Members of nomadic tribe solicit money by whipping themselves

A loud CRACK sounds in the air as a man wearing colourful jewellery and equally colourful pants wields his whip. Once he sounds the whip, he solicits alms from the people who turn around to look.

His wife wanders ahead, thumping on a rustic drum or urumi, in time to a specific tune and attracts the crowd before her husband’s display.

Along with them, a young boy carrying a much smaller whip also displays his talents for the group.

When people come up close the man, Kumar, beats himself with the whip and shows them his wounds and asks for money.

“This is our ancestral practice and the only way that we make money. There is no point in us sending our children to school, because this is their calling. We have to take them with us and we are never in one place for long,” he explains.

A group of these people arrived together at Villupuram and they then divide up all the neighbouring areas and travel there to collect money, he said.

These people are part of a nomadic tribe known as the ‘Saatai Adi Kalaignars’, who belong to the Naickar caste. There is no real estimate of the number of people in their clan since they wander around in groups across the country.

Their only livelihood is to earn money by beating themselves with a saatai or whip and eliciting sympathy from people, in order to collect money from them, said the Dean of the School of Performing Arts at Pondicherry University, K.A. Gunasekaran.

Close examination of Kumar’s limbs revealed several open, and even some oozing, wounds that were caused by beating himself with the whip.

“These wounds heal in due course, but since we have nothing else for our livelihood we are left with no choice. We never visit the doctor and we have our own treatment for these wounds. After sometime, we get used to the pain, but our skin still tears sometimes,” he said while pointing to one of the wounds on his forearm.

Most of their clan is based in Andhra Pradesh and they are listed as a Scheduled Tribe there, but since they are never in one place permanently, they do not reap much of the benefits of being thus listed.

These people have no scope of educating their children, since their chosen way of making a living demands that they be on the move constantly.

“They will always slip through the cracks and since the parents insist that their children follow the same profession, they will never settle or study,” Mr. Gunasekaran said.