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ADATS was started in December 1977 by a group of young people who had earlier worked in charitable organisations and felt that this was not the best way to go about. The Group did not go to the people with any solutions. Instead we said that we would, along with the poor, search for a better and more holistic understanding of the problem and together develop a development model.
We settled in huts in the poorer quarters of 5 central villages and started relating to the poor in an individual capacity. Our excuse for being in these villages (an entry point, as it were) was that we would conduct night classes for poor children and help their parents in whatever manner we could, in our personal and individual capacity. Very soon, an Adult Literacy effort was introduced, using the Paulo Freire conscientisation method. Small and poor peasant families came to us with various grievances and issues that we together discussed and planned remedial action. The struggles that ensued were against the corruption of village officials, for land that had been unjustly lost, and for fair wages.
We met every week, shared experiences, and developed a critical understanding of the political economy of Bagepalli taluk through an actual involvement with the poor in their day to day struggles. For 2 years, ADATS did not apply for any funding. Instead we were supported by friends and well-wishers, in their individual capacity.
ADATS' support to tenant peasants who were trying to get title deeds for lands that they had been tilling for many generations, under the provisions of the Land Reforms Act, took a wide-spread and serious turn.
In 1979 we began to implement an ActionAid supported children's programme for the government schooling of poor children. This was the last straw. That a defiant poor peasant population dared to challenge the balance of power was bad enough for the Landlords and Ryots (middle peasants). But sending their children to school, in imitation of richer children in the village, did not auger well for the future of semi-feudal peasant relations.
The landlord-police-politician combine turned their forces against us, specifically targeting the Group and its band of supporters (Coolie youth who were working as Supplementary School Teachers in the ADATS/ActionAid Children's Programme). Overcoming these issues led to the formation of the Coolie Sangha as a mass organisation of the poor.
But ADATS did not simultaneously evolve from a Group to an Organisation. Many Group members were scared and confused. They had survived on nervous energy, without any material nor physical security, suffering through struggle and exhilarated with occasional success. A painful crisis (which we later termed propitious) took place in late 1984, leading to the abandoning of the group concept. ADATS got stabilised as an organisation, adopting a vision, mission, and a set of very definite working principles.
A few years later, our accumulated experiences were placed on a broad matrix which clearly defined inputs and objectives in a time perspective, and an Intervention Strategy was developed. Coolie Sangha building operations were divided into 3 distinct 3-year phases of Formation, Formalisation and Consolidation with ADATS paid staff pull out at the end of each Phase. Non-material and material inputs were planned for introduction and cut-off at definite points of time in this 9 year matrix, in order to achieve maximum impact.
Novib (the Netherlands) who had stared supporting us from 1981, agreed to help us through this transition.
The Coolie Credit Funds (CCFs) were introduced as village level decentralised alternate credit arrangements run by the Coolies themselves in January 1985.
A Dry Land Development Programme (DLDP) was started in March 1987.
In September 1985 ADATS expanded its work to 60 more villages in Chelur hobli of Bagepalli taluk.
A year later, with EZE (Germany) support, we expanded to another 60 villages in Gulur hobli.
In 1988 Icco (the Netherlands) agreed to support our work and we extended Coolie Sangha building activities to 3 neighbouring taluks of Chickballapur, Siddalaghatta and Chintamani.
In June 1992, Novib started participating in these Extension taluks and 150 more villages were taken up.
In September 1994, EZE supported us to take up 100 more villages in Chintamani taluk.
In April 1994, all 3 of our northern partners — Novib, Icco and EZE — together formed a Consortium to support our Coolie Sangha building work in Chickballapur district.
The Consortium ran into trouble in 1998 and Novib pulled out.
In 1997, Save the Children New Zealand (SCNZ) decided to support our work and we extended to 55 villages in yet another taluk, Gudibanda.
From 2013 to 2017, we underwent a self-critical exercise to ponder on another major role transformation for ADATS.
We started by asking ourselves if and how the Coolie Sangha would continue; indeed, whether at all it had any role in a radically changed socioeconomic and political milieu. We were clear that our involvement would not remain the same after our ten-year Strategic Plan was completed in December 2018. Accordingly, we thanked our northern partners and informed them that ADATS would not apply for any further extension of funding.
44 years back, ADATS had described the political economy of the day, and it served us well to plan appropriate responses. The time had come to develop a new theory that explained today's happenings; one that found resonance in the people we work with. Not a generic and all-embracing one that pretended to explain all that's going on in rural India right now. Just an understanding of what Member Coolie families were experiencing here in this region where four and a half decades of community organisation had empowered and emboldened them.
Maybe there was some purchase in repetitiously continuing what we had done so far, since there always would be remnants of unfinished business and uncovered individuals. The Coolie Sangha could very well do that. But ADATS was unable to meaninglessly repeat what we've done merely to safeguard our lingered existence.
Ourselves continuing to implement ongoing projects was not the manner for ADATS to meaningfully contribute. Our role was no longer to merely identify sectoral lapses and make piecemeal attempts at successive responses. It was not to fragment every problem and solve them linearly, one after the other.
We needed to comprehend the reality of changed times with a holistic intermixing of socio-economic, political and cultural disciplines, as well as an understanding of technology that plays an ever-increasing role in shaping everyday life. An overload of information is not quite the same as a holistic framework where happenings are placed, and reality is squarely faced. We need to suggest ways to respond, with a well-orchestrated intertwining of different skillsets.
The post-project implementation role that ADATS sets for itself is to create institutional capital from the social capital that has been built in the Coolie Sangha and generate employment opportunities for the rural poor to participate in locally owned and operated decentralised ventures within a new age economy.
Please see our paper on Institutional Support to the Coolie Sangha.