What We Do
Cotton to Cloth
Significance of Khadi: Historically Khadi has a special significance in Indian freedom struggle. A small roll of yarn has a great power not only in quashing a giant British power but also making last man- woman in the village self reliant- taking village towards real independence. Therefore, Khadi is still relevant and needed in village community.
Present-day significance: India is the no.1 cotton producer in the world and Vidarbha is no.1 cotton producing region in India. Clothing is a basic need of all human beings. Then, why the producer – cotton growing farmer is prone to suicides in spite of having so many ‘consumers’? The main cause behind this is centralized textile industry. Cotton growing farmer has an option of either agent or 5-6 yarn mills. There is a difference of maximum Rs. 150/- per quintal. So, basically mill owners decide price of cotton and 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 use cotton grown over 350 villages. Cloth made out of surplus goods and centralized mechanized method may appear to be cheaper in cost but in this case neither the mill cloth producer nor consumer is made to pay real cost, environmental cost of the production. Cotton growing farmers do not even get production cost , leave alone the fair price. Now, B.T. cotton has added more complexity in these issues- economically as well as ecologically. 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 in to cloth at the village level- so much income would be generated in the village, artisans would get work, villages would prosper as well as ‘cloth self sufficiency’ (vastra swavalaban) would be achieved. With this thought, Gopuri has a unit of minimal mechanized sliver plant, spinning class, weaving centre to convert cotton to cloth within a village.
Cotton to cloth Process
Sliver plant: It is backbone of desi cotton to cloth process. Precision in sliver making process reflects well in spinning and weaving of good quality cloth. Cotton is brought to sliver plant from Gopuri farm or from nearby farmers or from organizations associated with farmers. Gram Sewa Mandal gives preference to organic, non Bt, indigenous (desi) cotton. In regular sliver plants, cotton is brought in very small bundles by compressing it and then it is dried by blow dry in the plant. Thought this process makes the long distance transport easy, it consumes lot of electricity and creates more wastage of cotton. Thus here, cotton is brought in its original form and is put through carding machine and made into bundles. In combing machine cotton fibers are made to line up and twisted into slivers. Sliver plant machines in Gopuri are functioning since 1920. For last few years sliver plant was non functional because of lack of capital to do repairs and purchase raw material. Now, with lot of efforts of GSM activists (barefoot researchers) and investment sliver plant is been restarted and fully functional. At present, efforts are being made on war front to restart all these machines, to obtain spare parts for these machines from dysfunctional old mills. This sliver plant is old but it can make slivers out of short staple indigenous cotton, which modern sliver plants are unable to do. Therefore, it is essential to run this sliver plant to sustain indigenous cotton varieties. Desi cotton slivers are sold to khadi makers all over India.
Spinning Department : After making cotton into sliver, making it into delicate but tough yarn requires skill and hard work. Spinner women in sinning department work hard to make such delicate but tough yarn. Women from Nalwadi and nearby villages spin for eight hours on 8 spindle ‘Ambar charkha’ at Gopuri spinning department every day. Here, yarn of count 80 and count 100 is made. To make such thin but tough 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 this all is a skillful job. Observing the rhythmic movement of collectively spinning charkha and seeing formation of yarn is a meditative. Spinner women get collectively Rs. 7.50/- per bundle of yarn in the form of labor and rest indirectly as per ‘Artisans welfare scheme’, ‘scholarship scheme for children’.
Along with this, 58 charkhas are been used at homes in nearby villages. Spinning department gets yarn of count 25, 30, 40 and 50 from those charkhas. Women from a tribal hamlet from Waghzara village made collective demand of charkha unit. Many women’s self help groups demand charkha, especially in current lockdown condition. Around 100 women spinners are connected to GSM. Besides, few people from all over the country send yarn hand spun on peti-charkha and get weaved cloth in return. This is how they achieve ‘Vastr-swavalamban’ – self sufficiency in clothing.
Specialty of hand spun yarn is that, good quality tough yarn can be obtained from short staple indigenous cotton which is not possible to get on automatic machines. Moreover, electricity is not required in this process. This all make the yarn more eco-friendly and ‘green’.
Weaving department: Weaving section of Gram Sewa mandal is at Nalwadi village near Gopuri and in Kamathi near Nagpur. The centre supports 40 weaver families. Entire family joins in the process of dying yarn, drying it, making bobbins, setting warp threads, etc. Here, hand spun pure khadi yarns are used for both warp and filling thread 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 with artisans welfare schemes.
