An independent assessments of a five year programme for the uplift of the Arunthathiyar Dalit subgroup
Arunthathiyars - Combating Poverty, Oppression and Atrocity
VILLAGE SERVICE TRUST (England)
Development Action Consortium Trust (India)
DFID CSCF 389
Arunthathiyar Makkal Munnetra Iyakkam, Vizhuthugal/Arunthathiyar Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam
Evaluation Report Compiled by
With the help of
ON THE BASIS OF STUDY CONDUCTED FROM 6.3.2012 TO 25.12.2012
Arogya Agam, Theni acquired funds through Development Action Consortium Trust (India) and its oversees partner Village Service Trust (England) from Department for International Development (DFID) of the UK Government under the provision of its Civil Society Challenge Fund for a five year project named as “Arunthathiyars: Combating Poverty, Oppression and Atrocity”. The project was commenced in April 2007 and is to be concluded in March 2012. The project was carried out in four districts of Tamil Nadu; Theni in the southern part and Coimbatore, Erode and Tiruppur districts in the western part of Tamil Nadu, a south Indian state. As the title indicates the project relates to the target population of Arunthathiyars, an untouched caste in Tamil Nadu.
At the time of the inception of the project the implementing agency had agreed to two external evaluations apart from submission of annual progress reports. One external evaluation was conducted mid-term by Karl-Kubel Institute for Development Education, Coimbatore between the months of March and August 2010. The present exercise is designed to be the second, final evaluation at the end of the project period.
Arogya Agam constituted the present evaluation team with Rajan Krishnan, PhD as the leader and Fatima Burnad as the other member. All documents as stipulated in the DFID guidelines were sent to both of them once they agreed to serve in the team. The team members studied the documents before commencing the evaluation process on a mutually agreed date. The initial briefing session was held at Theni on 6.2.2012 in the presence of all the core group members of the project. The evaluation team evolved the methodology for the evaluation and prepared the itinerary on the same day. The evaluation team spent the next five days at Theni. It moved to Tiruppur on 12th, February, spending another five days there before taking a break. The evaluation work was resumed on 22.2.2012 at Erode lasting till 25.2.2012. In a total of fifteen days, the team went through the documents related to the project, made several field visits and had elaborate discussions with the project staff, members of the target community and various other actors related to the project.
After the evaluation team members discussing the findings among themselves, the team leader held a debriefing session at Theni on 1.3.2012. The responses of the project stakeholders to the initial observations were gathered during the session. The draft of the final report was prepared consequently which was sent to Arogya Agam for corroboration and authentication. The report has thus been finalized on mutual consent between the evaluation team and Arogya Agam, the implementing agency of the project.
LIST OF ACRONYMS/ KEY TAMIL TERMS
AMMI Arunthathiyar Makkal Munnetra Iyakkam, PO operating in Theni
AMMK Arunthathiyar Makkal Munndetra Kazhagam, PO operating in
Coimbatore, Erode, Tiruppur districts with a state level network
CET Districts Coimbatore, Erode and Tiruppur districts; a contiguous area in
Western Tamil Nadu.
DAC Development Action Consortium (VST’s project management partner)
Mandrams The basic village level units of the two POs, AMMI and AMMK.
Panchayat The village Administrative Unit.
POA act Prevention of Atrocities Act
PCR act Protection of Civil Rights Act
WSHG Women’s Self Help Group
Gram Sabha The village assembly where all the residents are allowed to participate; mandated to be held once in six months
FGD Focus Group Discussion – a research methodology where a group of people sharing a common concern or status are assembled to get a collective opinion
PO People’s Organization
CBO Community Based Organization
NGO Non Governmental Organization
A Short Introduction to the project: “Arunthathiyars - Combating Poverty, Oppression and Atrocity”
The overall aim of the project is to reduce the vulnerability of a specific social constituency to poverty, oppression and atrocity. The aim is to be achieved by enabling the people to secure their rights and entitlements through their participation in democratic processes and civil society initiatives. The project, in our understanding, was to fund the constitution of a tool or a catalyst apparatus which will strengthen people’s organizations which in turn are to perform the task well after the project term. The target population of this particular project of CSCF 389 (Civil Society Challenge Fund) of DFID is people belonging to the caste of Arunthathiyars in four selected districts of the state of Tamil Nadu in India.
Arunthathiyar, traditionally also known as Sakkiliyar (a term which has acquired derogatory connotations through castiest abuse) are one of the three main Dalit /Scheduled Castes that are victims of untouchability practices. In the notional scale of caste hierarchy Arunthathiyars are apparently considered inferior to the other two major Dalit castes of Pallars (aka Devendira Kula Vellalas) and Parayars (also known as Adi Dravidas) and are sometimes subjected to ill treatment even by these other untouchable castes. Three important features mark out the greater degree of vulnerability of this group in comparison to the other two Dalit castes: one, they hardly own agricultural land, which make them totally depend on the landowning castes. Two, they are different in terms linguistic identity. They mostly speak Telugu at home, a miniscule portion speak Kannada as mother tongue. Though almost all of them speak Tamil in public only a few claim Tamil as the only language known. Three, sanitary work has been the preserve of this community which pegs them at a lower position in the purity, pollution matrix. Further, sanitation included skinning dead animals, making leather produce for use of village community, which too in spite of its usefulness is considered “impure” labour. Hence, a project of this kind that focuses on the disabilities suffered by Arunthathiyar community has been an urgent need and remains highly relevant to secure the high objective of social equity. The project covers Arunthathiyars in Theni district, where they are a minority among Dalit castes and Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Erode (CTE) districts where they form the majority among Dalit castes. Arogya Agam and the people’s organization supported by it, Arunthathiyar Makkal Munnetra Iyakkam, AMMI, operate in Theni district. Vizhuthugal, a PO and the newly formed PO under its aegis, Arunthathiyar Makkal Munnetra Manram, AMMK, operate in CETdistricts.
