Sri Lankan refugees came to India during the Sri Lankan Civil War which continued erratically from 1983 to 2009 and millions of them have still not found an asylum in their own country. According to a statistical report brought out by the Government of India, there are more than 100,000 ethnic Sri Lankan Tamils residing in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which accounts for a minimum figure of 68,000 living in 112 government-run camps and 32,000 outside the camps. For a period of almost 26 years these people have been residing in the Indian subcontinent, working as daily wage laborers with no hope of a bright peaceful future. International Organisations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have tried to repatriate the refugees but the Tamil refugees have been reluctant to go back to their home country. They have cited various reasons for the same such as economic destitution, loss of habitation in their home land and gross human rights violation.
Many of the refugee children were born in India after their parents had migrated from Sri Lanka. Due to this rationale, they feel that they are more adept at the cultural, political and economic paradigms that exist in India. Inspite of having lived in India for almost half their lives these illegal migrants have not been granted citizenship and it seems that the Indian Government does not have the intention to confer such a right all together.
Advocate B Arulmozhimaran filed a PIL before the Madras High Court to declare S. 2(1)(b) of the Indian Citizenship Act as unconstitutional and accept the application for citizenship of the Tamil refugees. S. 2(1)(b) of the act disallows citizenship on the grounds that both parents are not citizens of India or that one of them is an illegal migrant. The petitioner argued that these people who had spent almost three decades of their lives in India could not be denied citizenship as it would violate their right to life as is guaranteed by Art. 21 of the Indian Constitution. They also contended that Article 11 of the Constitution does not prohibit any person from applying for citizenship and hence it was legally untenable to brand these refugees as illegal migrants and deny them Indian citizenship.
S Tamilarasan, counsel for the petitioner, contented that in the matter of Chakma refugees residing in Arunachal Pradesh, a petition was filed by the by National Human Rights commission and the Supreme Court had ruled in favour of citizenship for those 65,000 refugees, who were staying there for more than three decades. The rationale behind asking for citizenship for the Tamil refugees was the same. Nearly one lakh Sri Lankan refugees have been living in Tamil Nadu for the past three decades and denying them a social, cultural and economic identity would be inhuman to them and it would be violative of their fundamental right to live. In 2013, the first bench of the Supreme Court comprising the then acting Chief Justice R K Agrawal and Justice M. Sathyanarayanan ordered notices to central and state governments in the matter.
The Sri Lankan Tamil refugees have still not been granted with Indian citizenship and the judgement of the Supreme Court in the PIL is eagerly awaited. Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Mr. M. Karunanidhi supported the cause of the migrants stating that the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees would be granted Indian citizenship soon. His demand has been backed by spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
It has become a matter of utmost importance to provide these refugees with citizenship of India. Although the State government has been providing them with temporary housing facilities, free medical aid, education up to secondary level, cash benefits, subsidized food materials like rice, potatoes, clothing material and utensils for their survival, employability remains a problem in the absence of social integration and they face an uncertain future without the provision of citizenship. Providing de facto asylum without an intention to provide Indian citizenship - all the while suspending civil and political rights like right to property, right to free movement, right to voting, etc is an injustice for the Tamil refugee populations which have been stateless in Tamil Nadu since the 1980s.