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The Coolie Sangha is a membership based people’s organisation created by ADATS’ intervention. To view it merely as a beneficiary organisation created by an NGO in order to implement it’s programmes would be grossly wrong. Small and poor peasants, artisans, their supporters, and a whole lot of others have, through 43 years of struggle and sacrifice, built up the Coolie Sangha as an authentically democratic and genuinely independent Community Based Organisation (CBO).
We will now try to trace the historical development of the Coolie Sangha vis-à-vis ADATS’ contribution to building it.
In the early years of Coolie Sangha Formation, their struggles were always directed against external oppressors and exploiters − landlords and middle peasants (Ryots). Were it not for ADATS’ contribution, Bagepalli would have witnessed just another temporary rebellion or uprising that the history of any peasantry is abundantly chequered with.
It certainly was our intellectualism that contributed to an inward reflection and led to a process of internal rectification in the Coolies’ own culture of tolerated indiscipline and opportunism. Coolie wisdom and intuition was mature enough to realise that without this internal rectification they did not possess the strength to continue the struggle against external oppressors and exploiters. Thus was established a place and role for ourselves in what turned out to be a unique partnership.
The Coolie Sangha has to be understood not just as the culmination of a series of land, wage and other anti-feudal struggles, but in the background of this intellectual struggle that preceded its creation. A struggle between our intellect pitted against the native wisdom and cunning of the Coolies, in an atmosphere of deep and mutual trust; as the outcome of a partnership effort between a consciously humbled intelligentsia and a people who had hitherto only been credited with ignorance, fatalism, and a lack of the faculty to think.
The final step to form the Coolie Sangha was accompanied by a slackening in the tackling of issues against external exploitation. Land and wage issues took a temporary back seat and the safeguarding of their organisation against extinction become the Coolies’ top most priority. A marked swing in favour of internal rectification marked the commencement of the Coolie Sangha.
To make their fellow Coolie members stick to decisions they themselves had taken after lengthy deliberation; to make the individual realise that she had to sacrifice her personal view point in favour of the collective without, at the same time, crushing the minority with bullying by the majority; to develop structures that had built-in recall mechanisms to counter the concept of conventional leadership where those "led" are not reduced to mere props; such were the priorities for Coolie Sangha functionaries who grappled with organisational issues and problems for many months.
After sufficient organisation was built, Ryot exploitation was faced once again with a new strength based not just on unity, but with organisation and discipline. Issues began to be tackled more effectively and with a greater degree of success. To a certain extent, the excitement and thrill inherent in ad hocism was replaced with almost boring hard work that hardly resembled earlier struggles that were heavily spiced with hot words and pitched excitement. But yet, the achievements were far greater and of a more lasting value.
It was perhaps a quest for the lost excitement that led to the next Phase in the development of the Coolie Sangha as a cohesive unit embodying the fundamental political aspiration of the Coolies to be masters over themselves.
To capture power and rule over the Ryots was never a political consideration for the Coolie caste-class as a whole. Theirs was not a desire to counter oppression with oppression, but to offer an alternative to the culture of oppression. To capture a seat which would enable a few of their representatives to sit at a high position was never the ambition of the Coolies. Theirs was a dream to obtain a place of dignity and respect for each and every one of them in their respective villages. We who accompanied the Coolies through that important Phase were quick to realise the special and particular character of Coolie socio-political aspirations and articulate it.
The Coolies wished, through the Coolie Sangha, to collectively contribute a new culture to the practice of politics at the grassroots. They saw the futility in trying to counter existing oppressive political practices with oppressive political practices of another brand. Instead they wished to contribute Coolie knowledge of Coolie suffering in an attempt to humanise and purify the body politic of civil structures.
The Coolie Sangha is an organisation created, in this sense, by the Coolies themselves. It is a mass organisation of the Coolies which transgresses the political party while, at the same time, it goes beyond the conventional understanding of a bargaining platform. It is far more than the ganging together of a class of people in order to defend a common economic interest while, at the same time, it performs a trade union role. It does not owe its existence to an urban conceptualisation by intellectuals while, at the same time, it would hardly have come into being without our vital input. It does not take restrictions and limitations posed by village norms and values into considerations while, at the same time, it carves for itself a permanent niche not just in the villages with established CSUs, but also in the imagination of the neighbouring village Coolies, emboldening them with realisable dreams they dare to dream.
Today, the Coolie Sangha very definitely exists in 448 to 1,257 villages of Chickballapur district. We dare say that, as a social institution, it is a keen competitor to caste and social custom insofar as giving normative identity is concerned. Its village level forum, the Coolie Sangha Unit (CSU), allows very personal aspirations of individual Coolies to be met and respected, while the weekly Cluster Meets and monthly Taluk Meetings permit the larger cohesiveness of the Coolie class to be projected.
Regular and formal membership lists, suspension and cancellation procedures, weekly and monthly meetings with minutes recorded, periodic Review Meets, and annual elections have given it a definite shape and form which is continually sensitive to and always adapting to new facets of the Coolies’ existence that are increasingly coming under the purview of the Coolie Sangha every single day.
The successful tackling of various issues that are relevant to Coolies at the village, Cluster and Taluk levels, have given the Coolie Sangha a clout in the region and made it, and the Coolies as a whole, emerge as a serious force to be reckoned with.
By its relentless perseverance and commitment to sustainable processes rather than to expediency, following the twin principles of grassroots planning and Coolie participation, it has obtained an identity in the neutral population as a moral and just struggle. Through its sheer achievement in physical and qualitative terms due to the social control it exerts over Member Coolie families, it has earned the respect of the bureaucrat and the banker as an authentic and effective model of Coolie development.
Since the Coolies find an intuitive recognition in the model as something they themselves have contributed to the making of, they are attracted to form Coolie Sangha Units by themselves.
And finally, due to the success of the fund raising call given to the Coolies to contribute 10% of their earnings to their respective CSUs in order to safeguard the posterity of their organisation, there is a guarantee of its relevance and continuity long after the total withdrawal of the promotional organisation, ADATS.