Financial Times

Kerala wants Sri Lankan coconut pluckers

A recent newspaper article spoke of Kerala planning to recruit Sri Lankan coconut pluckers a development which will surely gladden the hearts of this small community of skilled workers that is making a silent but significant contribution to the national economy.

The announcement of the Kerala State that it is prepared to recruit pluckers from neighbouring countries offering high perks has given our pluckers international recognition. This is not the first time that coconut pluckers are in the limelight. Over 50 years ago when that outspoken, one time prime Minister Sir John Kotalawala was told that the coconut industry was suffering from a dearth of pluckers, his famous quip was, “They have all entered Parliament.”

Whilst Kotalawala’s intention was to discredit the 1956 Parliament, he perhaps little realized that he was emphasizing that Parliament had ceased to be the preserve of the elite and become truly representative of the ordinary people. By saying so he also paid a compliment to the coconut pluckers.

Lets not forget that it was Robert Knox who stated, “Wash the mud off the peasant cultivator, he is fit to sit on the Throne”! Today with this new recognition that our coconut pluckers have earned, if Knox had been living, he would have said, “Take the ring (Walalla) off his ankles and dress him in a white suit, a coconut plucker is fit to be a minister”!

Today Sri Lanka professes to be a truly egalitarian society honouring all manner of rights, fundamental rights, human rights and what not.

The time has come indeed, like the State of Kerala to look up to our coconut pluckers not only literally but metaphorically too. The uniformed gentry of the Police and Armed Services who are compelled to salute politicians who have criminal records and often resort to low and disgraceful behaviour, should have no qualms in saluting our honourable coconut pluckers!

Edward Gunawardena

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