The Chelur Expansion Programme (CEP), where ADATS started building Coolie Sangha Units (CSUs) in September 1985, is now three years old. Fairly strong CSUs have been built in fifty five villages comprising nine clusters. Five villages of the CEP area have been attached to the older clusters for administrative convenience, since these villages border the older area of 27 villages where ADATS has been working for the past eleven years. The tenth CEP Cluster (Chakwel) comprising 7 villages had to be closed down after a one year nine months involvement due to very particular problems that arose.
These 55 CSUs have a total membership of 1,681 Coolie families which represents 54% of the total population of these villages. Each village has a male Village Level Worker, a female Village Health Worker and a Teacher working full time to build the Coolie Sanghas and implement the various ADATS programmes, projects and activities.
A Children’s Programme for the government schooling and supplementary education of 1,700 Coolie children is being implemented in these 55 villages. This programme, which began in mid 1986 with ActionAid support, will continue till 1993. All the remaining activities in the CEP area are being supported by NOVIB.
A very serious Adult Literacy Programme was implemented for the first two years in the CEP area. Through this effort, about 1,200 Coolies in the age group of 25 to 40 years were able to acquire basic literacy skills.
A very efficiently designed cadre training syllabus was incorporated into the content and syllabus of this Adult Literacy Programme. Besides, Coolies were brought, in batches, for a series of cadre training sessions. All the village level staff of ADATS and the CSU Representatives were taken on study/exposure trips. Very many public meetings were held in the CEP area, and a high degree of political consciousness was obtained in the Coolies and their functionaries.
Social and economic issues related to land, wages, sexist and caste discrimination and cases of corruption and cheating were taken up in all the villages of the CEP area. Besides solving these problems, the Coolie struggles that ensued did a lot to unify them and enhance their organisational strength. Coolies were helped with legal aid, aid distress and other non material support to follow these struggles through. Bonded labourers were released as a result of Coolie struggle and ADATS’ legal support, and even Ryot women were supported to free themselves. ADATS supported the Coolies in early 1987, in a very major political struggle that shock the electoral equation of the taluk in an irreversible manner.
A massive three year Dry Land Development Project was undertaken from 1987 to give meaningful employment to 1,681 Coolie members for five summer months every year. This programme will develop about 6,000 acres of virgin and under utilised, highly eroded dry land hugging the hills and belonging to the Member Coolie family families. It will prevent migration and permit regular and day to day Coolie Sangha building activities to continue. The unjust and low wage structure in the CEP area is being positively effected, and the Coolie Sanghas are being strengthened since the project is subservient to political requirements and has very clear non economic objectives built into it.
An alternate, interest free credit giving programme which was developed by the Coolies in the older villages was introduced in the CEP area with a high degree of success. A total of 811 Coolie borrowers took loans averaging Rs. 311 to overcome various problems. Crop loans accounted for 28% of these borrowing, rearing livestock 15%, trade 14%, repairing huts 11%, redeeming lost lands through struggles and legal actions 9%, and consumption 14%.
All this has resulted in 55 very strong and viable village level Coolie Sanghas being built up. Very definite and formal systems that include Membership Lists, Suspension and Cancellation procedures, regular and minutes weekly CSU Meeting and Cluster Meets, periodic Review Meets, grass root planning practices, annual election of three CSU Representatives from every village, procedures to recall their elected functionaries even before the expiry of terms, etc. have been established along with a very high degree of political conscientisation in even the ordinary member Coolies.
Therefore ADATS decided to go ahead as planned and withdraw 7 Community Workers from as many Clusters in September 1988. In another Cluster, we decided that the Community Worker’s involvement must continue for one more year. In yet another, we felt that the Community Worker should stay on for at least two more years since the Coolie Sangha Formation formalities were not yet completed due to unforeseen reasons.