The project was based on a logical framework which has numerous indicators numbering twenty. The indicators were supposed to show the transformation brought about by the formation of the People’s Organisations. There are no indicator specific programmes envisaged in the project apart from generally striving towards the improvement of target community in all respects. This has created a split in the evaluative process. While the actual work done in the project merits so much of appreciation, the evaluation of the achievements in terms of the log frame indicators do not fully reflect the actual achievements of the project. Hence the descriptive section of the findings will have to be carefully studied along with the ranking of logical frame indicators.
The evaluation team benefitted from the external mid-term evaluation report and the annual reports filed by the implementing agency, which it could pursue before commencing work. Since the team members had gone through the material before meeting the stake holders, it was possible to develop a methodology quickly. It consisted of three parts: Archival work, interviews in addition to focus group discussions and field visits. The evaluation needed to focus on various log frame indicators, sampling for the numbers claimed as achieved in the field and verifying the consistency in the documentation. Further, the evaluation also had to assess the strength of the POs to comment on the sustainability and the long term impact of the project. Since the area covered by the project consisted of two non-contiguous areas, several of these exercises needed to be carried out in Theni and CETdistricts separately.
1) Archival work: Perusal of all kinds of extensive records and documents related to the project available at Arogya Agam, the implementing agency, AMMI at Theni and AMMK at Tiruppur, both being People’s Organisations nurtured by the project. The documents included extensive press clippings about the advocacy programmes conducted, cases filed in the court to seek compensation for victims of atrocities, cases of panchami land reclamation, survey reports on untouchability practices compiled by project staff and monthly diaries and field notes maintained by project staff.
2) Interviews and FGDs: Meeting all the project personnel and stakeholders, the co-ordinators and organisors of the people’s organisation, FGDs with Panchayat Raj representatives, victims of caste oppression helped the project staff, beneficiaries of Government Schemes and loans where the project facilitated securing of such benefits, members of solidarity network and the organisors of Mandrams (the basic unit of the POs) in villages.
3) Field Visits: Visits to various villages where Mandrams have been formed; where struggles have taken place against untouchability practices and caste atrocities; where people have benefitted from developmental initiatives of the staff; colonies, villages where sanitary workers live; friendly lawyers and students. Since the widespread impact of the project and the sustainability of achievements claimed in the log frame indicators needed to be verified at the grass root level, our engagement with the village people revolved around several aspects of their lives in an informal two way exchange. Wherever necessary we met individuals in the villages to conduct informal interviews about various issues that concern their lives. The documents presented by Mandram organizers about the activities of the Mandram were perused on the spot by the team members. The observations gained from the field visits were supplemented by the focus group discussion with the Mandram organizers mostly drawn from villages that the team could not visit.
The team members consistently engaged with all the stake holders, project staff, activists of the PO in an informal exchange to fathom the complexities involved in executing the ambitious project. The members of the team frequently consulted each other during the visits, compiling their observations and sharing notes taken.
Relevance of the Project:
It could be observed from various field visits, perusal of records and personal interactions that the project is basically situated in the hiatus between principles of governance as envisaged by the Constitution of India and the omissions and commissions of the actual state actors, the flesh and blood Government officials. One can begin with the basic proscription of untouchability practices that have been declared illegal in the constitution which came into force in 1952. After sixty years, untouchability practices are still prevalent in many old and new forms in so many villages. In a populous country like India implementing the legally sanctioned provisions is often left to the capacity for negotiation between the state actors and local communities. Further, the state actors themselves are often embedded in the cultural moorings of caste, making it impossible for them to be proactive in matters like abolition of untouchability. Apart from whatever sense of belonging one may have with one’s own caste, the question of power in terms wealth and property make state actors ally with the more affluent sections of the society. As a result, the untouchable and poor sections of the society are left to the mercy of the entrenched power of the landowning castes in rural areas with state actors colluding with the later in network of caste and class affinity.
Let us illustrate the point with an advocacy programme undertaken by AMMI in Theni district at the beginning stage of the project. The District Collector of Theni announced that untouchability has been abolished hundred percent in Theni district. He was also bestowed with an award for the achievement. The activists of AMMI realized that such an admission is a blow in the face of the abject truth, as Arunthatiyars are still suffering various forms of untouchability. They had to hold rallies, demonstrations and meetings to publicise the fact against the claim made by the collector.
The situation amply demonstrates that even at the district level the administrative head is far removed from ground realities which he seeks to misrepresent. Instead of being proactive in arranging for Panchayat level initiatives to discuss and abolish actually existing untouchability practices he had chosen to declare such practices are non-existent. The CSCF project enabled to the people’s movement to contest the claim, document the actually existing practices and in due course of time devise strategies for the actual reduction of untouchability practices. It is easy to surmise that without such interventions as this project, the state machinery is not capable of delivering justice to the landless, impoverished and ostracized communities like that of Arunthathiyars. The response of state actors to the problems faced by the community range from apathy to indifference to rank animosity. In matters of regular administration apathy is the quality of mental dispensation. In matters related to development and implementing special budgetary provisions ear marked for the vulnerable community, the attitude is that of indifference. In the cases where there are conflicts resulting from caste atrocities, the attitude of the law enforcing officials often border on animosity as they see people seeking justice as trouble makers who do not accept the traditional interdiction of submission to the wishes of landowning castes. Hence, all the state initiated measures for improving the condition of socially and economically vulnerable sections of the society like that of Arunthathiyars, all the legal guarantees meant to safeguard them against traditional form of exploitation and caste abuse become ineffective because of the failure of state actors to live up to the spirit of the law.
