EAP 458 progress report

EAP 458 Constituting a Digital Archive of Tamil Agrarian History

6 month progress report addressed to the Endangered Archives Programm

 

This report -which covers the first six month of our digital archives project (August 2011-January 2012)- was sent to our funding institution the EAP (British Library/Arcadia).

 

Recruitment, training and equipment

 

When the project began, we focused on the recruitment of our team. Unlike the pilot project, where we chose people we already knew to work with, we decided to send a recruitment announcements for the three positions to different teaching and research in Pondicherry and Chennai. We interviewed some 10 candidates and recruited three young men: Selvakumar, Muthukumar and Chandran. We also are recruited Krishnasami who was part of the EAP 314 team.

 

Since there were three new members to the project, time was spent making them familiar with what was accomplished during the pilot project, the objectives and requirements of EAP and of course training them to the specificities of our project. Training was given to the three new members in the field of digital photography, Tamil epigraphy, handling palm-leaves

 

In terms of equipment, we have acquired a Nikon D-90 camera, two Dell laptops, a stand, a measuring unit, one external hard-disk. The concept of our stand (purpose built wooden tripod) has attracted the interest of four research projects who asked us to share its blue print with them: EAP project 454 on Mizoram, Nolaham Foundation (a Srilankan based project on Tamil Manuscripts), EAP 191 on French Publications and a Unesco funded project on food and nutrition in India.

 

Progress of digitization

 

During these six months, we have largely focussed on digitization. Presently 13 collections have been digitized. The details of each collection are given in table below. These 13 collections amount to a total of 25 637 images. However, within 7 of the collections, some documents are not directly relevant to the scope of our project. These documents concerns issues related to literature, folk tales, traditional medicine, astrology. We decided to digitize them along with the documents of relevance since, if taken as a whole, they constitute indeed a collection. We therefore have to make the decision whether to discard them from the archive and therefore ‘tamper’ with the integrity of the original collection. Should the EAP ask us to remove them, we would give them over to relevant institutions or scholars without going through the process of identification (listing template). Our personal feeling is that these documents should be included. They have been till now preserved by their owners and are, in the same way as our ‘relevant’ documents, clearly vulnerable and rapidly deteriorating. Though beyond the scope of our ‘topic’, these documents inform us on other areas of cultural life and social representation. We wait for the decision of the EAP to handle this issue.

 

Coll. No

Location

Type of Documents

No.of Photos

No.of photos on other topics

11

Erode

-98 palm leaves  bundles : land deeds, EIC records, pattayams

4 343

3 431

12

Erode

-39 palm leaves bundles: land deed, pattayams

908

884

13

Madurai

8 palm leaves bundles:    EIC records

148

14

Madurai,

-44 paper files & 10 notebooks-835 Palm leaves :land deeds, TCL, auctions, judgments, temple documents, loans

12 151

1002

15

Theni

-1 note book (judgement copy)

152

16

Madurai

-1 paper file-1 bundle of palm leaves :land deeds

61

17

Erode

-50 Bundles of palm leaves, -176 paper documents and 3 note book :sanjaram, land deed

1 250

554

18

Madurai

-paper documents: land deeds

382

272

19

Madurai

-2 notebooks: TCL-1 copper plate : land rights

77

20

Madurai

-1 copper plate: land deed

2

21

Madurai

-14 paper files-11 notebooks-6 bundles of palm leaves: land deeds, TCL, auctions, judgements, temple documents, loans

4 993

1 788

22

Madurai

-8  paper files-1 notebook : land deeds, TCL

1 128

1 108

23

Madurai,

-1 bundle palm leaves :land deeds, TCL

42

 

Total

 

25 637

9 039

Discovery of 2,200-year-old Tamil-Brahmi inscription

Muthukumar (CLAC) participates in the discovery of  a 2200 year-old Jain inscription

A short Tamil-Brahmi inscription carved out over 2200 years ago on a boulder in Samanamalai (Madurai district) was discovered recently by V. Vedachalam (Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department) and V. Muthukumar, one of our team members. To read more about the inscription and its signification, please read here

V. Muthukumar is pursuing his PhD in Epigraphy and Archaeology at Tamil University (Thanjavur). He has gained good experience in the field of archeology (Adhichanallur, Porunthal, Thandikudi) as well as epigraphy while working with the Saraswati Mahal library for the National Mission for Manuscripts.

Another Tamil-Brahmi inscription was found by other researchers in the Edakal cave (Kerala’s Wayanad district) at the beginning of the month of February. For now, opinions differ as to the possible date of the inscription. To read more, click here.

