If you ever visit Pennagaram village in Tamil Nadu border, you may come across forty-something Hari Nath toiling in his fields. You are most likely to brush him off as just another farmer unless you google Dr Hari Nath Kasiganesan. A drug researcher of global repute, he left his lucrative job as a high-profile drug scientist in USA to promote organic farming and traditional medicines in his village. His humility, which he professes to be inspired by his former supervisor Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, is rare to find in a dignitary of his stature.
Dr Hari Nath has worked for 12 years in the Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO) in India before moving to USA, where he coordinated with top international pharmaceutical companies to discover patented drugs for cardiac ailments. He did not lack any comforts in his perfect life abroad until an incident motivated him to think otherwise. Fast forward today, Pennagaram is blessed with a true son of the soil who is incorporating his refined medical wisdom to transform the dynamics of rural farming.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
“I was born into a family of teachers in a village full of farmers.”
Brought up by his mother after his father’s death at a very young age, Dr Hari Nath was exposed to farming right from his childhood. Moreover, the proximity of a forest from his village helped him enjoy a “very lush green childhood”.
After completing his Masters from Chennai, he worked briefly as a lecturer in CMC, Vellore. He joined DRDO in 1993 as a senior research fellow in the Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, where he was assigned to research on the health of the soldiers working in extreme environments. During that period, Dr Hari Nath fondly recalls, “I was lucky to have personally interacted with Dr APJ Abdul Kalam on many an occasion. His magnanimous personality had an awe-inspiring effect on me or anyone who stood near him.”
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In 2005, he shifted to USA to join the faculty of Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston. For a decade, he worked as an eminent drug researcher in Cardiology. “I have published numerous papers and have many patents on the drugs I discovered,” shares Dr Hari Nath.
The turning point
“After a point, I realised that most of my research was not penetrating into the lives of those who needed it the most. I was merely adding to the profits of corporate pharmaceutical houses,” preludes Dr Hari Nath, while narrating the personal incident that compelled him to rethink. Back home, after his retirement, Dr Hari Nath’s mother was diagnosed with advanced Arthritis and Spondylitis. As per the standard medical procedure, her physician prescribed painkillers, which failed to remove her pain. Instead, she developed gastric ulcer due to their side effects.
After that, topical painkillers and painful intravenous injections were administered regularly, but she stopped responding to all these drugs. “Her condition was getting worse day by day. I was in the core medical field myself, it pained me to see that I am failing to take care of my own mother,” shares Dr Hari Nath.
He started looking outside conventional treatment methods and came across a review article about the health benefits of Moringa oleifera (drumstick leaves), which found mention as a medicine in local folklore. “Upon my suggestion, my mother started drinking boiled Moringa juice every morning. She was completely cured in no time,” he said. With a hearty laugh, Dr Hari Nath says that his mother now plans to build a temple for Moringa trees.
Soon after this, he decided to return to his village permanently and start a societal mission to spread awareness about traditional herbal medicines and organic farming.
Before moving back in January 2015, for two years, Dr Hari Nath did extensive research in London on organic farming.
With his mother’s encouragement, he bought a plot of land and ensued chemical-free cultivation of grains, herbs, fruits and vegetables. “I travelled across Tamil Nadu identifying rare and forgotten varieties of rice like mapillai samba, kichili samba, karung kuruvai and vasanai seeraga samba which have high medicinal potency. These have found mention in Siddha literature (ancient Tamil medicinal doctrine). I started growing these in my farm alongside Moringa, curry leaves, Amla etc,” he narrates.
In addition, he has prepared the Moringa bullet, a nutraceutical product made with Moringa extracts, alongside other traditional herbal concoctions. The Moringa bullet has worked wonders for many locals suffering from Arthritis, Diabetes, Anaemia or High Blood Pressure. “I wish to put our local folklore under the scientific parlance. I have submitted some of my natural medicine samples to the DRDO for further research.”
Today, he and his family members reached out to the local farming community through women’s groups and farmer’s markets, spreading awareness about organic farming. He has also established an institute near Chennai that teaches about agricultural medicine.
Why we should switch to organic food
“A packet of urea says 45% urea, do you know what the rest 55% is? Nothing but chemical fillers that completely erase the soil microbial population. When we eat the crops grown in such soil, we are becoming nutritionally deficient. The shops sell bigger and colourful hybrid vegetables by branding them as ‘farm-fresh’. But nobody understands the amount of toxin entering their body when they eat these.” Dr Hari Nath expresses with concern.
“I remember once I donated traditionally milled gingelly (sesame) oil from my farm to the local temple for a community feast. The priest was doubtful about the oil’s purity since it didn’t have the bright golden tint like popular oil brands. He was shocked when I revealed to him how synthetic toxins bring that golden tint.”
He goes on to explain the beautiful symbiosis of nature and human that has persisted over thousands of years of evolution, and how uncontrolled use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and weedicides is destroying this ecological balance. The plants acquire over 100 nutritional elements from the soil, in a synchronised exchange with the soil microbes. Also, the soil microbes assist in the immune defence system of the plants, negating the need for synthetic pesticides. On consuming these plants, humans are benefited with wholesome nutrition.
He adds, “Organic crops activate the detoxification system in your body that drains all those harmful chemicals you have ingested so far.”
“Even a small child can tell organic vegetables from conventionally farmed ones. You see, the basic difference is the taste” Dr Hari Nath reveals.
He started as an individual, but today he has successfully motivated his village to adopt organic farming. He remains to be an unsung hero who has truly dedicated his life and wisdom to the very soil of his motherland.
