KHADI : A Cloth and Beyond
Khadi or Khaddar is a term for handspun and hand-woven cloth from India. The cloth is usually woven from cotton and may also include silk, or wool, which are all spun into yarn on a spinning wheel called a charkha. It is a versatile fabric, cool in summer and warm in winter.
From the earliest times the spinning wheel or Charkha had been plied in Indian homes, the excavation at Harappa and Mohan-jo-dare reveal that the charkha was a part of the Indian household. The Vedic Aryan also used the charkha.
The Buddhist age also the charkha continued to be plied. During the region of Mauryas, there existed a large organization to deal with matters connected with spinning and weaving. The spinners were women who did the work at home in their spare time.
Khadi was introduced in 1920 with a primary intention to make the boycott of foreign goods in general, particularly foreign cloths and provide an opportunity to every man, women and child for self discipline and self sacrifice as a part of the non-cooperation movement. In 1923, an All India Khadi Board under the supervision of the Indian National Congress, with branches in all States was constituted to create an organization for coordinated development of the khadi programme.
Khadi is being promoted in India by Khadi and Village Industries Commission, Ministry of MSME Govt. of India. In India, Khadi is not just a cloth, it is a whole movement started by Mohandas Gandhi. The Khadi movement promoted a socio-cultural aesthetic, an idea that Indians could be self-reliant on cotton and be free from foreign cloth and clothing. The development of Mohandas Gandhi's ideas about Khadi termed as the “fabric of Indian independence," and as both a symbol of India's potential economic self-sufficiency and a medium for communicating to the British the dignity of poverty and the equality of Indian civilization.
The khadi movement by Gandhi aimed at boycotting foreign goods including cotton and promoting Indian goods, thereby improving India's economy. Mahatma Gandhi began promoting the spinning of khadi for rural self-employment and self-reliance. Thus making khadi an integral part and an icon of the Swadeshi movement.
The freedom struggle revolved around the use of khādī fabrics and the dumping of foreign-made clothes.The key to Khadi becoming a successful tool for the freedom struggle lies in its uniqueness which picked up and re-crafted the then existing politico- economic critiques with its own distinctive qualities. It thus became a material to which people from diverse backgrounds could relate to.
KHADI : Traditional and Modern
The journey of Khadi saw a major struggle for maintaining a balance between tradition and modernity. Both these concepts played a pivotal role in shaping a new national identity for the country. While tradition was indispensable for the nation to sustain its legitimacy and preserve the culture, modern aspects of life could not be overlooked if the nation had to compete on a global scale. Khadi was thus redefined in the following ways by its proponents which made the fabric distinct and also added an element of flexibility to the idea of Khadi for it to sustain itself:30
Khadi was seen as a presumably traditional product, as it was being produced by traditional means and thus could be envisioned as a material artefact of the nation.
Moreover, Gandhian nationalists rendered Khadi a discursive concept by defining its significance in terms of the contemporary politics and economics of swadeshi.
Finally and most importantly, Khadi became a visual symbol in the sense that it gave a distinctiveness to Indian bodies by marking them exclusively in association with their region, religion, class, group etc.