Thursday, June 26, 2008

Arunthathiyer cultural night -2008

A cultural night to celebrate the Arunthathiyar spirit

Arunthathiyar rights are human rights

DATE: 26th Jully
PLACE: Sivakasi town , Near bus stand

Arunthathiyar Human Rights Forum ( AHRF)

A cultural night to celebrate the Arunthathiyar spirit

From indignity to rebellion

A cultural night to celebrate the Arunthathiyar spirit, an attempt to strengthen the Arunthathiyar artforms transformation from caste practices to weapons against caste oppression…

The parai originally called as thappu is undeniably a symbol of Dalit assertion today. But unlike pallars and parayars who have asserted themselves to some extent remain the arunthathiyars the Dalits amongst the Dalits of Tamilnadu.

Who are Arunthathiyers?

Arunthathiyars are Dalits, who are considered 'untouchables' in the caste-ridden Indian society. Pallar, Parayar and Arunthathiyar are the three major Dalit groups in the state of Tamil Nadu, India.
Among them, Arunthathiyar group is considered to be the lowest. There are 60 lakhs Arundhatiars in Tamilnadu out of which major people live in the districts of Western and southern Tamilnadu. They can be called Dalit among Dalits They are also identified with different names such as Sakkiliar, Mathari, Mathiga, Arunthathiyar and Pakadai in different places. The caste system forbade them from owning land and property for thousands of years. They are landless and are traditionally associated with the task of cleaning up the dead animals, scavenging the village, and work related to animal skin and leather. While such traditional work still continues in some villages, many have taken up jobs in the match making and fireworks industries in the target area. Many Arunthathiar children below 14 years are part of the unfortunate working force in these industries. Very poor living conditions, desperate search for a job with a decent wage, and constant harassment from moneylenders and landlords are part of day-to-day life of Arunthathiyars

Key Challenges faced by this community

Social: This community speaks a language which is Tamil and Telugu mixed. They are separated by the language they speak since Tamil is the foremost language in Tamilnadu. The children of Arunthathiyars are further separated since their parents do undignified work. The children are not sent to school because of the poor socio economic status of this community. They are deprived of basic necessities in life, education and childhood. Social exclusion like two glass system
[1], Forced to continue undignified work (Manual scavenging, shoe making etc.,).

Economical: When we look at the economic status of the Arunthathiyar community, only 10% of the population has a small piece of land. Majority of the people are work as bonded laborers and others work as scavengers, agricultural laborers etc. Most of these families are landless and they earn their living from main occupations such as agriculture labor work, cleaning toilets and public places, repairing the torn shoes, burning the dead bodies etc.,

Educational status: Only 1.75% people of this community are literates, while 98.16% are illiterates. Only 0.16% of the people have at least completed their 10th grade in education. The children are very rarely sent to school because of the poor socio economic status of the community. Children in the urban areas work as daily wagers at the hotels and other places like mechanic shed, garages etc., The status of the children after completion of the high school education is even more worst, there is no economical stability to continue their education after schooling.

Political: Among 44 Member of Legislative Assembly (MLAs), only 2 MLAS are Arunthathiyars. Dalits as a whole and the Arunthathiyars as a community have their own art as their spirit, as an inseparable part of their lives. But the practice of their art is an indignity heaped on them as it is a caste designated function more than a cultural expression. Arunthathiyar art forms have been the symbols of their existence as low caste people for ages. Today they are the symbols of their assertion.

Not so popular, there are many other fundamental contributions Arunthathiyar art forms have given to mainstream music and art. But more than their artistic contribution what marks their emergence in the popular conscience is the legitimacy and right they gave to the Arunthathiyar existence and voicing the unbridled anger against caste oppression and sub human treatment on Arunthathiyars.

Caste is a unique kind of oppression. In that it systemizes the hierarchy which is perpetuated by the social and cultural sanctity. In the past decade, a wave of Arunthathiyar art and literature have questioned the halo of culture with in which caste purity and hierarchy have been preserved – the continuing struggle against the all Brahmin karnatic (classical south Indian music a brahminical stronghold) singing mela in Chidambaram is an example. The Arunthathiyar art has not only questioned mainstream art practices and theories but has redefined the very notion of artistic expression and the tone of expression.

