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Throwing away the crutches - The Indian Express

Vivek Deshpande ()
17 December 1996

Title : Throwing away the crutches
Author : Vivek Deshpande
Publication : The Indian Express
Date : December 17, 1996

Nearly five decades ago, the noblest possible activity, small in magnitude
but containing seeds of an unprecedented revolution was undertaken by a man
who could have been dismissed by sceptics as an eccentric. At the end of a
long and tortuous journey, the results are apparent.

A lot has been said and volumes have been written about Baba Amte and
Anandwan. But if this indefatigable human effort is to he understood in its
proper perspective, a visit to the colony of leprosy patients and the
disabled at Warora in the tribal district of Chandrapur in Maharashtra is a

What started as a spirited exercise to emancipate the ostracised, has more
than outlived its original purpose. Today, Anandwan is a 2,500-strong
community throbbing with activities ranging from farming and gardening to
agro-forestry and from construction and textiles to handicrafts. The list of
the endeavours Anandwan undertakes is amazingly exhaustive.

The achievements have enabled the in mates to shake off the feeling of being
a 'burden' on society. What made Baba Amte's experiment succeed was his
realisation that economic independence was the key to emancipation. Ale
quest for self-reliance necessitated the development of a system that could
sustain itself. That Anandwan is more than a success on this count should
generate interest among those searching for sustainable development.

How did this apparently diffident lot of the 'disabled' chum out such a
miracle? Unlike the trial and error method we have been subject to as a
nation, those at Anandwan have a clear vision and a down-to-earth approach.
Mahatma Gandhi's idea of development with a human face forms the backbone of
Anandwan's economy. But the visionary in Amte did not stop at that. He
realised the inescapable need to strike a balance with modem techniques. The
integrated approach led to continuous diversification of production
activities, making Anandwan self-supporting in almost all basic needs except
salt, sugar and petrol.

The developmental parameters at Anandwan have always been rooted in Indian
realities. Not mindless consumerism but minimisation of needs, and not
profiteering but self-sufficiency take precedence. The element of mutuality
pervades the production activities. Jobs are mostly labour-intensive while
capital intensive projects are taken up only where they are necessary.
Agriculture, for instance, is the mainstay of Anandwan's economy with most
other activities being its offshoots.

Industry is the other pillar, but traditional craft doesn't play second
fiddle to mechanised production. It is, in fact, Anandwan's crowning glory.
The magnificent art works created by the disabled at Anandwan have to be seen
to be believed.

Added to his mature sense of purpose is a methodology free from ideological
shackles. It is pragmatic enough to not consider science as an anathema.
Scientific methods ore used to improve soil conditions and produce quality
seeds. Agroforestry, in particular, has benefited from the research done on
the premises. The advantage of indigenously prepared natural fertiliser has
led to a green revolution which even Norman Borlaug would envy. But nowhere
do scientific techniques vanquish the traditional craft. Powerloom and
handloom, tractors and bullocks. and the fabrication workshop and handicraft
unit function in perfect harmony.

A non-bureaucratic self-management is another attribute that distinguishes
Anandwan from the outside world. No degree-holders are required to run the
show. Technicians, most of whom are crippled, perform their roles with
perfection. Where else could one find a handicapped person driving a truck
and performing a tailoring-job with finesse with all his fingers gone?

The most outstanding feature of Anandwan's success story, however, is the
clever use of natural resources. Water management, for one, has been
Anandwan's forte. About nine small reservoirs have been built to collect
rain water. Even the waste water is used for irrigation. A network of wells
supplements the water facility.

Commitment towards protection of the environment runs deep at Anandwan.
Friendly co-habitation with nature and not its conquest is the philosophy
that governs their activities. Well-developed agro-forestry, beautiful
gardens, green fields and a rich horticulture bear testimony to this fact.
Two bio-gas plants fulfil the cooking gas needs of the entire community. In
case of a power failure, Anandwan has an alternative power generation
facility where firewood is used as a source.

Adopting the Egyptian style of architecture, Anandwan has developed its own
construction team which was invited to construct quake-resistant houses at
Killari, the town devastated by the Latur earthquake about two years ago.

Guided by this compact paradigm, the inmates of Anandwan produce miraculous
results. One must, however, acknowledge that without sound financial
management, this success would not have been possible. Government grants and
foreign donations, too, have played a major role. Yet according to a study
conducted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, a comparison between
foreign grants and Anandwan's own financial resources shows a surplus in the
latter's favour.

Thus even if outside help was not available, Anandwan would still be able to

After all, 'Charity destroys, work builds' is Baba's mantra for his

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