Seeds of change have just been sown in Badanawal village in Karnataka’s Mysuru district, once home to a thriving khadi industry and weaving community. During the time of the Wodeyars, Mysuru’s royal dynasty, Badanawal was the weaving and khadi hub. Over the years, it lost out to growing industrialisation in cities and the demand for urban goods instead of handlooms from villages. Theatre personality and the moving spirit behind the Badanawal Satyagraha in April, Prasanna, has been working to restore the village’s illustriousness and to draw attention to the weavers’ plight.
Prasanna spends 18 days each month in the village, working towards drawing attention to the quandary of the weavers.
Around the time of Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to Badanawal in 1932, the khadi centre was started by a few Dalit women and the village industries provided employment to about 300 local women.
Last year, Prasanna—who is in his mid-6os—fasted to draw attention to the plight of weavers in Gajendragad in Karnataka’s Gadag district. The movement led to the Badanawal Satyagraha, which attracted youth. Meetings are on to consider whether they can go to different villages, interact with the people there, learn of their problems and provide them lifestyle training to stop them from migrating. The satyagraha also drew Bollywood actor Irfaan Khan and social activist Medha Patkar.
During the Emergency from 1975-77, Prasanna set up theatre group Samudaya that performed street plays. More recently, he established Charaka, a women’s multi-purpose industrial cooperative society headquartered in Bheemanakone, a village in Sagar district. Charaka produces naturally dyed cotton handloom garments. Desi, his other venture based in Bengaluru, markets the garments and other handloom products.
“People in the city are consumers, so they might as well consume what has been produced in villages, and villagers need to be empowered with enlightenment and entrepreneurship or employment that can come from the cities,” he says.
One milestone in the thespians life led to another, thanks to his rebellious streak. He dropped out from a PhD at IIT-Kanpur to pursue theatre. After graduating in the 1970s from Delhi’s National School of Drama, he worked in the national capital with a TV channel for a couple of years.
“I moved to Heggodu (a village in Karnataka’s Sagar Taluk) as I felt that there was no point doing theatre in Delhi,” he says. Heggodu is known for Ninasam, a theatre school established in the late 1940s by director K V Subbanna.
Once he was in Heggodu village, Prasanna “felt I shouldn’t just do theatre, I should do something for the village as well”. He says that Charaka and Desi are a series of experiments “whose success and failures you can’t predict. And when you fail, the important thing is to pick yourself up and continue”.
The writer-director confides that sometimes he feels isolated. “I feel people don’t understand me, they think that my views are extreme,” he says.
The shift from consuming “factory-based products” to village industry-based ones by city folks has to be a self-motivated one, says Prasanna, who doesn’t even own a cellphone in this digital age. He shuttles between Heggodu and Bengaluru when not in Badanawal. He wants to make the Badanawal villagers “self-reliant, able to manage the cooperative themselves”.
● Prasanna spends 18 days each month in Bandanawal village, working towards drawing attention to the quandary of its weavers
● He also started Charaka, a women’s cooperative society that produces naturally dyed cotton handloom garments. Desi, his other venture, markets the garments and other handloom products.
● He wants to make the Bandanawal weavers self-reliant, able to manage the cooperative