“Workshop explores village judicial practices”

The Hindu  24/11/2011

The French Institute of Pondicherry along with the University of Pondicherry organised a two-day exploratory workshop on village judicial practices recently, a release said.


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.


Workshop invitation distribution

The first  Clac experimental workshop, which will take place on the 14th and 15th of November in Pondicherry University, is bringing together 21 men from various villages and localities to dicuss village judiciary practices and customary law.

As per local custom regarding invitation, we had to pay a personal visit to each of the men in order to hand over by hand the invitation, doing otherwise would have been considered careless and even rude.

Here are a few photos from the invitation tour which was done by the members of the team (Krishnasami, Selva Kumar, Muthu Kumar and Chandran)

Tavamani Tevar in front of his house © EAP 458
Tavamani Tevar receiving the workshop invitation © EAP 458
Virumandhi Tevar in his shop © EAP 458
Virumandhi Tevar's shop in Karumathur© EAP 458
Thangapandi receiving invitation © EAP 458
On the road to the next panchatattar© EAP 458
Meeting with Manirasu on the side of the road© EAP 458
Manirasu receiving invitation © EAP 458
Inside Servaikkarar Tevar's house© EAP 458
Servaikkarar Tevar receiving invitation© EAP 458
Solaimalai Maravar receiving invitation© EAP 458

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.



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)