Eleventh Hour for India’s Rivers

A Report of “Save the Rivers Campaign”

A Tribute to Scientist Saint G D Agarwal

G D Agarwal

Gram Seva Sangh organised a ‘save rivers campaign’ on the 1st of December at Gandhi Bhavan, as a tribute to G. D. Agarwal, the environmental engineer, professor and activist who had sacrificed his life for Ma Ganga. The river Ganges is not just a flowing water body but also a source of spiritual trust for millions of Indians who, ironically, are themselves responsible for the river’s exploitation.

Prayer : Ragupathi Ragava Rajaram from Rjalakshmi and Student Volunteers
Inauguration : 1st Dec 2018 | Kastuba Hall, Gandhi Bhavana, Bengaluru

Prasanna, the well-known playwright and director was the moderator of the event. He welcomed the guests and presented his thoughts on how our culture and tradition are intertwined with the life of rivers and how reviving one would lead to the rescue of the other. He pointed out that Karnataka was on the verge of desertification after Rajasthan.

Prasanna, Theatre Person and Activist

Sri Panditaradhya Shivacharya Swamiji described how minimalism and a simple life are the solutions to our current problem of deterioration of natural resources. Our resources that were once revered are now looked at through the lens of exploitation, the root cause of our societal problems. Spirituality and science are meant to be integrated, science is not a standalone show and was never supposed to be.

Sri Panditharadhya Shivacharya Swamiji

VishwanathSrikantaiah, water activist and columnist for The Hindu, dubbed as “Zenrainman” threw light on the rivers being the final points for every human activity. Till 1947 India had 370 dams but today, we have more than 6000 dams. He raised three important issues – “Can the dam building spree be reversed? Can we reverse the process of taking water for irrigation for water-guzzling crops like paddy and sugarcane? India is a predominantly ground water dependent civilization.” He beautifully narrated the language of a well which speaks to us as an ecological source about the approaching season and the water availability under the ground.

Talk by Zenrainman Vishwanath Shrikantaiah, Water Expert and Conservationist

Basavaraj Patil, a representative of the Rashtriya Swabhiman Aandolana from Delhi emotionally recalled his efforts to save Ganga working shoulder to shoulder with G. D. Agarwal. He emphasised on how it is our responsibility to carry forward his legacy and how his sacrifice should not go to waste but should be honoured by every Indian.

Talk by Basavaraj Patil, National Convener, Rashtriya Swabhiman Andolana

Professor M V Rajeev Gowda, the chairman of the INC R&D dept, conveyed his helplessness about how everybody wants Cauvery water but no one works the other way round to harvest the same water. He said, ”We have polluted water to the extent that we’re infamous for having lakes which catch fire.” He felt that engagement in the issue is what we need and he promised to do whatever he can in his power to reverse the negative developments.

Prof. M. V. Rajeev Gowda, Rajasaba M P, Indian National Congress party

The Environmentalist and state President of Gram SevaSangh, C. Yatiraj spoke about how the Western Ghats are the origin of most of the rivers that flow through Karnataka and yet its miserable state and exploitation is ignored by most political parties while it should be the centre of our focus. He questioned the benefit of having public debates, discourses and playing the blame game. He urged the members Gram Seva Sangh, the government and other stakeholders to act by engaging in micro and macro level projects.

C. Yatiraj, Environmentalist, Activist and President of Gram Seva Sangh

B L Shankar reminisced of Malnad. The beauty of Malnad has been destroyed by abuse of ground water and the steady overuse of fertilisers and pesticides. The Malnad of today is a prominent agricultural zone. He lamented that a scientific education had done little to enhance a logical mindset. The fruit bearing trees that used to be a major part of cultivation have given way to commercial plantations of Silver trees, Nilgiris and Acacias which affects both commoners and farmers. According to him, sand mining is now a part of a mafia organization which far exceeds our requirements.

B L Shankar, Ex Karnataka Vidhan Parishath President, Indian National Congress Party


Abhijit Mitra, professor, scientist and Lokavidya activist emphasized on the significance of Lokavidya i.e. people’s knowledge. G. D. Agarwal had one major demand- stoppage of any construction upstream the holy river. He mentions that we are led by the myth that human needs are endless and unlimited, but our resources aren’t. This inculcates the belief that in order to be successful one must be driven by greed and overpower competition. Thus, we are lured and trapped by the concept of development,while with every bit of progress there is collateral damage.

