Customer Demands & Satisfaction

From mid-March 2017 we decided to revive the Customer Demands & Satisfaction (CD&S) activity since nearly 9,000 families had paid their membership fees and shown interest in continuing the Coolie Sangha in 381 village. CD&S activities were divided into 25 Areas and each ADATS Field Worker reached out to Sangha Tax paid families to ask them what they wanted the Coolie Sangha to do for them. Making these lists took about 10 days. ADATS Field Workers entered the demands in specially designed/formatted MS Excel files and got down to “satisfy” the demands. Each village CSU selected two persons — a man and a woman — from among themselves to assist in getting the job done and monitor progress. We anticipated that the exercise would take ~40 days as some applications to government offices require time to get clear results — i.e. sanction or rejection of the application.

381 functioning village CSUs with 8,757 active Member families made 7,486 demands. 5,498 (73%) of these were satisfied.

Progress monitoring, once every 10 days, was not just reporting numbers. It also involved sharing experiences and clever tactics to get the job done. But the recording of results was instantaneous — i.e. as and when they completed a job, they entered into the MS Excel file loaded on their smartphones. At the end of 40 days, on 10 th May 2017, we saw that we had obtained an average of 73% results. The remaining 27% are still being processed by various government offices and agencies.

All 25 ADATS Field Workers have now decided to do a 2 nd round of CD&S from the 20 th May till the 30 th June. Simultaneously, each Field Worker will use this live proof/demonstration on the usefulness of being in the Coolie Sangha, to add 3 more dropped-out/ non-CSU villages into this round of CD&S. We hope that the number of functioning village CSUs and active Members goes up by 78 and 1,500 respectively. In December 2017, these newly taken up villages can decide if they want to declare their annual income, pay up and formally renew membership to join/rejoin the Coolie Sangha.

Support to Issues & Struggle

Coolies approach ADATS with various problems which have no direct bearing to “our project activities”. ADATS village Staff do liaison work with Government offices and local Banks to try and solve these problems. They avoid taking on a leadership role and instead facilitate the Coolies to increase their capacities.

Later, on seeing their effectiveness, Coolies approach ADATS with issues of Ryot (middle peasant) cheating, petty corruption of village officials, exploitation by contractors, etc. These problems cannot be solved with mere liaison or representation work. They demand collective discussions and joint action. ADATS encourages Coolies to struggle and promise to stand by them in all just and legal Coolie struggles, irrespective of localised consequences arising from alienating the powers that be.

Senior ADATS Staff openly encourage the Coolies to make critical appraisals of the injustice, humiliation and lack of dignity which they live in. They provoke the Coolies to discuss and act on situations which they had hitherto tolerated in a fatalistic and apathetic manner.

ADATS believes that struggle has to remain at the centre of any true education effort since struggle in the greatest teacher. It is only through struggle that the village level forums of the Coolies will become more than mere beneficiary organisations begging participation to implement pre-conceived packages, and instead be tempered to become the basic units of a Coolie mass organisation.

Legal Aid, Aid Distress

During the 1st 3 year Coolie Sangha Formation phase, all issues and struggles are thoroughly discussed and recorded in the fortnightly Staff Meetings. This is not only so that everyone can benefit from each otherís experiences and draw moral and material support from one another. The recording of issues and struggles also helps to get a deeper micro insight and make an applicable statement on the political economy of the region.

The form and extent of discretionary assistance like Legal Aid and Aid Distress to support Coolies in their various struggles are decided in these Staff Meetings.

Later on, these decisions are taken by the Coolies themselves in their CSU and Mahila Meetings, and expenses met from out of their respective Sangha Funds. In the Formalisation and Consolidated phases, ADATS only gives legal assistance for wider struggles.

Civic Bodies

Legal awareness is imparted and procedural skills are taught in order to develop a responsible citizenry in Member Coolie families. They are encouraged to participate, as voters as well as candidates, is local bodies like the School Betterment Committees, Temple Committees, Farmer Co-operative Societies, Milk Collection Societies, Gram Panchayat, etc.

ADATS’ mission is to empower the poor and alter the power balance in village society in favour of small and poor peasants. Therefore ADATS itself maintains an extremely strict non-party political position. No resources of ADATS are, directly or indirectly, used for electioneering. Moreover, ADATS Staff are strictly prohibited from standing as candidates in any local body or state elections.

Internal Rectification

Though it performs a trade union like function vis-ŗ-vis the Ryots, the Coolie Sangha is not only concerned with the external enemy. Alcoholism, domestic violence, fiscal indiscipline, opportunism, negative leadership traits, et al are recognised as equally dis-empowering elements as low wages, cheating and coercion.

Internal rectification is as important an agenda as fighting economic exploitation and resisting extra-economic oppression. So much so that the neutral population in the villages have come to consider the Coolie Sangha as a strong upholder of principles of democracy, gender justice and communal harmony.

Strict procedures within the Coolie Sangha, including social boycott, are the main cause for membership fluctuation in village CSUs. 66% of the Cancelled and Suspended Members are from functioning CSUs. In most instances we term such fluctuation as a healthy indicator of day to day functioning.

Self Finance

ADATS believes that the building of civil society will remain incomplete without self-finance. Member Coolie families are encouraged to think of their posterity from day 1 of our involvement. The instruments to achieve this objective are Sangha Funds.

Each and every family is encouraged to contribute 10% of her income, from whatever source, to her CSU’s Sangha Fund. These collections are spent on various aspects of Coolie Sangha running like the paying of rents and electricity for their community halls, paying bus fares and travel costs for their elected Representatives, etc.

After ADATS’ withdrawal, on completion of our 9 year intervention, Sangha Funds are used to finance the decentralised health and children’s programmes.

As per the Trust Deed (legal constitution) of the Coolie Sangha, no payment can be made unless it is supported by the minutes of the meeting of that village CSU, where a quorum of two-third have approved. No amount is ever transferred to any other CSU or to the Cluster account or to the central Taluk account. All payments are made by cheque and there are no cash transactions in the Coolie Sangha.

The balance unspent amounts at the end of each financial year is placed in Fixed Deposits (FDs) in the names of the respective village Coolie Sangha Unit. These FDs form the decentralised village level corpus of the Coolie Sangha. As per the Trust Deed of the Coolie Sangha, even in the event of a village CSU temporarily dropping out, it’s FDs stay untouched. This corpus today stands at Rs 86,030,443 for 1,252 village CSUs.

Interest from each village FD is accrued as Sangha Fund earnings for the respective village CSU, to be used for running the Coolie Sangha Unit.

For the past 9 years, in all the older CSUs, the practice of contributing Sangha Funds has been formalised into a system of declaring annual incomes and paying Sangha Tax once a year.

Adult Literacy Programme (ALP) Classes

ALP

In the Coolie Sangha Formation phase, ADATS initiates ALP classes for all who are interested and wish to learn. Petromax lanterns, blackboards, primers, note books and pens are supplied. Specially designed bi-lingual ALP material like text books, song books and audio cassettes provide the poor with an opportunity to unite and critically analyse various facets of their lives. Meeting every evening introduces a structure and discipline in a hitherto unorganised and apathetic poor.

But Adult Literacy is not merely an entry point for us to gain a place in a new village and kick off Coolie Sangha building work. Literacy is a vital component without which Coolies cannot organise themselves and gain a lasting power. ALP has been conceived as a serious input in Coolie Sangha building.

A 2nd round of ALP classes soon follow for those who wish to pursue literacy further, and yet another 3rd round is conducted exclusively for Coolie women.