The 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.


These 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. 

Suddenly they realised the strength of their numbers - and the value of their Unity. The village sangams helped adivasis shed their fear of ‘powerful’ people - be it the non-tribal landowners or the Government officials. Till today, everyone in the adivasi community considers this ‘freedom from fear’ as the biggest achievement of this movement. The village sangams eventually federated to form ‘Adivasi Munnetra Sangam’ (AMS). In 1988.

A massive Land Rights Campaign was organised in the entire region, culminating in a protest demonstration by AMS in Gudalur on December 5, 1988. This was the first public display of defiance and show of solidarity by more than 10000 adivasis. The issue of adivasi land alienation and their struggle for human rights were emphatically articulated by the adivasi leaders in the demonstration.

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.

The 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 activities.  


The health situation of the adivasis was pathetic. There was an urgent need to prevent unnecessary deaths and provide health care. So, we launched the community health programme in the villages – training adivasi women on preventive health care, immunising and monitoring the pregnant women and children, and improving health awareness in the community. This intensive programme immediately resulted in a dramatic improvement in the health status of the adivasi community.  

Simultaneously, we had to tackle the question of economic needs and productivity of the land taken over by the adivasis. When the land was not productive and did not generate any income, it was difficult for the adivasis to keep it under their possession. After lot of discussions in the villages, it was decided to plant the land with Tea.

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.

A 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.

Similarly, 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.

Right 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.

So, 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.


Accordingly, 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.

Today, maternal mortality of the adivasi women in Gudalur Valley has been reduced to zero - thanks to the elaborate Ante Natal Care provided to all the AMS members. A systematic immunisation programme has succeeded in bringing down the death rate among the adivasi children. The infant mortality rate among the AMS families is less than half of the national average. Given the extremely difficult physical terrain in the area and poor economic conditions of the adivasis, this is no mean an achievement. This was possible only due to the sustained involvement of a large number of women and men in the adivasi community at various levels. A wealth of knowledge and resource persons have been created in the adivasi villages.

  The 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


The 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.

Simultaneously, 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 children.

Today, Vidyodaya Trust coordinates all the education activities initiated by us - from running the Vidyodaya School where about 70 adivasi children are studying to training the adivasi youth as teachers, from running non-formal education centres in /the villages to devising curriculum / programmes to inculcate cultural values to the adivasi children. The Trust has launched innovative initiatives like special camps for children and mothers, mobile library-cum-science lab, etc. For more details click here. Vidyodaya.



Due 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.

The 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 by professionals. For more details click here. ATLM


The 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.

Accordingly, Madhuvana Plantations, a 176-acre estate was purchased in 1998. The estate is planted with Tea, Coffee and Pepper. Today, the Madhuvana Plantations produces over 250000 kg of tea leaves. Together with coffee and pepper, the estate has a sales turnover of over Rs.20 lakhs. At present this income is used for running costs and for  developing the land further. Once it is fully planted and yields are brought to optimum level of profitability, the incomes generated from the estate will be used to meet the funding requirement of the different adivasi institutions. For more details click here. Madhuvana




Having 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.

That is,

¨        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.

In 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.

The 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.


The 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.

The 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 community”

Such 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. 

And, 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.

We 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.


© Copyrights : Adivasi Munnetra Sangam, Gudalur.

Click here if you want to use any part of this website