Prof. Abhijit Mitra, Scientist and Lokavidya Activist

Leo F Saldanha, Environmentalist and Activist focusing on citizens responsibility said Bengaluru have 30 lakh houses out of which only 1.5 lakh houses only harvesting rainwater. Even people who spends corers in building houses, wont go for harvesting rainwater it merely cost few thousand rupees. Free flowing rivers can be called as rivers, rivers stopped by big dams are dead rivers. In rivers basins stopped by dams looses bio diversity and liveliness.

Leo F. Saldanha, Environmentalist and Activist

Dr Wooday P. Krishna elaborated on the concept of “Sarvodaya” and how it should rule the bond between science and spirituality. The negation of spirituality from science would result in destruction and violence. He urged the gathering to work on the mobilisation of people’s strength against the power of the government and the power of violence. All politicians would encourage development, yet people seldom realise that development is mostly related to “construction and tenders” and not the welfare of citizens.

Wooday p Krishna, President, Karnataka Gandhi Smaraka Nidhi

“Declutter your minds to declutter the rivers”, said Swami Shivacharya. The discussion was a wake up call for all of us on how to channel our efforts towards taking proactive measures to protect and safeguard the rivers in our country.


Gram Seva Sangh’s this effort is to strengthen the people and groups which are working towards saving rivers will continue and we are in discussion with such groups to take this forward. We will inform once such events scheduled and would like your active participation too.



  • Report by Student Volunteers (Siddhant, Semanti, Suman, Deby, Veeksha, Merlin, Sudhakar, Abhiram, Mitun, Srisharan)


  • Photos and videos captured by volunteers Ravi Kiran and Sanketh in addition to above student group.


  • Program Jointly Organized by Gram Seva Sangh, Lokavidya Vedike,  Karnataka Gandhi Smaraka Nidhi, Bharatha Yatra Kendra

Thank You

Gram Seva Sangh

Mobile: 9980043911

Email: GramSevaSanghIndia@gmail.com

Flat #102, Shesha Nivas, 1st Block, 1st Main,
Thyagarajanagar, Bengaluru-560028

Facebook.com/gramsevasanghindia | @gramasevasangha|  www.gramsevasangh.org

Report of the National Symposium on “The Handmade”



Inaugural session of the symposium. From left: M S Satyu, Irrfan Khan, Neelkanth Mama, Uzramma

A story in song from West-Bengal accompanying the depiction on the Patta Chitra resounds from the auditorium of St. Joseph’s Institute of Management, Bangalore, the venue for the National Symposium on The HANDMADE.

The handmade holds and embodies the continuity of tradition and culture and bestows identity to communities within their homes, and their natural environment, through time. The crisis inflicted on artisans producing by hand in India, calls for redefining our understanding of work, of work relationships, consumer habits and tax regimes.

The symposium conceived and led by Gram Seva Sangha is a part of the ongoing Tax-denial Sathyagraha on the handmade. The demand is simple and historic: that there is a crying need to acknowledge, accommodate and support the skill and craft of the artisan, farmer, fisherfolk, Adivasi, labourer, homemaker, industrial worker, et al, and to fundamentally acknowledge the due role of such handmade livelihoods in sustaining and contributing to global productivity, creativity and sustainability. Keeping this in mind, the symposium proposed the following resolutions to be adopted:

  • The GST council should make all handmade products zero taxed
  • The central and the various state governments in India should take measures to get a better price for the handmade
  • Since 60% of the Indian population still depend, for their livelihood, on producing products with their own hands, a separate ministry be setup for the handmade, with budgetary allocations equivalent to that of the population size
  • The government and the other concerned agencies should adopt the definition, as given below, of the handmade: Any product that uses not less than two thirds of the hand process and not more than one thirds of the machine process be treated as handmade

Prasanna Heggodu explained that handmade systems are the enterprise of the future. It is a far better alternative to neo-liberal economy in addressing prevailing environmental, economic and social concerns and in advancing equality, morality, and in tackling alienation of individuals of society. This demands a shift in production to the hand/making from machine-making, and not merely the tinkering of the existing systems which are extractive and destructive.  He submitted that hand-making is slow, but is holistic and closer to the nature. It may appear economically inefficient, but is ecologically sustainable and can be made socially just. Machine-making is faster and appears economically more efficient, but causes extensive social and ecological damage whilst also depriving large sections of society of their wealth. Machine-making is also a natural ally of neo-liberal economic systems whose methods entail appropriation and aggregation of wealth and essentially is an antithesis to cooperation and empowerment.

