Dr. Devendra Kumar, popularly known as Devendra Bhai, was hailed as the doyen of Appropriate Technology in India.
A science graduate from Lucknow University and an Oil Technologist from the famous Harcourt Butler Technological Institute, Devendra Bhai left a lucrative job to join the Gandhian Movement in 1946. Influenced by the Gandhian economic philosophy of decentralization, he joined the All India Village Industries Association (AIVIA), of which Mahatma Gandhi was the president and Prof.J.C. Kumarappa was the secretary. Prof. Kumarappa was a great Gandhian Economist, who influenced Gandhiji to initiate the ‘Namak Satyagraha’ (or the famous ‘Salt Movement’) against the British Raj.
Devendra Bhai helped his Guru Kumarappaji for six years in research and innovative experiments in various village industries he also edited and translated his books as well as articles, which Gandhiji hailed as the best analysis of the village economy of India and called Kumarappa the ‘Doctor of Village Industries’.
Guiding people to self sufficiency
In 1952, Devendra Bhai opted to live with the landless poor of a small insulated hilly village, called ‘Machala’, near Indore in Madhya Pradesh for eight long years – to experience village life in the raw. He made a sea change in the lives of the rural people of Machala who still revere him as a saint who changed their lives by making them self-sufficient to lead a life of dignity and honour. He was also a part of the ‘Bhoodan’ movement (where big land owners donated land to the landless poor) spearheaded by Vinoba Bhave – the barefoot ‘Saint on the march’. Under Vinobaji’s guidance, Devendra Bhai acted as the state level organizer of Bhoodan and was also active in Sarvodaya and village movements.
Catalyzing policy initiatives
In 1965, Devendra Bhai was invited to become the Secretary of the National Gandhi Memorial Trust at New Delhi and was made the Organizing Secretary of the National Committee for Gandhi Centenary of which the President of India was the President and the Prime Minister of India Chairperson. He initiated a number of institutions and was connected to various national and international committees on Gandhian constructive movement. Devendra Bhai acted as a vital link between the grassroots NGOs in the Gandhian field and the policy makers at the Central Government level. He was involved in organizing important meetings with the Prime Minister and the concerned ministers on various issues. He was also instrumental in cultivating a number of scientific institutions in Delhi to orient them towards rural needs. Even the concept of having Rural Development and Appropriate Technology cells at all the IITs in India, was the brainchild of Devendra Bhai. Not many people are aware that he was the person who helped in the formulation of the Council for Advancement of Rural Technology (CART) – the erstwhile CAPART. He was a member of around 150 national Science & Technology committees.
Transforming Rural Life with Technology
In 1978, Devendra Bhai took up the mission of his Guru – Kumarappa – of taking the benefits of technology to the rural poor and initiated the Centre of Science for Villages (CSV) at Magan Sangrahalaya. Wardha. With a team of committed scientists and technocrats, CSV developed 75 technologies to convert them into business opportunities for the rural people and constructed 30,000 low-cost mud houses, 100,000 hygienic toilets, 20,000 biogas plants and trained around 30,000 rural artisans in improved scientific techniques ( like non-violent honey extraction, gum-collection without harming the trees, single-bullock driven agricultural equipment and improved potter’s wheel). In fact, he started a major artisan movement called ‘Karigar Panchayat’, creating artisan guilds in 22 states of India with a total strength of 200, 000 artisans.
Light that continues to Enlighten
Though Devendra Bhai is no more in this world, his daughter – Dr Vibha Gupta – is carrying on the torch by creating sustainable livelihoods in Rural India through technological interventions. She has been working with Devendra Bhai since 1978 and is currently the Chairperson of the Magan Sangrahalaya Samiti.