The IFP, which is hosting the CLAC project, also has an ongoing research project on Jaina Temples in Tamil Nadu:

Even though important on a historical point of view and still alive today, the Jain presence in Tamil Nadu, consisting on the one hand of ancient Digambara communities of the South, and on the other hand of immigrant merchant communities from Western India, is badly assessed. Temples of this region make up for a rich heritage still unrecognised. We wish to make a CD-ROM that presents the temples in their artistic and religious dimension, as an architectural heritage and living place, and that sheds light on the uniqueness of Jainism in Tamil Nadu. Read more…

“Workshop explores village judicial practices” The Hindu

The Hindu published a report on the CLAC experimental workshop on the 24/11/2011

To read the article published by The Hindu, please see here: “Workshop explores village judicial practices

To read the full version of our press release, please see below:

Tamil village judicial bodies

The University of Pondicherry and the French Institute have jointly organized a two day Exploratory Workshop on village judicial practices. The workshop was inaugurated on the 14th of November by Professor D.Sambandam (Dean of Social Sciences, PU.). Over these two days, Justice David Annousamy, Dr Eric Denis of the French Institute, Professor V. Rogotham (Head of History), Professor K.Rajan, Professor Chellaperumal, addressed a team of over 20 elders from south central Tamil Nadu who discussed the procedures and practices as knowledge-holders of caste-based village judicial customs.

The objective of the workshop was to explore the contemporary practices of village judicial assemblies and thereby gain deeper knowledge on Tamil customary legal procedures which have been largely discarded by academic research and misrepresented in the media.

During the colonial period, Tamil customary law was never codified and by and large, the British judicial administration took the view of caste as a self governing body entitled to adjudicate according to custom.. Following Independence and the coming into being of the Constitution, the Indian State did not actually interfere with that age old arrangement.

Though there have been several attempts to set up government-sponsored local judicial assemblies (nyaya panchayat) as a door-step access to state justice, these have largely failed to be functional  in most Indian states. Instead, the traditional or non-state caste-based judicial assemblies have continued to adjudicate conflicts in a wide number of rural areas. The judgments passed by these traditional panchayats have not only co-existed alongside state courts but in many instances the decisions and judgments taken ‘under the banyan tree’ were recognized by the judges sitting in the courtrooms.

However this arrangement is under challenge in several parts of the country without suggesting any viable substitute. In Tamil Nadu, since 2003, several court cases have indicted ‘panchayattars’ that is the men who adjudicate in village judicial assemblies which have come to be labelled ‘katta panchayat’. Many of the participants in the workshop expressed their disagreement with this negative labelling and explained over the two day workshop how their judicial practices are based principles of natural justice, on evidence on deliberation among members. They aimed at helping the parties reach a reasonable compromise and in default to give a just decision based on reason which was in general well accepted.

The participants insisted that they should not be confused with occasional self styled panchayats working in semi-urban centres whose practice may be objectionable and intimidating

Justice David Annousamy, former judge from the Madras High Court and author of a number of publications in Tamil, French and English, who gave an insightful opening speech for the workshop opined that village panchayats were doing a yeomen service in solving a large number of cases quickly, that what they needed was an exposure to modern Human Rights.

 

Clac workshop announcement

First CLAC Experimental Workshop on Tamil Customary Law

This experimental workshop will bring together for the first time men who are actual practionners of Tamil customary law, known as panchayattars, to discuss over two days a number of issues on the contemporary practices of caste panchayats and village panchayats in Tamil Nadu. The Panchayattars, coming from 5 different castes (Pramalai Kallar, Ambalakarrar, Maravar, Goundar, Nadar) have been met either through personal fieldwork or during the EAP 314 pilot project. Though there will be ample space for open discussion, the workshop will be articulated around several sets of specific questions. The workshop will take place exclusively in Tamil.

Programme

 

Monday 14th of November

 

09h00 – Welcome address by Prof. Venkat Raghotham

(Head, Department of History, PU)

09h10 – Opening address by Prof. D. Sambandham

(Dean of Social Sciences and International Studies, PU)

09h20- Inaugural address by Justice David Annoussamy

10h00- Vote of Thanks by Dr. Zoe E. Headley

10h00 – Presentation of the structure and content of the workshop – Zoe Headley

10h05 – Session 1 A: Issues of locality and scope of jurisdiction of panchayat

10h30- Tea Break

10h45- Session 1 B: Issues of social composition of panchayat

12h15 Lunch break

13h30 Session 2 A: Types of offences and crimes

15h00 Tea break

15h30 Session 2 B: Issues of panchayat opening and closing procedures

17h30 End of Session

 

Tuesday 15th of November

 

9h00 – Opening address by Dr Eric Denis (Head of Social Sciences, IFP) and Professor A. Chellaperumal (Head of Anthropology, PU)

09h30- Session 3 A: Issues of proof and ordeals

10h30- Tea Break

10h45- Session 3 B: Issues of fines

12h15 Lunch break

13h30 Session 4 A: Physical punishment and social boycott

15h00 Tea break

15h30 Session 4 B: The panchayat, the judiciary and the press

17h30 End of Session


Organised by:

Dr. Zoe Headley (CNRS -CEIAS, France)

S.Ponnarasu (IFP -PondicherryUniversity)

With the help of:

S. Selvakumar (IFP-EAP)

V. Muthukumar (IFP-EAP)

P.Chandran (IFP-EAP)