Renowned film-maker M S Sathyu questioned the need for taxing everything that is produced. He wondered why theatre is taxed 18% GST when artistes rarely make any money and find it difficult to survive in this highly commercialised and taxed world.  The Government which must step in and support such the handmade sector is instead taxing it out of existence. Sathyu also recalled that displacement of the handmade produce is increasingly larger now, as we have entered an era where” every thing under the sun is taxed”.  Why should culture and education be taxed? He explained how the tax involved in renting venues, advance booking and tickets are all taxed that too under commercial categories. For example, a theatre as a venue is nested under the category of Kalyana Mantapa for taxation. He called for an active refusal to accept such a tax regime and called upon artistes and audiences to come together against imposition of GST on the handmade.

Uzramma wished the new year to be one of a different kind of industrial revolution that is democratic, equitable and promises and delivers a sustainable future. She elaborated how the current system had been put in place through violence and that it was being held up by employing violence. Such a system of production has its roots in slave labour in the US and in India, and recalled that it was through such violence that the textile industry was displaced. The conversation dwelled further into bridging the gap between the poor artisans producing with the hand-looms and the rich elite buying the textile. Uzramma pointed towards inherent structures of traders and middle-men that promote this gap and how her organisation was attempting to open rural shops for the economically weaker sections to have access to the handmade.

Celebrated actor Irrfan Khan in solidarity embraced all artisans as his brothers and sister, as said his art too is handmade. Acting comes from body, soul and heart, he said. He imagined how beautiful it would be to be contented with a hand-making system, with fair and right prices for products and the erasure of exploitation.  Irrfan Khan alluded to prevailing mass-escapism through cinema defies value-driven cinema and does not reflect any reality of the lived experience in society. This discrepancy promotes worshipping film actors and sportsmen, while any work calls for worship. Handmade doesn’t stop at making by hand.

Mind is contemplative, a rhythm which is harmonious with nature. It doesn’t remain with products, it goes deeper – Irrfan Khan explained. The depth that comes along with the handmade also relates to ecological questions, where the human is depleting the planet’s resources.

Wellknown theatre artiste and singer M D Pallavi discussed the use of technology in the music where it is primarily used to preserve; to produce; to create. However, technology of producing or replicating music through “sampling techniques” is forcing artists to abandon music and switch to other livelihoods. She bemoaned how violinists and percussionists have been displaced by the overemphatic presence of musical machines, and that they are now forced to become taxi drivers to eke out a living.

Mohan Rao, of Rashtriya Chenetha Janasamakhya, who has worked extensively with handloom weavers in Chirala, AP and rest of the country, said that handloom weaving is a green industry. Through export alone Rs. 20,000 crores of income is generated through handloom and handicrafts. However, the annual budget allotted to the sector is a meagre Rs 219 crores. The regressive policies followed by tax regimes since independence have forced handloom weavers from being entrepreneurs to low-waged labourers.

Yatiraju C, Environmentalist from Tumkur and recently given the Rajyotsava award by Karnataka Government discussed the importance of agriculture for India’s economy, where it constitutes the maximum share of country’s exports. Despite this, marginal farmers are being labelled as “economically unviable” in a bid to make way for industrial farming methods. This is leading to the food chain being poisoned and human health jeopardised through lifestyle diseases. Natural farming is the only hope for future.

V. Gayathri of Inter Cultural Research and Action (ICRA) argued that agriculture is primarily handmade, where all the activities, except ploughing, involves manual labour. Despite this, the Minimum Support Price announced by the governments does not do justice to the work input, forcing them to prefer being labourers than farmers – as there is more assured income and lower liability. On the other hand, Governments are obsessed with the idea precision farming by using imported technology. However, women who practice traditional farming have the such super skills as an intrinsic part of their activity, and one example is how they sow seeds with extreme precision and transplant and raise crop with great geometric rhythm. She also emphasised the need to educate consumers on why food crops grown with traditional methods, which are more nutritious, are also more expensive.

