Coolie Sangha Consolidation & Withdrawal (August 1995)

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Looking back at nearly 18 years of work with the Coolies of Bagepalli, we do get the impression that all our efforts have been directed towards the single overriding objective of democratising village society. The strategy we seem to have adopted is the building of alternate structures for the poor wherein they can practice another kind of living. The underlying faith appears to be that positive practices within these structures would, through their sheer effectivity, begin to influence the functioning of wider society. But what are we going to be remembered as, the Aristotle of our place and time or as plain philanthropists?

The 1st paper entitled “Coolie Sangha Model of Development” was written in March 1986 and the need for building new democratic structures for the rural poor was forcefully argued. We described the philosophical basis for our involvement where we made a critique of existing democratic practices and made a clear choice in favour of a particular type of participation which was true and representative. We went on to examine our identity as development workers and the highly personalised motivation for striving to bring about this democratisation. We stated that this was the only single force capable of assisting in structural change. We then articulated our abhorrence of existing semifeudal practices and accepted as inevitable the fact that we were working within spaces provided by capitalism. We declared that there were sufficient opportunities within the liberal framework of bourgeois society for the poor to advance their position. We listed the various steps needed to build an effective village level unity of the poor which we now call “Formation”. We believed that we had found, through organising the poor, a panacea for eradicating poverty.

That paper was written with the benefit of hindsight. It was the crystallisation of experiences and emotions that both parties, development workers and Coolies, had obtained over 8½ years. Articulating it gave us new energy by providing a single and united thrust and purpose to all our efforts. It served as a powerful impetus for ADATS’ vertical as well as horizontal growth.

The 2nd paper entitled “Coolie Sangha Formalisation” explained what had to be done in order to convert tentative achievements obtained in the previous 3 year phase into lasting accomplishments. We listed these tentative achievements as the breaking of a fatalistic apathy, the effecting of a larger unification of an enlarged poor, and the disturbing of the political equation whereby a position of vantage was obtained by the Coolies. We clarified that this could not be done through a mere reemphasising, even if with greater intensity, of the earlier 3 year efforts. We spoke of pluralism, which had to be consciously developed in order to foster decentralisation, as the essential condition for full Coolie participation. Once again we listed the various steps, but this time in the form of an agenda for “Formalisation”. A remarkable feature of this paper was that for the very first time it dealt with matters in a subtle manner. A linear and deterministic reduction which marked ADATS’ thinking upto that point began to disappear from our mien and vocabulary.

We wrote that paper in 1989, when we were about to enter into the 2nd phase of Coolie Sangha building in 60 villages of Chelur. 1 year later, when we were about to enter this same phase at Gulur, we saw no reason to alter it. In mid 1992, when 148 villages of the ICCO supported Extension Programme had just completed Formation, we once again found the theory, manifestations and strategies to be just as pertinent.

This 3rd paper is being written in the form of an essay. It comes at a time when some confusion has been created by our use of the term “withdrawal”. We have used the word simply to mean the last stage or final days of the intervention strategy we had developed. But this concept cannot be properly explained unless we put the strategy itself within a larger schematic presentation of Coolie development, highlighting each stage. The time has therefore come to place the 9 year Coolie Sangha building matrix itself in a larger framework.

A similarity between this and the 1st paper is that both are written posthaste, after the event. It will help us to repeat the effort in the Extension taluks in a more reasoned and efficient manner. Even more, it will help us understand the new role of ADATS in Bagepalli taluk vis-à-vis the independent Coolie Sangha; what has in recent days come to be referred to as NGDO Role Transformation.

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