Gram Sewa Mandal, Gopuri-Paunar 2016
Background and thought process of Gram Seva Mandal
6th May 1934, Vinoba Bhave and his path mates founded Gram Seva Mandal near Wardha city. Vinoba had a good vision of connecting struggles to constructive works in such a way that the principles for which we struggle become part of lifestyle. Gandhiji gave a call of ‘Let’s go towards village’, during the freedom struggle, to reach to the last person. As a result, many youngsters started working in the villages – with ‘Charkha’ as an effective weapon of peace. Vinoba connected several such diligent youngsters along with their families to raise ‘Gram Sewa Mandal’, with the objective of establishing a model village which is self sufficient in aspects of food and clothing; at the same time it would produce small machinery for cottage industries to bring about ‘gram swavalamban’ (village self sustenance) in nearby villages. This work started in Naalwadi village. Soon, the work increased and more families got associated. With the help of Jamnalal Bajaj and with the monetary aid raised by Gandhiji, more land was bought near Wardha- Nagpur road. Some simple but durable, eco-friendly houses were built for individuals and artisans families under the supervision of Radhakrishna Bajaj. Some small scale industries, goshala (byre), offices were built keeping in mind the objective of serving the village community. Gandhiji named this tiny village as ‘Gopuri’. The buildings standing here are best examples of vernacular architecture of its own kind. They are the historical heritage from our freedom struggle.
Even today the work on Agriculture, Cloth making and Oil extraction is carried keeping alive the basic notion and thoughts behind the place. Some changes are also happening considering the contemporary struggles and by connecting them to the constructive works. Various types of Charkhas and machinery needed for gramodyog (cottage industry) are assembled at ‘Saranjaam’ department. Parandham Publication is working as media to spread ideology of Khadi, Gram Swaraj (village self sustenance) and Vinoba’s thoughts and ideas. Some individuals are operational in the nearby villages keeping Gopuri as their base. They are visiting nearby villages and understanding issues faced by village communities at the same time discussing with them and connecting the villages with thoughts of gramodyog. In today’s globalized, centralized world, such small self-sufficient villages are challenging the giant ascendancy through their peaceful work.
Now, especially since the past one year, new fellows are dedicatedly working with GSM to advance its work. They are working day and night with determination and a voluntary attitude. Some experiments of community life, community kitchen and collective community economics are going on.
Cotton to cloth
India is the second largest cotton producer in the world. Clothing is a basic need of all human beings. Why then, are the producers – cotton growing farmers – committing suicide by the thousands, in spite of having so many ‘consumers’? The main cause behind this is the centralized textile industry. A cotton growing farmer has an option of either selling cotton to middleman or 5-6 yarn mills. There is a difference of maximum Rs. 200/- per quintal. So, basically mill owners decide price of cotton and the farmer has no option but to accept it. Mill owners purchase materials from cheaper sources - be it from the country or from abroad. One mill generally processes cotton grown in over 300 villages. Cloth made out of surplus goods and centralized mechanized mills may appear to be cheaper in cost but in this case neither the mill cloth producer nor consumer is made to pay real cost or environmental cost of the production. Cotton growing farmers do not even get production cost, leave alone the fair price. Now, Bt cotton has added more complexity in this. Artisans (weavers, spinner women) from the village get unemployed because of mills. Moreover, so many carbon miles are added in cotton to cloth to consumer journey.
Considering these complexities, if cotton is converted into cloth at local level village economy will increase, artisans would get work, villages would prosper as well as ‘cloth self sufficiency’ (vastra swavalamban) would be achieved. With this thought, Gopuri has a unit of minimal mechanized sliver plant, spinning section, weaving centre to convert cotton to cloth locally.
Cotton is brought to sliver plant from GSM’s own farms or from nearby farms giving preference to organic, indigenous cotton. We are trying to get more and more indigenous cotton. The sliver plant machines in Gopuri are functioning since 1920. For the last few years sliver plant was non-functional because of a lack of capital to purchase raw material. Now, with some efforts and investment, the sliver plant is being restarted. At present, efforts are being made on a war footing, to restart all these machines, even by trying to obtain spare parts for these machines from dysfunctional old mills. This sliver plant can make slivers out of short staple indigenous cotton. Therefore, it is essential to run this sliver plant to sustain indigenous cotton varieties.
GSM's pre-spinning unit is quite different. It uses unpressed lint instead of pressed bales to start with. This itself reduces quite a lot of energy consumption. Another thing is that it consumes locally produced cotton thereby reducing the ecological cost of cotton/lint transport.
