By Adithya Kumar
Khadi, which symbolized independence for many, is now a brand that has been appropriated by ethnic-wear designers. But for the Gandhi Ashram in Sewagram in Wardha district of Maharashtra, it is business as usual weaving its own khadi since it started.
The Khadi movement started by Gandhiji aimed at boycotting foreign goods and promoting Indian goods, thereby improving India’s economy.
The Ashram started a school in 1938 where the students were taught to weave. Right from picking the cotton which they used to grow to the weaving, they were taught how to weave khadi,
Kusum Pandey, one of the oldest residents of the ashram, said “Gandhi started khadi weaving as it provided jobs to a 100 people whereas in the mills only one person gets a job.”
These people earned enough to pay for their own food, she added.
The best khadi, she insisted could be woven only by hand and the ones made in the mills were not really khadi. There are Khadi Bhandaars in every state which sell hand-woven khadi.
“The point of using khadi was to provide jobs to the 99 poor people and thus empower them,” she says.
Referring to the branding and marketing of khadi as a fashion fabric, Pandey said “This khadi is not really khadi and it is a contradiction to the real point of weaving khadi. Every person right from the spinning of the threads to the weaving of the cloth is paid. The cloth nowadays sold is not really khadi and is actually mill made cloth for commercial purposes and for profits.”
“If every person spun everyday for at least half an hour they provide themselves independence,” she said.
The ashram also provides employment to about 8 to 10 women who don’t have jobs. They are paid according to the number of spools of thread they spin. If a woman spins about 20 to 25 spools of thread she earns Rs 100 to Rs 150 a day. The women who cannot stay out for long due to housework or children at home, can work as long as they can and earn enough for themselves.
The cotton is bought from Wardha. The thread spinning is done here while the cloth is woven in Nallwadi on the outskirts of Wardha city. Each spool is 1000 metres long and from 35 such spools 5.5 metres of cloth can be woven. The cotton is cleaned and brought in rough spools which are placed on the machines. Improvements in the machine over time have helped in increasing the capacity of the amount of thread that can be woven.
Will khadi survive as it was conceived originally?
“There may be a few people who will be loyal to khadi, and there will be a few khadi bhandaars still present. But khadi is more expensive than normal cloth not everyone can afford to wear khadi,” said Pandey.