In addition to state actors, it is absolutely necessary to note that the propertied sections of the society and the organized working class also do not take interest in the plight of the rural poor, landless and discriminated against. This is where “civil society challenge fund” in such situations should also challenge the “civil society” itself, if civil society is to be understood as a site generating normative prescriptions that under grid the rule of law. The upper and middle classes of India have shown no concern about who is doing the sanitation work for them and in what conditions they live. Their caste unconscious does not compel them to notice the abominable conditions in which sanitary workers live and serve, as most of the sanitary workers belong to the caste of Arunthathiyars, who the caste society never treated as human beings labouring with dignity. In an interesting instance, Mr.Thangavel, convenor of Vizhudhugal narrated how he made an intervention with a photograph showing the district collector ordering a barehanded sanitation worker in uniform to remove human excreta found in a thoroughfare. While the general public may appreciate the collector for supervising even sanitary work, from the perspective of the sanitation workers, the collector cannot instruct a worker to remove human soil without the intervention of machinery as manual scavenging has been declared illegal.
Further, Arunthathiyars’ widespread dependence on the landowning castes for their survival has made it difficult for them organize politically like the other two Dalit castes of Pallars and Paraiyars. Due to various historical reasons, no state wide political party of Arunthathiyars could come up. They have a marginal presence in Dalit and non-Dalit political parties, which does not help them in seeking redress for the specific injuries suffered by the constituency, that is, the community of Arunthathiyars. For all these reasons, the relevance of the project “Arunthathiyars: Combating Poverty, Oppression and Atrocity” can never be overemphasized.
It is also worth noting that the project came to acquire certain relevance in its historical temporality as well. The project period witnessed various Arunthathiyar organizations in the state coming together to demand an internal quota in the reservation of seats and positions in educational institutions, state sector employment for scheduled castes. As a result of the sustained campaign, the state government provided a three percent internal quota for Arunthathiyars within the eighteen percent reserved for schedules castes. The act is a historical moment that recognizes the extreme vulnerability of Arunthathiyars and the need to pay specific attention to the community among other scheduled castes. The POs supported by the project, particularly AMMK, has played a considerable role in mobilization towards securing the internal quota. As a result, AMMK developed a state wide network resulting in its self-perception as a state level organization. In short, the project has coincided with the blooming Arunthathiyar self consciousness in various parts of the state. As we noted in the project summary, it is high time the community becomes organized on its own to seek redress for its specific grievances apart from finding common cause with other Dalit castes and working class people. As already noted, since the majority of those belonging to the community are landless agricultural labourer, reducing their economic vulnerability should be taken as a task of high priority by civil society, political and state actors if they are to live with dignity and self respect that behoves a citizen of democratic country.
As elaborately noted above, equity is the central thematic of the project. We have shown how Arunthathiyar, the target group of the project, suffer from economic vulnerability and social discrimination, preventing them from participation in and benefitting from the growth related projects of the state.
While addressing itself to the task of organizing the Arunthathiyar community for self representation, the project has taken care to involve a considerable number of women in the process. At the village level, since in many places women’s self help groups have provided the template for setting up Mandrams, it is perceptible that involvement of women preceded the founding of the village units of the PO. In terms of people employed to nurture the POs, the district co-ordinators and organizers, an appreciable representation has been given to women. The capacity building programmes and training camps have had a clear impact on them. They have become self-reliant, confident and articulate. The project has taken care to nurture leadership qualities in women, with sensitivity to their rural social belonging, where patriarchal norms are still held high. We would like to particularly make note of a few motivated women activists nurtured by the project who have developed a high degree of self-reflexivity about the role played by gender in their own community lives. While there is a pattern in that women are more concentrated on developmental aspects of the project leaving men to handle conflicts and caste atrocities, we could say that at the level of the project staff, women have been trained to handle PCR and POA cases.
In some cases, the recruitment of women as project staff can also be seen as the result of low compensation paid. Since the men are paid better in agricultural work and in trades, women are spared to do the organizational work. However, it should be noted that even if there are such default reasons for the involvement of women in project work, they are properly trained and infused with a sense of purpose needed for organization building.
However, such participation of women in organization building does not seem to reflect fully in the way domestic violence and alcoholism among men have been factored into the project work. It is not difficult to see that alcoholism is a major drain on the fledgling household economy of Arunthathiyars preventing the community benefitting from rights and entitlements they have come realize as theirs. It leads to high incidence of domestic violence which results in inhibiting women from their natural participation in organization building. Alcoholism prevents men from developing a serious commitment to organization building. Perhaps, if rural women had a say in evolving the priorities of the project they would have insisted that combating alcoholism should have been prioritized. Subsequently, it is only when such problems are prioritized the participation of women at the grass root level will increase in a substantial sense, without being mere numbers.
At the level of the people’s organization, a separate leadership structure has not been developed. The project personnel are the links that connect the village level Mandrams. Only when a separate organizational structure is evolved with people leading at several levels the potential of women for organizational work can be fully tapped, by making them elected office bearers of the PO.
It is necessary to define what exactly is the core instrument or tool constituted by the project to achieve its purposes. It consists of project personnel whose work is compensated by the project fund, who have been equipped through capacity building exercises and other training programmes and, in the case of co-ordinators, with two wheelers for easy mobility. There are twenty taluks in the project area each of which is covered by a co-ordinator assisted by two organizers. This constitutes the team of twenty co-ordinators and forty organizers lead by two project officers and two convenors of the POs in Theni and CETdistricts. In all there are 64 members constituting the project tool that would achieve the results aimed by the project.
The constitution of the project tool with the personnel largely drawn from the target community, Arunthathiyar, has resulted in the work being carried out with a high degree of personal motivation and involvement. Many of them had already been associated with the POs and hence came fully prepared to undertake the task. Every single individual involved in the project in all the connected organisations showed utmost degree of personal engagement. In this sense the collaboration between Arogya Agam and the two POs, AMMI in Theni and AMMK in CET districts has yielded a degree of efficiency rare to be achieved in such difficult conditions in such a short span of time. However, there have been certain shortcomings as well that has resulted from the merger of the project tool with the POs.