Dalit art is marked by revolt and negativism, since it is closely associated with the hopes for freedom of a group of people, as untouchables are victims of social, economic and cultural inequality – Arjun Dangle

Emergence of Arunthathiyar Human Rights Forum ( AHRF)

Arunthathiyar Human Rights Federation is the initiative of the young Arunthathiyar people who were worked in different Non Governmental organizations working for Dalit liberation. They felt that there is need of giving special attention and different strategies to actualize the participation and liberation of Arunthathiyars. Many times they felt dependent which delayed their presence and help for people in need. So, the young Arunthathiyar youth explored the practical need of Aruntathiyars and decided to work as a group by formulating strategies and sharing information amongst them. They find the NGOs working for Arunthathiyar cause at State level and organized first phase consultation at Erode, Sathiyamangalam. Next consultations were held at Madurai, Coimbatore and Salam that results the emergence of Arunthathiyar Human Rights Federation (AHRF) coordinating NGOs working for Arunthathiyar rights in 12 Districts of Tamilnadu. AHRF is working for creating awareness on SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, women and children rights
and being a watch group by monitoring the atrocities on Arunthathiyars and helping them to take legal actions. In 2007, AHRF had organized first State level Cultural Night for Arunthathiyars aiming to create a platform for Arunthathiyars to realize their strength.

Changes after this event:
1. Other Dalit organizations in Tamilnadu and Arunthathiyar community has recognized AHRF
2. Arunthathiyar community and other Dalit organizations are claiming issue based assistance from AHRF
3. There is an expectation from Arunthathiyar community people that AHRF should function at village level.
4. AHRFs effort on first cultural night for Arunthathiyar community has changed their mindsets –respect their artistic talents, which were not recognized before.
5. Other Dalit Organizations have realized their disregard role in Arunthathiyar liberation

This cultural night is the second State level Arunthathiyar cultural night where AHRF wants to create a space for Arunthathiyar artists. It aims to strengthen their participation, contribution and collaboration through this event that can enhance – changing mindsets of this artists and community to march on further. As a whole, the event is expected to inspire the Arunthathiyars to take part in the Arunhathiyar struggle for liberation.

Arunthathiyar Cultural Night - Objectives

1. To create awareness of the Arunthathiyar art forms and their vibrant culture amongst public

Traditionally art was considered the domain of the so called upper castes in Tamilnadu. In the recent years, The Dalit rights movement has asserted that the Dalits have a rich artistic and musical tradition. The Dalit art forms some of which are ritual related have for ages considered untouchable too…..Despite the awareness created on Dalit art forms, awareness about Arunthathiyar art forms is scanty. There are other initiatives like this organized across the State, very few Arunthatiyars get chance to perform and talk. This cultural night is a follow up action to strengthen and sustain their hope on their talents and excellence.

2. To create awareness about the need to organize and fight for Arunthathiyar and ultimately Dalit liberation amongst Arunthathiyars and others

We need to know the history to make it. The Arunthathiyars need to know their history and tradition to be able fighters for their right and the world needs to know the history and tradition of the Arunthathiyars to give them their due. By organizing an exhibition of paintings, photographs, posters, graffiti etc., which will trace the history, issues, and their life AHRF will raise the awareness levels of Arunthathiyars and others who will participate in the cultural night.

3. To use art as a political weapon in the ongoing struggle for Arunthathiyar liberation

Arunthathiyar mobilization is important for their rights to be asserted. To prepare the Arunthathiyars community for the struggle for its liberation they need to look at their own traditions with respect and valuable and understand the macro level hierarchical subjugation that the caste system perpetrates. Art attracts and motivates the people. By interspersing political orations by progressive leaders we hope to raise awareness amongst Arunthathiyars and others and hence make them supporters of the struggle for Arunthathiyars emancipation.

Cultural Teams

Kadavu Mathattam
Liberation songs
Special speech
Documentary film


Special Speakers:

1.Aathitamilar pervai (Arunthathiyer headed movement)
4.Arunthathiyer intellectuals
5.Dalit Leaders
6.Solidarity groups

ART is a very crucial record of transformations within and of society. Some of the most popular art forms have come from the oppressed sections of the society. And some of the most revolutionary movements working for liberation of the oppressed people have used music as a powerful weapon of change. In southern India where attempts are being made to rewrite caste equations and to question existing notions on culture and language, understanding the Arunthathiyar art forms with a clear perspective about their historical position as agents of change and an undeniable requisite of the Arunthathiyar struggle for liberation is a culturally and democratically necessary action.

Please give your contribution for cultural night

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