At thirteen, Neela was married off to a husband much older than her. At sixteen, she became a mother, and at nineteen, she was a widow. Despite having no regular income, she was faced with the daunting task of taking care of her in-laws, her own parents and of course, her little daughter. For young Neela, life has never known a trajectory where her voice is heard and her destiny is not blamed. That was until she came under the ambit of Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation and discovered a new identity for herself. The taste of financial independence was indeed delightful for her, but her zeal to work hard for a newer, better life stood at the helm of it all.
No one has ever become poor by giving – Anne Frank
Founded by Kameshwari from Bengaluru, the foundation works with distressed women in three Karnataka villages, helping them to earn their livelihood by handcrafting a wide range of decorative or daily-use household items. Like Neela, nineteen women with struggles similar or worse, have found a new lease of life at Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation. Every piece of item created at Hosa Belaku is recycled from leftover fabrics, paper, dry waste or scrap metals.
Hosa Belaku – a new dawn
“I have been working in the social sector for the past two decades. Since 2013, I got associated with Belaku Trust, who was working with rural women in Karnataka,” shares Kameshwari, a former legal executive.
“Most of these women were victims of alcohol abuse and harassment on the domestic front. Some were widowed, single mothers or differently-abled – making life all the more hard for them in a patriarchal society. Unfortunately, circumstances led Belaku Trust to close their operations in 2015. The women were left in a lurch,” she narrates.
Some of these women desperately pleaded with Kameshwari to let them sustain their only source of income and independence. Moved by their plight, Kameshwari resolved to do her best to help as many women as possible. Investing a sizeable proportion of her own savings, she launched the Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation in 2017. At present, the foundation has active workshops in three villages in the suburbs of Bengaluru, namely, Halasuru, Achalu and Kadahalli.
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At the prime of her life, Pavithra’s husband left her for another woman. Heartbroken and devastated, she was clueless about how to earn her living. The story is similar for many other women in these villagers, with careless, abusive or estranged husbands, most being alcohol addicts. The pangs of poverty would sometimes become more unbearable than the constant physical abuse by their husbands. Yet, they had no way to have some respite from the ordeal. Few women did work seasonally as agricultural labourers. The backbreaking toil in the sun would take a toll on their health, while the deplorable situation at their homes would haunt them for the rest of the year.
Kameshwari mortgaged her jewelery for Rs 6 lakh to start Hosa Belaku Artisian's Foundation. Most of the women employed in this foundation face domestic violence in their homes. Kindly donate here : bit.ly/hosabelaku
Society, with its primitive doctrines, only made it worse for these women. For instance, nobody was willing to marry Shivlingi because she had a facial deformity. After a point, her own brothers abandoned her as if she had become a liability.
If one visits these women now, they would be found basking in their newfound success with Hosa Belaku. But, not only the women, Hosa Belaku’s workforce comprises a 19-year-old young man as well. All his life, Yogi, who is affected by Polio, had accompanied his mother everywhere. She used to work with the foundation until she recently passed away in an accident. Yogi’s father is visually-challenged, so the entire family received a major emotional and financial setback after his mother’s sudden demise. A helpless Yogi would painstakingly drag himself from door to door in search of work. “We took him in and trained him in toy-making. Now you would find him in a corner, making beautiful toys for children,” shares a proud Kameshwari.
Sunshine, Lamp and Dawn – Illuminating lives
The women groups at the three villages are designated with three unique names and assigned with a unique task each. Kirana (Sunshine), the group at Kadahalli is involved with paper products, making notepads, bags and jewellery.
The Halsuru group Deepa (Lamp) has adopted the art of block printing. Vibrant, stylish and beautiful handbags, cushion covers, stoles and notebooks are curated with the utmost care and precision by the women.
At Ushe (Dawn), needle and thread rules. Women who were already skilled in sewing and embroidery now earn by making stuffed toys, patchwork products and embroidered fabrics.
True to their names, the groups have indeed brought new light into the lives of their employees.
Suma and Jayamma are both senior workers at Kirana who have succeeded in constructing small concrete houses for themselves, a huge step up from the dilapidated huts they spent their youth in. Another aged lady in the same group has another compelling achievement to be proud of. Bearing the taunts and trauma from her drunkard husband all her life, she has single-handedly raised a son and a daughter with proper education. Her son, who is currently an aspiring engineer, was supported with a laptop from Hosa Belaku. Honamma, a young widow from the group Deepa is treading a similar path, raising her son all on her own.
The only solace
How much gratitude these women have towards Hosa Belaku is perhaps evident from Shri’s unwavering dedication. Diabetes is taking a toll on her eyesight yet she refuses to give up and continues etching her grit on the ornate block-printed fabrics.
The reason for such gratitude is manifold. For the conscious urban consumers, Hosa Belaku is striving to save the environment with their 100%-recycled policy. But, for the workers, it is the lifeline which not only offers them economic security but also allows them a place to voice, share and resolve the problems plaguing their lives.
“They come here and find a peaceful break from their household obligations. Some still face domestic violence regularly, the workshop is an escape for them. They discuss their issues and try to find feasible solutions. It takes the load off their tired minds. The work here is a breath of fresh air for them,” Kameshwari asserts.
“We have been assisted time and again by established non-profits and retail chains across Bengaluru, who have graciously showcased and marketed products made by our artisans. We would like more people to know about Hosa Belaku and its incredible women, and respect their brilliant spirit by purchasing their crafts,” Kameshwari expresses her wish.