“This systematic pattern of authority-sanctioned coerced sterilizations may amount to an intentional destruction … of the Tamil estate population.” – Home for Human Rights

Whilst it is easy to suggest that the plight of the Tamils of the North and East of Sri Lanka deserves the most attention in light of the bloody end to the civil war, such a generalization is misleading and dangerous. No community in Sri Lanka is free from strife and this attitude can lead to us creating “forgotten people” such as the Central Hill Tamils.

This 800,000 strong community predominately work in the tea plantations in the middle of the island. Originating from Southern India, these Tamil speaking people are discriminated against by many within the Sinhalese majority community who class them as Tamils, yet are also subject to similar treatment by “Sri Lankan” Tamils; largely because they overwhelmingly belong to lower castes, and also because all sides have been guilty of believing the lie that Hill Tamils are “more Indian than Sri Lankan”. This attitude, unchanged despite the 150+ years that Hill Tamils have lived in Sri Lanka, was one of the reasons they were denied citizenship until the 1990s, and the vote until 2002.

Such prejudice is not the worst of the matter however. The most distressing occurrence endured by the Hill Tamils and tea Plantation workers is that of non-consensual sterilization by virtue of governmental pressure to stop reproduction under the umbrella of “family planning.”

Consensual sterilization is not merely a question of offer and acceptance alone. Rather, consent is only valid if the pre-requisites of the offer are fulfilled; such as adequate knowledge of the sterilization process, its implications and consequences. As education among the Central Hill Tamils is below average and there is often a language barrier, it is the responsibility of the doctor to provide sound guidance regarding the life changing process. According to reports by Home for Human Rights (HfHR) however, doctors do not do this, nor do they adequately brief the patients on their rights and the procedures governing sterilization before performing the operation.

Instead, as reported to HfHR by patients, many are subject to inappropriate pressure and over 80% are offered a small lump sump payment (typically around 500 rupees – a tiny amount of money, but not if you are on the bread line) in compensation for loss of their reproductive capacity, seemingly as part of a government policy to restrict the growth of this particular population. In most legal systems, acceptance of such a bargain would not qualify as informed consent, and indeed the practice contravenes international human rights law, which makes plain that governments must uphold the highest attainable standard of health for their citizens.

But what makes it much worse in this case is that it has to all appearances been adopted as part of a “politically motivated demographic control project”. Since 1996, the Central Hill Tamil population has dropped annually by 5%, compared to a growth of 14% for the country overall.

In stark contrast, the Government has introduced a scheme in which police and army officers are encouraged to have a third child, with a payment of 100, 000 Sri Lankan rupees. According to President Rajapaksa, “giving police families cash for having a third child is the mark of a “caring society”. Of course those benefiting from this scheme and their families are likely to be loyal to the Government, and almost all would be of Sinhalese origin. Civil society activist Herman Kumara argues that this incentive aims primarily to “socially militarise” the nation. One might go even further and say that, taken together, these two schemes amount to a policy of eugenics.

This post takes information from a report by Home for Human Rights