Mi, 6.12.2023, 12:00 Uhr, Stadtmuseum Tübingen, Kornhausstr. 10, Tübingen

Dr. Ponni Arasu
„TamilThanmai: A historical Ethnography of caste and gender in public political lives in Tamil Nadu, India“

This work is a historical ethnography of Sulur, a town in Coimbatore district of Tamilnadu, India. Through in-depth interviews and archives, both personal and public, of textual and visual sources, I have evolved an analytical framework from which to understand everyday public political lives. With a focus on the 1950s to 70s, before the consolidation of state power and political discourses in Tamil Nadu, I trace public politics from the perspective of the everyday lives of its ordinary members, all of whom are men. Based on this narrative I have identified elements of what I term TamilThanmai. TamilThanmai, I propose is a historically grounded analytical framework which describes the essence of public political lives that provided a way of being and sense of self for all those who lived it. This research is a historical ethnography of and through TamilThanmai. This work analyses the past rigorously with all its complexity in order to imagine and play a role in creating an egalitarian and just society in the future

Dr. Ponni Arasu is a feminist researcher, historian, activist, legal practitioner, translator and theatre artist hailing from Chennai and currently based in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. She is trained in History at the University of Delhi, the Jawaharlal Nehru University and the University of Toronto. Her academic work is on historical ethnographies of contemporary India, with specific focus on social movements such as the Dravidian movement and the women’s movement(s). Her PhD research has led her to propose a theoretical framework and methodology called TamilThanmai. She has done research in India and Sri Lanka on the realities of those marginalised on the grounds of their gender, sexuality, caste, class, language, labour, ability, ethnicity, religion etc. for the past twenty years. Her research emerges from and feeds back into movements for social change that she is a part of. She has taught entire courses and guest lectures in the disciplines of history, South Asian studies, Tamil studies, women and gender studies, Caribbean studies and anthropology at the University of Toronto – Canada, University of Minnesota – USA, University of Tubingen – Germany, the University of Jaffna in Sri Lanka, the Tata Institute of Social Studies, Azim Premji University and the University of Pune in India. She has been evolving pedagogic methods of teaching the history and contemporary realities of Sri Lanka with a focus on rigorous research methodology and critical thinking in non-formal and yet consistent teaching spaces to Tamil-speaking students from all over Sri Lanka. This has taken the form of the “Ezhuval: for young women and social change” that she has designed and co-teaches, hosted at the Church of the American Ceylon Mission, Batticaloa. For the past three years she has undertaken research projects in Sri Lanka including on women farmers‘ collectives; lives and movements for change of women living with disabilities in eastern Sri Lanka; the present realities of LGBTQIA+ individuals and on the status of sex workers. She has produced theatre work with collaborators in India and Sri Lanka on a range of issues which are grounded in using the arts to further the important process of making realities of the marginalised visible and accessible to all. Ponni is also a trained expressive arts therapist practicing primarily in Tamil among women and queer folks from marginalised communities in India and Sri Lanka. She is the Arts and Catalyst Fellowship holder for 2023 at the Studio for Movement Arts and Therapies in Bangalore. She is currently a Global Encounters fellow at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Tubingen pursuing research on the life of the goddess Mariamman among descendants of largely Dalit indentured workers in Port of Spain, Trinidad and among rural communities in Tamilnadu. She hopes to bring her proposed concept of TamilThanmai as theory and method to this work.

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Lunch Talk – Dr. Ponni Arasu:“Tamil Thanmai: A historical Ethnography of caste and gender in public political lives in Tamil Nadu, India“