January 14, 2022.
The creation of the Adivasi Munnetra Sangam, AMS, was a turning point for the Adivasis of the Gudalur Valley, in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu. B. Bomman, a leader of the Bettakurumba tribe was instrumental in bringing his people together to reclaim their ancestral lands and stop outside migrants from the rampant encroaching and cheating of Adivasi land. Since 1987, Bomman with Adivasi leaders of other tribes, worked hard going from one Bettakurumba village to the next, speaking about how the Adivasis had lost their ancient lands first to tea estates, then to marauding migrants from neighbouring Kerala.
Bomman was a passionate and gripping speaker. Even those who didn’t understand his Bettakurumba language could feel moved by his total commitment and absolute determination to work for his people and protect them from unscrupulous forces surrounding them. He was equally outspoken whether he stood with his team members or the district Collector or Forest officials. He was small in stature but his courage in standing up to the powerful and prominent, gave him a stature and position that was unmatched. Bomman stood tall wherever he was. He represented his people at a meeting in Germany where he spoke about Adivasi culture and human rights. From the forests of Gudalur to the heart of Germany was a long, long way by any standards. But Bomman was up to anything, no task was too difficult. No battle phased him if it was for his community.
KT Subramani, the Secretary of Adivasi Munnetra Sangam (AMS) recalls identifying Bomman in 1987 in Kamraj Nagar. “He was one of the few educated tribals back then. He went to Coonoor and stayed in the hostel where he studied till ninth grade. He had the spirit of fighting and protesting for people’s rights. It was because of his efforts that we were able to mobilise Bettakurumbas living in Gudalur valley to form our AMS.”
Once a tea estate attempted to evict Adivasis from land they had lived on for generations. Bomman stood in front of a large gathering and yelled a warning, "These estate owners think we are nothing. That we are powerless so they can evict us. I am sending them this warning. Don't play with us. We have friends in Germany and other parts. They will start a campaign which will tell our story to tea drinkers all over the world."
Bomman left us when he was 78, at 1.30 pm on January 14, 2022. As the village prepared for his final journey and burial, a local landowner objected and prevented them from proceeding, claiming that the land of the Bettakurumba burial ground was his. As People rose up and protested, the police and other government officials descended and ensured that the burial took place with dignity. After the funeral, the Tahsildhar assured the people that they would get the land officially classified as a burial ground and that they would have no problems in the future.
Even on his final day, Bomman fought for his people. Suresh, who is our Animator from Chembakolly summed it up - “Even if he has died, he will continue to defend our people’s rights”.
Adivasi Munnetra Sangam is an association of the 320 plus village Sangams that represent the 20,000 strong Adivasi population in Gudalur and Pandalur taluks of the Nilgiris district, mostly from Paniya, Kattunaicken, Mullakurumba and Betakurumba tribes. AMS was officially formed on Dec 5th, 1988 at the end of a landmark rights march in Gudalur in which more than 10, 000 Adivasis participated. Since then, AMS has been at the forefront of all Adivasi issues and movements. Under AMS, more than a 1000 acres of lost Adivasi land has been reclaimed and redistributed and more than 50,000 saplings of tea have been grown and provided for planting.