July - Sept  2007

  Adivasis living in Sanctuary resist resettlement

The district administration in Nilgiris and the forest department have drawn up a plan to resettle all the people living inside the Mudumalai sanctuary, in response to a High Court order on a petition filed by the Chetti community living inside the sanctuary. The court order directs the Government to make arrangements for those Chettis who want to move out of the Sanctuary and resettle them with suitable compensation and alternative land. While this order is not applicable to the adivasi community, the administration is trying to get the adivasis out of the Mudumalai sanctuary at the same time. But, after seeing the alternative land offered by the Government, even many of the Chetti families are having second thoughts about moving out of their centuries old forest homes.

The Adivasi Munnetra Sangam organised a series of meetings in the adivasi villages to discuss the pros and cons of the proposed move. Few adivasi families are in favour of moving out of their traditional ancestral villages. Moreover, they fear their access to forests to meet their livelihood needs will also be severely curtailed. Leaders of the Sangam participated in the meetings organised by the district administration and forest department in Ooty and later in the forest villages, and put forth their view point strongly. If the Bill granting significant rights to the Forest Dwellers living inside forest areas is passed by Indian Parliament, it will be the responsibility of the Government to provide all basic amenities required by the adivasis in their forest villages - be it roads, schools or electricity.

The sangam will continue to put pressure on the administration to respect adivasi rights, besides providing support and encouragement to the adivasi families living in these forest villages.

  Our Insurance Programme gets an Award

We participated in the Micro Insurance Award competition organised by PlaNet Finance India and ING. The main objective of this process was to recognise organisations that are engaged in good practice in the micro insurance sector. Our insurance activity has a unique place in the comprehensive health care programme and the overall development intervention in the adivasi community. Dr.Manju, the Dentist with our Gudalur Adivasi Hospital, went to Hyderabad to accept the Award on behalf of the team. 

More than the award or citation, our objective in participating in this process was to spread understanding about our model to more organisations in the country, so that other poor communities could also benefit. The same sentiment was echoed by the Manager Micro Finance Programmes of PlaNet Finance as well :

I would thank you for the nomination and, I personally feel that your initiative with the tribals is an exclusive kind of initiative which the world should know about.


This year, our adivasi team used many innovative methods to collect insurance premium from members. Collective responsibility of the village sangam to ensure that everyone pays premium was stressed. Lots of village level activities undertaken due to the Charities Advisory Trust Good Gifts Programme also helped mobilise the community. The result was a record increase of 18% over the previous year. This year, the total premium paid by sangam members was over Rs.160000.


A result of a concerted effort by everyone in our team. Ashwini's insurance programme is supported by Sir Ratan Tata Trust, Mumbai.


  Training Centre in Madhuvana Estate Constructed

Despite the heavy monsoon, the construction activities in the Estate continued at a feverish pace during the last three months. Our Training Centre on the estate has been completed. This was built on top of an existing building in the estate, with the financial assistance of the Nilgiri Adivasi Trust, UK. This Centre will be used for our Training Camps for adivasi team members, sangam leaders and importantly, adivasi children.



A better, more beautiful place than the estate for organising camps in which team members and leaders can reflect peacefully and design suitable action plans would be hard to find. The children's camps will be especially fruitful, held in this idyllic location and the kids can go for nature walks in the nearby forests. We thank the Nilgiri Adivasi Trust for helping us realise one of our dream projects.


Construction of quarters for the workers in the estate is also progressing well. One twin house and two single houses have been already completed while foundations for two more houses are ready. Our area team members have identified families who will be interested in moving into these houses. They are waiting impatiently for the end of the monsoon. A picture of a single house is given below.



We have plans to construct totally 12 houses on the estate. These houses are being built by our adivasi masons, who were trained by Accord few years ago. Work will recommence in the second half of October, when the rains are expected to ease off. These houses for the workers have been funded by Ethical Investors through the Gigantic Good Gifts of the Charities Advisory Trust, UK.


  Savings Programme gets a big Push !

A few years ago, it would have been impossible to talk of adivasis saving money - month after month on a regular basis. But, the miracle seems to be happening in more than 30 adivasi villages. Having worked on improving the incomes of the adivasi villages for two decades, now we must start focusing on how the money is spent. As mentioned above in the news item on Insurance, innovative and systematic methods are required to help adivasis manage their cash flow better. It is a huge leap for this community to move from the hunter-gatherer mindset ('live for today') to start saving for the future.


The promise shown in the villages of Devarshola, Erumadu and Srimadurai areas (where their collective savings totaled more than Rs.50000 in the last year) is quite encouraging and we have drawn up detailed plans to take this process forward in all the adivasi sangam villages. All the eight area teams identified young girls and women who can take the responsibility of collecting money from the villages and depositing them with the area centres. Because, the success of the programme depends on the right people being in the village at the right time - otherwise, the money will be spent within days. Now that the adivasi community has the luxury of young adivasi girls who are literate, they will be in the forefront to ensure that this momentum is sustained.


Additionally, this will help adivasi women participating in a core sangam activity, thereby ensuring lot of interaction between the sangam activists and the adivasi women members.

  Camps for Pregnant Women

The Safe Motherhood programme that we wrote about in the last newsletter has been streamlined and is being implemented smoothly in all the adivasi villages. Our village sangams and the Area Teams have identified the pregnant mothers and their families that need support during the pregnancy period. We have succeeded in eliminating maternal mortality in our sangam villages. But, our efforts to control neo-natal or infant mortality depends a lot on the conditions under which deliveries are conducted. So, we are trying a special drive to ensure hospital deliveries as much as possible and to improve the knowledge of the mothers in preventing infections among children.



During the last two months, we have organised special camps for pregnant adivasi women. Our Motherhood programme's goals, the issues that need special attention during pregnancy and neo-natal care are discussed in these camps. Mothers who are identified as 'high-risk' are assured that they will get complete care in the Gudalur Adivasi Hospital. We urge them to admit themselves into hospital well in advance. Mothers with two or three children are encouraged to discuss the possibility of 'family planning' with their husbands.


Along with these 'medical' issues, our health animators use such camps to stress the importance of other issues like registering births and getting birth certificates for children, saving money for the children etc.


The Safe Motherhood programme is supported by the Charities Advisory Trust, UK.


  Adivasi Soap Unit started in Gudalur

We are happy to announce the inauguration of an Adivasi Soap Making Unit in Gudalur. Since last year, adivasi women from Kotharavayal village, assisted by Durga have mastered the process of manufacturing hand-made soaps. These soaps were primarily exported to Just Change, UK and sold through the New Internationalist - Amnesty International catalogue.


These soaps were quite popular with our adivasi sangam members in Gudalur and with the other Member Groups of Just Change India. So, we decided to make this enterprise a permanent one and to establish a soap making unit in Gudalur. Subramani, a Paniya boy from Kotharavayal village (an alumnus of the Vidyodaya School) joined the Just Change team from August and took charge of this unit.



The soap is being currently marketed in India too. More than 1500 soaps have been made in the last month. Half of this has already been sold. As the production process stabilises, Subramani will train adivasi women in the villages to make their own soaps. Currently, we are also trying out new varieties of this soap, using Shikakai powder and different lentils.