Agnes Kunze 1962

Friday, December 16, 2011


The following long history of the first decade highlighting the formation of KKM Handweaving Society may seem redundant to some; it is in fact the own written and printed version of Ms Agnes, putting her Motto in practice herself "learning by recollecting", which emphasize the unshakable basis of her vision, we still try to follow while adjusting to the new XXIth Century conditions.

                             FROM BEGGAR TO WORKER
                                    by Ms Agnes Kunze, 1972.

          In the beginning,
10 years ago, there was not more than the idea to found, as a Catholic Institution, a Home for the Lepers in the usual style. They should live as suffering community, well looked after, cared for body and soul alike, guided to lead a moral life and, to avoid idleness and mischief, they should work a little, according to their limited abilities.
   An experiment in living with them was to produce more ideas later on, but at this early stage there was no knowledge, neither of medical facts nor of the social context, no programme, no vision of the future – in brief, there was nothing, which is, according to Christian belief, the basis of Divine creation.
   Yet this is only one aspect and not the full view, because there were people, each of them burdened with his own history, unknown to others, especially to those, who had ideas for them.
   They were begging in the streets, at railway stations, in front of temples and  - more profitable – churches and priest house. The front of the Bishops House in Meerut was cleared by sending 30 steady customers (after taking a group picture of them – suitable perhaps for grand-style begging from Aid organizations and a compassionate public in foreign countries) up to Dehra Dun, to settle them there downside of town on a stony and waterless plot beyond the parish cemetery, as usual.
   There is nothing unusual in this start. Till today, “Leper Homes” are founded this way, and by the same motives, and many, perhaps most of them, you will find situated alike: beyond the cemetery or the burning place, beyond death. The non-infected wife of a leper, after he is sent away from the community, shaves her head and wears the white undercoated sari of a widow. He does not belong to the society of the living anymore. How could he dare and come back!
   Modern science is upsetting the traditional concept. The leper becomes a leprosy patient, gets cured from his disease, sometimes even his deformities may be repaired by surgery, and he is, what he is not supposed to be, alive again! The Hospitals where he got successfully treated, sends him “back home”-as to read from the official statistics, although the Doctors of the Mission Hospitals know pretty well that they can locate most of their former patients in one of the numerous beggar colonies.
   There is, of course, a better way of controlling the disease through ambulant treatment by Leprosy Centres, springing up now  all over the country, a way which will not anymore in the future uproot people affected by leprosy from their original soil. Yet this sort of treatment is not available for everyone. The patient in the Himalaya village will still have to wander down to the valley in search of treatment, often a journey of 2-4 weeks, and behind him break the bridges.
   “Sent back home” means for most of them begging, where one who has acquired a few deformities makes better business. Having managed to get admission to a Home makes little difference means only that one can rest there in peace without having to make an effort to earn a living. Even if he is now called leprosy patient, he is still looked at and despised as “leper”, banned from public meetings, like religious services, not anymore now for reasons of health alone! The people of Kripaon Ki Mata Colony were not spared this bitter experience at a time when their weaving products had already found a market.
   Since the start was “as usual”, we ask ourselves how it came that our way went very much off the usual track. Has it been because of the “climate” of the times, a global atmosphere filled with such enormous changes, that even a rather isolated place like a small Leprosy colony in the jungle cannot escape to be affected? An accidental combination of circumstances? Karma, Kismat, Providenve, destination or chance?
   Instead of asking futile questions, let’s try to recollect dates and facts:
Dates and facts:
  Purchase of a one and a half acres of land on the outskirts of Dehra Dun by the Parish
priest, for enlarging cemetery. Decisions of the Archbishop of Meerut to use this land
for his already planned Leper colony.
   30 "lepers" sent by the Bishop to Dehra Dun, staying under the trees, while the first quarter building for them is under construction.
   Supported with food rations by the parish priest, some of them  get themselves employed by the building contractor and earn a daily wage in addition. They were not asked to pay for their food, but to establish  with  the   money a community fund. There never was one. The cry for "equality" came years later—in a different context.
July, 2nd   
   Inauguration by the Bishop of Meerut (President), who appoints the Parish priest as     ex officio Director, Miss Agnes Kunze (Social worker from Germany) as superintendent, and Havildar Parman Singh, already leader  of   the group settled here now, as Headman 0f "KRIPAON KI MATA LEPER  COLONY".
   Approached through friends in Germanythe German Leprosy Relief Association (DAHW) agrees to  finance  the maintenance of the inmates, on  the condition that a Home
industry will be established, for which a start  capital is provided.
   DAHW also pays, in answer to the Bishops application,  the quarter building and the land, registered in the name of the Parish priest.
   Construction of Building No. 2, through local contractor, (financed by DAHW): Staff quarter and small workshop. (Now, since 1969, Spinning workshop and head office)
 Klaus Becker
   Arrival of Klaus Becker from Germany, trained Mechanic.         
   Beginning of "Klaus·era" (l964—December 1967
The first community project : Latrine building. Non-community project, through contractor :Dispensary, second and third quarter building,   leading  to further admissions through Bishop of Meerut.
   Employment of first worker on wage, to give one more man, in spite of restrictions, a chance for admission. He builds himself a hut under the trees. Construction of the First loom. Handweaving starts.
   Beginning of handspinning, weaving of own clothes and the first market product: Handspun Cotton rug.
   The first (ration supported) weaver leaves, because of too much work; he prefers  begging. The second weaver still weaving today, 1972), producing one Cotton rug per day, goes to the Bazar in the evening, to sell his product for the material price to any passerby, who is happy to get cheap piece.
   Experiments in manufacture and sale of candles.
   Employment of Salim, a stranger from the road, who turns a spooling  wheel, until he is, after several weeks detected as a skilled  weaver. (Today, 1972, workshop manager).
   Land purchase, from private donations of friends, by Klaus Becker, to settle there wage earning ex-patient workers.
   Change of purpose of a MISEREORgrant for poultry farm (Application  by Bishop of Meerut) in favour of a bigger workshop, the present one being already too crowded with 3 looms and a few spinning and spooling wheels. 4th (and last) Quarter building in the Colony, through Contractor, financed from MISEREOR grant, through Bishop of Meerut. New admissions.
   Construction of WEAVING HALL. Design and Supervision: Klaus Becker
Material costs: MISEREOR
Labour: Leprosy patients and ex-patients, i.e. Colony inmates and employed workers, their wages being paid by private donations.
   In their time off`, the employed workers are making their own bricks for their quarters which they also start to construct in 1967 on the Klaus Becker-land, the first 10 men Building being completed by beginning of 1968.

