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Cherished by Gandhi-ji, the future of this Khadi village hangs in the balance. Can it still weave magic for Rahul?

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Non-age Rangappa had a wide grin all day after spending time with Rahul Gandhi and several congressional leaders who visited the Badanavalu Khadi Gram Udyog center in Nanjangud in Karnataka on Oct. 2.

Badanavalu, a quaint village where Mahatma Gandhi inspired men and women to weave Khadi, has a spinning mill founded in 1927 by Tagadur Ramachandra Rao, an avid follower of the Mahatma.

Located on a nine-acre campus with spinning wheels and units for weaving, papermaking, bleaching and handloom, the Khadi center played host to the convention that spent half a day camping on the grounds as part of the Bharat Jodo Yatra. The center also owes its glorious past to the fact that it was the first initiative started with four Dalit women with the aim of improving the economic condition of the community.

Rangappa vividly recalls how Mahatama Gandhi used the spinning wheel when he visited the center twice – once in 1927 and then in 1932. “I was so tall when I first met Mahatma Gandhi,” he tells News18, pointing to his five year old great granddaughter standing by his side. He describes how he saw Mahatma Gandhi use the spinning wheel and when the latter sensed his curiosity, he offered the then young Rangappa a ball of cotton.

Rangappa (right), who retired as the Khadi Center's manager and also took part in the freedom struggle, vividly recalls Mahatama Gandhi using the spinning wheel when he visited the center.  (News18)
Rangappa (right), who retired as the Khadi Center’s manager and also took part in the freedom struggle, vividly recalls Mahatama Gandhi using the spinning wheel when he visited the center. (News18)

“He showed me how to spin it. Tagadur was there too and he encouraged me to learn weaving and spinning. It was fascinating and I immediately started spinning and weaving. Gandhi loved our people and when he came, the crowd so big that we could hardly meet him. But he spent a lot of time with us in the village. Our village was very prosperous then,” said Rangappa, who retired as the Khadi center’s leadership and also participated in the freedom struggle.

Moving on to the present, Rangappa and his family – including 10 children and 30 grandchildren – had a brief interaction with Rahul Gandhi. When asked what he thought of the meeting, Rangappa smiled and said slowly, “I can only speak Kannada. They told me he wanted to know more about me. I was happy to sit next to him. He has a very warm smile and is very nice.” The non-year-old then continued to pose for photos with senior leader Siddaramaiah, whom he is very fond of, his family said.

Rahul Gandhi paid tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 153rd birthday at the Khadi center, where he also interacted with the weavers and their families and participated in a ‘bhajan’ session.

Since Badanavalu is a village that set the tone for Dalit’s upliftment, as part of that history Rahul Gandhi also laid interlocking tiles of an avenue connecting the settlements of Lingayats and Dalits. This had special significance as Badanavalu witnessed caste violence in 1993 in which three lower caste peasants were murdered by a group of upper castes. Amid protests, two others were killed in a police fire.

Rahul Gandhi paid tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 153rd birthday at the Khadi center, where he also interacted with the weavers and their families and participated in a 'bhajan' session.  (News18)
Rahul Gandhi paid tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 153rd birthday at the Khadi center, where he also interacted with the weavers and their families and participated in a ‘bhajan’ session. (News18)

While the lore of the village has Mahatma Gandhi as its epicenter, at the heart of Badanavalu is the contribution of Tagadur Ramachandra Rao who insisted that the Mahatma visit his village in 1927.

Ramachandra Rao is fondly referred to as the ‘Gandhi of Mysore’ by his followers who hailed from Tagadur, a village adjacent to Badanavalu. He took an active part in the freedom struggle and started selling pictures of the massacre in Jallianwala Bagh at the age of 18 to earn a living.

As his small business prospered, the Swadeshi movement gained ground across the country. Rao, who was inspired by high-ranking congressional leaders such as Mudividu Krishna Rao, heard how foreign goods were being burned as a sign of protest. Since his products were also of foreign origin, he immediately set fire to his cart and joined the Swadeshi movement.

Rao’s work to uplift the Dalits and campaigns against untouchability was praised by Mahatma Gandhi and Madan Mohan Malviya. Rao was arrested in 1928 when he made a speech against the state of Mysore and opposed the visit of the Simon Commission. He became the first political prisoner in Mysore state and spent 15 days in prison.

Speaking of Badanavalu’s legacy, senior congressional leader BL Shankar explains that Tagadur forced Rao Gandhi-ji to come to the village.

“When he (Rao) brought him here, Gandhi-ji was surprised how Dalits who were considered untouchables weave and spin charkha to earn a living. At one point there were more than 600 weavers in this village and it was thriving,” he said.

Shankar added: “When mechanization started and electric looms came on the market, these hand looms gradually disappeared. We brought Rahul Gandhi here today to show the beauty of Badanavalu, the village that impressed Gandhi-ji. This visit also showed how important it is to revitalize our village economy.”

Shailaja, the third generation weaver, who spent a few minutes with Rahul Gandhi during his visit, said she continues to work at the Khadi center because she is inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and wants to keep his memory and tradition of Khadi alive.

“We have great respect and worship for Gandhi-ji. Even though we get a meager salary and could have found work elsewhere, we are still here in the Khadi center because we want to keep alive the tradition of Khadi – the same Khadi that Gandhi-ji gave to the country and uses to self-dependent,” she told News18.

Shailaja's daughter Harshita, 9-year-old weaver, tries to spin her hand.  (News18)
Shailaja’s daughter Harshita, 9-year-old weaver, tries to spin her hand. (News18)

When asked what Rahul Gandhi had to say to her, she said he asked about her job and their problems. “Our problem is our salary. For one meter we get Rs 25 and daily we weave only six to seven meters. How can we run our family with it? We need an increase in our salaries and we have sent a letter to Rahul Gandhi asking for help,” Shailaja said.

Shailaja’s daughter, nine-year-old Harshita, quickly sat down by a charkha and tried to spin her. Though her mother chided her for wasting wire, the little one persisted. “I also want to spin and weave like you. You like Gandhi-ji, I like him,’ she said before finally heeding her mother’s advice.

In 2015, the ‘Badanavalu Satyagraha’ movement was launched by theater personality and activist Prasanna, who envisioned sustainable development while maintaining harmony with the environment. The Satyagraha attracted the likes of Medha Patkar and now deceased Bollywood actor Irrfan Khan to be a part of the revival story. The demise of Badanavalu and the disappearing Khadi industry prompted Prasanna to set up a house in the village and with the help of a few volunteers, he started to revive the center and raise awareness about this quaint town that impresses the Mahatma. made.

Suggestions have been made to develop Badanavalu along the lines of the Sabarmati Ashram and the weavers of this village hope to see a better future as the future of the spinning mill hangs by a thread.​

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