The campaign of adivasis in the Gudalur valley to get their traditional rights over forest resources recognised by the government under the newly enacted Forest Rights Act has reached a crucial stage. Till date, over 1230 families have submitted their individual claims and another 280 families will be staking their claims soon. Similarly, 235 villages have given their community claims and another 55 villages are in the process of preparing their community claims. All these claims have been forwarded by the 29 Forest Rights Committees that were constituted by the Special Adivasi Gram Sabhas.
Verification of Forest Rights Claims in progress by SDLC
These claims are being processed by the Sub Divisional Level Committee right now. As a first step, the RDO of Gudalur, accompanied by the respective revenue and forest department officials, visited villages falling under four gram sabhas. Claims of around 48 families were personally verified by the team and the possession of this land with the adivasis was confirmed. Similar verification will be done by the SDLC with respect to the other claims as well.
This personal visit by the government officials to the adivasi villages is proving to be another important mechanism to highlight the other development needs of the adivasi community. For example, the poor housing situation, lack of proper drinking water source and ration cards in many villages was witnessed by the RDO and he assured the sangam members that he will represent our demands to the district administration.
Revenue Divisional Officer, Gudalur issuing community certificate
Another major victory of AMS was the series of special camps organised in adivasi villages to issue community certificates to adivasi families. This has been a major policy victory for AMS to get the officials visit the villages and issue certificates to the people, after due verification. The first such camp was organised in Srimadurai, where over 250 families received their certificates. The second one was organised in Nellakota village, where around 330 families got their certificates. Earlier, all these families would have spent at least Rs.200 each in getting these certificates - this is a very conservative estimate, assuming that they will get the certificate in just one visit. So, in all, AMS would have helped the community save at least Rs.100000 in these two camps itself.
Series of such camps are planned for other villages as well. AMS activists are helping the government officials in verifying the applications of the adivasis and organising these camps. We thank the local government officials in extending their services to the needy villages on a priority basis.
Village Specific Health Planning
During the fourth week of February 2010, the Area Centre Teams (ACTs) of AMS participated in an intensive workshop. This was preliminary exercise spread over 2 days and attended by all the ACT representatives and professionals associated with ASHWINI. Dr.Vikram Gupta and Ms.Aneka Paul from Sir Ratan Tata Trust also took part in the proceedings and gave their inputs.
The main objective of this workshop was to lay the foundation for making village specific health plans at the Area Centre level. During the last decade of work, the activists and institutions associated with AMS concentrated on improving the technical skills of the team members in various sectoral fields. This focus resulted in planning of development interventions also being carried out in a sectoral level. However, during the last few years, the focus is now on helping the Area Centre teams engage in planning, monitoring and review of various activities at the village level itself.
Vikram and Aneka of SRTT interacting with the ACT members
This workshop was an important step in this direction. The Area Teams came out with suggestions, new ideas and mechanisms to prepare such village specific health plans. For this, a minimum level of technical knowledge is required for all the ACT members, so that planning of health programmes and monitoring of health status by the team more meaningfully. The team went through exercises like understanding all the health records being maintained at the Area Centres and the importance of the health indicators.
Group discussion by adivasi Area Centre Team members
The groups also discussed some common minimum standards that are to be maintained in terms of health services provided to the adivasi community. Given the constitution of Area Health Fund and the plans to start using this fund to meet immediate health needs of the adivasi community at the Area Centre level, this decentralisation of health planning has come at an appropriate time.
Similar exercise is being planned regarding the community mobilisation and education sectors as well.
Leadership Development of Adivasi Youth
Between March 17th and 20th, we had two leadership development programmes for adivasi youth. One was for the adivasi health team members and the second one was for the adivasi teacher trainees. The focus of these two programmes was different, but both underlined our emphasis on investing on the leadership qualities of our adivasi youth so that they can play a crucial role in bringing about change.
Julie George conducting the workshop
Ms.Julie George, Programme Director (India & Nepal), Skillshare International conducted the leadership development programme for the health team members. This intensive programme focused on institutional leadership issues, the need for understanding the various units within an organisation, the role of leaders in developing and emphasising a clear vision for the organisation, conflict resolution, significance of positive communication.
