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CfB Bureau

‘Kashtachi Bhakar’ literary means hard-earned bread. So when the Pune-based trade unionist and socialist leader Dr Baba Adhav, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, decided to open an outlet serving simple food at an affordable price to the city’s labouring masses, he named it just that.

The outlet completed 40 years on October 2 this year. “Kashtachi Bhakar is not a mere eatery, it is a revolution inspired by the Mahatma. Revolution does not always have to be an agitation against injustice. Any action born out of real concern for people in distress is a revolution too,” Dr Adhav said at a function organised to celebrate the occasion.

From just one eatery in 1974, Kashtachi Bhakar has become a chain of 12 outlets spread across the city, serving food to more than 12,000 people on any given day. Operating on a no profit no loss basis, it has made a name for itself by providing hygienic, fresh and nutritional food to people who come here from across the country in search of employment.

From just one eatery in 1974, Kashtachi Bhakar has become a chain of 12 outlets spread across the city, serving food to more than 12,000 people on any given day. Operating on a no profit no loss basis, it has made a name for itself by providing hygienic, fresh and nutritional food to people who come here from across the country in search of employment.

Each food item here is priced at different rates, like a Jowar Bhakri (Rs 6 a piece), Sabzi (150 gm for Rs 6), Besan (150gm for Rs 4), Rice (200gm for Rs 6), and you are free to choose what you eat. If you crave for something sweet at the end of a meal, try a laddoo (Rs 5 a piece).

To his followers, Dr Adhav, who turned an octogenarian this year, is simply Baba. They speak admiringly of his smiling demeanour and the punishing travel schedule he maintains even at this age. He has lived with loss of vision in one eye and recurring back pain for years, they say, adding that his relentless pursuit of ensuring basic rights for the country's unorganised workers keeps him going.

Baba operates out of a modest office located in the labyrinthine lanes of Pune’s congested Bhavani Peth area. He is involved with about two dozen organisations of porters (hamal), loaders (mathadi), construction workers, domestic workers, brick kiln and quarry workers, cycle rickshaw pullers, waste-pickers and hawkers. The thread that runs through his work: dignity of labour.

“We Indians do not value manual work. There is a strange prejudice against it in society, especially among the white collared sections. We seem to forget that the domestic workers who serve us, the roadside vendors who provide for our daily needs, the construction workers who build our high-rises, and the waste-pickers who help keep our cities clean are as much a part of modern India as the information technologists and technocrats,” he says.

Baba Adhav became involved with the issues of hamals and mathadis in Pune's markets in the early-50s, as a young, practising doctor. Born and brought up in Pune’s old Peth area, Baba grew up watching the daily toil in the timber, grain and metal markets. He was a committed Seva Dal activist, inducted into its shakha (unit) and introduced to socialist ideals as a schoolboy.

“In my younger days I was quite adventurous. That is how I lost one eye,” says Baba with a twinkle in his eye. In 1963, he along with Datta Deshmukh and Jaisingh Mali , floated the Maharashtra Rajya Dharan ani Prakalpgrasta Shetkari Punarvasan Parishad, an association of displaced farmers and project-affected persons. Baba was at the forefront of all satyagrahas against irrigation projects in the Krishna river valley and, on one occasion, flung himself in front of the passing car of former Chief Minister Yashwantrao Chavan, injuring himself and damaging one eye permanently.

Baba also served as a councillor in the Pune Municipal Corporation for 10 years but quit active politics in 1971. Baba has served nearly 50 prison terms during the many agitations he has spearheaded over the years. The longest term was a year and-a-half during the Emergency.

Baba’s work though has not been limited to agitations and confrontations. He is a firm believer in dialogue, awareness and welfare of the unorganised. “After exerting themselves physically all day, food is what the hardworking masses need the most. To reduce the pain of hunger and exertion, many are known to take to tobacco or drinking and, in turn, their families have to also go hungry. So the basic idea is to provide fresh, healthy and affordable food to the poor people of the city," says Baba.

This venture has thrived over the past four decades, providing employment to over 100 men and women, all from marginalised sections of society. At the central kitchen in Bhavani Peth, women work busily and efficiently, cooking and dispatching food. Mostly from families of casual labourers, the women, who are unionised and receive employment benefits, work to support their children in case their husbands become indisposed or die. They are also part of the managing committee.

What distinguishes Baba’s work from other trade unions is the approach, which is based on a distinct socio-political agenda. He derives inspiration from the ideologies of Jotiba Phule and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and believes in self-initiated transformation through collective resources.

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