In an age when the e-commerce giants bombard us with advertisements, there lives a man heading a weaver’s cooperative, who can be seen sporting the same 2–3 pairs of kurtas every week.
He does not carry a phone and shuttles between the ashram and the factory where they produce the kurtas you see in the above picture.
In 2014, KV Prasanna, a playwright and activist and the founder of Charaka (a Rang De field partner), even held a five-day fast to raise awareness of the declining state of the handloom industry as he believed that “it has become a habit for every politician to talk about handloom and khadi, but they don’t put in efforts to revive the sector”.
With the second National Handloom Day having just passed us by, the focus is slowly returning to a sector that employs the most people in rural areas after agriculture. Handloom, though, constitutes only 11.5% of the textile production in the country.
Charaka is a shining light in the village of Heggodu near Sagar in Karnataka and has ensured employment for women weavers, keeping the tradition of handloom alive for over 20 years.
A firm believer in Gandhism, Prasanna leads the morning prayer at the cooperative and instils values of self-sufficiency and pride in rural living.
“Why do you need to buy so many clothes? One should only buy what they need,” Prasanna had once said to a Rang De team member on a visit.
While not a statement one would expect from the head of a clothing cooperative, it is part of the playwright’s belief that ‘want begets want’ and this materialist drive can be dangerous to the social fabric of rural communities, dazed as they are by the inexorable march towards wealth generation in the cities which has led to rapid migration depopulating rural areas and depriving them of much of their culture.
A 20-year struggle to ensure decent livelihoods for women
It was not always easy for the women in Heggodu to earn a decent living. In the past, women in the villages used to work as bonded labourers walking 10kms to de-shell areca nuts.
“There was just one tailor in all of Heggodu in 1994,” General Manager Bhagirithi told me when I visited Charaka in May.
“Through Charaka, women began to get interested in tailoring and began to think, ‘I can also do this type of work’ and received the courage.
“Now there is a tailoring machine in everyone’s house. There are 10–15 tailors within Heggodu itself.”
But Charaka is more than just a weaving cooperative. It advocates a way of life.
Handloom weaving is done in many other places in the state but the workers at Charaka are taught to cater to customer demand and also hone their skills over the years.
Rural professions rarely have career growth we accept for granted in cities so many endure their whole lives with little income growth.
“We make our clothes with natural materials, learning the preferences of people. In other cooperatives, the owners would earn a lot but the workers earn very little,” stated Bhagirithi.
“But they would not know what they are making, why and for whom. All they get is a wage and some work.”
The beds are simple at Charaka and there is strict adherence to the work timings. Everyone files as one at 9am and leaves happily at 6pm with breaks for tea as the men play cricket and the women chat about their families in the village.
Women who cannot work because of elderly parents do their work at home while mothers even have a nursery where their little children can be attended to as they work.
If we are truly leading many lives as the tenets of Hinduism dictate, then this definitely feels like a place where a certain kind of contentment can be achieved.
Prasanna and the leaders of the cooperative do not intend it to be a legacy centered around their presence either.
“People in the city are consumers so they might as well consume what has been produced in villages and villagers need to be empowered with enlightenment and entrepreneurship or employment that can come from the cities,” Prasanna told the New Indian Express.
“[The villagers must become] self-reliant, able to manage the cooperative themselves.”
Charaka is a perfect example of the social investment that we are proud to promote. Not only does this organisation engineer income growth and generate employment, they have also changed the way of thinking and the approach towards life for hundreds of individuals in Heggodu.
A social investment that even the father of the nation would have wholeheartedly approved.
Having repaid six working capital loans, Charaka is partnering with Rang De one more time this month. Do support this wholly Gandhian institution and purchase their products at outlets in Bangalore.