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Since March 2020 all Coolie Sangha meetings have been temporarily suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, one to one conversations result in decisions conveyed to ADATS Field Staff via mobile chats.
The CSU is the basic Coolie forum that ADATS helps build in each and every village. This is done primarily by holding regular CSU Meetings with minutes recorded, on a fixed day every week. Decisions taken in these CSU Meetings are followed through with concrete action and struggles that ADATS supports. In principle, CSU Membership is open to all those who do not employ wage labour, irrespective of caste or community. In practice, the village level CSU is the final authority to decide on who they wish to admit, suspend or remove. Only 1 person from a family can be a Member, though membership benefits are open to all the family members irrespective of whose name it actually stands in.
Each CSU elects 3 Representatives, 1 of them compulsorily a woman. CSU Meetings are held on fixed days every week. Deliberations and decisions are recorded in Minutes Books. CSU Meetings are normally held at about 8 p.m. and the quorum is two-third the current membership strength. Since all and every facet of the Member Coolies’ lives are discussed, be they ADATS related or not, these meetings are held with a regularity of about 65-70% — i.e. an average of 35 weekly meetings are held every year, on the same day every week, for the past 27 years.
CSUs are ultimately responsible to ensure that all the efforts of ADATS reach individual Coolie Families. ADATS deals with Coolie families only through the CSUs. ADATS does not extend any assistance to individual Coolies, be it financial, advice, Legal Aid, Aid Distress, Medical Aid, referral health, or other, unless the request is recommended by two-third the strength of a CSU. This positive advice is in the form of a resolution recorded in the CSU Minutes Book. If the matter is grave and involves inter-CSU relations or actions, then the positive advice of the Cluster Meet is sought before ADATS responds.
Changes or alterations in ADATS policy and programmes or the starting of a new project or activity are first discussed in all the CSU Meetings and Cluster Meets. Sufficient time is given for the Coolies to reflect on the import of what has been discussed, give suggestions, approve or disagree. These discussions and decisions are clearly recorded in the Minutes Books of the CSU Meetings and the Cluster Meets. Finally, the matter is thoroughly discussed in the monthly Taluk Coolie Sangha Meeting before a recommendation is made by the Core Group to the Governing Body for adoption as the official position of ADATS.
Under no event are these principles of Coolie participation and grassroots planning violated for the sake of convenience or expediency. ADATS Staff personally satisfy themselves that a request for assistance is positively recommended by the CSU Meeting and/or the Cluster Meet before acting. At the same time ADATS does not tolerate any Staff member using these principles as excuses to justify shoddy work or incompetence. In our experience the quality of work improves when these principles are strictly adhered to.
The principles of Coolie participation and grassroots planning are not followed in the first 3 year Coolie Sangha Formation phase in a new Area where it is not practical to expect the Coolies to substantially contribute. But even then, weekly Meetings are held and the Coolies encouraged to familiarise themselves with the mechanisms of participation from the very beginning.
Mahila Meetings are the platform through which ADATS interprets its policy of positive discrimination in favour of Coolie women. They are village level gatherings of one woman from each Member Coolie family that meet on a fixed day every week.
These Meetings discuss problems that are particular and peculiar to Coolie women. No men are allowed to attend these exclusive Meetings of Coolie women. But at the same time Coolie women have the right, and are indeed encouraged, to attend the mixed CSU Meetings. As a result, Mahila Meetings are platforms within the Coolie Sangha and not separate entities to segregate Coolie women and exclude them from the mainstream effort.
Cluster Meets are the fora through which ADATS Staff establish a formal working relationship with Member Coolie families. All the elected CSU Representatives, VLWs and VHWs of the 6-7 villages that comprise it attend the Cluster Meets on fixed days every week at the central villages. They last for 3-4 hours from 2 p.m. till 5-6 p.m. Deliberations and decisions are recorded in the Cluster Minutes Books. Field Assistants, Area Field Workers and Mahila Trainers compulsorily attend Cluster Meets in their respective Areas. Executive Staff attend to sort out problems they encounter when implementing various projects and programmes.
Weekly reports on each CSU are read out, issues identified, developments assessed, progress measured, plans made, problems solved and implementation bottlenecks overcome. Financial decisions involving the CCF, decentralised Health Budget, spending of Sangha Funds (exclusively by the Mahila Meetings in the older village CSUs), etc. are ratified in these working meetings.
From the 4th year of ADATS involvement in an Area, after the withdrawal of Community Workers from the Cluster villages, monthly Meetings of the Taluk Coolie Sangha are held for 2 days and 1 night, every month, at the respective Taluk headquarters.
All the elected CSU Representatives, Cluster Secretaries, VLWs and VHWs attend these 2 days Meetings which are conducted by the respective Taluk Secretaries. This means an attendance of 300-500 functionaries for 2 days and 1 night, every month. Taluk Coolie Sangha Meetings are held with an astonishing regularity. In the past 15-20 years, they have hardly ever been cancelled for want of the compulsory quorum of two-third.
The Taluk Secretary delivers a keynote address to fix the agenda for the meeting, and Cluster Reports are read out to share the month’s happenings in a wider forum. Coolie issues that can be tackled only at the Taluk level with larger actions and wider participation are discussed and decided upon in these Taluk Coolie Sangha Meetings.
ADATS policies and priorities are critically assessed by the Member Coolie families and special recommendations made. The Field and Executive Staff compulsorily attend these Taluk Coolie Sangha Meetings in order to promote accountability but they are not allowed to speak. In fact, as a matter of strictly enforced protocol, with the sole exception of the ADATS Project Director, outsiders are not allowed to speak at Taluk Coolie Sangha meetings. Special care is taken to ensure that these Meetings are not converted into fora for the delivering of discourses, training or lectures.