Fellow Since 2006
This profile was prepared when Manikkam Shankar was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
Shankar is creating a new identity for India’s tribal populations by incorporating them into the trade unions movement. Beginning with the nomadic Narikurava tribes of Tamil Nadu, a sub-group of the Vagiri tribe spread out all over India, Shankar has created the Handicrafts Trade Union and the Nomads Society, both of which are now securing for their members a host of citizenship rights and a dignified existence by virtue of their trade union membership. New occupations are adopted based on traditional skills that the nomadic tribes possess. Tribes are afforded more formal status through the Tamil Nadu Manual Workers Act and Manual Workers Social Security, which afford easier access to government programs for employment, education, health care and housing. Shankar is stepping up his movement to cover 30 districts throughout Tamil Nadu and through collaborative networks is spreading his model to the states of Andhra Pradesh, Pondicherry, and Karnataka. He has organized tribal conferences incorporating all the southern states to spread his idea. With plans to move up to the national level, Shankar is creating a database of all groups of Vagiris, called differently in different states, to list them under the Vagiri umbrella and campaign for a National Bill to be tabled in Parliament. The model, if successful, will be applicable to all groups of tribal peoples that are currently denied basic rights due to the ambiguity in their status.