(This post is authored by Rohit Parakh who is Global Chapters Lead with Rang De and has been an active and pivotal part of the fight against poverty in India. He recently went for a field trip to one of Impact Partners organizations, Charkha. Here is his story.)
I was recently reading the book India of My Dreams by Mahatma Gandhi which is a collection of his writings and speeches and one of the key points he makes in the book is for India to truly develop its villages have to progress. And for its villages to progress, the poorest amongst the villagers need to be empowered to earn decent wages to help them move out of poverty. He also extensively spoke about production by masses rather than production for masses which could contribute to large-scale unemployment and poverty. It is a testimony how miserably we have failed to live his dreams of India, that after nearly 70 years of Independence we have a situation that in 75% of rural households (nearly 50 crore people), the main earning member of the family earns less than Rs 5,000 a month (i.e. less than Rs 170 a day).
Prasanna, who decided to drop out of IIT, to eventually truly embodied the ideals of Gandhi by starting Charkha (a co-operative in the molds of Amul) an organization through which he truly empowered the local women in Heggodu, an overnight bus journey from Bangalore where I joined the Bangalore Chapter of Rang De (a non-profit organization that provides peer-to-peer, micro-credit loans to fund small businesses and education), to a trip to this idyllic village. Although most of us didn’t know Kannada, Gautham turned to be our savior and translator whom we continuously harassed to translate our questions and the answers of the respondents as well. Before working with Charkha, the women in Heggodu would work as landless agricultural laborers or as domestic workers earning around Rs 2,000 – Rs 3,000 a month.
Shramajeevi Ashram in Shimoga
Our day started in the Charkha’s Shramajeevi Ashram in Shimoga which also serves as its training centrer as well with a beautiful morning prayer and rendition of Ram Dhun (Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram). The ashram itself is a Gandhian styled ashram that hosts weaving and dyeing units of Charkha and serves as training units for weavers across the country. The ashram aims to use minimal resources hence uses limited electricity. Although we stayed there only for a day, we couldn’t help but get immersed in the simplicity of the surroundings and I can still remember the distinct pleasure I feel on washing my utensils with wood ash instead of the chemical liquid I am used to. The ashram has also been built amidst lots of greenery and uses lots of water conservation techniques as well.
Then we did a tour of the entire ashram and understood how the entire dyeing, weaving and spinning of the yarn is performed meticulously. The nature of the precision required for the job made us wonder at the expertise levels the women involved must have developed. Also we spoke to a lot of women who were very happy that because of Charkha which now employs nearly 1,000 women they earn on average around Rs 6,000 – Rs 7,000 per month which puts their families in the top 25% of the rural earnings in India.
The women also told us that the community spirit of work, the skills they developed and the money they earned also helped build their confidence as well. The people working us told that because of the low-cost environment facilitated by handlooms and low operational costs Charkha could provide decent livelihood to the women.
Ghandi’s Dream In Action
It was also interesting to see handlooms in operation against powerlooms which are now threatening the existence of handlooms in the country and see another example of Gandhi’s dreams in action.
This also got us thinking, for the clothes that we buy manufactured in mills and the money we pay for those, of it how much money the artisan actually manufacturing the cloth might eventually be earning. We finished our day by buying handloom manufactured clothes in a DESI store (which sells Charkha manufactured clothes all over Karnataka connecting the rural artisans to the urban market) before boarding our train to Bangalore to call an end to a very eventful day.
With these thoughts and the seeds of an idea of India where everyone can have equitable living, and growth driven not only of economic capital in the form of GDP but of true human capital (as Dr R Balusubramaniam would say) we left for Bangalore. On the way back, I also felt very humbled to be a small part of the Rang De movement to fight poverty (initially starting as a social investor, later on as UK Chapter Lead before now becoming the Global Chapter Lead) and decided to make an effort to put even more greater effort in this fight against poverty.
Rang De supports Charkha (and a number of other wonderful organizations) by having provided them low interest-rate microcredit (at 3.5% p.a. flat!) to help meet the capital requirements of its production unit.
Rang De Habba (a new initiative by Rang De) is an online marketplace which further supports Charkha (and a growing number of organizations) by allowing individuals to buy apparels, handicrafts, etc online providing a higher return to the artisan manufacturing the product (than is done by other organizations) and also allowing the buyer to view the pricing split in a transparent manner as well.
Source: RangDe.org Blog