Shantha reporting about discussions in her group
She also focused on management functions like fund raising, accountability and transparency and the need for every team member to feel that they have the potential to perform leadership functions, whatever be their designation within the organisation. The health team members found the training very useful and we thank Ms.Julie George for conducting this workshop in Gudalur.
The second programme was conducted by Stan for the 17 adivasi teacher trainees in Madhuvana Estate. The focus of this programme was to expose the trainees on community leadership, as most of them are expected to work in the villages. The terms 'Education' and 'Teacher' were defined using broad parameters : "Education is the combination of knowledge, skills and importantly, values". In this context, the participants understood the larger purpose of their training - in providing leadership to the community on all the issues where their knowledge and skills can be of use.
Teacher trainees, Stan and KTS in the leadership camp
In all the communities, there was a natural mechanism to pass on knowledge, skills and values from one generation to other. School education should complement this, rather than undermining it. Being privileged youth from the community - in view of the intensive inputs they are getting from the teacher training programme, the trainees realised that they have a life-time commitment to help their community in various ways.
Participants discussing in small groups
The motivation of the participants at the end of the camp was very high, judged from their response in the last session. For the question, "what are the areas in which they feel they can provide leadership to the community?", all the groups came out with a wide range of issues - not merely restricted to teaching children. Their understanding of the problems faced by the community - gravity of alcoholism, need for savings, protection of cultural values etc. - was good and the ways by which they will try to help the community tackle these problems were inspiring.
Meeting with Nagapattinam's Fishing community
Adivasis and fishermen have many things in common. Traditionally, their livelihoods depended on a natural common property resource - forests and ocean respectively. Culturally, there are many things similar in these two societies. Hence, it was a great learning experience for our Animators to visit the fishing community in and around Nagapattinam. This exposure visit was facilitated by the financial assistance of Christian Aid.
Economic activities of the fishing community under study
A 25-member team from Gudalur went to Nagapattinam on this 4-days exposure visit. The most important thing the team wanted to learn was the strong local governance system there, represented by the village panchayats. In spite of being completely involved in a monetary economy, the fishing community has successfully preserved their traditional structures and unity. Even after Tsunami, when crores of rupees were invested in the community through hundreds of organisations, the community has managed to continue the supremacy of their village panchayats and the unity within the community is striking. This motivated the team to continue our work on strengthening the local governance in adivasi villages and to build on our cultural strengths.
Discussion with Tsunami-affected fishing families in their new houses
The team visited the villages which were affected by the Tsunami few years ago and talked to the families about the relief and rehabilitation aspects. Since disaster preparedness has become an important requirement for all village level activists, this interaction has helped us understand issues related to this.
We visited the cooperative societies associated with the South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies (SIFFS) as well. SIFFS has been doing an excellent job in terms of providing technical and financial support to the fishermen societies, making a tremendous change in their precarious livelihood situation. The team also visited one of their Boat making units.
Discussion with women Self Help Group members
SNEHA was another organisation visited by us. SNEHA has been organising the women in the fishing community around the issue of savings and credit. Large number of Self Help Groups (SHG) have been organised by SNEHA in the fishing villages, who handle hundreds of thousands of rupees in transaction every year. Though only men go for fishing in the sea, the fish vending trade in the shore is largely in the hands of women there. The women SHGs provide the credit required for this trade to their women members. Given our new initiative on promoting savings in adivasi villages, there were some lessons to be learnt from the fisherwomen.
A busy fish market
The entire programme was coordinated and facilitated by BEDROC, an NGO specialising on disaster management. Our ex-colleague, Monica (currently working with BEDROC) organised the logistics and we thank her support.
Daniel, the cyclist travels all the way from UK
In the last week of January, we had the honour of receiving an amazing visitor from UK. Mr.Daniel Bent or Danny, as he prefers to be called. Danny traveled all the way from UK to Gudalur in his bicycle! He was raising funds for Actionaid, a UK based charity - till date, he has raised 5000 pounds for Actionaid and about 1900 pounds to support our education work. Except the brief travel in boat when he crossed from UK to France, he covered the entire journey of over 15000 kilometres in his cycle. An amazing feat. The entire AMS team is overwhelmed by Danny's expedition and determination to come to Gudalur - crossing many countries in Europe and Asia.