Next, Magline Philomina, an activist from “The Eradesha Maheelaveedhi” of Kerala, who works with the fisher communities, spoke about who women contribute significantly to the fishing activity and yet are not recognised for their work, which is about 90% of the work. On the one hand, the coastal community is increasingly facing threats and on the other, their lands are being siphoned-off for ports, petrochemical complexes and for tourism, urban and industrial developments. “We need the sea. We need the beach to survive. Where should be go to fish if we are not allowed to live and work on the coast?”, she painfully asked. She also shared how despite all the satellite technology to assist in establishing early warning systems, they have not helped save lives of fisherfolk  and at least 2200 are known to have perished  in the recent cyclone Ockhi. “Thousands are still missing” she said.

Leo Saldhana of Environment Support Group drew attention to a recent World Bank report reviewing key events of 2017, in which it is said that two-third of world’s wealth is made with people’s power – handmade.  Yet, most of the world’s wealth is aggregated in an handful of individuals, and the situation is no different in India. He also threw light on how the poor are subsidising the rich. The rich are essentially extracting money and resources from the poor and yet are being incentivised by tax writeoffs, loan waivers, and subsidies.

Neelkanth Mama, a shepherd and social activist, distinguished intelligence of the educated that relies on technology from wisdom among the shepherds who rely on nature for their knowledge. He said we have knowledge, which we employ every day to make complex decisions. But that is not considered ‘knowledge’ unless it comes from a computer. He also spoke about human wellbeing interlinked with traditional sheep rearing methods which involved grazing them on diverse herbs in diverse habitats.

Doddaullarthi Karianna of Amrit Mahal Kaval Horata Samiti of Challakere, Chitradurga said his people do not need the government’s support as long as they have access to their grazing lands and are allowed to grow food that has a viable price. He asked why there is  emphasis on enforcing a single tax regime on everyone, rich and poor, when the poor don’t get any support in the form of health, education and housing, whereas those with wealth continue to enjoy benefits and sops.  He bemoaned the Constitutional values of equity and justice for all is being destroyed every time a new economic policy is brought in.

Dr. Shamala Devi, Sociologist and Dr JK Suresh, activist from Lokavidya Vedike looked at homemaking as handmade. Despite an important role homemakers play of nation building through homemaking, they are not paid and their work is unrecognised, said Dr. Shamala. We are trapped in age-old notions of separating the physical and mental labour which has its roots in the industrial revolution. Science has further objectified this notion, Dr. Suresh said.

Gopi Krishna, designer and social activist from Belgaum, spoke about the nuances of traditional methods of nomadic shepherding. Their approach to productivity does not depend on the number of sheep but on the health and quality of each sheep, and of their capacity to live in a paradigm that is not extractive but supportive of humanity and nature. Their harmonious way of living with nature is such that they ever revere predators which prey on their sheep, saying it is their due.

Sreekumar, farmer from the Sangatya Commune in Karkala, said that we have enough science and technology to move ahead but unless we correct our value system, no amount of science can save humans. He emphasised the need to nurture cooperation, value our commons; competition, exploitation and accumulation.

Fr. Francis Guntipilly of Ashirwad, paid a glowing tribute to Fr. Ambrose Pinto who passed away on 3rd January, and said he was a social activist who always worked for the rights of the poor, in particular Dalits. Fr. Manoj, Director of the St. Joseph’s Institue of Management was present and supported the entire event with great generosity and the support of his staff.

Towards the end of a great day of intense deliberations, the Resolutions proposed were adopted and accepted by all delegates, unanimously.

This report has been prepared for the organisers by
Jahnavi Pai, Namrata Kabra, Asha S, Apoorva Patil, Harsh Vardhan Bhati, Swetha Rao Dhananka, Kanishka.

Abilash C. A.
Gram Seva Sangh
Flat 102, Shesha Nivas, 1st Block, 1st Main
Thyagarajanagar, Bangalore 560028
Email: gramsevasanghindia@gmail.com
Facebook: gramsevasanghindia Twitter: @gramasevasangha