The project appears to be highly over stretched in relationship to the budget. The geographical spread covered is vast and there are too many, diverse indicators in the logical framework of the project when viewed in the context of the money made available. This was presumably caused by the over dependence on the existing/ putative strength of the POs where voluntary participation of the activists and mobilization of resources from the community were expected to play a substantial part with a minimum role envisaged for the project tool. However, while the POs had been networks involved in sporadic/widespread interventions and advocacy actions they do not seem to have developed a strong organizational structure even at the end of the project. There is a clear lack of understanding about the ways in which a grass root organization is to be built through people’s voluntary contribution which they can sustain with their own means. Hence, while the project has again made effective interventions and carried out successful advocacy programmes the task of building people’s organizations owned and run by their own representatives has not taken place.
The project is to be essentially looked at as having two important components. One is how Arogya Agam enables the two Arunthathiyar POs in achieving what they had set out to do, the cause endorsed by Arogya Agam for which it has obtained the funding and implemented the project. The other is how the two POs have been helped to absorb the benefits of the project for their own sustenance and future activity. In other words, the project has immediate aims of making an impact on Arunthathiyar lives and the long term aim of promoting the Arunthathiyar POs. The project proposal is not adequately clear in how to prioritize between these two components. In Section III of the project proposal, in response to question “a” which is “What are the goal, purpose, outputs and main activities of the project?” the proposal gives as the first output “Strong Arunthathiyar people’s organisations in 3 districts (now 4 due to bifurcation of districts) linked with solidarity networks”. Later, in listing the activities it clearly lays out that “the strategy is to develop and work through 2 Arunthathiyar people’s organisations” and again in the next paragraph “The Arunthathiyar POs will spearhead the lobbying and activism with the support of the solidarity networks”. Hence, it is safe to assume that the strengthening of POs should take priority leading to creating an impact on the lives of the target group.
The question of respective roles of Arogya Agam and the POs become important when the modus operandi of the project is analysed. Ideally and conceptually, we need to distinguish the project tool compensated or paid with project fund and the actual POs, since the POs are to be self reliant in their functioning. The project tool must be used to set up the basic units of the PO, called Manrams in this instance, and allow the PO to make interventions on its own. In other words, the project tool will only have an interventionist and catalyst role which should lead to the independent action of the POs. However there has been a certain lack of conceptual clarity among the project personnel about the distinction between the project tool and the actual PO since many of the project personnel are also activists of the POs. In effect, the project has compensated for the work of the activists of the PO. As a result, at the grass root level the voluntary dimension of the organizational work is compromised by the compensation given to the volunteer. At the same time, as project personnel the compensation given to the staff appear to be abysmally low (the initial budget mentions Rs.1,500 per month as compensation for the volunteer playing the role of the organizer; we learnt that they are paid around Rs.2,500 per month at the end of the project. Their activity reports indicate that they almost travel and work every day. Hence the salary is lower than the salary paid by NREGA scheme, which is Rs.100 per day). Apparently, such a low salary was envisaged since the work was considered to be of voluntary nature only to be notionally compensated. There are significant consequences to this decision.
While the project personnel have been highly motivated, having been infused with political consciousness by the POs, the work they were expected to perform was not matched by the compensation given. It resulted in a high turn-over of organizers and co-ordinators. For example if we take the statistics for CETdistricts from April 2010 to January 2012, a period of twenty months, only three out of fifteen co-ordinators have remained unchanged (20%) during the period; only 9 out of 30 organizers have remained unchanged (30%) during the period. At the time of evaluation both the project officer positions remained vacant. Even the convenors of AMMI have changed twice, though there appear to be more reasons than salary given in these cases. The frequent change of personnel in the Taluks naturally affected the development of grass root units of the people’s organizations, the Manrams, apart from several other possible discontinuities in action pursued.
In consequence, the formation of Manrams as the bedrock of the POs appears to have taken a back seat. The POs continued to remain as a network of activists, making widespread interventions and carrying out advocacy programmes. The Manrams have been seen as an extension of activist network, rather than the democratic base of the POs. For example the POs do not have a general council, or any such deliberative body, comprising the representatives of the Manrams either at the Taluk level or at the district level. There have been no elections of Taluk level or district level office bearers. There is no elected general secretary or president of the PO. Only the convenors chosen or appointed by the project core team lead the POs.
There has been no consistent strategy of how the Manram’s should function and what its aspirations should be. The collection of subscription varied from place to place. In most places people had no clear idea of what they are supposed to do with the subscription. Mostly, the members of village level Manrams thought of it as a self contained unit, rather than as a part of people’s organization to which they should send a portion of the subscription. They seemed to think that at Taluk and District level the organisation is funded by NGOs. In Theni district people mostly thought of AMMI as part of Arogya Agam, since many of the project personnel had worked in other projects of Arogya Agam. In many places people thought it is enough to have twenty five members in the Manram and they need not mobilize the rest of the Arunthathiyars in their villages.
All these revert back to the problem of how the project personnel are identified. Their identification as people whose work is compensated by the funds received by the NGO has not helped in nurturing voluntary participation among the Manram organizors. No parallel, elected representative structure has been evolved with Manrams as their base to supplement the project personnel as people’s organisation. In one of the FGDs, a village level Manram office bearer suggested that if they are given some salary, they could organize the Manram better. This shows that people have not owned their organization. It is not clear why a monthly subscription of Rs.20 cannot be afforded by individual members of Manrams. If Rs.10 is kept as the share of the Manram for its own expenses, Rs.5 given to taluk level organisation and another Rs.5 for district level organisation it will become easily possible to establish an effective structure at the taluk and district level. If there are thousand members in a taluk, the taluk office will get Rs.5,000 a month. A district office with five taluks would get Rs.25,000 a month. The PO will be capable of generating its own funds without being dependent on the NGO, when people will feel that they own the movement as independently theirs.
