Life-size sculptures to honour Dalit struggles

In the small village of Vanjinagaram near Melur in Tamil Nadu, stands a sculpture of a man called Kandan. A Dalit, Kandan took on caste oppression in the village, and spearheaded a movement to draw water from Vanjinagaram’s public well, among other issues. In 1987, Kandan was hacked to death.

In honour of Kandan’s work and sacrifice while seeking equality and basic civil rights, a memorial stone with his face painted on it was raised by the Dalits of the village. Such stories of Dalit struggle and sacrifice — largely unheard in mainstream media and literature — are now being documented by a group of sculptors, supported by director Pa. Ranjith’s Neelam Panpaatu Maiyam (cultural centre).

Led by G. Chandrasekaran, former principal of the Government College of Fine Arts, 25 sculptors from across the State are busy making life-size statues of 25 Dalits who made an impact on their surroundings and society.

“This is an attempt to document and visually showcase around 100 years of Dalit history in Tamil Nadu. These sculptures will be displayed at the three-day Vaanam Art Festival organised by the Neelam Panpaatu Maiam between December 29 and 31,” Dalit researcher and historian Stalin Rajangam told The Hindu.

Addressed basic issues

“These are people who have largely worked in interior Tamil Nadu taking on oppression of Dalits on basic issues like rights to a graveyard, or water, and other civil rights problems. Some of them were killed fighting for these rights,” Mr. Rajangam said.

Among the 25 are two women — Veerammal, who founded the Annai Ashram, and Meenammal, who led an anti-Hindi agitation in Chennai. “Veerammal started a school for Dalit girls in the 1950s near Tiruchi. This school grew to run classes upto the 12th standard. She then started an ITI, and a children’s home but there is no mention of her in the mainstream,” he said.

The foreigner who made to the list is James Tremmond Heer. “When we were researching the list, we came across an literature about Heer, the Collector of Chengalpattu in 1892. He recommended to the government that 12 lakh acres of Depressed Class land be given to the Dalits. His sculpture is being made to recognise his work towards the downtrodden,” Mr Rajangam said.

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