Remembering Gandhi on his 150th birthday

An Entrepreneur of an undivided nation

Gandhi's 150th birthday

During India’s freedom movement Mahatma Gandhi collected money to encourage khadi weaving industry – this was called Khadi Movement. Khadi played a very important role in Indian freedom struggle because of Swadeshi Movement. In the year 1905, when the Industrial Revolution took place in England the policy of “Drain of Wealth’ followed in India. Britishers exported cotton from India to England and sold the finished goods in Indian market. And in this way the wealth was drained to England. This gave rise to Swadeshi Movement to stop this drain of wealth.

Gandhiji started non cooperation movement to boycott the foreign clothing and their products. In 1929, Gandhi was arrested for burning foreign clothes. In December, the Congress session at Lahore voted for complete independence (Sampoorna Swaraj) and January 26 was proposed as Independence Day. Gandhi was of the view that, if 40 crores of population can understand that a single penny is not required in understanding the nature of charkha, then they will not be afraid of the Britishers and will not look towards the so called capitalists of the country. If intellectually, we can absorb charkha in our life then definitely our villages will survive. Gandhi had marketed his non-violence movement with the help of charkha. He urged the Indians to make and wear their own clothes and refuse the foreign clothes. Gandhi was able to decline the import of foreign goods.

Gandhi had never seen the Charkha before 1909.  The Charkha was a symbol of exploitation and helplessness for the spinners while the wheel of Khadi was to become a symbol of revolution. And finally Gandhiji immerged as an entrepreneur. Gandhi introduced ‘Charkha’ to reduce the gap between Hindus and Muslims. All Indians were asked to use charkha to spin and weave cotton clothes to wear. Khadi became the ideal material that represented the freedom from Britishers and economically self reliant. Khadi became the brand name for communal harmony and patriotism. The key to self-reliance for a nation was harking upon its indigenous goods of which Khadi was very important. In the words of Gandhi, “I am a salesman of Swaraj. I am devotee of khadi. It is my duty to induce people, by every honest means to wear khadi.” Khadi thus became the emblem for the revolution that India was waiting for.

Gandhiji favored the use of Khadi. He also asked the people to leave the government jobs and return the honors and titles. All the Indians, rich or poor irrespective of caste and religion, devoted their time in spinning khadi on the charkha. Gandhi promoted Khadi for rural self employment. Promoting Khadi was one of the greatest weapons in Swadeshi Movement as it disobeys the British rules and one of the greatest steps to ruin British economy. For the masses to participate in the freedom struggle Khadi was used by Gandhi as a symbol of independence. Khadi was worn by the Gandhi, which gave a feeling that freedom struggle is not the struggle of upper class but it is also of the poor and downtrodden Indians and thus khadi attracted all classes of the society to be the part of freedom struggle. 

Khadi became an important instrument to promote harmony and religious tolerance among the peasants and also promoted a platform to launch a strong movement against untouchability. Gandhi admitted that more amount of money under Tilak–Swarajaya fund was invested on the Charkha. More than one lakh of harijans came closer and were provided a way of living through spinning and weaving khadi. For Gandhi, wearing khadi means wearing the freedom for undivided India. The massive production of spinning and weaving Khadi started under the guidance of Gandhiji. The Khadi was a costlier product than foreign cloth that means no market for khadi. And then the answer for the question came who will use or wear khadi.  The Freedom Fighters emerged as the prospective clients for Khadi. The khadi topi became the brand mark for the Indian freedom movement. Gandhi thought of marketing the product in the undivided India. Gandhi put the symbol of Charkha on the tri-color flag in 1921. And therefore, all the flags carried by freedom fighters during any protest in the country reflected the patriotism of Indians. The Charkha became the wheel of revolution. The Swadeshi movement made use of khadi clothes in many ways. Khadi was accepted by the urban community of India and indirectly supported the Indian freedom movement. Charkha was seen as a mechanism to decentralize the economic dimension. Khadi became the focal point of regeneration and diversification of rural economy. Non-exploitation in the country became the hallmark of non-violent society.

It is because of Gandhi’s entrepreneurial skills that Khadi became an indispensable tool to restore the lost glory of Indian industry and commerce which led to greater confidence amongst the people. The boycott of foreign cloth was undoubtedly a boon for the Khadi to prosper. The emotional and marketing appeal of Khadi gained respectability in circles of elites and learned people.

In today’s India, the new generation has found sound careers in fashion design, with the presence of fashion designing institutes that groom professionals under its roofs. Indian fashion designers today are realizing the potential of expansion in Khadi. They are working on the emancipation of Khadi, hand-in-hand with the government. Their strategy goes in the lines of replanting Khadi from a patriotic symbol to a brand of lifestyle and fashion.

Khadi over the decades has moved from a freedom fighter’s identity fabric to a fashion garment. Today’s Khadi has many faces which are not just restricted to cotton. Today there is such an increasing demand for Khadi that despite the millions of workers all over the country involved in spinning it, they are unable to meet the demand from the market. Yet it is this handmade quality of the fabric with its inherent defects that is the beauty of Khadi which is not only a sound economic proposition but also a science and a romance. 

And while it continues to be a symbol of freedom, it also represents an evolving India – the best of India’s past endures in this ancient weave, yet it embraces elements of contemporary India to find a new synthesis and relevance. Khadi is ripe for re-incarnation as a livery of young surging India. It is stylish, crisp and can be used in any form. Each time this beautiful fabric makes an appearance on the ramp, it steals the limelight with its simple look, uniqueness, versatility and freshness. The biggest advantage of Khadi is its versatility. It is an all-season fabric, which can be made hip with the right treatment. Fashion designers have found Khadi their canvas for imaginative creations. Khadi is not restricted to clothes; it has found space in various crafts, shoes and home decor.

The world is becoming more ecologically and ethically aware. Reducing our carbon foot print by using low energy alternatives is the mantra. Khadi represents a spiritual and a sustainable way of life. Khadi as a concept and reality has a mind, body and soul. Khadi is the fabric that has a lot of character and is an inseparable part of the Indian culture. The khadi that you are wearing is “the fabric from undivided nation…..”

The above article is authored by Aseem Saxena, Faculty of Commerce, Expert in Entrepreneurship, Trainer (Soft Skills), Indore.

Also read: Gandhi Jayanti 2021- films inspired by Gandhian legacy

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