Kazhanipakkam Assembly Hall Renovations ~ Kazhanipakkam, Tamil Nadu, India
by Peter Coughlan, PhD, Executive Director of WaterBridge Outreach: Books + Water
A second initiative that was enabled by JosephJoseph participation in the London Color Run (see Anna Nagar Bore Well and Handpump Project) was a reconstruction of the Assembly Hall at the village of Kazhanipakkam. At an earlier date WaterBridge Outreach had collaborated with SAVE Int'l in work on a well in an Irula enclave not far from the main Kazhanipakkam Dalit village (cf. the first photo below), but their collaboration in this case regarded a much needed development and partial reconstruction of the Assembly Hall there to include a steel sheet pitched roof over the whole building.
Kazhanipakkam is a rural village in Tamil Nadu of 90 households, around 300 people in all. These villagers are all exclusively Dalits, a scheduled community or caste formerly known as “untouchables”, a word that relates in many parts of India to the deeply rooted notions of “purity” and “pollution”. There was, and often still is, the idea that to be in contact with the “untouchables” pollutes the “purity” of “higher” communities or castes. The particular name of the caste that resides in Kazhanipakkam is Parayar from which the word “pariah” comes. It is a Tamil word used to describe those who belong by birth to this particular untouchable caste. The fact that the word has taken on the meaning of “outcast” in English is expressive of its origins and the ill treatment they have received from other higher caste Indians for many centuries.
The Assembly Hall is a large building, about 900 sq ft in all, with two rooms under a concrete flat roof, and the building plays a vital role in the life of the Kazhanipakkam community. It is used as a tuition school, one of 25 established by SAVE Int’l, to provide much needed tuition for children and young people in order to make up for what is often lacking in the public school system. SAVE Int’l funds two teachers at this particular tuition school. The Hall is also used for sewing by women of the community, sewing machines being provided, and some of the garments they produce can be sold as a source of income.
In addition, and this is an essential role of the Assembly Hall, it is used for the many obligatory ritual and ceremonial functions that play a crucial role in the life of the community. Hindu priests are involved in the marriages, the blessings of pregnant women, and the naming ceremonies of the children that take place a year after birth (a reminder of a time when infant mortality was common and no name was given until the infant had proved it was able to survive its first year!). There are many other social functions and community gatherings that take place in the Hall.
An important feature of many of these moments in community life is that, for example at marriages, the ceremonial meal that is expected to be offered by families to those gathered for the event can most easily and cheaply be offered at the Assembly Hall rather than at more expensive venues elsewhere – but this has to be separate from the place where the religious event itself has taken place. The flat roof is used for eating, but the intensity of the Indian hot seasons makes this problematic. Likewise, when children gather between 6:00 and 8:00 in the evening in one of the downstairs rooms used as the tuition school, the accumulated heat of the day makes the use of the room almost unbearable.
SAVE Int’l decided to overcome these problems by erecting a pitched roof with open sides over the existing flat roof surface, so as to provide protection from sun and rain. This means that in the hot weather the tuition school classes can take place in the cool of the roof, with breezes coming in from the sides. It also means that the meals that follow ceremonial events, but which have to be separate from the place where the ceremonies actually take place, can be located there.
Curt Degler, president of SAVE Int'l, stands by the steel gate that was added "to keep out those who are intoxicated" (an occasional local problem!). The gate, together with the conduits, copper wiring, sockets,and bulbs necessary for installing electric light throughout the Hall (Sonny Saravanam of TVO is seen pointing to the new lighting) were added by WaterBridge Outreach so as to allow SAVE Int'l to complete the work that the JosephJoseph funds have made possible.
All this shows what can be done in these areas at relatively little expense. SAVE Int’l and WaterBridge Outreach are very grateful for the funds from the staff of JosephJoseph, raised through their participation in the annual summer “Color Run” in London. This is an event participants enter in order to raise funds for various charities. It is called the “Color Run” because many of the participants start off the five kilometre course, mostly in white clothes and the Run is open to young and old and all fitness levels, and are then pelted with brightly colored powders at each kilometre marker as they run, jog, walk, or dance the course. The result is a kaleidoscope of color at the finishing line, described by at least some participants as the happiest five kilometres in the world!
Many thanks JosephJoseph!
Published May 2016