Dhammika, spoke at the EU parliament On Wednesday 8th of December. This meeting was organized by GUE/NGL and environmental group at the parliament under the title ‘the rise of national conflicts and religious tensions in Asia and Africa’. Following is the full text of her speech.She also spoke again answering to number of question raised by the MEP’s and those attended the meeting.
Thank you for inviting me to speak here.
I represent tea plantation workers – which is the poorest section of the Sri Lankan working class.
Their average salary is less than €2 a day. Most of them live without electricity or proper toilets and other basic facilities. They live in sheds called ‘lines’. Lines are lines of very small rooms.
They cook outside these small rooms and they have to walk a distance to the common toilets. Some of them don’t even have a proper roof or floor.
The hill area where they live is very cold. At times the temperature goes down to near zero. They don’t have any facilities to protect themselves from the cold.
Children travel miles to go to school. There are no health facilities nearby.
Among the tea plantation workers children and women suffer even more.
These children are the most malnourished children in the whole of Sri Lanka. These families have been living in such inhumane conditions for several generations.
The government of Sri Lanka still treats them as second class citizens.
They are still given separate identity cards which divide them from the rest of the population. This has a major effect in their lives.
They cannot travel to other parts of the country to get a job as they will be discriminated against by the employers. They are discriminated against at work places.
Women in particular suffer more as they have to look after the family on top of the tea picking. There is no security for them or help given to look after the kids.
They work really hard at the plantation. But they are discriminated against in terms of their wages and sometimes they face sexual harassment.
The conditions for women in the north are even worse.
The brutal war brought huge suffering to the whole community.
But, as in any war, women and children suffer more. Even the government reports say that there are at least 80,000 war widows living in the north.
The military is dealing with resettlement. Resettled women are forced to live on very small handouts given by the military.
They don’t have any income. Neither those in the camps nor those who have been resettled have proper cooking facilities.
There are reports of sexual harassment. As they have to rely on the military to feed them and due to the fear of death most of the harassment is not even reported. The government doesn’t allow any NGOs or activists to do any work in the north.
Most of the families are not told about their missing loved ones. The names of war victims or the ones held in detention camps are not revealed by the government. This creates a totally insecure situation for them.
They live in very badly constructed tents. They don’t have any facilities or even proper clothes. They have literally nothing.
Some charities have donated some clothes and a few other items to start their lives. But the government doesn’t allow them to operate in the area.
It is the military that distributes even the charity donations. So they are not properly distributed. The kids are given the wrong stuff. For example children have been given adult shoes. Some don’t get any aid.
Just imagine the poor mother who has six children, has no income as she cannot leave the children on their own to go to work and there is no work – what can she do to feed the family? There are four suicides a day in the Kilinochi area now.
What other solution is left for them? Many children are dying from snake bites. The families don’t even get any help with funeral costs.
Their right to remember their loved ones who have been killed is also denied. Some are prevented from having any ceremony for those who died in the war.
For fear that they could be accused of supporting LTTE they keep their silence.
In the east of Sri Lanka there is another pathetic situation. This area was the worst hit by the 2004 tsunami. The majority have still not recovered from this.
A significant number of people are still living in tents. Some of the houses that were built by international NGOs are still not in use. This area is also one of the poorest parts. Young Muslims from these areas are exploited by some job agencies who recruit them for work in the Middle East.
More than 50,000 Sri Lankans the Middle East work in homes. It is not 8-hour a day work – they do cleaning, cooking and all the other household work and they work very hard without any breaks. They live with the family and have no independence – they cannot break the contract and return to their families.
So many commit suicide or end up in prison after attacking their bosses in self-defence. Some have death sentences given to them.
There is a big campaign in Sri Lanka now to get pardon for girls who received death penalties.
They had no training in domestic work before they were given these jobs. This helps to create very complicated situations for them.
For example, one young woman was given a death sentence for killing a baby. But the baby died due to her inability to use the feeding equipment properly. The trial was held in Arabic which she had no understanding.
She was given death penalty. She is just 16.
The Sri Lankan government has not taken any steps to protect young women or any attempt to create work for them.
Women in the south who work in the textile sector for slave wages also live in utter poverty. All the subsidies and the profits from export go into the hands of bosses.
I have given a brief picture of the suffering of the oppressed masses in Sri Lanka. I hope you take these circumstances into consideration in you actions regarding Sri Lanka and make sure that the most oppressed are further discriminated and attacked.