Community Development

January 31, 2009

Bridges in Vaigai River

Bridges are not only physical constructs…but philosophical constructs also. Some philosophically prefers bridges over walls without realizing bridges are nothing but walls modified. Is it not so?

The “connection” that bridges normally provides between two parts has its own mystic effect. It not only connects, it modifies certain, destroy certain, it illuminates certain, it drives away certain, it creates certain conflicts, it encourages corruption…it alter the human psyche and consciousness. Ask Rameshwaram islanders, they divide the island’s time line into before the construction of Pamban bridge and after the construction of Pamban bridge.

Bridge Quotes

“The hardest thing in life is to know which bridge to cross and which to burn”
“Education is all a matter of building bridges”
“We build too many walls and not enough bridges.”
“Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build bridges even when there are no rivers.”
“Being nice is one of many bridges on the road to Happiness.”
“Love builds bridges where there are none.”

When engineers construct bridges, along with mortar, social ethos are also get mixed up without their knowledge to make it as a symbol of the time.

Bridges in Vaigai River

River Vaigai has seen many bridges over it. The first bridge I have used it is in Kunnoor near Theni. I am a man of Vaigai Water. Of all the bridges constructed over Vaigai River, my first vote goes to the erstwhile Yanaikkal Kalpaalam. It was the first to connect the north and south of Madurai. Maduraites might have seen how lovely & dynamic it was. Bridges are built to pass over. But Kalpaalam was designed not only to pass over, but also to pass over poverty for many by generating livelihood opportunities. It invited everyone to use it.

Thanks to our policy makers, when they decided to construct a new over bridge, they have not completely destroyed Kalpaalam.. instead modified it to make the present to meet the past.

Bridges in Vaigai river within Madurai city fascinated me. I made an attempt to portray it. Those who are better endowed than me are invited to improve upon this, because these bridges deserve better tribute >>>>>>> more on bridges in Vaigai

I acknowledge Mr. Karunakaran (2003) and Mr. Udayakumar (2007) MSW –Community Development students for their field work support


January 10, 2009

Asset Based Community Development

அறிய அறிய கெடுவார் உண்டோ ?
Will anyone suffer by constantly exerting himself to learn?

Social Work as an academic discipline emphasis on learning from the field much before other academic disciplines realized its importance.Indeed the strength of the professionaltraining lies on its field work learning. In field work everybody learns- not only thestudent trainees, but also the teachers.personally and professionally I learned a lot along with my students who were placed under my supervision.
But field work has its own limitations. Unless the students are self motivated it is impossible to motivate them if they decide to comply mechanically to the timings and report submission.
As a teacher of community development, I was assigned community settings for supervising the students. Not only the understanding the intricacies of community is beyond the comprehension of some of the students,the problem will get compounded if the students come from other than community development specialization.
An on average I used to get 20-22 students to guide for two semesters and out of these numbers one or two students are genuinely interested in field work.Supervising these students is always a pleasant experience. We will become co learners and develop a bond transcending teacher student relationship.
In the year 2007-08, I had some ten first year MSW students under my supervision and I decided to involve them in an idea which I was incubating for several years i.e. to understand an urban ward as a community.I selected K.Pudur (Ward No.5 of Madurai Corporation) out of convenience – located closer to our college, can be reached by walking.
Though in 2003 itself I made an attempt to involve students to understand an urban ward and I left it abruptly because I realized that it is beyond my capacity to motivate the students.
In 2003, I was relying only on participatory tools (see the brochure in slide presentation printed for that purpose).Since understanding an area can be facilitated only by using maps and government supplied eye sketches cannot be of much use for our purpose,I learned the art of making customized maps using GPS (for details see first visit to Mekkarai-Thanks to Dr.T. Pavendar of Madurai Kamaraj University and Dr.Gladwin of People’s Action for Development, Vembar for their continuous support). Besides this, my exposure to the concept of ABCD (Asset Based Community Development) gave me enough confidence to “handle the student’s interest” With this new experience I involved the students in an asset mapping exercise using participatory tools including PGIS.It was really a revealing experience worth for my entire life. We walked on almost all the streets, taking tracks and points using Garmin GPS and created a scalable maps which exactly overlapped with Yahoo as well as Google maps.Besides the facilitating skills for PLA,PGIS (Participatory Geo Information System) demands exposure to the ICT also.I realized ICT can be effectively used for social mobilization and empowerment.
As the proponents of the ABCD says, we realized the focusing on the strength of the communities is quite different from focusing on the problems of the community. Every community has its own strength and communities survives on their own. We learned when a foundation is laid for constructing physical structure,foundation for community life is also made simultaneously. The streets, lights, water and other public consumption facilities facilitate and regulate relationship within and outside the community. It is true “a community is a contributor of resources and allies and a provider of pitfalls and opponents”. Within 400 ha of the ward area, we found more than 70 production units of various sizes, produces goods and services which enriches life of communities which they never seen. Apart from these,there are hundreds and hundreds of commercial establishments.We need to open all our senses in order to understand the meaning of the word “interrelationship” and “interdependency”.Even to produce a broomstick to clean our houses,we need to depend on raw material from far away places,perfectly orchestrated by several people.There is a constant and dynamic interaction between people and places.What we learned is made us humble – realized the greatness of scholars and practitioners who dedicated their life to understand the communities and enriched our collective capacity to handle the community affairs with ease and economy.
We found that the ward is endowed with a rich social capital with more than 100 social associations and institutions.
I won’t say that the ward is heavenly – we found poverty, conflict, exploitation, corruption and indifference.. Our communities,to put it Robert Chambers words, are complex, diversified and risk prone and to address this what we need need is open minded learning,innovative micro level experiments.