Daniel, when he entered Gudalur
A simple welcome party was organised in Vidyodaya school when he reached Gudalur. Danny was quite emotional at the end of his epic journey and was lost for words. But, he explained how this was a 20-year dream of his; how he was inspired to do this 'green' journey when a child challenged, 'how he can realise his dream of traveling around the world, but not to destroy the environment'.
Welcome function in Vidyodaya School
The question that kept cropping up in the minds of our children and many of the adults is this : What was Danny's motivating factor to undergo this hardship over six months and what kept him going? Danny explained it with a simple word : LOVE. He had designed the logo for his expedition with this simple word.
Cycle expedition - a symbol of LOVE
Danny stayed with us for a few days and we had the pleasure of inviting his parents and sister too at Gudalur. Danny had inspired many of our young people with his tremendous achievement and all of us in AMS thank Daniel Bent and Actionaid for giving us an opportunity to part of this event.
Dr.Mallika Sarabai's performance in Chembakolli
- Mari Thekaekara
"Adivasis dance for everyone. How nice if you could dance for them." I remarked, not completely seriously, to Mallika Sarabhai, India's superstar danseuse. What a lovely idea, she responded. I'm sure it can be done. I'll let you know when I'm next in South India. Barely a week later, I received an email from Mallika's executive assistant, Jigna. Dr.Sarabhai and the group are performing at Thanjavur Temple on March 19th. They can travel to Gudalur on 20th and perform for you on 21st. They will leave for Ahmedabad on 22nd.
And so on 21st March, the troupe from Darpana danced in Chembakoli village to an audience of mainly forest dwellers. The adivasis knew little about theatre or formal dance, but they were rivetted. The poem and the dance performance had a universal appeal. The substance of the poem was lyrical.
Based on a poem written by Mrinalini Sarabhai and choreographed by mother and daughter, it covers main concerns that plague India today - communal violence, dowry deaths, womens issues, racial problems, national disintegration, ecological imbalance environmental pollution and other connected subjects. It is a plea to understand and imbibe once more the ancient prayer of the oldest literature of our country.
The dancing and choreography was perfect, more powerful than anything the people here had ever witnessed before. They were held spellbound even though the song was in Hindi and they understood not a word. They didnt need to. The dance spoke to them in a language comprehensible to everyone. The words became superfluous.
Bringing Gujarat dances to Gudalur
What struck a chord with the greatest force was the action of the dancers cutting trees. It was interesting that we, the non adivasis immediately thought Chipko. The visual was of trees being cut with a great destructive forceful swing of the axe and people rushing to protect the trees, hugging them. But several adivasis remarked It shows that trees are our life, without them we will die.
Mallika has promised to return end April to choreograph a song composed by the adivasis to kickstart an AMS anti alcohol campaign in Gudalur taluk.
A major campaign has been conducted in adivasi villages to get everyone enrolled in the Health Insurance programme of the Government of Tamilnadu. Special drive was organised in the last week of March in all the 8 Area Centres of AMS to get the left-out families also enrolled in the programme. Costs of treating about 51 high-cost surgical procedures will be completely covered for all enrolled members.
An intensive campaign is being carried out in all the adivasi villages to get Birth Certificates for all adivasi children studying in schools. A special procedure is being worked out by AMS in consultation with the Magistrate of Gudalur and the revenue officials, in an effort to fulfill one of the long-standing demand of more than 500 adivasi children.
Charities Advisory Trust, UK sanctions financial assistance towards the advocacy and legal activities of Adivasi Munnetra Sangam. Services of two lawyers are being engaged for this purpose.
Construction of new Area Centre buildings in Erumadu, Devala and Gudalur with the financial assistance of Japanese government has been completed. A request to construct 1st floor in the Gudalur centre is pending with the Japanese Embassy. As soon as permission is received from them, the remaining construction will be completed and all the 3 buildings will be inaugurated.
As some of you have heard already, the PENTI project is being covered by the BBC this coming Monday, July 11th, at 3.30 PM IST (11.00 am BST). You can listen in here : http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07jxsy7