For the First Time, Sri Lankan Plantation Workers Have Their Own Addresses,Some Say, More Dignity

Generations of estate workers on this tiny island nation have lived without a way to directly receive mail via the postal service, a basic service the workers say is key to their identity. An effort by a local organization has brought street names and house numbers to thousands of those workers,

(photo-A street sign is posted with a street name selected by workers on the Wewessa Estate, a tea plantation. Even though nearly a million people live on estates in Sri Lanka, none of those people had formal, personal addresses until recently, when local efforts resulted in street names and house numbers on some plantations.)

but many more people still live without addresses.

PASSARA, SRI LANKA — Vyndaraj Gnaneswary’s life began on a tea plantation in Sri Lanka’s central hill region.

She was born in a family home, in a line room at the tea estate where her mother’s parents lived. Like on most plantations in Sri Lanka, the line room where Gnaneswary was born is a section of a long, narrow building divided into a few small areas. Most estate workers live crowded into line rooms in buildings separated by narrow alleyways.

Now 53 years old, Gnaneswary lives in a similar home on the Ury estate, another tea plantation. It’s the same home where her husband’s family has lived for three generations. But it wasn’t until this year that the room was recognized as an individual property, with a postal address to which she could receive correspondence.

INSIDE THE STORY: GPJ reporter Manori Wijesekera is used to asking questions. But while reporting in a tea estate community, the tables were turned when an interview subject asked her about her portrayal of the community. Read the blog.

Now, Gnaneswary’s home is number 05/8. The narrow, winding, gravel path that leads to it, which was nameless for generations, is now called Amman Lane.

There are practical reasons for which she’s happy to have an address. Prior to having one, mail was delivered in bulk to the estate. Letters were often lost. The communities often had – and still have – their own small grocery shops, shrines or even preschools, but none had specific, formally-recognized location names.

But Gnaneswary, who is illiterate, says her real joy in having an address comes from the dignity it brings her family.

“This address has given my family an identity,” she says.

The Mapagala division of Ury estate, where Gnaneswary lives, was one of 11 divisions across multiple tea estates in the Badulla district to have its street names gazetted and legally recognized by the local government this year as part of a campaign to assign individual postal addresses to estate homes. The change, which included the creation of 59 new street names, formally took effect in March and residents received their addresses in April.

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Manori Wijesekera, GPJ Sri Lanka

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