What do young Indians who voted for the first time in 2014 think of the past decade? Scroll reporters find out in The Modi Generation.

R Hari has never felt that the Bharatiya Janata Party had much of a role to play in Tamil Nadu’s politics. “It was never an option for me as a voter in 2014,” he said. “I didn’t consider that the party had any impact in Tamil Nadu.”

But 30-year-old Hari, who is from Ketti Palada village in Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiris district, and voted for the first time in 2014, does have an overall view of the party. When he was in college, in the mid 2010s in Udhagamangalam, or Ooty, he read about the Gujarat riots and began to believe that the BJP’s politics were divisive in nature.

Over the past ten years, his mistrust of the party only deepened. Referring to the 2016 demonetisation measure, he said, “They said they would bring the black money back. But 99% of the cash was returned to the bank. So many people faced so much hardship for nothing.”

In contrast, he felt that the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu has “done a lot for people”. He cited the DMK government’s free bus pass scheme for students, and the scheme to provide free gas connections to poor families, both introduced under former chief minister M Karunanidhi, as examples of positive measures the party had undertaken while in power.

In his own life, however, Hari has struggled against discrimination at the hands of other communities in the region – both because he is Dalit, and because he is a Tamil repatriate from Sri Lanka.

Hari’s grandparents were among lakhs of Tamils, mostly Dalits, taken to Sri Lanka as tea and coffee estate workers during the period of British rule. In Sri Lanka, they came to be known as “upcountry Tamils”. These Tamils played a significant role in making Sri Lanka a hub of tea and coffee plantations. Gradually, the migrants began to consider the country their home.

But soon after Sri Lanka attained independence in 1948, the new government passed the Ceylon Citizenship Act, whose terms effectively rendered the Tamils stateless. The community’s position grew increasingly precarious after anti-Tamil riots broke out in the country beginning in 1958 and escalating in the early 1980s. Throughout, the Sri Lankan government refused to grant the Tamils citizenship, leaving them immensely vulnerable to violence and displacement.

When civil war broke out in 1983, and the Tamils looked to India for help, the Indian government at first refused to take them back, claiming that they had lived in Sri Lanka for over 100 years.

Eventually, the two countries came to a consensus. Under the Sirima-Shastri pact, they agreed that Ceylonese citizenship would be granted to 3,00,000 Indians, and that 5,25,000 would be repatriated to India.

Both of Hari’s parents, who were born in Sri Lanka, and had never been to India, were among those who were repatriated. They entered India through Rameshwaram, and then heard about tea estates in the Nilgiris. Some of Hari’s relatives worked at the Tamilnadu Tea Plantation Corporation, or TANTEA, which the state government established to provide jobs to repatriates. Others, like his parents, found work at small private estates in the hills.

It was during this time that his parents were introduced and got married and then had Hari and his sister. This year marks 50 years since his father first set foot in India.

Hari believes the DMK played a crucial role in bringing workers back from Sri Lanka. “We became a country-less people for a while, but thankfully the Dravidian leaders fought to bring us back,” he said.

But as a local journalist and repatriate explained, the repatriation was also followed by an increase in tensions between communities in the Nilgiris. Before the resettlement, he noted, the hills were dominated by the Badaga community, who are classified as Other Backward Classes. Afterwards, the repatriates, together with other Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities, became the majority, “and that unsettled the Badagas”, he said.

Ever since, repatriated families have often been treated and referred to as outsiders by locals, particularly the Badagas. Even at home, Hari’s parents were always on guard because they worked at the estates of these dominant castes. “We would not even be able to eat meat freely because the owners of the estates were often vegetarian and would yell at us if we cooked meat,” he said.

This kind of discrimination also extended to children in schools. “In school, the other children would refer to me as ‘Ceylon kaara’,” or the Sri Lankan, Hari said. “Teachers would always treat me and other repatriate children like we didn’t belong here.” Sometimes, teachers would taunt them, he added, and “ask us why we bothered to go to school when we would anyway end up only grazing cows”.

Hari said some of the students from repatriated families struggled to keep up with their studies, and that instead of helping them, teachers often scolded them for being unable to cope. “I personally know so many of the repatriates discontinued studies because they never felt welcome in the schools,” he said.

Hari’s sister was among them. “She could not cope with the intense discrimination and dropped out after the tenth standard,” he said.

Hari managed to pursue a master’s in commerce, and then enrol for an MPhil, which he did not complete. He said that he never had anyone to advise him about what course of study to pursue. After he left his MPhil, he sought jobs, but found none in the Nilgiris.

He currently procures carrots from farmers in the region and finds buyers in Coimbatore district. “It is a very unstable profession, and during the times when business is not good, I resort to daily wage jobs,” he said.

He also said that young people were denied opportunities because of entrance exams introduced by the Central government – these include NEET for medical education which, many argue, students from poorer backgrounds struggle immensely to clear because they cannot afford the coaching that privileged students access. “The DMK has been consistent in their fight against NEET,” he said. “On the other hand, the BJP seems to be bringing more and more entrance exams, which narrows opportunities for minorities.”

Another major reason Hari still firmly supports the DMK, is that he fears that the BJP will move forward with implementing the Citizenship Amendment Act and compiling the National Register of Citizens. When the party began talking about these plans, it sent waves of fear through the repatriate community. “We have only been here for the last 40-50 years,” Hari said. “We came here only with our passports and nothing else. If we are asked to prove that we owned land here or belonged here from a time before that, we have no idea where to go.”

He believes that to ensure better livelihoods and financial security for the repatriate community, the state government should redistribute TANTEA’s plantation land to them, especially since the company has in recent years been seeing reduced operations and a fund crunch. “Since people don’t have jobs either now,” he said, “at least they can give all the repatriate families an acre or two so we can make some kind of a living.”