A well thought out move | Daily News


A well thought out move

The decision by the Government to open a university exclusively for the plantation community youth is a well thought out one that could see the gradual emancipation of a largely deprived and discriminated community, in all spheres of economic and social life in this country. Higher Education Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena has said the Government will soon begin the construction of a fully fledged university in Kotagala for the benefit of students in the plantation sector who qualify for university entrance. The land for the university has already been identified and inspected. This is in pursuance of a pledge made by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to build a university for the children in the plantation sector to follow their higher education, in the run up to the last Presidential Election.

Certainly, it is time that the plantation community that has made a tremendous contribution towards the uplift of the nation’s economy be uplifted themselves in every sense of the word. What better way than providing its next generation with a wholesome education that would lead these youth to break the shackles leading to the emancipation of the community as a whole by freeing them from the vicious cycle of drudgery and unending poverty.

A good education and standing in society would also free them from the grip of the crafty politicians cum trade union leaders in the plantations who have been preying on the ignorance of the community to enrich themselves, all these years. It is nothing but a good education that will open the eyes of these youth to the exploitation that they had been forced to undergo for generations. Education has often been cited as being a ticket for getting out of abject poverty and blithe ignorance.

We always tend to talk of the education and enterprise of Jaffna Tamil youth who rose to eminence by the sheer dint of hard work, though some of them were misguided by the LTTE later on. There may well be a vast reservoir of untapped talent in the plantations too waiting to be exploited. Hopefully, the proposed university will unearth such talent and mould them into ideal finished products that will be an asset to the nation, signifying their long and varied contribution to the country’s economy.

For the time being though, much needs to be done to ameliorate the conditions of the plantation community. Their demand for the Rs.1,000 per day wage promised from March 1 is still to be met. In the past, in such instances, one could be certain that Arumugam Thondaman’s grandfather Saumyamoorthy Thondaman would have led a massive Satyagraha running into several days to win over the demands of his community.

Gone are the days when the plantation workers had their messiah to look up to. Thondaman Snr. always delivered as promised and in return exacted the largesse for his community from the Government of the day guaranteeing the workers voted en-bloc to whichever political party he chose to support. It was the vote of the plantations that tilted the scales in many an election. This was clearly seen in the Presidential Election of 1988. Political analysts say that had not Ranasinghe Premadasa secured the support of Thondaman Snr. Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike would have been the victor at that poll. That was why no political leader was keen to rub him on the wrong side. Since his demise, though, the plantation community has remained a neglected lot.

Let alone their wages, their living conditions are still in a primitive state, with large families huddled together in single room hovels that are called ‘line rooms’. Children in the plantations usually take after their parents and would not think of a world outside of their limited existence. They hardly attend school and are struck by malnutrition. Estates also lack basic infrastructure and the schools are without facilities and devoid of the full quota of teachers. Alcoholism is also rampant among the plantation community, particularly given the drudgery of the work and ignorance about the ill effects.

There is therefore an urgent need to deliver this community from their current existence and get them absorbed into the general society. They should be provided with the necessary facilities and the wherewithal to redeem themselves from their backwardness. The demand for a daily wage of Rs. 1,000 is not unfair by all accounts. It could be considered chickenfeed by the living standards witnessed in the major cities.

Hence, the Government should intervene and strike an agreement with the plantation management companies. There is need for the powers that be to work out a formula where the plantation community will be able to at least secure a living wage to tide over their hardships and contribute even more actively to the nation’s progress.

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