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Badanavalu Satyagraha – A Report

Vijay Kundaji, Bangalore Notes


Badanavalu is 10 kilometers from Nanjangud along the road to Chamarajnagar in Mysuru (Mysore) District of Karnataka.  In 1927, a Khadi and Gramodyog Center was established here by Dalit women and Gandhian activists, which later grew to enlist many hundred workers, producing close to 50,000 lbs of handspun cotton yarn by 1938.  Hearing about this center, and on the persuasion of his ardent follower, Tagadur Ramachandra Rao, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi visited the center in the years around 1927 (there is some confusion in the sources about whether his first visit to Badanavalu was in 1927 or 1932) thereby putting it on the map of Gandhian pilgrimage and Gandhiana.

The now dilapidated Khadi and Gramodyog center, located on the other side of the tracks from the tiny Narasambudhi station, came back to life in the days leading up to April 19, 2015 for the “Badanavalu Satyagraha” when several hundreds of sustainable living (‘susthira baduku‘) activists, practitioners and enthusiasts converged here to share, hear from others and express solidarity with the growing legions of people, of all persuasions, who have concerns about the unsustainable path of ‘development’ that India (and indeed the world) is on.

The gathering included handloom weavers and their federations, craftspeople, farmers, farmers unions, biodiversity, climate and energy activists, food and health safety enthusiasts, artists, writers, students and a cross section of rural and urban individuals who are increasingly beginning to engage with alternatives to the resource intensive, environmentally and socially unsustainable ways of the world.

Although confluences of this kind run the risk of becoming just another ‘mela’, the Badanawalu meetings on Sunday, appeared to have achieved, at the minimum, the objective of once again calling out, informing and making a case for rethinking modern, consumerist life and ways and the importance of action through personal lifestyle re-orientation, choices and transformation.

The common ground among participants seemed to be that there are serious problems with the philosophy, motive, design, implementation and objectives of the ‘development’ bandwagon and a lack of space for critical evaluation of the whole ‘development’ project among policy & law makers, unquestioningly compliant urban beneficiaries and the aspiring rural population. As speaker after speaker highlighted the inequitous nature of development in India, their personal experiences of it, rampant and damaging forms of chemical agricultural practices – often misunderstood and poorly used in India, further magnifying their impact, the devastation of forests, water, the environment and livelihoods, the loss of biodiversity from crops to trees and fauna, the disenfranchisement of local knowledge, the breakdown of community and respect for ‘the local’ there seemed to be resonance in the diverse audience and, at least, a re-foregrounding of concerns that often get buried under the transactional, modern imperative to ‘get on with making a living’ … somehow and ‘at any cost’.

A 2013 book, “Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind” by Ajit Varki and Danny Brower tantalizingly proposes that a ‘moment arose’ (so to say) in human evolution where we were forced to develop the unique ability todeny reality in order to transcend the realization of our mortality.  Pregnant with possibilities and pitfalls, as that theory might be, the authors themselves call out both the great advantages and disadvantages to human evolution that this faculty of ‘denial’ brought us – for example, on the one hand, in fighting cancer where patients show remarkable resilience in holding out and surviving, against the odds – but also, on the other, in the seemingly blithe approach to something as existence-threatening as climate change.   We are tempted therefore to ask, or at least be open to asking, if our uncritical, unthinking acceptance of everything life threatening in the ‘development’ paradigm might not be an artifact of this faculty of ‘denial’.  Badanawalu certainly provided an occasion to ‘transcend our biology’, if we are to accept the Varki-Brower conjecture for a moment, in that respect.

Among the speakers were Dr. Khader, a physician/nutritionist who made a strident and down to earth call for better and more locally attuned food habits, the virtues of local, co-evolved food grains (the great millet diversity of the region including ragi, navane, harka, same, sajje/kambu, baragu, jola) the vast diversity and consumption of which has been progressively eroded through promotion of just a couple of varieties of hybrid rice and wheat.  He attacked the promotion of sugarcane cultivation in dryland areas such as the Mysuru plateau, that in turn feeds the alcohol industry, while impacting human health both through refined sugar and alcohol, and its devastating impact on water use.  Krishnappa Dasappa Gowda, a well known organic farmer from Bannur, showed off the results of his organic cane grown using the methods developed by Subhash Palekar, when compared with the hybrid, chemical and fertilizer fed cane grown by the majority of farmers in his area. The cane he held up, from his farm, was at least two and a half times thicker than the anaemic chemically grown variety.

Dr. Sanjeev Kulkarni asked the gathering to ponder the relationship between the destruction of forests and the earth and modern ‘education’, divorced as it is from work with the hands and other local and living considerations.  Gandhi’s nayi talim, he said, was centered on the idea that work (labor) was the only true method of education.  The virtues of labor for children is often confused by the discourse around child-labor, he pointed out, which must be seen for the very different thing it is – where labor of children is exploited for the profits and benefits of someone else. Another speaker who works with schools in Mysuru, asked the gathering to ponder the irony of how English has ended up emerging as the ‘anna bhashe‘ (language of food) in India when in reality the vast majority of children who end up growing our food for us have no knowledge of English whatsoever.  The destruction of the environment is being driven and caused by those in society who have received the most ‘prestigious’ and highest education, and such education, he suggested, is most antithetical to the idea of sustainable living.  We must, he proposed, ask where our ‘obsession with schooling’ is coming from and what underlying reality and assumptions it is based on.  On a practical note, he shared his efforts in introducing ‘repair’ as a subject in schools – to extend the usable life of material products and impede the culture of ‘use-and-throw’ of material ‘stuff’.

The message from Badanavalu, then, is that we need to slow down, pause, consider, then re-consider and understand the makings and structure of the modern, industrial economy and society, examine what it is doing to us and where it is taking us in terms of our social and physical environments and take specific, deliberate, careful actions in our lives and efforts to move towards living simpler, more equitable and more sustainable lives.

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