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‘Seri’, ‘kuppam’ have become derogatory words over the years

Writer and former VCK MLA Ravikumar said that the functional meaning of these words had become insulting to Dalits.

August 31, 2015 12:00 am | Updated March 29, 2016 06:15 pm IST - CHENNAI

Former IAS officer P. Sivakami’s petition in the Madras High Court seeking the removal from government records of terms such as colony, seri and kuppam, which are used to identify Scheduled Caste habitations, has brought into focus the change that these words have undergone over the years in their functional meaning.

“Seri is a place where various sections of people lived together (sernthu vaazhvathaal seri),” said Tamil scholar R.P. Sethu Pillai in his book, Tamilagam Oorum Perum.

Padseri is a place where Pallars lived and Paraiseri is the habitat of the Paraiyar community. The settlement of Aayar(shepherds) was known as Aaiseri, according to the author. Sethu Pillai, however, agreed that in modern times Seri has become a derogatory term and is used to identify areas where only Dalits resided.

Folklorist A.K. Perumal said one could find the word seri in ancient Tamil literary works, including Kaliththogai, Silappathikaram and even the ‘Porulathikaram’ of Tholkappiam.

“It is Silapathikaram that calls a Brahmin settlement as ‘Paarpanaseri’. But the meanings of hundreds of Tamil words have become corrupt and got distorted with time, place and other considerations,” he said.

He said once the words ‘kuppai’ and ‘maadu’ meant ‘wealth’. “Today, they are used to refer to garbage and cattle. In ancient times, kaamam would mean love. Today, it has a negative meaning,” he said.

Similary ‘kuppam’ in Tamil literature used to refer to Neithal villages — fishing hamlets. Kaatukuppam, Nochikuppam, Ayodhyakuppam and Karungudikuppam are some of the well-known kuppams, but today they are used in a derogatory manner. And Paakkam is used as suffix to settlements adjacent to fishermen’s hamlets. Pattinappakam, Nugambakkam, Kodambakkam, Kelambakkam and Eenjambakkam are the paakams of Chennai.

Writer and former VCK MLA Ravikumar said while the etymological meaning of these words remained unchanged, their functional meaning had become insulting to Dalits.

“When these words are used to reiterate caste identity, they should be dispensed with. That was why the AIADMK government led by M.G. Ramachandran issued an order for removing all prefixes and suffixes with casteist connotations,” Mr Ravikumar said.

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