a result of ISD intervention, the plantation Tamil community’s right to citizenship and right to development is ensured after six decades of their being here in Sri Lanka.
The path toward achieving right to development of plantation community was a difficult task. Being an advocacy organization representing a minority and acting as a right based organization, the greatest difficulty we had was bring all political leaders to a common consensus. However our continuous effort made the plantation people’s dream a reality. We were able to bring all the stakeholders to one table thus convincing them of the need for reforms to local government act.
Working with the grass root is easy comparing working with politicians and policy makers. However ISD took up that challenged and continue our advocacy effort with the politicians until we achieve the objective we set out for. The major lesson we learnt through this campaign was convincing politicians need a different approach since their mandates and political ideologies are different. It is also important not to give up until we reach our ultimate goal.