genesis of Adivasi Munnetra Sangam (AMS) goes back to 1986. Stan and Mari
started ACCORD as an activist group in response to the rampant land alienation
of the adivasis in the Gudalur Valley and to help the adivasis organise
themselves in order to assert our human rights - especially our land rights.
Some adivasi youth came forward to go from village to village, urging the
adivasis to be united, to protect their land and to stand up to the people
encroaching into their livelihood resources, however powerful they might be.
They went from village after village exhorting the people to be confident and
fight the injustice.
motivated adivasi youth, called Animators held a series of meetings in the
villages. This resulted in the formation of many village level Sangams - a name
for the unity of the adivasis. The
village sangams started responding to issues of injustice and exploitation and
helped the adivasis regain their land. People started resisting.
From then onwards, AMS continues to be the political voice of the adivasi community in Gudalur valley, highlighting the major issues concerning the adivasi community. Today, there are about 12500 members in the AMS spread in more than 200 villages in the Gudalur and Pandalur taluks of the Nilgiris district in Tamilnadu.
law enforcement agencies and the development machinery of the Government, the
local population, and most importantly, all the adivasis recognise AMS as the
representative and identity of the adivasi community here. This mass
organisation of the adivasis has come a long way since then – successfully
fighting for their rights, encouraging them to take back the land and pursuing
legal means to demand justice.
But, it was not a question of land alone. The social
indicators of the adivasis in terms of health, education and economic status
were very poor. Even while organising the people for their political rights, the
adivasi activists of AMS were moved by the plight of their people and resolved
to address the other problems facing the community.
The village level discussions prompted us to initiate
some ‘traditional’ development programmes, along with the political
The choice of tea was a strategic one - it was a permanent
crop and hence can be a proof of their possession and cultivation of land for
many years. Moreover, the mainstream economy in Gudalur valley was tea-based and
hence the adivasis too will become active participants in the predominant
economic activity of the region.
massive tea plantation programme was undertaken. We raised our own tea nursery,
and trained some adivasi youth on the management of the nursery. Simultaneously,
sangam members were trained intensively in tea cultivation and provided all the
necessary support and skills for maintaining the plots. Today, more than 1000
adivasi farmers are Tea growers (traditionally a rich man’s crop!) and more
importantly, their land is productive and safe from encroachers. Many adivasi
families are settled agriculturists now and their wage incomes are supplemented
by the earnings from cultivating tea, coffee and pepper.
we made interventions in the education field too. As the mainstream educational
system was alien to the adivasi community, the first job was to become a bridge
between the children (most of whom were first generation learners) and the
Government schools. Taking the children to the schools and teaching them in
their own languages were the tasks of the adivasi education volunteers.
from inception, we believed that the role of external development agencies like ACCORD is basically that of a
catalyst and hence it has to withdraw as an institution once the process of
change initiated by us becomes sustainable. After that, we adivasis have to take
over the entire development process in our own hands. We also realised that we have to
institutionalise the development activities into formal or informal
organisations in order to effect an irreversible change in the process of
development of the adivasi community.
our strategy was to institutionalise the development programmes, train the
adivasi youth to manage these institutions by providing necessary managerial
skills and to encourage the adivasi sangams to govern these institutions.
the entire health programme was hived off as a separate organisation called ASHWINI,
which is at present covering over 220 adivasi villages through 8 health
sub-centres and the Gudalur Adivasi Hospital. All the nurses in the hospital and
the health animators in the sub-centres are chosen from the adivasi community by
the village sangams. They were trained intensively by well-qualified doctors to
provide comprehensive health care to the adivasi community.
Executive Committee of ASHWINI is comprised entirely of adivasi members. The
entire financing of the health programme is being managed by ASHWINI
independently through internal incomes, donor support and with the help of an
innovative health insurance programme.
For more details, please click here. Ashwini
For more details, please click here. Ashwini
main focus of our education intervention was to increase the awareness about
education in the adivasi villages, enumerating children in the Government
schools and ensuring their attendance, and teaching them in the 1st and 2nd
standards. However, when the issue of the quality of education was raised by the
adivasi parents, we were helpless and could not influence the functioning of the
government system much.
the skills and knowledge of the education volunteers also had to be improved
substantially to play the intervention role meaningfully. So, we requested Viswa
Bharathi Vidyodaya Trust, a Public Trust in Gudalur to function both as a
Training Centre for adivasi education workers and as a model school for adivasi
to the successful implementation of the tea planting programme, many adivasi
families became successful tea growers. Subsequently, an informal Adivasi Tea
Leaf Marketing Society (ATLM) was started with an objective to earn remunerative
prices for the tea leaf cultivated by the adivasi farmers. At present, this
society procures leaf from over 400 people and is supplying leaves collectively
to a private Tea Factory. The average annual procurement turnover of this
Society is about Rs.30 lakhs. Besides, the Society supplies inputs to the
members and extends credit for all their production and consumption needs.