If machines of this sliver plant can be made even smaller, such that a group of 10-12 farmers can together make slivers within the village, that would bring up more decentralisation and less dependency on larger mills. With this goal, smaller sliver plant machines had been designed years ago. Now, further research and development is being undertaken to reduce the size further and to aid decentralization.
After making cotton into sliver, making it into thin but tough yarn requires skill and hard work. Spinner women in spinning department work hard to make such thin but tough yarn. Women from Naalwadi and nearby villages spin on 8 spindle ‘Ambar charkha’ at Gopuri spinning department every day. Here, yarn from count 25 to count 100 is made. To make such yarn charkha needs to be rotated with a steady & fast speed at the same time making sure that yarn is not breaking, if yarn breaks it needs to be linked without losing speed. Coordinating all this is a skillful job.
Along with this, 58 charkhas are being used at homes in nearby villages. Spinning department gets yarn of count 25, 30, 40 and 50 from those charkhas. Besides, few people from all over the country send yarn, hand spun on peti-charkha and get woven cloth in return.
Speciality of hand spun yarn is that, good quality tough yarn can be obtained from short staple indigenous cotton. Moreover, electricity is not required in this process, which makes the yarn more eco-friendly.
Weaving department, Naalwadi
The Weaving section of GSM is at Naalwadi village near Gopuri. GSM originally was started here in 1934 and later shifted to Gopuri as the work expanded. Earlier, skilled weavers from Savli village near Satara were invited here. Most of them left because weather did not suit them, but they trained local weavers. Now these local weavers stay at Naalwadi weaver’s colony and work on wooden handlooms. Entire family joins in the process of starching yarn, drying it, making bobbins, setting warp threads, etc. Here, handspun pure khadi yarns are used for both warp & weft and 100% pure Khadi cloth is woven. The weavers are skilled to weave thick cloth of count 20 to delicate cloth of count 100. Weavers are also covered under artisans’ welfare schemes.
Training is conducted for new aspirant weavers. GSM is also associated with 20 weavers at Kamathi.
Naalwadi had cloth bleaching and dying unit. Now for past several years it is not functional. There are efforts going on to restart the unit and use eco-friendly dyes.
Khadi & Gramodyog selling centers
GSM has three selling centers in order to reach the hand crafted and eco-friendly cloth to more and more people. Gopuri has ‘vastragar’ where the main stock is stored. Khadi and gramodyog products are also sold here. Khadi cloth sold here is mostly made at GSM. Best quality and textured cloths of variety of colors and shades can be bought at a reasonable price over here. Ready-made shirts, dresses, cut pieces, hand stitched bags are also sold. Khadi cloth is also bought from various sister organisations from all over India, in order to make more variety available to customers. It is stringently checked whether those centers make 100% pure Khadi.
There are two selling centers in Wardha city. ‘Swarajya Bhandar’ is right in the heart of the market and ‘Khadi Bhandar’ is near the bus stand. GSM has its own ‘Khadi Bhandar’ in Sevagram Ashram campus and at its premises in Gopuri.
Cloth is not only a basic need but is also a statement of our lifestyle and principles we believe in. Purchasing a piece of pure Khadi cloth is promoting fair returns to weavers, spinners, farmers and also to the soil!
Agriculture and Dairy department
GSM does farming on around 40 acres of land following ecological and sustainable farming principles. Most of the seeds used here are indigenous seeds; completely avoiding Genetically Modified (GM) and growing various types of crops for conserving food diversity. Crops are planned to fulfill food requirements and also to produce raw material for cottage industry. Mainly, cotton, sorghum, wheat, groundnut, tuar, ambadi, mustard, vegetables, varieties of fodder grasses are grown. Cowdung and sanjeevak- a mixture of cow urine, jaggery and gram flour is used as a fertilizer. We save seeds for next cropping season and also for selling to other farmers at a reasonable price.
Farming preparations started here in GSM, in summer, with contour marking in most of the farm plots to achieve water conservation. Followed by minimum tilling to conserve the organic carbon in the soil and then dhoolperani (sowing in the dust) was done. Soil on these farms is rich black and friable because of the use of organic matter over several years.
Seeds being straight line, good quality produce for several generations can be assured. Seed Sovereignty is need of the hour. New-comer individuals are doing experiments with ‘seed conservation’ at GSM. Various special character seeds are collected from several places and are conserved here. They are trying to multiply those seeds thereby bringing in food diversity. Presently, various breeds of cotton are collected from all over India. Some special seeds are perennial cotton, brown cotton, etc.
