A movement is afoot in four districts of north Karnataka where activists of the Graama Seva Sangha are walking 246 kilometres in 16 days to demand a better price for handmade goods.
The 'padayatra', led by theatre personality and activist Prasanna, started from Kodekal in Yadgir district on January 30 and will continue through Hampi and Hospet, before concluding at Gollarahalli village in Bellary district on February 14.
The activists are aiming to unify hand-craftsman along the way and demand a better price for handmade goods.
"There are many aspects to this protest walk. One is to get a better price for handmade products, which is the larger issue we are concerned with. Another aspect is to give more respect to the people who make handmade products," says Prasanna, who has campaigned many times in the past for the rights of hand-craftsman.
Prasanna (pictured left) is leading the walk demanding better prices for handmade products
The 'padayatra' follows a 'Tax Denial Satyagraha', a hunger strike held in October 2017 urging the Goods and Services Tax (GST) council to reduce tax on handmade products to zero. A symposium was also held on January 6, 2018, in Bengaluru, where experts reiterated their demands to reduce GST on handmade products to zero.
Two weeks later, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced that 29 handmade products will not be taxed; however, there has been no clarification on what exactly the 29 handmade products are. "They have reduced tax on 29 handmade products to zero, but they have not specified which products. So we are waiting for their response," says Prasanna.
According to Prasanna, there is no clear definition of what a handmade product is and who a hand-craftsman is.
"There was no definition of handmade. GST did not even consider handmade as a separate category. Through the Tax Denial Satyagraha, we brought to the fore the differences between machine-made and handmade goods, and we provided a definition for handmade goods," says Prasanna.
In the symposium held in Bengaluru in January, the Graama Seva Sangha defined handmade products as any product that uses not less than two-thirds of the hand process and not more than one-thirds of the machine process.
Prasanna is no stranger to protests. Three years ago, he led a hunger strike in the textile hub of Gajendragad, in Gadag district of Karnataka, demanding facilities and support for the handloom sector.
In October 2017, Prasanna commenced his second hunger strike following a padayatra from Junjappanagudde in Sira Taluk of Tumakuru district to Arsikere in Hassan district to spread awareness of the impact of GST on businesses in rural areas.
This time around, activists led by Prasanna are journeying across villages in north Karnataka in an attempt to unify hand-craftsmen along the way. "We are travelling through four districts of Karnataka, considered one of the most backward areas of the country, and there is an amazing sense of society here. We were resting in a field and labourers who were taking care of jawar stock came and offered us rotis. People all along the way have joined us on the walk or sometimes offered us food," an elated Prasanna says.
Through the walk, Prasanna hopes to 'transmit the richness of the social lives of handmade workers'. On February 4, the group came across a local santhe (fair) in Kushtagi in Koppal district where everything from millets to vegetables, kitchen stoves, earthen pots, brooms for different types of floors were being sold.
The group is updating their experiences on the walk on their website hoping to catch the lawmakers’ attention.
Photographs Courtesy: Kavitha Kammana Kote