There are a couple of other informal Societies to market the Honey
collected by the adivasis and to provide financial assistance to build houses.
entire management of these Societies - from decision making to logistics, from
financial accounting to coordination with the members - is done by trained
tribal youth and sangam representatives. Inputs are given regularly to this team
For more details click here. ATLM
For more details click here. ATLM
very nature of these social and economic services is such that they need
external financial support for many years to come. Though we are able to
mobilise grants for these institutions from various sources at present, we
realised that we would have to find ways of making them more sustainable in the
long term. This issue was analysed in a series of meetings in 1995. The dilemma
between the withdrawal of ACCORD and the sustainability of these institutions
was debated in a 5-days conclave of
adivasi leaders, called Mahasabha. At the end of this, it was decided to start
focusing on the generation of community wealth through community assets.
successfully intervened in the areas of health, education, legal aid, cultural
revival and economic development, we were confident that the community
institutions we had put in place will ensure that the process of change and
development that we initiated will be sustainable, continuous and irreversible.
However, we had identified that this will hinge on having a strong and
participatory system of governance.
The day-to-day administration of these institutions should be in the
hands of trained adivasi youth and
The leadership managing these institutions should completely comprise of
village level adivasi leaders and adivasi youth.
other words, on the one hand, we had established service delivery institutions
which are effective and responsive to the needs of the adivasi community. On the
other hand, these institutions were sought to be owned and managed by the
adivasis themselves through their own representatives.
Thus, we institutionalised all our programmes into formal or informal organisations, either at the village level or at a central level in order to ensure that the intervention moves beyond the ‘programme’ mode into a sustainable institutional mode. The adivasi community is accessing the basic services provided by their own institutions more effectively and appropriately. Hence, we are no longer solely dependent on the existing institutions, be it the Government run organisations or the private institutions. AMS would act as the glue to bind the community together. The adivasis, thus, will strive to achieve self reliance - not as individuals but as a community.
Though AMS started as a political movement alone, the
subsequent process necessitated the active involvement of the sangam leaders and
members in other development activities. Every step in the evolution of the
various development institutions mentioned above has been influenced and guided
by the village sangams. The AMS, which is a federation of the village sangams,
is the umbrella under which all these institutions function.
important policies and priorities of these institutions are put in place only
after the approval of the AMS leaders. Even though each of these institutions
have separate decision making forum and administrative / monitoring bodies, the
overall direction of the development process is governed by the AMS.
impact of AMS can be seen in many facets of the lives of the
adivasis. Today’s children may not be able to even comprehend that their
parents or grand parents lived as slaves. Young girls may not understand why so
many children died without proper medical care. Many may get shocked to know
that three adivasi pregnant women died in the same month in one village. All
these might have become a thing of the past.
community has taken long strides during the past decade. New agenda for the
future is being set. Reflecting the new aspirations of this generation. “We
want to study; Have to set up systems to address the economic needs of all our
people; Want to help other communities in need; New links need to be built with
other poor people; Should sustain the momentum in the future too; Should
preserve our cultural ethos; And, most importantly, we must be able to adapt
ourselves to face any eventuality - not as individuals, but collectively as a
aspirations are, by themselves, an indication of the positive impact of the
achievements of the past. Majority of the adivasis are no longer worried about
the day-to-day existence. But, the challenges we face are also changing;
Earlier, we had to fight the local landlord or local government official. But,
sometime we feel, the force against which we have to fight today in our quest
for self reliance is faceless.
hence our task is more difficult today. But, if we can face our challenges
collectively, if we can draw inspiration from our cultural values, then we can
survive and surmount the problems faced by not only adivasi communities, but by
the entire world.
will strive for equality and justice, politically and economically. We will
strengthen our community institutions, will encourage all the sangam members to
access the essential services collectively, set up a system of governance to
make the institutions responsive to the aspirations of the community, and to
convert these service delivery institutions into a political strength of the
adivasi community. This is the task for the future.