Kerala is new sanctuary for fleeing Lankan Tamils
P Jayaram in Colombo
More and more Sri Lankan Tamils, fleeing their homes in the civil
war ravaged Jaffna peninsula, are heading for a new haven overseas,
the southern Indian state of Kerala.
Over 1,500 Jaffna Tamils have already bought property in different
parts of the state, particularly in Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode
and Palakkad districts and settled there permanently.
Only about 40 per cent of them have bought real estate legally,
taking advantage of the government's loose definition of a non-resident
Indian, or NRI. The definition includes all people of Indian origin.
But a majority of the migrants have bought property with forged
certificates like that of birth and marriage.
''My aunt said she had to spend Rs 25,000 as bribes to officials
to get these documents and there was no problem,'' said one Tamil.
Kerala's natural beauty, its high literacy rate and the Malayali's
close cultural affinity to the Jaffna Tamils, despite their language
difference, have all made the state an attractive destination
for the Sri Lankan Tamils.
With the Lanka's conflict showing no sign of ending, the influx
would continue, they added.
Earlier, Tamil Nadu was the main destination for the island's
Tamils. Hundreds of thousands fled the state in the wake of the
worst anti-Tamil riots in Lanka in July 1983.
However, the outpouring of sympathy and goodwill for the refugees
did not last long and public mood in the state took an about turn
following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by a Liberation Tigers
of Tamil Eelam suicide bomber.
''The people in Tamil Nadu feel that we are all Tigers, the police
and the intelligence agencies have also been harassing those settled
in the state,'' said one source.
The movement to Kerala started around 1990. Though earlier attempts
by various Tamil militant groups to enlist the support of the
Malayalis for their separatist campaign received hardly any support,
many Sri Lankan Tamils found the state ideal for living.
Some Tamil leaders, like assassinated Eelam People's Revolutionary
Liberation Front leader K Padmanabha, had taken up residence in
Kerala for security reasons and also because they felt vulnerable
to attacks by the LTTE in Tamil Nadu due to the political patronage
the Tigers enjoyed there.
In fact, Padmanabha and about 20 of his associates were massacred
in Madras while he was on his way back to Thiruvananthapuram from
Delhi to join his family.
Padmanabha's successor, K Premachandran, has also lived in Kerala
with his family. ''We very much liked the place. Compared to Madras,
Thiruvananthapuram is smaller and cleaner. Apart from the language,
the food, social customs, culture, everything is like ours,''
The social interaction between the Jaffna Tamils and the Keralites
has already resulted in matrimonial alliances.
With most of the Jaffna families having one or more members in
the Western countries, mostly as refugees, the high land prices
in Kerala have not dissuaded them from moving into the state.
''The Jaffna Tamils call themselves Elavar, probably a corruption
of the term Ezhava, an important caste in Kerala,'' one source
said, adding that ''We are re-discovering our old links.''