I thank the students who by their enthusiastic involvement proved that field work can be made as a pleasant experience. Is it not Field is our Supreme Teacher and work is our humble offering at the feet of our great master.

Introduction to Community Asset Mapping

Introduction to Community Asset Mapping

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: k.pudur course)

Wait for another post to learn the outcome of this field work in K.Pudur vegetable Market

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 13, 2008

Unit for Madurai Studies-An invitation to dream

An invitation to dream about the future of Madurai
I don’t know what motivated me to document the news about Madurai under the banner of Unit for Madurai Studies in MISS. But whatever it might be, it helped me to constructively engage myself and focus my energies, during the testing periods MISS have undergone.
I am proud when I look back the brochure I designed and printed to explain the purpose of the Unit. It is an invitation to dream about the future of Madurai. I will be happy if you take some time to read the brochure. I always felt that the memories associated with Madurai city can provoke a sense of solidarity not only among our students but also with others.
The atmosphere prevailed in MISS at the beginning of 2000 might have made my dreams like the dreams of a dumb, but for the cooperation of the students like Mr. Marirajan and Miss.Meeankshi. Marirajan was a great source of support with his natural interest in documentation and Meenakshi with her family background (Sri.Muthiah who wrote many books on Madras history known to her family) was the first girl placed for her field work in the Unit (along with Mr.Kumanan). (It was really unfortunate that she discontinued her studies. It is very rare to have student like her. I have a lot of pleasant memories about them to write separate posts). In the subsequent years Mr. Nisanth (now lecturer in MISS) and Mr. Karunakaran shared the responsibilities. After that, I find it very difficult to motivate students. After a major surgery in the year 2004, I could not continue the documentation as I did during the previous three years. Reading the news related to Madurai, cutting it, classifying it under 45 headings and preserving it was a great source of learning. More than the learning, insights, the laborious process generated day after day was really marvelous and we felt helpless in comprehending the issues that we documented.
Madurai city is bigger than some of the smaller countries in the world. No doubt the great city and its residents deserve better governance. But the question is whether the city is governed as it deserved? But the documents available with us for the three years (2000-2003) prove that there is an utter lack of vision in governing the city. One can see from the documents that both the politician as well as bureaucrats competing with one another to make a mess out of every thing.
Documents in the unit reveal that it is the River Vaigai, as it brought prosperity in the past also brought 150 crores in its name at the start of this century. Nothing can stand before Vaigai for its contribution in sustaining the livelihoods in Madurai.
Social work departments in the USA and in European universities usually claim that the city where the departments are located is the base for their field practicum. Social work departments in a way wield influence in the municipal governance. But social work institutions in our country, majority of them are located in the major urban ceners are alienated from the city life. This has to be changed. Understanding the settlement / place where one lives will always bring the positive transformation that we expect. Unit for Madurai Studies will help us to attach ourselves with the city life.
No doubt the first phase in the Unit of Madurai Studies has not progressed as I expected. Even then it was a source of learning –sown the seeds for continuous life long learning. Some students have made wonderful observations about the issues and life in Madurai – Slums, Waherman, Dalits especially about Arunthathiars, Vaigai River, Secondary Mode of Transport, Foot Loose (unorganized) Laborers, Vegetable Markets, Sanitary Workers are some areas that I can proudly mention.
The second phase, as I am seriously contemplating to use information technology to make documentation as a pleasant experience for the students so that many will volunteer in the work. I dream as I dreamt at the dawn of this century, that one day Madurai Institute of Social Sciences will serve as a Knowledge Center to guide the destiny of this great city, in partnership with others.

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