When Ramesh Bhaiya, a law graduate, along with his wife Vimla Bahan, a Post-Graduate, set out on a Padyatra to uplift and empower rural people, they themselves have not thought that they will choose this crime-infested village Ban-ka-Tara (presently Bartara) for setting up Vinoba Seva Ashram in 1980 after the name of Acharya Vinoba Bhave.
The Ashram began on a piece of land which was initially used as a crematorium. Slowly people, who were involved in illegal activities, got involved with the Ashram. The village women were engaged in the illicit distillation of liquor to earn a living from the money. To make the village alcohol-free, the couple’s put all their efforts in that direction. Currently, there are around 20 alcohol-free villages in that region. Ramesh Bhaiya and Vimla Bahan went ahead to meet and understand the people and their problems. After regular interactions, and understanding their needs, the villagers were introduced to sewing classes for the developmental prospects of the villagers, especially, women. It helped these women generate an income through the tailoring which gradually brought an end to this illicit brewing and encouraged people to move towards development.
The couple’s diligent and patient efforts finally got rid of the social evils and malpractices. Their vision is to establish a society where every individual gets an equal opportunity for an integrated development based on a self-sustainable and rural-based economy, focusing mainly on women empowerment. The vision of the Ashram is “Andhkar ko na dhikkaren, accha hai ek deep jalayein”.
In the initial five years, the focus of the Ashram was on creating awareness and changing people’s mindset by implementing small-scale activities under various government schemes during the period. During 1990-1995, the dairy programme was initiated by involving 30 women. With time, the Ashram started various vocational and enterprising activities like sericulture, carpet weaving, vermi-compost, and vegetable production programmes. In 1984, the Ashram decided to provide primary education at Bartara village in Bhawalkheda development block. This primary school is now an Intermediate College. To practice Vinoba Bhave’s philosophy of Swavalamban (self-reliance), this couple also promoted khadi as a means of employment generation since 1984.
Currently, the Vinoba Seva Ashram, which was built in 1980, is spread over 11 acres of land and works upon many diversified activities for the development of the most neglected and crime-ridden areas. The Ashram has around 1,100 karyakartas (helpers), out of which 500 of them work full-time with various projects, while the other 600 are located in 32 districts of Uttar Pradesh.
More power to this couple!