Trainings are also given to new aspirant weavers. Nalwadi 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: Gram Sewa Mandal has four selling centers in Wardha. Khadi cloth sold here is mostly made at Gram Sewa Mandal. Best quality and textured sarees, shirtings of variety of color shades can be brought at fair price. Readymade shirts, dresses, cut pieces, hand stitched bags,etc are also sold. Khadi cloth is also bought from various sister organizations from all over India in order to make more variety available to customers. But it is stringently checked whether those centers make 100% pure Khadi and artisans get fair returns. There is one ‘Gram Sewa Mandal’s Khadi Bhandar’ in Sevagram Ashram campus. Cloth is not only a basic need but is also is 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! In the current situation of lockdown, shops had to be closed for months. Some of our young activists have started efforts of online selling of GSM khadi. We are looking forward to develop website for the same.
Saranjaam- workshop for village industry
There are various machines needed to sustain cottage industry. Machines like various types of charkhas, takli, handlooms, oil press, silk looms, etc are made at workshop. Saranjam has research and development wing which works on betterment of such machines in order to make them more efficient and user friendly. Currently, many experienced activists and some newly joined qualified engineers work at Saranjam. Charkhas, looms made at Saranjam have travelled to different states like Arunachal Pradesh, Indore, Ladakh, Tamilnadu, Karnataka, etc. Many IIT students are connected with this department for their research with grassroot level engineering.
Desi Goshala and Organic Farming
Gram Sewa Mandal does farming on around 40 acres of land following organic farming principles; using pure, indigenous seeds; completely avoiding G.M. contaminated seeds; growing various types of crops for conserving food diversity. Returning some part of crop plant to the soil while taking produce out- this principle makes farming more sustainable. 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 taken. Cowdung and sanjeevak- a mixture of cow urine, jaggery and wheat flour is used as a fertilizer. Soil on these farms is very rich black and friable because of getting organic matter for several years.
Farming preparation starts in summer with contour marking in most of the farm plots to achieve water conservation. Many youngsters stay here for couple of years to learn organic farming under able guidance of Mr. Vasantbhau Futane. These young aspirant farmers are experimenting with running community kitchen by their farm produce.
Dairy of indigenous cows give accomplishment to organic farming. Gopuri has cattle stock about fifty cows, bulls and calfs all pure breed indigenous (desi). Cows are tied only while milking otherwise they are roaming around the open cattle shed or grazing yard freely. There are efforts to produces fodder sufficient for the whole year. Oil cake from the Gopuri’s oil press is fed. However, some cow feed needs to be brought 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. Cows are taken care like a family member. Calves are allowed to drink sufficient amount of milk first and then remaining is expressed for human consumption. Gopuri milk has more value than market price. But customer queue up to buy desi cow’s yellowish, thick, creamy milk!
Oil press center
Oil is a main ingredient of Indian diet. Oilseeds are produced in every village. But, the oilseeds are sold to big oil companies. A village is dependent on big oil mills or oil companies for its oil needs in spite of producing sufficient raw material by them. As a result, oil becomes expensive and still there is no assurance about purity of the oil. No one can give guarantee that oil sold in a market is 100% pure.
If oil is made at local level, it will reach each house at reasonable cost, 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 Gram Sewa Mandal runs ‘cold press oil center’. Oil seeds are brought from our farm as well as from neighborhood farmers. 100% pure oil is expressed on wooden oil press. On wooden oil press, cold press process takes place. In this process, since there is no rise in temperature, fatty acid bonds remain intact, effectively good fats remain intact. This oil has low boiling point. In metal oil press or in chemical oil extraction process even last drop on oil is extracted from the oil seeds. On wooden oil press, traces of oil remain in the oil cake which contains harmful fatty acids for human consumption. Those fatty acids are avoided in extracted edible oil.
Efforts are always made to keep oil prices lowest possible without making loss to the oil press center. About two and half kilogram groundnuts are needed to extract one liter of groundnut oil. One kilo oil cake is a byproduct which yields around 45 Rs. Seeds cost Rs.95 to 100 per kilo. With these calculations, about two hundred and five rupees are spent on oil seeds, processing cost is over it. Here, production cost is more than market price of ready oil. Even then, we continue to extract oil from 100% pure edible oil seeds and by giving fair price to farmers. Purity is our fundamental principle. One may find the oil little expensive than other others. But, considering purity and health benefits, it is worth the cost. Presently, we have groundnut, coconut, linseed, mustard, sesame and pure organic groundnut oil is available at reasonable price. The organization needs to buy oil seeds when they are cheapest in the market so as to provide oil at lowest possible price to the customers. Organization is trying to raise the capital for the collective purchase. In past few years about 15 entrepreneurs have trained in this oil press and have started their cold oilpress in their villages.
One of the center of Gram Sewa Mandal is at Pawanaar Ashram on the bank of Dham river. It is adjacent to the campus of Brahmavidya Mandir where Vinoba Bhave spent his last days. This hermitage was started for activists 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. Four old practitioners still stay here.
Gram Sewa Mandal runs ‘Parandham Publication Center’ in Pawanar 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 new form, translating Vinoba’s coherent literature in English which can guide the world even today.