September l967
   Arrival of Pierre Reyniers (——April 1969), to replace Klaus Becker, and of Elisaba Lakra (—March 1969), who engages mostly in laborious agricultural community work, all through the whole year.
   Enter OXFAM with grants for 6 looms, carding machine, cow, labour for cowshed construction and irrigation. 75% Reduction of water charges for use of Municipality pipeline, by City Board, Dehra Dun Cultivation of all the available land and cow—experiment not very successful, but serving as education to regular work for the colony inmates, while the constructions of cowshed and irrigation system and

the weaving is mostly done by ex-patients on wages (former construction workers now trained in weaving) under supervision of Pierre Reyniers, with colony inmates now obliged to spin at least for their own clothes ( "no thread-no cloth !"). 
   Beginning of  the "age of production", resulting for the first time in  a net income of Rs. l000—for the year 68.
   Participation in an exhibition at the Convention of the Catholic Hospital Association in Delhi enables us to show for the first time our handloom products to a wider public, leading to a few orders from hospitals.
   Arrival of Gina Hald (—-December 1969), who changes her profession" from animal husbandry  to human nursing, taking over the medical work from Agnes Kunze.
   Founding  of Nursery-and Pre - school by ex- patient worker K. Bangaraiah, former construction coolie, then weaver, then medical assistant. Music in his spare time.

