Kathmandu: Sixty-one years after he died, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi`s dream of self-reliance lives on in Nepal.
The spinning wheel that became one of the integral symbols associated with the man known as the father of the nation in India has created one of Nepal`s best known handicraft centres, thronged by foreign tourists for its exquisite pottery, textiles and metal knickknacks.
However, few know that the busy Mahaguthi outlets in the prime tourist areas Patan and Lazimpat are inspired by Mahatma Gandhi`s teachings and vision.
They are the brainchild of a disciple of the Mahatma, Tulsi Mehar Shrestha, who is also known as the Mahatma Gandhi of Nepal.
Born in 1896, Shrestha lived in a Nepal that was under the complete rule of the hereditary Rana prime ministers. Political parties were banned, people were not allowed access to education and freedom of expression was non-existent.
Shrestha chafed against the rigid caste system, which especially victimised women, and began to speak out against the orthodox Hindu religion that created the social hierarchy.
Soon, he was branded anti-national by then Rana prime minister Chandra Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana and asked to either go into exile or face a lifetime in prison.
Shrestha chose to go to India, where he came in contact with Mahatma Gandhi and became his disciple.
Gandhi took up Shrestha`s case before Chandra Shumsher and wrote a letter to him, asking him to allow the exile to return.
The prime minister relented and Shrestha returned to Kathamndu valley where he set up the first textile units with a bundle of raw cotton gifted to him by Mahatma Gandhi.
Thus grew the Nepal Charkha Pracharak Gandhi Smarak Mahaguthi, which today is known as Mahaguthi, Craft with a Conscience, which serves over 1,000 producers.
Forty percent of its annual profit is used to run a residential training and rehabilitation centre for widows and destitute women.
The Tulsi Mehar Mahila Ashram near the Tribhuvan International Airport today offers a two-year training course in weaving, sewing, knitting and literacy classes to destitute women as well as education to their children.
In 1977, the Indian government bestowed the Nehru Award on Shrestha in recognition of his social service.
He used the award money to found the ashram and today the Tulsi Mehar Mahila Ashram also runs a small community hospital, production workshops, a kindergarten school and a play area for children.
Nepal`s Mahatma Gandhi died on Sep 27, 1978, shortly after the ashram was inaugurated.
But both the Gandhis` vision lives on through Mahaguthi, which is a founding member of the Fair Trade Group Nepal, a member of the International Fair Trade Association, and the Asia Fair Trade Forum.