A cooperative culture inspired by Gandhi

Enterprising Women packing pickle and cleaning chillies at the food-processing unit in Hudli village, Belagavi district. DH PHOTOS BY CHETHAN KULKARNI

A historical village that witnessed freedom fights, revolutionised inter-caste marriages and became a hub of khadi movement during the pre-independence era, Hudli in Belagavi district has survived the test of time and is one of the few villages in India that have lived up to Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of the self-sufficient rural economy.

However, this village, which is now walking the path of sustainable existence, would not have achieved success to this level, if not for the combined efforts of elders and youngsters alike. While Mahatma Gandhi, alongside freedom fighter Gangadhar Deshpande, started the khadi campaign in the village in 1937, the village is now famous for its cooperative movement.

Self-reliance

It was in 1954 that Khadi and Gramodyog Sahakari Utpadana Sangha was started in the village with a share amount of Rs 500, with 11 members and two workers. From traditional spun to more urban designs, the products from this village travel across the country. While the handloom unit generated hundreds of jobs, the industry could not recruit more people and the need for a similar venture was felt.

Thus in 1970, a food processing unit was started by the cooperative society in the village, with an aim to empower women. “After my BSc, I joined as a technician in 1970 and we started manufacturing pickles, soaps, fruit squash and pulps, and juices. It was not just a profitable business, but an empowerment mission that generated jobs to many local women,” recalls Shiri Patil, the first technician who worked at this food processing unit. However, with not much marketing strategies, the industry saw its downfall and over the years, the number of employees reduced from 100 to less than 20.

“It was Gandhi’s dream to promote khadi. We have faced a lot of challenges, yet, we did not give up. Instead, we evolved with time and made our products more suitable to the customer’s choice,” says Virupakshappa Balakundi, secretary of Khadi and Gramodyog Sahakari Utpadana Sangha.

Meanwhile, the Gandhian vision of rural development by creating employment was uplifted by a young business analyst Amit Vadavi alongside his colleagues Pronoy Roy and Adarsh Muthana. Amit’s family has its roots in this village. “My great-grandfather, Ramachandra Vadavi, had met Gandhi at Sabarmati Ashram and their ties continued when Gandhi visited Hudli village and convinced my grandfather to join the khadi movement,” narrates Amit adding, “It was in 2016, during my visit to Belagavi, that my granddad narrated this story while eating pickle.”

The revival

Amit and his two colleagues took a sabbatical from work and invested time in creating demand for pickles prepared by Hudli women. With promotional videos, user-friendly website and noteworthy marketing strategies, the pickles from Hudli became an international sensation and the story reached the United Nations.

“Over 60,000 people in Bengaluru became customers of Hudli pickle in a few months,” Amit says. On deciding the brand name for the product, he says, “ We wanted a brand name in line with Lal Bahadur Shastri’s slogan, ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’; since ‘kisan’ is already popular as a brand name, we chose ‘jawan’ as the label for the pickle from Hudli.” The revival process of the food processing unit was made sustainable by the
efforts put in by these youngsters and Virupakshappa says, “The products from Hudli reached new heights with the help of these youngsters, who took a sabbatical to generate employment for rural women.”

The team of youngsters believes that sustainability of cottage industries is required to generate financial stability in rural areas. “Our main aim was to stop people from migrating to cities looking for jobs. Agriculture is not sustainable, especially in these times of extreme weather events. So, we had to look for a way of employment generation. Our main focus was to popularise the brand, as more demand for the pickle meant more jobs. After working with them for a year, now we are back to our routine. But we are in constant touch with the villagers and are looking at increasing the production,” they say.

The society is now chaired by nonagenarian Gangappa Muddappa Malagi. He, to date, visits the firm and observes the ongoing. “He joined the freedom movement when he was 15 years old and he continues to promote the Gandhian vision to the present day. He has been elected as the chairman of the cooperative firm consistently for the past 25 years,” explains Shivanna Chennagowda Patil, grandson of Muddappa.

Jaanavva (70) has been working at the food processing unit for the past four decades and continues to prepare pickles and earn her own living. “I used to cut 5 kg of mangoes for 30 paise in those days. I used to also spin khadi for 25 paise and worked till 12 in the midnight. I am physically fit to work here and happy to earn an income at this age. Also, the cooperative society is providing women with all the required facilities and I am happy to be a part of this effort.”

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