The over stretching of the project in terms of too many diverse logical indicators has also resulted in an inability to concentrate on any one of the indicator fully by the project personnel. No separate strategies have been devised to achieve each of the log frame indicator. There is a clear disconnection between the planned activity of the project personnel and the numerical figures shown as achievement in some of the log frame indicators. One ideal example would be the number of girls going to college. While the survey has pointed out an increase, it is not clear how exactly the project personnel went about achieving the result. We did come across instances where some counselling had been given to girls going to college; in many instances we found girls pursuing their studies even without the knowledge of the project personnel. It is not conceivable how an organizer or co-ordinator will set about achieving results under twenty different indicators with their meagre compensation, particularly when most of their energy is consumed by fighting cases of caste atrocities and conflicts. It might have been much more useful to nominate different co-ordinators to take care of particular indicators in all the four districts. For example, if a co-ordinator, like Mr.T.K.Velusamy, co-ordinator of Bhavani Taluk, shows capacity for obtaining loans for individuals and groups, he could have become the project level co-ordinator for loans and scholarships. As already pointed out, while we fully appreciate the achievements of this dedicated set of activists, we feel that the over stretching of the project aspirations have compromised the capacity to focus on any particular indicator.
There have been an incredible range of effective interventions made by the project tool comprising of the project personnel. First and foremost, reduction of untouchability practices through strategic and effective interventions is the stellar achievement of this project. In most villages visited people positively responded to the question about reduction of untouchability practices. In fact it has nearly been abolished in many villages. The presence of the project tool and the formation of the Mandrams have had a significant bearing on the reduction of untouchability. In Theni district, the PO has lead a successful advocacy campaign to highlight the prevalence of untouchability practices against the superficial claim made by the District Collector on the abolition of the same. Following that, the PO also devised many innovative strategies to combat untouchability practices. For example, in a revolutionary gesture, the project personnel lead the people into the tea shops where separate tumblers were being given to untouchables, breaking the glasses and shouting slogans. While Tamil Nadu has every now and then witnessed such militant action, the practice of double glass system keeps on re-inventing itself. In many villages now, Arunthathiyars run their own tea shops which the land owning castes do not patronize. However, the tea shops run by non-Dalits, facing competition, are forced to dilute or do away with discriminatory practices. In the long and varied history of struggle for right to equal treatment in tea shops all over Tamil Nadu, the militant struggle lead by AMMI in Theni district deserves to be mentioned in bold relief for the success of the campaign.
Other common forms of untouchability practices like denial of access to the streets of landowning castes or impositions such as removing the footwear while walking through the streets, non availability of burial ground, and denial of access to other amenities and public utilities have all been combated successfully. There has been no extensive change with respect to the denial of entry into the temples maintained by landowning castes. Though the project tool has made some successful temple entries, in most villages Arunthathiyars prefer to build their own temples. Even legally it is difficult to demand access to temples which are maintained by private individuals or trusts in privately owned land, without accepting public donations. However, the temple entry has to be studied on a case by case basis and strategies prepared to effect temple entries. The project has been very effective in making progress on all these issues.
The other main task of the project tool is to identify the villages and form Manrams. While we have noted in the previous section that Manrams have not become the bedrock of the POs, we need to acknowledge the effectiveness of the project tool in making people realize the need to form Manrams. This assumes great significance when we take into account that even today most of the Arunthathiyars are dependent on landowning castes for agricultural work. While the nature of work is increasingly realized as contractual, the affective bonds of yesteryears, the sense of loyalty towards the employers are yet to disappear completely. In such a context, Arunthathiyar people coming forward to form a civic association of their own, installing a name board at the entry point of the village is tantamount to declaration of freedom. The project personnel have exerted much of their energy in preparing the ground for the formation of the Manrams mostly symbolized by a rousing function to install the name board, when leaders of the PO would address the people.
The next indicator in ranking the effectiveness of intervention would be the formation of women’s self help groups. This is more so in Theni than in the CETdistricts. The WSHGs have helped women to get credit to face domestic contingencies and social obligations. We are repeatedly told that this has reduced their dependence on usurious money lenders. However, we could not find many instances where WSHGs have given raise to productive employment and entrepreneurship. In some places women have started commercial enterprises of their own, but the role of the project personnel has only been indirect or marginal. We were not presented with any telling instance of WSHGs changing the life of Arunthathiyars increasing the family income substantially. We learnt that this has not been the case with WSHGs of other communities in Theni area. Sufficient brainstorming does not seem to have taken place to think through the jinx: if WSHGs of other communities could take up business and productive enterprises successfully, why Arunthathiyar WSHGs cannot do the same? The effectiveness of WSHGs as a tool for change is compromised by this telling fact.
In terms of changing the perception of Arunthathiyars among the dominant castes, the interventions made in cases of caste atrocities and civil rights abuses have been very effective. This has also infused confidence among Arunthathiyars that they can together fight discrimination and injustice. Both AMMI and AMMK have made several important interventions in individual cases of caste atrocity. AMMK has conducted several agitations demanding action against irresponsive and erring officials irrespective of their station. They have successfully demonstrated against hostile police officers. We are very impressed by the achievements of the project in registering cases under POA and PCR acts. For example, in a recent case in Udamalpet, an Arunthathiyar heavy vehicle driver had quit job with a castiest minded quarry owner and taken up job with a better pay master. Unable to tolerate the exercise of free will by untouched caste person, the owner of the quarry abducted the driver, keeping him in a hideout torturing him physically. The driver managed to escape after a day and as he approached his house calling his worried wife, the quarry owner’s men circled him in vehicles and lifted him away once again right in front of the eyes of his wife and neighbours. When the poor women rushed to police station to file a case, the inspector on duty refused to register a case. The husband was brought to the station by his abductors but was not released. The police tried to make him confess to the crime of theft so that the abductors can be excused for keeping him in custody and torturing him. The helpless women then contacted the local AMMK co-ordinator, who went to the station immediately. He insisted on the immediate release of the tortured person after filing a case under POA act against the abductors. After prolonged struggle he succeeded in securing justice for the victims. Such instances show the effectiveness of the PO in making interventions to secure justice where it is denied by castiest state actors whose job it is to protect the weak and the vulnerable.
