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Tea workers demand land of their own
Anger over plan to lease vacant land to businessesTea plantation workers in Sunday's march
- ucnews.com reporter, Kandy
- Sri Lanka
- October 15, 2012
They have been angered by a statement in Sri Lankaâs 2012 budget which proposes leasing unused plantation land to businesses.
"Land rightsÂ are a dream for us,â said one of the marchers, 62-year-old Karuppaiya Nadaraja. âWe have been living for 185 years withoutÂ land of our own but we bring good incomeÂ for the countryÂ with the worldâs best black tea.â
He and his wife, who is also a tea harvester, earn US$110 a month to support a family of six.
âI have sacrificed the best years of my life bringing dollars to this country,â he said.
Like his co-workers, Nadaraja is a Â direct descendant of the Tamil plantation workers who were brought to Sri Lanka from India by the British in the 19th century to provide cheap labor.
Sri Lankan tea is one of the countryâs biggest cash crops, but families working on tea estates are among the nationâs poorest.
There are around 914,000 people in the plantation sector, the vast majority living on the estate where they work. Accommodation typically consists of âline rooms,â one-room dwellings built in rows, close to the fields.
An estimated 300,000 have been denied citizenship even though they were born in the country.
âPoliticians cheat and mislead them, companies focus only on income generation without considering their needs,â said Chinthaka Rajapaksha of the Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform.
âThe fruits ofÂ their hard labor is pocketed by greedy plantation owners and politicians,â he said. âTheir kids grow upÂ malnourishedÂ and underweight.â
He urged the government to re-think plans to offer vacant plots for lease to businesses and to grant them to the workers in the 2013 budget, which will be announced in November.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa recently intimated that he sympathizes with the workers.
âOne of my major goals is to make the plantation community a home-owning society,â he wrote in a new book about the future for Sri Lanka.
After yesterdayâs march, protesters handed a petition to Sarath Ekanayake, Chief Minister of Central province.
âI will talk with the president and find a solution for you soon,â he said.
Activists issue warning to tea industry
Caritas seeks better life for tea workers