While doing some research on the heroes of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, one suddenly chanced upon a phenomenal essay written by Professor Gonzalves from Rome University and the title of the story was “Half-Naked Fakir.” Gandhiji took this as a compliment suitably owing to his personal search for sartorial integrity towards the cause of the poorest of the poor. While explaining sartorial Integrity, Prof Gonsalves says sartorial Integrity is the search for truth through the clothing choices that you make in your life. This article compelled me to revisit my way of looking at Khadi and its connection with one’s moral well-being.
It is common knowledge that clothing is an important way through which one’s personality is communicated, and to be a sartorially integrated person, one has to reflect the morality of character through the grace of attire.
When we take an overview of Gandhiji’s life journey, we realise that he sent a strong message through his attire. His political journey for truth and authenticity was reflected symbolically through his clothes. However, when we delve deeper, we find out that Khadi was not just a symbol of his political ideology but was also the reflection of his inner harmony, peace and realisation of his core consciousness.
Gandhiji began his clothing experiments by following trends of prevalent fashion when he went to London to study law. He wore three-piece suits there. Later on, when he went to South Africa to practice law, he voiced his concerns to the Government of South Africa about the violation of rights of Indians and gave up his Western attire and wore white kurta and white dhoti. In 1915 he returned to India and travelled through the length and breadth of the country and saw that British colonisation had robbed his motherland of its wealth and dignity. He started a clothing movement that changed the course of history and is called the khadi movement.
On August 31, 1920, Gandhi took the Khadi vow that he shall purchase only handspun cloth. Soon after, Gandhi urged the nation to burn the clothes that come from the mills of the United Kingdom and pick up the spinning wheel and weave their clothes! But when he told a nation to burn its clothes, he realised that the poorest of the poor didn’t even have clothes to wear, leave alone burn, and that’s when he gave up the kurta and dhoti, and started wearing a langot, small loin cloth dhoti. This is how the development of Khadi became an instrument to achieve self-reliance through local production and seeking active participation of the poorest of poor in the freedom struggle.
After India’s Independence, the potential of khadi production as an instrument of poverty alleviation was recognised aptly, and soon time came when Khadi Industry gained pace with time. In the last few decades, the Khadi Industry has grown by leaps and bounds. However, its sustainability and viability have not been approved by the experts.
A Program Evaluation Study done by Planning Commission, Government of India (2001), “Evaluation Study on Khadi and Village Industries Program” has given the inference that the planning and implementation mechanisms are weak, as the linkages between production, sales and employment generation are not adequately considered. It also said that the monitoring is inadequate, and the database used for planning and management decisions do not represent the grassroots realities. It further states that in terms of output, sales, job creation and efficiency in the use of resources, the performance of the village industry sector is much better than that of the khadi sector. Despite its poor performance, particularly in the Khadi sector, it holds great potential for poverty alleviation. It is possible to run the scheme with a reasonable level of financial support if certain corrective measures are taken, as suggested in the report.
The journey of Khadi from Freedom Fibre to “Ek Vichar” has been phenomenal. Way back during the freedom struggle, Khadi was a sophisticated and expensive textile. Over the last few years, a perception towards lifestyle has changed drastically, and people aspire to have an organic way of life.
It is noteworthy that the kind of sartorial integrity Khadi inspires people has to do a lot with its production process. As we know, the Green economy is the economy with fair production practices and aims towards sustainable development and reducing environmental dangers. It is interesting to know that Khadi is in consonance with frameworks of Green Economy also. The production of Khadi is a low carbon, resource-efficient and socially inclusive activity. Further, as part of the Green Economy, the cost imposed on the society on account of usage/exploitation of eco-systems does not come as liability for Khadi production.
Further, Triple Bottom Line Assessment Framework is the concept that is being used currently to assess the viability of any production. The three indicators used to explain Triple Bottom Line Assessment are financial, social and environmental factors. Only if the production of an item agrees with all three factors, then only it is considered to be an ideal production in terms of its being more consonant to the overall viability. When Khadi production is assessed against this framework of the triple bottom line, it becomes evident that it is a financially, socially and environmentally viable mode of production. It is a low-cost production wherein the production can take place at a very nominal cost. Its inclusive nature ensures that it is socially viable and Khadi, being hand spun and handwoven, is a zero carbon footprint industry and thus an environmentally viable sector.
In terms of fashion, Khadi is all about sustainable fashion, which is now known as Slow Fashion. Kate Fletcher coined the term Slow Fashion in 2007. The term is heavily based on Slow Food, which came as a reaction to fast food. The slow fashion movement was meant to reject mass-production of cloth and advocated handmade clothes. In a study done by KPMG, the findings were shocking. It said that people are shopping all the time, and this shopping spree has led to a world where we have accumulated so much clothes that one full garbage truck of clothes is going into a landfill every second.
Interestingly, the Khadi is inadvertently advocating slow fashion because it chooses quality over quantity. The examples of slow fashion practices include-
- It supports small businesses, fair trade and is a locally-made product
- It is clothing which is made with sustainable and ethically-made fabrics
- Using and valuing of local resources and distributed economies;
- Transparent production systems with less intermediation between producer and consumer
- Sustainable and sensorial products
As we have discussed earlier, Khadi supports the ethos of Slow Fashion as it is a unified representation of all the “sustainable”, “eco”, “green”, and “ethical” fashion movements..
This is a high time that we promote activist manufacturers, designers, and consumers who are committed to producing slowly, creating slowly, and consuming slowly. Being an ideal green industry and an apt example of a slow fashion, Khadi Industry needs a push. This is not just for the sake of its being inclusive but it is also because it is a natural calling of Indian Ethos. Khadi is like wearing your heart on your sleeves, in a true literal sense.