   "The revolutionary year”: Trying to make full time work for all colony inmates obligatory met with a strong opposition and lead to near disaster on the morning of 12.3.1969, then, in the evening of the same day, to the turning point: Resolution of the all-men council (wage earners excluded), lead by the Headman: Everyone, women included, shall voluntarily work daily 4 hours for food and cloth (amending para xy of Rules and Regulations of the North Indian Leper Beggar’s Union, in force till this very moment, saying that no member should work more than 2 hours daily), while full time work should be provided by the management for those who want to earn an extra half rupee daily in addition. Until the acceptance of those terms by the authorities, the Headman takes over "government" for one month.
   A few of the colony inmates leave for begging during this year; of the remaining more and more take to full time work, some becoming now independent wage earners too. Taking over of responsibilities by more advanced workers, colony inmates and wage earners alike:
1—Starting of Spinning workshop with handspinning machines (Ambar charkas) by colony inmate Andreas Bahadur.
2—Ex-patient Salim Yohan Weaving Supervisor and- Instructor.
3—Construction of second worker quarter on Klaus Becker’s land (left by testament to the workers), financed, by Oxfam, under supervision of ex-patient Divan Masih. 
4—K. Bangaraiah sent for half year paramedical training at Purulia, to take over independently the medical department in April 1970.
   Textile Orders from Convents, Hospitals, Schools, help us to reach an annual sales income of Rs. 25,000 for 1969, which means 25% self support.
   Second arrival of Pierre Reyniers (Apri1 1971) After the jump in 69, the industrial activities are expanding with speed, crying for more working space.
   Application to MISEREOR for Working-cum-storing Hall (turned down by beginning of 1971).
   The growing production has reached a level, where planned marketing becomes necessary: Agnes Kunze "changing her position" from Superintendent of Kripaon Ki Mata Colony, to Marketing manager of "Kripaon ki Mata Handloom".
   Pierre Reyniers as Production manager, and Weaving supervisor Salim Yohan training more weavers. Construction of 3 more looms.
   First Export order from Germany for handspun curtains, and Trial order from OXFAM-Activities for Cotton rug. Self support now one third.
01.01.71 Purchase of "Kurukshetr" (from private donations), land between the colony and the Worker village, and of another small plot in the  neighbourhood, for first individual Rehabilitation experiment: New headmason building there his own house and finding occasionally work outside.
   Former Driver (Colony inmate), having completed Auto mechanic training, finds employment as bus driver. Another Worker starts his own carpentry shop in a village.
   Arrival of David Mac Phail (—December 1971) from Australia.
Lead by him, beginning of  “the long march” of constructing the necessary Working-cum- Storing Hall on our own—then, from August-September got aided by OXFAM and DAHW for about half of the estimated costs.
   Grant for supply of electric line by City Board, Mussoorie. Grant for electrification of the industrial area by CAA Australia.
   Registration of "K.K.M. HANDWEAVING Society" with Ex-patients Salim Yohan and K. Bangaraiah on the Board of Management. Subscription as member of Handloom Export Promotion Council.
   First Export Bulk order from OXFAM Activities -Rs. 29,000- for 1200 handspun Cotton rugs. First Contact with OXFAM Trading Canada. (Trial order)
   In the Textile production, accent now more on quality instead of quantity, in spite of delivery dates. Experiments in attractive weaving designs and Tye-dyeing. Emerging of special styled typical  KKM market products, "not available otherwise". 2/3 of the K.K.M. population, now “independent" wage earners (though a number of them subsidised). Growing sense of individual independency, accent on material progress.  
   Second arrival of Gina Hald, taking over General Administration.
   More Exports in the first half of the year (by Airfreight to Germany and France)—meeting grave difficulties at the other end of the line: Import licences, etc.
   Beginning of Work in the new Hall. First Contact with S.O.S. Netherlands (Sample order).
   First machine running on electric power (carding).
   Third  arrival of Pierre Reyniers, to start Production unit in Brahmapuri Kusht Ashram, Tehri Garhwal, on 15.8.1972.

Directed by necessity, we may say, was our path, and certainly not by a blue-printed plan; the necessity to guide handicapped people to a more human, a more independent responsible life, by finding work for them and preparing them for accepting and actually doing it.

Although others have tried too, there was no pattern which could have been applied, no pre-made road with the assurance of a signboard marked "Rehabilitation X 000 miles”. We still are breaking our way with more or less primitive instruments through jungle of restrictions and limitations, customs, traditions, prejudices, trends, illusions, weakness and ignorance.
The vision of the future was and is often still blocked with the worries of everyday life. We had neither plenty of money nor the gadgets of a technical civilization, nor the “human material” fit to build up an industry.
Most of our workers, coming from a peasant background, had been illiterate when they arrived, and some still are; some had been beggars for generations. Only one had a secondary education and one a family-tradition in weaving.
But contradiction keeps the wheel going in a dynamic process, turning disadvantages into advantages. The lack of former (mis-) education relieved us from the labour of re-education, while experience in various fields showed us that knowing comes from doing. Everyone, the managing people included, started with a primitive job, like digging or spinning cotton. Some are still finding their satisfaction in simple work, while others felt the need to learn and more, like a twenty year old, already trained in weaving, who became a semi-skilled construction worker during the building of the work hall, and is learning carpentry now.
Learning by doing
Klaus Becker inventive spirit incited the first workers to make their own experiments and inventions; contacts with visitors and engaged volunteers from various countries helped to broaden the mind and to enlargen the horizon of many.
 "Do your own thinking" was our answer to many questions, for which no readymade answer was available. They heard this for the first time being used by tradition, and then in many cases through prolonged institution life, that the thinking is to be left to the elders and superiors, and the ruling to the officers.
The Transformation is not yet completed and still in the process. The Self management at which we aim is still a far way off, but not out of reach. Several more barriers will need to be broken, before the unity of knowing and doing can be achieved.



  1. Beautiful story. And I know, all this is true..
    With prayers, that the story continues happily..

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