Chronicle of a long walk by Lalitha Shankar
At one time, the village of Badanwalu was a place where true holistic economies came together – the crafts people, farmers and the land all came together through a well-structured system of natural biodiversity to create a truly sustainable community. During the 1930s this community was a model in Southern India not only as a crafting culture but also as an environmental model. It is a place where Gandhi visited in the 1930s to see firsthand these systems at work.
Since those times – Badanwalu also housed an important Khadi Center for handloom weaving that has now since gone. There is a new movement to try to restore Badanwalu to what it once was and to bring awareness to the people who live there about its rich history, the potential of the biodiversity of the land and to consider new opportunities to restore a robust economy there through this awareness.
In April 2015, the Badanawalu movement was launched by theatre personality, Prasanna, to draw attention to the dichotomy in the existing development paradigm, in which the gap between the rural and urban economies have widened, with the latter growing at the cost of the former. The focus of this Satyagrah (a passive resistance movement) around Badanawalu is also to promote sustainable living and development. Badanavalu was identified as the culminating point for the satyagraha as it epitomizes the negative impact of the present economic paradigm. For, it was once a thriving centre spinning cotton for Khadi but is now a decrepit village steeped in social and economic decline. The Badanawalu movement is an integral part of the larger struggle to protect the livelihood, food, farms and forests, and hence all organizations and movements working on sustainable living have been invited to join the Badanavalu Satyagraha.
The participants in the satyagraha included students, NGOs working on alternative development paradigms, litterateurs, and artistes promoting sustainable living
In India there is a long history of padayatras – long walks from village to village to bring awareness to social and land needs and issues. Great souls like Gandhi and Vinobha Bhave and others took many long walks for this purpose. As a part of the Badanawalu movement, different routes of padayatras were organized that culminated in the village of Badanwalu.
I was part of a 6-day padayatra from Heggada Devana Kote (H.D Kote) to Badanwalu that was a 105 km walk through the villages along the river Kabini on the eastern slopes of the Western Ghats and on to the plains of Nanjangud district. This padayatra was to make the villagers aware of their bio rich environment of the Western Ghats that is slowly depleting due to deforestation and unhealthy bad practices in farming.
As Urban people, we really do not know the trials and tribulations of a farmer who grows the food that we eat everyday. This padayatra was an eye opener for me. I noticed food crops, mainly paddy and millets, being increasingly replaced by ginger.
Ginger cultivation in Karnataka, mainly done by migrant farmers from Kerala, is increasingly being grown in the Western Ghats districts of Uttara Kannada, Dakshina Kannada, Hassan, Shimoga, Chikkamagaluru, Udupi, Kodagu and Mysore, comprising the Malenadu region.
And it is not only the migrant farmers who are cultivating ginger. Native farmers, too, are turning to the cash crop due to its high market price. What the farmers are ignoring is the harmful effect of ginger cultivation on the environment. Ginger is prone to rhizome rot viral disease. Since farmers do not want to risk crop failure, they use large quantities of chemicals—pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and fertilizers—to prevent crop diseases and increase yield. Although a plot of land is leased for three to five years, farmers cultivate their crop for only a year and then move to newer pastures, leaving behind an infertile plot of land with depleted ground water and laced with pesticides. Such shifting cultivation is leading to large-scale environmental degradation in the Western Ghats, a biodiversity hotspot and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Another issue that this community is facing as a result of chemical based farming is the large amount of birth defects occurring in children. Sadly the local villagers are not well enough informed about the dangers of chemical based farming on the lives of their children and families, another reason for a return to healthier more natural farming practices.
Many of the fields I passed during the walk were growing BT Cotton – a genetically modified product from Monsanto that is perversely being used as “natural” cotton in many of the handloom communities. Our own weaving societies we are working with, in Gajendragad use BT Cotton because of the way it can take chemical dyes. This showed us a further need to help these weaving communities create a more sustainable and healthier practice in their processes. For the Social Weavers project we brought organically grown cotton and teaching the master dyers from each weaving community how to use natural plants to create color for our cotton yearns. One hopes that District agriculture centres and agriculture universities and institutes would help farmers shift from chemical-intensive farming to organic ginger farming as well as organic cotton framing to create healthier products for our consumption. Though the problems of the farmers are very layered and there is no instant single solution to this problem, as a visual artist, I felt the need to become more aware myself of such existing problems to the urban through my art practice.
This thinking holistically about the land, what it produces for us and how we take care of it are all part of how we create sustainable living in our own communities. Our Social Weavers project is an attempt to bring awareness to the land as a part of the healthy economy. In our natural dye workshop, we wanted to show the weavers and dyers we are working with, on how they can move away from harmful chemical dying practices to natural dying – using locally sourced flowers, trees and other plant matter to create brilliant colors that will last for a long time on the cloth they weave, and would not pollute the land and water where they live and work. Also, the waste from the dyes could become part of the natural return to the land where it came from. Having the opportunity to participate in the Badanwalu Padayatra, as part of our larger Social Weavers research, brought a deeper understanding of the whole relationship we wanted to understand between what the land gives us to use for our creative processes, and how, what we wear on our bodies against our skin, coming from a true source of the land, can help to be healthier – like a shell of protection against the many things in our environments that create unhealthy ways of living in our lives.
To see more images of the Badanwalu Padayatra see our flickr album.