Over 300 textile merchants from various parts of Tamil Nadu, who had gone to Sri Lanka on a business trip, are stranded in the island nation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Hindu newspaper reported.
Every year, small and marginal merchants from Chinnalapatti, Nilakottai, Kundalapatti, Anaipatti and other small towns visit Sri Lanka during the Katchatheevu festival in March to sell sarees. The silk and kandangi sarees from Chinnalapatti are much sought-after in the neighbouring country.
The merchants travel to different parts of Sri Lanka, including Colombo, Jaffna, Trincomalee, Kandy and a few other cities. “We stay there for around two months and then return home,” said Rajendran, who is among the merchants stranded in the neighbouring country.
Speaking to The Hindu, he said, “The sudden cancellation of flights had forced us to stay here. We have already spent all the money we had earned through the sale of our goods. We are in dire need of help. Many have fallen sick. There are no health facilities, and assistance has not been forthcoming from the government here. We are looking for help from the Indian government. Please save us by arranging a special flight immediately so that we could reunite with our families.” A few other merchants, stranded in Colombo, said a curfew had forced them to stay indoors. “Through our local contacts, we have been managing to get cooked food. Many NGOs gave us hope and tried to connect us with the officials of the High Commission. We have been hearing that the Indian government has been taking steps [to help people like us], but we have not seen any tangible efforts so far,” they said.
The relatives of some of the affected merchants from Dindigul submitted a memorandum to the District Collector on Monday, urging him to take up the issue with the State government.
According to officials at the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka, a group of visiting businessmen from Virudhunagar, who had sought help, were provided support.
“The Indian mission has set up helplines to assist visiting Indians. Those seeking help are being provided assistance,” a spokesperson told The Hindu.
It is unclear how many Indian tourists or businesspeople are currently in Sri Lanka and are unable to return to India. India is among Sri Lanka’s top tourism source markets. In February 2020, the country accounted for the highest number of international tourists to Sri Lanka. As many as 35,309 Indian tourists arrived in the island nation during the month, according to Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority.