Posted by: pgprm08 | December 4, 2009

Review of the book “Bapu Kuti ”—by Rajni Bakshi –by LG4

Bapu Kuti is subtitled “Journeys in Rediscovery of Gandhi”. Bapu Kuti is the hut in Sewagram Ashram in central India that was Gandhiji’s home during a significant portion of the latter part of his life. In the 50-odd years since Independence, the Ashram and the Kuti have become a focal point for efforts towards alternate directions of development. The author therefore uses the Kuti as a central thread around which she weaves several stories of efforts by people to evolve and implement meaningful visions of society.
Below are notes of the stories that are covered in the book:
The work of Aruna Roy, Nikhil and several others in Rajasthan culminating in the nationally known MKSS (Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghathan), and the Right to Information movements which recently bore rich fruit in the national Right To Information law.
The journey of Professor T. Karunakaran. He did a brilliant Ph.D. in Systems Engineering from the Delhi IIT but moved into rural technologies and models of rural sustainable development. He is interested in alternate models to the ‘economies of scale’ systems which he believes to have inherent social and economic costs. He evolved a ‘networking’ model of rural industrial activity which would foster a village-centred economy that is sustainable and eco-friendly.
Ravindra Sharma grew up in Adilabad town of Andhra Pradesh. He was fascinated by the traditions of small town and rural India. Things like the ‘budubudukalodu’ and ‘gosamolu’ and the Haridas. The Kolatam dance and the street dramas of scenes from the epics and old texts. Religious processions from the nearby maths. Traditional artisans like the handloom weavers, the Nakashi artisans carving and painting wood.
As the winds of change blew bewilderingly swift through towns like Adilabad all the local traditions and crafts vanished at an alarming rate. Ravindra Sharma has spent all his life grappling with these changes and what he should do in the face of this attack on all these things that he loved. He has organized his efforts around a Kala Ashram that he founded, that is dedicated to preserving the traditional arts and crafts.
The Ganga Mukti Andolan works in and around the town of Bhagalpur in Bihar. It works on issues related to the emancipation of the fishermen who are oppressed by an age-old zamindaari system. At the same time it is also concerned with the well-being of the Mother Ganga herself.
Dr. C.V. Seshadri came from a distinguished family of South India and studied chemical engineering in Bombay and the US. Despite further research at distinguished institutions in India and abroad his interests moved away from pure research and invention to deeper questions of the philosophy of science. For example he argued that the law of thermodynamics is enunciated in a way that betrays a deep cultural bias and encourages a certain way of looking at the world. He was scathingly critical about Indian science for being a ‘good passive reciever’ of all things western and commented “I could say no one except Indian scientists believe that science is value-free”. He felt the profound failure of this kind of science and technology in solving India’s problems.
Murlidhar Devdas Amte (later known as Baba Amte) grew up a rich man but he was sensitive enough to see the unfairness of the privilege he enjoyed. He renounced his wealth and started afresh. He took part in various peoples’ organizations and even worked as a scavenger for 9 months. Then a traumatic encounter with a dreadfully suffering man infected with leprosy led him to his major life work, the setting up of Anandwan, a community for the leprosy-infected. Another major effort that Baba Amte was part of was the struggle against the building of large dams on the River Narmada, spearheaded by the Narmada Bachao Andolan.
One of Dastakar Andhra’s original steps was to help six weavers in the small town of Chinnur in AP to form the Chinnur Cheynetha Kala Sangam. Through this sangam they worked with the weavers to develop their skills and their trade into a stable sustaining livelihood. The initiatives evolved into attempting to understand the evolution of the cotton textile industry in India and the ways it moved towards centralized mass-production thereby spelling doom for the decentralized spinning and weaving industry of village craftsmen. How to reverse this and bring back the vibrant village textile industries ?
Alternate economics as exemplified by Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful” have nowadays reached a certain level of acceptability. In recent India these lines of thought can be traced back to Gandhi and his economist disciple

Joseph Cornelius Kumarappa.

Though the vision was comprehensively rejected by government and mainstream India, the threads were carried forward by individual believers like Vinoo Kaley. They felt the primacy of village industries and Kaley in particular focused on the economy around bamboo. Other areas of work were smokeless stoves, organic pesticides and low-cost housing. A peak moment was when Kaley and his associates were able to fulfil a long-standing stream dream of bringing together 250 artisans from 20 states of India. The NBA’s struggle against the Narmada dams was also based on strong ideological underpinnings that questioned conventional models of development. Another strand of this thinking was in the work of several people at the Timbaktu Collective in Anantapur district of AP.
This is a lovingly written and absorbing book. It is an important documentation of several lesser-known efforts.

In this chapter Rajni articulates that even though kumarappa’s vision was comprehensively rejected by the government and mainstream India, various individual believers have carried forward the thread of kumarappa’s legacy. Author talks about a young enthusiastic man, Vinoo Kaley who tried to make a difference in the lives of rural poor artisans. Vinoo graduated as an architect from Mumbai, he very soon realized that his education did not pay any attention to the housing needs of millions of poor. He learned that artisans since they are paid very low, have started losing confidence as well as respect towards the traditional craft sector. In an attempt to combine his skills with the traditional skills of villagers, Vinoo formed a group called “Academy of Young Scientists” with some likeminded people, primary motive of this academy being solving a variety of problems faced by poor artisans.

Subsequently, Vinoo understood Gandhi’s and Kumarappa ideas so as to why they considered village industries so critical. Bamboo became the main focus of Vinoo’s work as he grew up with a large community of bamboo workers and was aware of the problems faced by them since his childhood. During the ninetheenth century bamboo was considered as a forest weed, majority of bamboo forests were leased to paper mills at absurdly low rates. Thus, bamboo products were grossly undervalued which displaced many bamboo craftsman from their traditional livelihood. In this respect , Vinoo started lobbying at different levels for policy changes. He argued that apart from the huge dividends that bamboo products can give to the country, also large regeneration of bamboo forests would help in solving problems of deforestation and employment generation.

Along with some professional, Vinoo formed an informal group called Aroop Nirman, to work on bamboo related issues. Vinoo himself learned bamboo craftsmanship to see if his ideas can replace steel, plastic and other manmade products with bamboo products and he was fairly successful. But the challenge that still remains as pointed by Rajni is that of scarcity of bamboo and will it be able to compete with the plastic and other synthetic substances in the market. one of the major achievements of Vinoo was that through Center of science for villages and Aroop Nirman, he fulfilled a long standing dream of bringing together 250 artisans from 20 different states of India.


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