The project has made an effective intervention in the case Panchayat representatives at two levels. One, efforts have been made to gather the elected representatives including the Presidents of Village Panchayat belonging to Arunthathiyar caste. They have been given capacity building exercises by discussing the nature of their work and possibilities and by facilitating discussions among them. This is extremely crucial since it is often the case that Arunthathiyar panchayat presidents are elected as proxies of dominant castes when the particular panchayat falls under reservation. Hence, bringing them together after the election and making them feel a sense of fraternity with other panchayat presidents can be extremely helpful in using the institution of Panchayat Raj for the betterment of the community. The POs have distributed manuals about Panchayat Raj in Tamil to the elected office bearers. We witnessed very productive interaction among the panchayat officials in our presence, where useful information was exchanged between various Arunthathiyar Panchayat presidents. Secondly it has stimulated a widespread interest among Arunthathiyars to take part in the democratic process. Everywhere, we heard Manram office bearers enthusiastically talking about their contesting for the position of ward member or Panchayat President even when they have lost the elections. This infusion of confidence and assertion about contesting in elections even in general constituencies is a sign of the new degree of self-esteem that the community has come to acquire.
In short while there has been effective intervention with regard to all the logical frame indicators, the effectiveness is mainly the result of the work of the project tool. The grass root units of the POs are still in an incubation stage and have played a minor part of the effectiveness of the interventions in most cases. While pursuing the documents of AMMI in Theni district we found the number of press clippings about the POs programmes coming down drastically after the first three years. It is found the PO had to focus on Manram formation in the last two years. In fact it should have been in the reverse. Both AMMI and AMMK should have fully concentrated on the formation of Manrams in the first two years. The advocacy programmes and interventions should have been made with Manram representatives and volunteers, with the support of the project tool. This could have helped to nurture the POs as an independent entity from the NGO supported project tool.
In the cases where effective legal interventions were to be made, the project tool appears to have lacked sufficient access to legal advice. While there are friendly individual advocates and those belonging to solidarity network, no legal advice is available on a day to day basis with sufficient degree of expertise to deal with the complicated cases. In one of the villages of Theni we heard that a house built by the government for Arunthathiyars has been locked by a dominant caste landlord claiming the resident of the house has not returned a loan. The family is denied access to their own house. Such cases need immediate legal intervention to arrest the dominant caste person under PCT act. We found that such legal aid is readily available for the organizers of AMMI. The project should have made provision for an active legal cell with lawyers specialised in issues related to the SCs. Another good example is the case of land acquisition by the revenue officials for allotment to Arunthathiyars in the village of Thanneerpandal Palayam, in Tiruppur district. There were procedural lapses in the land acquisition in 1998. However, on the basis informal assurances, Arunthathiyars occupied the land and started living in it. The legal heir of the deceased landowner obtained a decree in 2003 that either the procedure for acquisition should be reinitiated or the land returned to the legal heir. An effective legal intervention even in 2008, when the court urged the government to take a decision on acquiring or not acquiring the land, could have made a difference. It should have at least been possible to obtain a stay when the eviction notice was served in 2011. The AMMK organized a demonstration when the police came to evict the people. It succeeded in getting sufficient media attention to the mishandling of the whole affair by the revenue officials. However, from the perusal of documents it appears that there could have been an effective legal intervention to obtain a stay and force the government to re-initiate the acquisition procedure. Land acquisition for Arunthathiyar settlements is a high priority demand almost everywhere. The government should be asked to forge a state wide policy in the matter at the earliest through filing a PIL citing cases like Thanneerpandal palayam. The acquisition procedure cannot be left to the vicissitudes of the revenue officials.
If the project had nurtured the grass root units of the POs first and formed an effective legal cell, the work could have gained much greater momentum later.
The primary and most laudable impact of the project initiatives is to be found among Arunthathiyars. We met considerable number of articulate and informed young men and women both among the project personnel and in the village Manrams. Their level of political consciousness and dedication to the common cause of the community will yield rich dividends in the years to come after the end of the project. In most villages, there is awareness about the notion of Gram Sabha, which is a version of village republic, and the need to participate in the Gram Sabha meetings even though it does not yield much result. Both the way in which the meetings are conducted and participation of Arunthathiyars appear to be formal affairs with no substantial bearing on the activities of the village Panchayat. However, securing of the formal apparatus is the first step in making it a substantial tool of intervention. The project has made a considerable impact by creating awareness among Arunthathiyars about such possibilities to achieve their rights and entitlements. It can be said that the project has achieved what it aspired to do in this regard.
The project has made quite an impact on many of the Arunthathiyar youngsters and children. They have come to critically reflect on the plight of the community. We heard very thoughtful presentations on the way forward for the community in the FGDs of Manram organizers. However, at the Manram level, there are no innovative strategies to bring about a change in the self perception of the community. For example, the Manrams can encourage sports and games among children and youngsters which will give them a positive outlook in life. Youngsters take to alcohol very early, right in their teens. Nurturing sporting and creative talents in them is one of the ways in which alcoholism can be combated. Inter Manram sporting events, talent searches and cultural events will motivate young minds and improve their self perception. As of now, they think of temple festivals as their only means of recreation. It can be expanded into a wide range of personality building activities through the Manrams, where the latent talents are nurtured, showcased leading to renewed perception of the self. The key instrument of change for any community is to develop a sense of “self-respect”, which Periyar E.V.Ramasamy in Tamil Nadu and feminists like Gloria Steinem in the US came to realize in different historical contexts. Manram can become the site where self-respect is nurtured through a range of activities introduced for people of all ages.
