Community Development

November 1, 2008

Washer man in Madurai City

Filed under: 1 — Tags: , , , — cdmiss @ 12:01 pm

The extended class rooms for MSW students

My interest towards the marginalized communities is the result of my experience as supervisor for the fieldwork programme of Master of Social Work (MSW) students placed in Tamilnadu Theological Seminary’s “Labour and Peasant Center”(TTS-LPC) and IDEAS Institute of Development Education and Action Studies). I have seen with my own eyes how the seeds they have sown before two decades have grown into big trees and provided shadow and shelter to those who needed it. There are several instances, I sincerely attempted to remove the misconceptions about these agencies with some of my friends. I used to get sad with those of my students who were not serious with the works of these agencies and in fact shouted at them that their indifference amounts to urinating over a goldmine than to digout the precious metal there. But those genres of students who used the field work learning opportunities provided by these agencies are shining in the field of development. If TTS-LPC opened my eyes towards urban informal sector, IDEAS took me close to Arunthathiar community.
Why washer man?

The coordinators in TTS-LPC- Rev. Koil Pillai, Mrs. Nirmala Victus and Mr. Jawahar were source of encouragement to me and my students.It is a joy to spend time with them and their staffs during the supervisory visits.I hope that my wish to document the feedback of all my students who did their field work with these agencies may be materialized through this blog..Though there is a lot to write about the work of these agencies, I decided to share my observation about Washer man in Madurai City as a mark of my respect and regard to Miss. Vanitha (one of the good student we had) daughter of Sri. Chinnathambi who did washing when I was a student and then as a warden in our hostel during 70s. His honesty was remarkable and he handed over the students’ the money they forgot to take away from their clothes given for washing. It is this quality of honesty that makes the people to trust on the washer man. Is it not that people who get services from others like plumbers, mechanics, painters, domestic servants and street vendors always suspect them and watch them constantly. Though washer men also belong to the same category of poor, they are trusted upon by others and that make the people to handover clothes worth of thousands and thousands to the washer man and in turn washer man never betrayed our trust.

TTS & Washer man
I still remember the discussions carried out in TTS-LPC, when they thought of organizing a union for washer man of Madurai. Continuous interaction with the washer man subsequently during fieldwork took me to Aruldosspuram, popularly identified as a washer man colony and then to Vaigai River, their work spot,that gave me several wonderful insights about life and livelihood. At my request a student took a research project on washer man and I remember still vividly the time spend in Aruldosspuram and in Vaigai River.
For me research was an excuse to be with them. Personally it was not the outcome of the research, but the process and the clarity we got it from the attempt which was more important.
I feel that this post and the link to the work we did with washer man community is definitely not an attempt to share our work publicly but to gratefully acknowledge the how the seeds sown by (TTS-LPC & IDEAS) have grew.To be with the marginalized sector is not a fashion but of a commitment was a lesson we learnt from these agencies.

Though I was interested to continue my observation I could not do it for personal as well as my inability to inspire my students to continue it. But to be with the washer man will definitely give insights about the livelihood options pursued by our subaltern brethren. I don’t have any regret to put our observation that we did it a decade before rather I feel that our observation has not become obsolete and no one has brought out any document or made any fresh observation about the washer man in Madurai City – so this attempt is a mark of making fresh commitments.
If you feel that it is worthwhile to take few minutes to see the document to mark your concern for Madurai Washer man community, you are welcome and I consider it as a previlage

Washerman & Washing
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Nativity in Social Work Teaching

Empathy யும் புளியங்காயும்
I owe a lot to people with a native wisdom who helped me to understand certain basic concepts that as a social worker I am expected to understand. Native wisdom has the power to clarify complex concepts in a surprisingly simple way. Native wisdom no doubt enrich social work, both teaching and practice, but I have to admit that as a social work educator, I failed to nurture it both in me and in my students, because of my own ignorance about its value. My mind goes blank, if I attempt to recollect what I have learnt it from the classroom as a student. Though I had some good teachers, they could not nail me down with their interpretation dyed with their native wisdom. Even good teachers interpreted certain concepts in such a way that alienated students from the subject. Since, I followed their foot steps, I would have continued the same mistakes with my students unconsciously. (Sorry Students)

It was an ordinary police constable (father of a student) who helped me to better understand the meaning of “SOCIAL” in “SOCIAL WORK” which I proudly shared it in my class room for the past several years. It was Mr. Indira Soundarajan, a popular Tamil writer, who made me to understand the meaning of “community pace” from a native perspective. There are lots of examples like this. That is why I said, I owe a lot to ordinary men & women who took pains to dye me with the native wisdom.

In the beginning of my teaching carrier, I was searching to find out the etimiology of social work i.e. Samoogappani in Tamil, that took me to several Tamil scholars, a few of them were useful and suggested me to refer Tamil Nigandus (Dictionaries), through which I learned about 22 Arams (இருபத்தி இரண்டு அறம் ), an inclusive welfare concept, about which any tamilians can be proud of. Since I was half hearted in my attempt, I could not make any appreciable output out of that.

Some years ago, out of my interest, I arranged for a small interdisciplinary dialogue, to throw light on the principles of social work from the perspective of Tamil literature and culture. We invited Dr. E.K.Ramasamy of Yadhava College (a Periarist) and Dr. Pothi Reddi of American College (a Marxian thinker) for that dialogue. Dr. E.K.R was point blank in his remarks about “self help” – “How can we, who are incapable of preparing a cup of tea in our homes are morally qualified to teach the values of self help? Since the meaning of self help is itself self explanatory, we presume that it needs no further thinking. In a way it is true that we never bothered to probe what impedes self help and the enabling environment that needed to cultivate it both in the personal and in the public arena. After listening the idioms, phrases and proverbs we used to interpret the social work principles, they pointed out the lack of native touch. They suggested to use native proverbs and phrases to interpret (for example for empathy we conventionally use the phrase – putting ourselves in other shoes) and suggested to replace alien proverbs, however it may be popular globally, with native proverbs (for example instead of giving fish, teach people to catch fish)- the rationality behind their suggestion was, the interpretation that we use should fire the imagination of the students – make them to relate it with their life.

After this I literally stopped interpreting certain concepts as we did conventionally, but I could not equip myself to interpret it in a different way. I was feeling helpless and ordinary people came to my rescue.

One such wonderful man I met recently was Sri. Jeyapandian, an ordinary load man in Madurai Central Vegetable Market, with an admirable qualities and native wisdom. Without any formal schooling, he designed more than 100 prototype models, ranging a water splasher to wake anyone from sleep and a robo to safeguard our national boundary. He used scientific principles of mechanics, hydraulics, electronics and computers in designing and developing his prototype models.More than his models, I was interested to listen to him, for the ease with which he used idioms, phrases and proverbs to explain his points.

When he talked about human feelings, he emphasized the need for empathy in his own native way. In Jayapandian’s words “empathy should be like …secreting saliva automatically when we happened to see a person chewing a tamarind fruit” (அடுத்தவங்க புளியங்காயை வாயிலே வச்சதும் நம்ம நாக்கிலே எச்சி ஊருவது போல) . This I can understand better than putting my self in other shoes.

This native touch will definitely enrich our understanding of social work concepts and one can see lot of such examples in management education.

Let us think about giving more and more native touch in social work training

Mr.Jayapandian’s demonstration of remotely operated rifle robo at Madurai Institute of Social Sciences

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