A dairy farm of indigenous cows compliments the organic farming. Gopuri has a cattle stock of forty odd indigenous cows, bulls and calves. Cows are tied only while milking otherwise they are roaming around the open cattle shed or grazing yard freely. Gopuri farm produces fodder sufficient for the whole year. Oil cake from the Gopuri’s oil press is also fed to the cows. However, some cow feed needs to be bought from the market. Efforts are being made to become self sufficient in terms of cow feed by reducing purchase of this feed from the market, alternatively by growing right types of protein rich grasses in Gopuri farms itself. An important decision about cow feed was taken with the consent of Saaldaar and farm manager last month. Till now, cows were given cotton seed oil-cake, bought from the market. But market cotton seeds are majorly GM seeds. There is a risk that the GM component of the seeds may affect the cattle and the quality of the milk. Therefore we are exploring alternatives to avoid buying of cotton seed or cotton oil-cake from the market, bearing a risk of reduction in the quantity of milk for some time. It was decided that purity of milk was more important than quantity of milk. Cows are taken care like a family member. As a result, customer queue up to buy the yellowish, thick, creamy milk!
Oil press center (Tel Ghani)
Oil is a main ingredient of Indian diet. Though oilseeds are produced in villages, there is dependence on oil sold in the market. If oil is made at a local level, it will reach every household in an eco-friendly way and in pure form. Farmers would get back pure oil cake, of their own seeds for their cattle as added bonus. With this purpose, GSM runs ‘cold press oil center’ (tel ghani). Oil seeds are brought from GSM farm as well as from neighbourhood farmers. 100% pure oil is extracted using wooden oil press mechanism. These days dieticians realize and recommend the importance of oil extracted on wooden oil press. Here the oil is extracted in small quantity at local place using locally available seeds without any kind of mixing & heating, moreover it is slow speed process that allows the oil to drip for hours and all the hard particles get collected separately, what remains is pure oil. Thus making it healthy with no properties lost.
Presently, we have groundnut, coconut, linseed, mustard, sesame and pure organic groundnut oil. GSM needs to buy oil seeds when they are cheapest in the market so as to provide oil at lowest possible price to the customers. GSM is trying to raise the capital for the collective purchase. Customers are requested to make advanced payment for their annual oil needs. This amount will be used for oil seed purchase. Customers will be given receipt and oil passbook. By this customers will be assured of pure oil for the whole year.
One of the centers of GSM is at Paunar Ashram on the bank of the Dham river. It is adjacent to the campus of Brahmavidya Mandir where Vinoba Bhave spent his last days. This hermitage was started for individuals who wish to follow renunciation and work for the betterment of society. Several practitioners from all over the world stayed here. Some of them did experiments of ‘rishisheti’ - farming only with human muscle power- without bull or machines. Two old practitioners still stay here.
GSM runs its ‘publication center’ and ‘Parandham Publication Center’ in Paunar Ashram with the motive of spreading Vinoba’s thoughts though printed media. Several books written by Vinoba are printed here. Year 2020 is Vinoba’s 125th birth year. With this opportunity there is a proposal of reprinting Vinoba’s literature in a new form, translating Vinoba’s coherent literature into English, which can guide the world even today.
Big portion of the ashram is lying idle in the absence of practitioners for several years. No one could pay attention to the farm. A newly associated family has joined along with one saaldaar family from this year in order to keep the place alive, to keep the farming- dairy experiments running, and give company to those two old practitioners. Now, house repair is going on for these new members to stay. While this repair work is undergoing, many old precious books, and personal items of old practitioners are found.
Last month, ‘Palavi’ organization working with HIV affected children sent around 15 adolescent boys and girls for a month long experience in the ashram. They experienced a training of learning values through menial labor. Their day started with Morning Prayer, followed by cleaning the campus, cooking, working in the farm for the whole day and the day ended with the stories of Vinoba as narrated by old practitioners from the Ashram.
After reading this, we hope that this inspires you to visit Gopuri, share your skills & knowledge and/or if possible give monetary contribution so that it helps the artisans and individuals to continue their good work. One of the work is to bring awareness through ‘Cloth literacy’, ‘Food literacy’ and ‘Farming literacy’ among people. We hope that our genuine effort will be well received.
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Contact: Gram Sewa Mandal, Gopuri, Wardha – 442001
Phone: (07152) 244722, Email: email@example.com