The most neglected block of workers in the country, rural and semi-urban sanitary workers, who mostly belong to the community of Arunthathiyars in Tamil Nadu, have also come under the impact of the project. The project personnel have reached out to them; have collected information about their problems. In many places they have made interventions to get them the salary as per the revised scale. The sanity workers are realizing their potential to organize to bargain collectively with local administration. The living conditions of sanitary workers are also sought to be improved. However, at the present project design it has not been possible to make the desired level of impact in the lives and conditions of sanitary workers.
Apart from the impact created in the lives of the target population, the project has made a great impact in the minds of the general public through several of the advocacy programmes and media attention gained by them. As noted in the introduction, since the caste name of the target population had acquired a derogatory connotation the act of renaming, which is common to the political assertion of subaltern groups anywhere, and the act of disseminating the new entity is important. In that sense, the project has created a widespread impact in popularising Arunthathiyar as the political identity of the target group. In our encounters with the general public we could recognise that the name has become known unlike the situation prevailing a decade ago. More than the question of mere name, the differential status of the group within the fold of other Dalit/Scheduled Castes is also widely recognised unlike in the past when all the untouchable castes were thought of as sharing the same social plane. This kind of impact made on the public is an absolute pre-requisite for securing justice to this aggrieved group.
The project has made both positive and negative impact on the landowning castes. In some places, they have come to realize the inevitability of the politicization of the erstwhile group of servants whose subservience was guaranteed as normative. The acknowledgement of the Manram name board is a sign of coming to terms with the inevitable. In Pollachi Taluk, people spoke of friendly landlords who are even supportive of their organizational efforts. In many other places, the mobilization of Arunthathiyars has caused panic reaction. Some of the leaders of the PO speculated that the formation of Kongu Vellalar Peravai, a caste association of land owning goundars in the CETdistricts is a result of the impact made by the formation of Arunthathiyar POs. In general, there is a widespread awakening to the fact that the subservience of the members of this caste can no longer be taken for granted.
The project has made some important inroads in making government functionaries, officials and the police force sensitive to the caste discrimination. It appears to have been a hard fight with mixed results. However, the presence of a People’s organization, with its solidarity network, has compelled the Collectors and other revenue officials to recognise that they could no longer afford to be indifferent. In so many of the oral presentations, it came out clearly that the officials have clearly been told that Arunthathiyars would no longer lie down and take it, if they tried suppress their claims for justice.
What has not come out clearly in the project documents is the nature of the tools of persuasion constituted by the project. While we have numerous instances of confrontations, protests and demonstrations, there are few instances when the POs have taken initiatives to conduct seminars, forums of deliberations, brainstorming events with state representatives, heads of educational institutions, heads of religious establishments, public figures, writers, intellectuals, industrialists and mainstream political parties and representatives. It is not clear why collectors and ministers could not be invited to the anniversaries of the POs. The mid term evaluation has also pointed out about the need to combine techniques of persuasion with confrontationist approach. While individual co-ordinators have been successful in combining these methods, the project has not thought of devising ways for the POs to gain recognition through means of persuasion. Understanding the difference between a civil society initiative and a political initiative is important in this regard.
One of the ungainly impacts of the project that needs to be mitigated in the future is the overemphasis on the identitarion aspects of the political mobilization. We noted a certain overemphasis on the differential nature of the Arunthathiyar even in the project proposal, when for example it states as its “super goal” that “the overall aim is for Arunthathiyars to obtain a quality of life and dignity comparable to other Dalit communities.” Such hypostatization of the difference between Arunthathiyars and other Dalit communities will not serve the interests of Arunthathiyars in the long run. The other Dalit communities have also been suffering caste indignities and low quality of life. It does not make sense to aspire to be equals of just them, as though they enjoy high status and material well being in the society. It should be born in mind that history of untouchability as a cultural materialist practice is common to all the Dalit castes. While it is absolutely essential to bring out the implicit hierarchy among the Dalit castes, it should not lead to isolationist strategies of different Dalit groups which will only help the landowning castes. Hence, the overemphasis on Arunthathiyar icons at the cost of sidelining the figure of Ambedkar, for instance, will not be a beneficial development. The political consciousness of Arunthathiyars should place themselves along with other Dalits in the matrix of caste and along with even non-Dalit working class in the matrix of material power. Only such disposition will enable the POs to develop a true solidarity network. At present the solidarity network with other movements is thin. There is a need to strengthen it by a sophisticated analysis of Arunthathiyar situation. It is in such respect seminars and brainstorming sessions with academics, thinkers and writers is essential for a PO which is seeking to train a socially disempowered group.
The mobilization of educated and employed Arunthathiyars into a support structure has not also been very successful. While AMMK has some support base among the employees and businessmen of the community, AMMI does not seem to have made any impact on this section about the need to contribute to the welfare of the community. All efforts should be made to rally Arunthathiyars and other sympathetic forces from among the working class, employees of public and state sector and so on. Without such a body of supporters it is hard to make a lasting impact on the social fabric.
