Community Development

November 14, 2008

Pride of Madurai-Smt.Thayammal(1933)


(Note: This post is about a document accidentally I have seen it in the district documentation center. The document was about the proceedings of the then Madurai Council in the year 1933 – about a resolution brought by a woman councilor. I was really moved by the words and vision of the resolution. Since I was not permitted to xerox it, I copied it and made a translation. This translation is nothing before the original in Tamil – the handwriting, the phrasing – it was really beautiful and nothing in Madurai stand before the beauty of that document – it was a love and vision personified.

I used the document in one of my monograph published for limited circulation. I was trying my level best to trace out the lineage of that great woman who brought the resolution with some of theMadurai elders, but they could not recollect her. I will be thankful if any one helps me to trace out the origin of that great woman – to simply pay my respect to her lineage.)


It is an irony when women themselves were not empowered there was a woman in Madurai, some 75 years before, laid the foundation for a dignified living of thousands who were not even considered as human beings at that time.

That woman achieved it not by fighting; she did it with her maternal love and persuasive skills.What she was intended for thousands at that time had now grown into millions.

Here is a story to emulate….and this piece of writing is a humble attempt to propagate the glory, maternal love and affection shown by an ordinary Madurai woman to the neglected…

This piece of writing is an attempt to sustain her vision…an attempt to introspect the past …an attempt in renovating the path on which an ordinary but visionary a Madurai woman walked.


It was a hot summer day.

As usual Madurai Municipal Council meeting was held. Sriman V.Muthramier was adorning the chair. Eminent Madurai citizens like Sriman E.M. Gopalakrishna Konar, Sriman L.K. Thulasiram and Sriman. Nallathambi Pillai was adorning the council as members. Among these doyens, there was a women member by name Srimathi. Thayammal.

Even today there are calls for emancipation of women and reservation for women in legislatures.Think about 75 years before. They were literally chained. At such a time, a woman, hailing from an ordinary family gave her voice not for herself, nor for her community, nor for the people whom she represented but for the whole community, which was leading a life about which she felt hurt.

Sriman Muthramier looked at Srimathi Thayammal, who asked permission from the Chair, to move a resolution, signaling to read the resolution. She raised more in sorrow than in anger and read the resolution. Her voice was choked with emotion. But the fire in her and the healing touch of a motherly love and care with which she read the resolution seemed to echo the voice of Meenakshi, the very Goddess of the temple city, feeling for the sad plight of her children whose confidence of leading a honorable life at her abode was being shattered to pieces at her own feet.

Any one who has a sensitive ear can even now hear the resolution that Smt. Thayammal read on that day, 7.6.1933

(Translation of the original resolution – Read the original in Tamil)

Hon’ble Chairman and dear brothers!

All of us are well aware that all the cheris (slums) in our municipal area are unfit for human habitation due to improper maintenance, lack of basic facilities like water, electricity, toilets and even housing. And all of them require our immediate attention.But the financial crisis through which our municipal council passes at present, — forbids us from taking up the work of improvement of all the cheris (slums)simultaneously. I request the honorable members of this august assembly to accord sanction of funds for the improvement of at least two of the following cheris (slums).

1. The scavengers’ colony adjacent to Raja Mill.

2. The cheri (slum) on the west of Police Parade Ground in TPK road [1].

These cheris (slums) should be so modernized by providing basic amenities like housing, hygienic surroundings, water taps / wells, public conveniences, day schools or night schools so as to deserve the title of modern cheris.

Now kindly let me elaborate this issue. It is crystal clear that all the cheris (slums) in our municipal limit sail the same boat and all of them require our immediate care and attention. But taking into consideration the economic condition of the council, I feel reluctant to pressurize the council to start work in all the cheris (slums) simultaneously. But at the same time I’ll be much pleased if the council generously accord sanction of necessary funds to make a beginning at least. When the financial condition of the council improves it is our duty and responsibility to uplift all the cheris (slums). But the work should begin to modernize at least in two cheris (slums), which will act as the model cheris (slums) in future. This is the most pressing work on our hand this year. I need not educate my learned colleagues that this work has to be carried out everywhere without any obstacle and without anybody’s reminder. Postponement of this noble task on the grounds of shortage of funds will only tarnish the image of our city. The shortage of funds may be over come by austerity measures and transfer of funds from various heads like chairman’s salary, cholera staff salary, anti hukewarm fund, purchase of bleaching powder etc to this head of modernization of cheris (slums). Or the honorable chairman may allocate funds from any other means. The point is that the thing should be done and that too, at once. If necessary, the council may seek the financial assistance from the state govt. for the fulfillment of this noble deed.

What we are going to do is not an act of mercy but it is our duty and responsibility to free our fellow human being from the intolerable suffering due to lack of water for drinking / bathing / cleaning which makes the poor people living place a breeding ground of diseases.

I do solicit the cooperation of all members in shouldering the responsibility of uplifting the living conditions of the down trodden, an act which is nothing short of worship to god. Kindly extend your utmost support in passing this resolution unanimously, for true manliness lies not in self-advancement but in selfless service to society. Thank you.


While she completed reading the resolution, the most respected members of the council stood-up spontaneously in order to second it and Sriman E.M.Gopalakrishna Konar was quick enough to second it. Sriman Nallathambi Pillai felt extremely sorry for having missed a god gifted opportunity of seconding this historic resolution. Reading his mind, another member Sriman L.K. Thulasiram asked him to wait for a minute. He brought an amendment to Srimathi. Thayammal’s resolution. By the first, the nomenclature was changed from “modern cheris” to “model cheris” and by the second the number of such model cheris as per the wish of Srimathi. Thayammal should be raised to as many as possible. Shri.Nallathambi Pillai seconded the amendments and the resolution with the amendments was unanimously passed as per the wishes of Smt. Thayammal.

The resolution Smt.Thayammal brought was no doubt a world-class resolution. It was basically a swedeshi resolution thought by the people of Madurai for the people of Madurai. The resolution was put into action and 180 houses were constructed to the down trodden in the following five places at that time.

1. Sangili Thoppu 2. Simmakkal 3.Moolakarai 4.Subramaniyapuram 5.Melavasal

These five habitations are not the physical structures. It was the reflection of the conscience ofMadurai city. But what is the present state of these habitations. It looks opposite to the original intention. The present condition of these colonies will definitely prick the conscience of right thinking Maturities. Not only these five, there are more than 200 habitations in Madurai, which is longing for Maduraites love as Smt. Thayammal showed 75 years before.

The occupants of these model cheris at present lead a worse life than their forefathers for whom these colonies were made. Such degeneration in the standard and upkeep of the colonies certainly tells upon the image and glory of this ancient city.

What can we do for these habitations at present?

First of all sincere efforts should be made to renovate these model cheris, the occupants of which do belong to low-income group. The clauses in the original resolution should be fulfilled to the letter, keeping in mind the spirit of the resolution. The living conditions of these colonies should be improved upon so as to meet the basic requirements and comforts of the dwellers.

With a view to glorify and perpetuate the memory of a noble soul, this initiative is should be named after her, as Councilor Smt.Thayammal Memorial Habitation Improvement Program.

Every Maturities should be proud of Smt. Thayammal for her broad social outlook. Even before 75 years, she put forth her vision in such a persuasive way and got succeeded in her mission. Smt. Thayammal was a concrete example to show what the representatives of local self-governments can achieve.

The fact that her descendants are not immediately traceable indicates that didn’t belong to any affluent family. Hence she deserves much more praise.


[1] The present Melavasal Slum. Police Parade Ground was called as Kavathu Maidanam

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
Draft to comment

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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