New Delhi: Amid allegations of Indian indifference towards Sri Lankan Tamils, Indian prisoners serving long sentences in Colombo's main prison say they feel badly let down by Indian authorities. A spokesperson for the 30 Indian men and three women in the Wellikade Jail said that despite the existence of a bilateral pact, New Delhi was making no efforts to take them back so that they could serve their sentences in Indian jails.
Most Indians in Sri Lankan jails are either from Kerala or Tamil Nadu. They were arrested for a variety of criminal offences. "We know that all our papers have gone from Colombo to Delhi," said the prisoner, speaking to IANS on a borrowed telephone. "It has been months now. Our medical tests for repatriation took place four months ago. Officials here (Sri Lanka) say the moment these documents return from Delhi, the repatriation will start. We have spoken to MPs, even ministers in Kerala. They are doing what they can but we continue to rot here," he added.
Both this prisoner as well as another who returned home to India recently after completing his 14-year jail term complained that Indian High Commission officials in Colombo rarely ever visited them.
"Our people in Sri Lanka are really suffering," said M.D. Durai Manikkam, who spoke to IANS from Trichy in Tamil Nadu. "I was in jail for 14 years and three months. You will be shocked to know that during this long period, I saw our high commission officials come to meet us only eight times in all. They would not come even on occasions like Pongal, Onam, Diwali and Christmas," he said.
"This was in contrast to the regular consular visits that prisoners from other countries get. Pakistani diplomats regularly come. Those from the West and also Singapore even bring books for prisoners from their countries. What we got was indifference. Is it because we are south Indians?" he asked.
The prisoner who spoke from Colombo said while Sri Lankan prison officials were kind, there were often shortages of medicines. "This is one major problem," he said. But they both agreed that food was never an issue.
The Indians are serving various jail terms, some sentenced for up to 19 years. They say that if they are in Indian jails, their families - too poor to afford air travel to Colombo - can periodically visit them.
Reportedly, one prisoner suffers from partial paralysis and another is seriously asthmatic. "We feel Delhi is indifferent both because we are not from north India and because we don't have votes," said the Indian still in jail. When we don't vote, what value can we have for any political party?" he asked.
The prisoners' long-standing complaints come amid vocal allegations in Tamil Nadu that the Indian government was trying to bail out Sri Lanka over charges of committing atrocities on Tamil civilians during the war in 2009.
Tamil Nadu political parties are pressing New Delhi to vote against Sri Lanka at the upcoming UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.
But even they have not taken up the cause of Indians from Kerala and Tamil Nadu in Sri Lankan jails, the two men who spoke to IANS said.