In terms of the impact the project may have on future analysis and productions of knowledge, there have significant lacunae in the way in which data has been gathered for the project. A great deal of effort has been made to do surveys thrice during the project, apart from barefoot survey initiated after the mid-term evaluation report. It appears that no formal methodology workshops had been conducted before the initiation of the survey with qualified academics. The census data or NSS data has not been taken as a point of departure for the surveys. The project personnel have devised their own tools and surveyed the villages they could reach. In the absence of corroboration with census and NSS data, the surveys will not be capable of generating any analytical impact. Further, the survey results have not been fed into statistical tools like SPSS which also compromises the utility of the vast data of information collected. It will be extremely worthwhile to corroborate the existing data with census data and feed them into SPSS, so that statistical details can be extrapolated in future for anyone working among Arunthathiyars. In the present fashion the data gathered will not be highly useful for future researchers.
There has to be a drastic improvement in the way in which the documents have been arranged if the project has to help future interventions. There have been no efficient filing systems, interlinked and cross referenced that can be perused with ease for extracting useful data. At the moment there are only cursory incorporation of material into random files.
Since the present evaluation is carried out at the end of the project sustainability is the central prism through which we have carried out the evaluation, as should be obvious from the report so far. Now, we want to unpack the idea of sustainability into distinct categories.
Sustainability of Social Engines of Change: There are changes taking place in the ways in which social relationships are shaped with every passing day. There are several factors contributing to the increased self-awareness of the Dalits, and awareness of their unjustifiable practices of social domination among the land owning castes. These factors, we have been told, are increasingly leading to attenuation of blatant untouchability practices everywhere. However, it is absolutely necessary that there are some instruments of change that take the initiative to wipe out untouchability practices. In such a context, we are sure that the activists, whose lives have been touched upon by the project, will have a role to play in the years to come. Their activities will necessarily be sustained by the existing conditions of possibility. Even if the Manrams become dormant in a number of villages, its efficacy in representing the cause of Arunthathiyars within the village community will continue.
Many of the log frame indicators are along the tides of social change that need only a limited encouragement to be sustained. Electoral participation, participation in the Gram Sabha, WSHGs, education of women are all processes that will continue to develop once the idea becomes available. In all those areas some action will be sustained informally by various actors inspired by their role in the project.
However, there are certain difficult areas like securing land for habitation, improving the income levels, higher educational and professional achievements and development of entrepreneurial talent which will be hard to be sustained without sufficient organizational strength. Caste atrocities and discrimination will take the form of exploitation of labour in new avenues of work spawned by capitalist development like construction industry. Mere disappearance of known untouchability practices does not guarantee that new forms of exploitation will not take their places.
Sustainability of Network Action: Often what is known as a social movement in common parlance is often a network of individuals who come together to act as a pressure group or advocacy group. If one can assemble forty to fifty individuals in the district capital one can hold a banner and stage a demonstration for any cause. It is possible for such bodies to interact with state officials if they know how to hold their cards and represent the interests of suffering people. While these “movements” are extremely useful in mitigating the wide range of injustices suffered by vulnerable groups like Arunthathiyars it should be born in mind that these are just networks without any organizational base at the grass root level. As the project proposal rightly mentions these networks often depend on charismatic individuals who can maintain and nurture the network. What sets the limits of these movements is the inability to penetrate the rural base brining about a qualitative change in the lives of constituencies that they seek to represent. This is often not realized as a weakness as even political parties do not have a real grass root base anymore. Instead they opt to indulge in politics of visibility in which a show of strength implies gathering people in huge numbers in conferences and rallies. If a network builder can mobilize a hundred thousand people for a conference, he becomes the de facto leader of a party. He can negotiate with other political parties at the time of elections for some share of power and influence. These movement or parties typically do not have grass root structures contributing to or sending elected representatives to the general council, which will in turn elect the executive body of the movement or party. Instead they mostly follow method of nominations by the leader who gives identity to the movement or organization through his own person. They have no programme or agenda at the grass root level. No political education of masses takes place. There are any number of such “movements” and “parties” operating in Tamil Nadu, representing Dalits and even Arunthathiyars.
In so far as this project is concerned, AMMI, the people’s organization in Theni as a network of activists is strongly backed by Arogya Agam. As long as Arogya Agam houses it, it will continue to have a presence and make useful interventions and advocacy programmes. In other words, its sustainability is underwritten by Arogya Agam, in the womb of which AMMI remains undelivered as a people’s organization. In the case of AMMK we think its capacity to remain a network within the CETdistricts is considerable. It will have the patronage of the people benefitted by its activities in the past. AMMK will sustain itself as yet another group which can carry on with advocacy work and interventions in individual cases of atrocity or issues related to particular villages. However, the activities of individuals who now are part of the project tool cannot remain at the same level since they will no longer be supported with salary or compensation. Hence the volume of activities will drastically go down since there is no support structure formed by the people themselves.
Sustainability as a People’s Organization: The real difficulty faced in evaluating this project is in taking the people’s organization seriously to mean grass root level participation by people in building the organization. It is at that level it is not clear whether we first of all have a people’s organization to speak of, before evaluating its sustainability. We do think there is some organization, as a skeleton structure, which has been put in place particularly with regard to AMMK more than AMMI which is seriously conflated with Arogya Agam. There are many AMMK village Manrams which are sufficiently motivated as a basic unit of a people’s organization. If a clear representative structure is evolved to run the organization there are many Manram’s which can become active in forming the people’s organization. There are several articulate women and men, who have had firsthand experience in handling conflict situations.
The main difficulty for AMMK will be the sudden drain of support in terms of the compensation paid to the project tool. It is possible to see that there will be heavy reduction in the volume of activities since many of the present co-ordinators and organizers will not find it feasible to sustain the present level of activity without compensation. Arogya Agam does not seem to have done any homework as exit strategy in its relationship to AMMK. I think it has been left to Vizhuthugal, the original base for AMMK which is a partner to Arogya Agam in the project to devise strategies with regard to AMMK. In our conversations with the project personnel belonging to AMMK, we found that they are unprepared for the withdrawal support from project fund, Excep