A.R. Palanisamy built the first comprehensive rehabilitation model for children of life prisoners, murder victims, and those affected by leprosy and cancer. Palanisamy uses education and skill training to build their self-confidence and mainstream them into their own communities and societies.
Deeply influenced by Gandhian thought, Palaniswamy started the Society for Educational and Economic Development (SEED) in 1983 to provide education and skill development options for highly marginalised children. Children become secondary victims when a parent kills or is murdered, and he believes that these children require more than ordinary care and assistance. They need a new perspective on their lives, and a new source of values in order to develop into mature and self-respecting members of society, capable of dealing with the social stigmas attached to them. To achieve this, Palaniswamy started a boarding school for 300 of these children, uniquely designed to build values to live a honest and productive life.
Students receive a high quality and holistic education through both curricular and extra-curricular intervention. The curriculum integrates academic learning with skills like spinning and weaving for younger children and carpentry and horticulture for older children. More importantly, there is a highly democratic school culture, which places emphasis on student participation in decision making through systems like student parliament. Today, alumni from the school have found place for themselves in highly specialized industries like nursing, automobile design, and information technology.
Over time, Palaniswamy realized that isolating children from their communities was not addressing the larger forces of stigma in the communities they came from. Towards this, he started organising summer vacations, where children were taken back to their native villages, to not only understand where they came from, but to also build self-confidence in themselves among their neighbours and relatives. Once the local people recognized the inherent leadership skills and ability of these children, they regained their respect and admiration for them. In addition, Palanisamy realized that the children cannot remain dissociated from their parents. Palanisamy managed to get a government order which allowed him access to every prison in the state. He organises regular visits for children to see their parents, and has arranged with the Director General of Police for an annual talent show in each prison. Additionally, every Gandhi Jayanti, parents are released on a one week parole to visit their children and families to encourage the rehabilitation process.
Palanisamy has been dedicated to helping marginalized children improve their lives since his time as a university student. He is committed to breaking the intergenerational molds that limit children's potential, and hopes that through his schools he can foster democratically minded citizens for a more equitable and accepting society.
Palanisamy’s ingrained desire to help the most marginalized emerged at a very young age, when he started working with nomadic tribes in in the 1970s. Then a university student, he enacted original poems and stories on All India Radio to raise money for their everyday needs. Deeply influenced by Gandhian thought, he decided to then work with manual scavenging colonies, educating and providing opportunities for the children of manual scavengers to step out of the cycle of inter-generational caste-based professions. Around this time, he visited the Sri Perembudur Prison in Chennai for a sociological study. While in conversation, a prisoner pointed out that even the nomadic tribes and scavengers could find means to support their children better than the prisoners could. This conversation led to his current full-time commitment to this issue.
This profile was updated in March 2014. Please read on for the Election Profile