K. Krishnasami (IFP-EAP)

 

CLAC Workshop on Tamil Customary Law

An Experimental Workshop on Contemporary Knowledge and Practice of Tamil Customary Law

organized with the support of :

IFP / CEIAS  / JustIndia

and the help of:

the Department of History (Pondicherry University)

 

Date:  14th and 15th of November 2011

Venue:  Pondicherry University

Language:  Tamil

 

This experimental workshop intends to bring together for the first time men who are actual practionners of Tamil customary law, known as panchayattars, to discuss over two days a number of issues on the contemporary practices of caste panchayats and village panchayats in Tamil Nadu. The Panchayattars, coming from 5 different castes (Pramalai Kallar, Ambalakarrar, Maravar, Goundar, Nadar) have been met either through personal fieldwork or during the EAP 314 pilot project. Though there will be ample space for open discussion, the workshop will be articulated around several sets of specific questions. The workshop will take place exclusively in Tamil as most of the panchayattars do not speak any English.

Please note that the workshop will not be open to the public. Should you want to attend, please write to the CLAC coordinators before the 15th of October (project.EAP458@gmail.com). However, feedback on the outcome of the workshop will be circulated through this notebook. The workshop will be recorded and a transcription in Tamil and summarized translation in English will be circulated.

This workshop has been made possible through the financial support of the IFP, the CEIAS, Just-India and help of the Department of History of Pondichery University.

CLAC Seminars and Workshops (2011-2012)

New Perspectives on Village Judicial Assemblies and Customary Law in Tamil Nadu

CLAC SEMINARS AND WORKSHOP (2011-2012)

IFP – CEIAS, and with the support of Just-India

The scope of scholarly knowledge of the procedures and practices of village judicial assemblies and more largely of Tamil customary law is extremely limited. For one, during the colonial period, tamil customary law was never codified unlike some other regions of the British Empire. When questioning how they should deal with issues of caste customs, the British judicial administration by and large took the view of caste as a self governing body entitled to adjudicate according to custom and finally, in 1827, caste questions where expressly excluded from the cognizance of civil courts.

Besides the meagre information provided by the colonial literature on this issue, the academic input over the last fifty years has been relatively fragmented both from an anthropological and historical point of view. Since the wave of village studies has withered away in the 60s, little ethnographical attention has been given, especially in this region, to the actual procedures and processes which shape contemporary practices of caste-based judicial assemblies. Instead, researchers’ attention has been largely framed by the paradigms of legal pluralism examining the decision making processes of villagers when choosing the forum(s) in which to settle their disputes, emphasising the pragmatic evaluations they make of the advantages of state law versus local caste custom. These stimulating studies examine motivations, strategies and outcome but unfortunately rarely shed light on the actual procedures and transformations of caste-based judicial assemblies.

Following Independence and the drafting of the Constitution, the Indian State did not take any steps to legislate, for or against, these caste-based judicial assemblies, leaving them in the shade of a constitutional void. There have been several feeble attempts to set up government-sponsored local judicial assemblies (nyaya panchayat) as a door-step access to state justice but these have largely failed to be functional, trusted or properly funded in most Indian states. Instead, the traditional or non-state caste-based judicial assemblies have continued to adjudicate conflicts in a wide number of rural areas. The judgments passed by these non-state panchayats have not only co-existed alongside state-law but in many instances the decisions and judgments taken ‘under the banyan tree’ were recognized and accepted by the judges sitting in the courtrooms.

However this status quo is coming to an end in several parts of the country. In Tamil Nadu, since 2003, several court cases involving ‘panchayattars’, that is the men who adjudicate in village judicial assemblies, have put these non-state panchayats in the firing line of both the government and the media. The latter first expressed their surprise at the very existence of these assemblies and the pervasive hold of customary law on local rural society which was thought by many to be obsolete. Subsequently, a number of judges and government officials began to contemplate a ban of these “criminal courts” thereby drawing attention to the ongoing disjunction both between State law and non-state law most acutely felt within the growing urban-rural divide. The present day situation is a very real turning point for these non-state panchayats which the Tamil government is promising to do away with. In a foreseeable future, these panchayats will either cease to be held openly or simply disappear under the threat of lawsuits.

An important step has been taken to improve our knowledge and understanding of these assemblies in both with the EAP 314 project and the EAP 458 project. However, though gathering archival information is both crucial and urgent (much of the material is rapidly deteriorating), the documents digitized do not shed light on the contemporary shape and function of caste courts and Tamil customary law. Hence, within the framework of the Caste, Land and Custom project, we will be organizing several workshops and seminars  to broaden our understanding and knowledge on village judicial assemblies and Tamil customary law.

Forthcoming events

November 2011

Experimental Workshop on the knowledge and practice of Tamil customary law

In collaboration with the History Department, Pondichery University

January 2012

Multidisciplinary Seminar on Caste Customs and Representations of Non-State Law in Tamil Nadu

 

Further details regarding the Clac worshops and seminar series will be posted in  News and Events.