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India today is a nation with the second largest population in the world with 1.33 billion people. After 70 years of Independence we have come a long way such as the metamorphosis from a producing nation into becoming one of the largest consumer markets in the world. Our growing purchasing power propensity especially amongst the youth has led to a number of foreign brands entering into the Indian market. This purchasing power can create big ripples in the nation’s economy if we encourage people to opt for indigenous products rather than what is readily available today.
Being one of the largest democracies in the world, we have certainly been able to achieve the independence that our freedom fighters fought for, but on deeper introspection, can we call ourselves truly independent? According to the 2012 census of the Government of India, 21.9% of the entire population was still below the official poverty line. Let’s face the facts! Our nation is still faced with problems like illiteracy, malnutrition and poverty to name a few.
It is interesting to note that there are at least 2 crore weavers in the country, however it is very sad to see the plight that weavers have to face in today’s present scenario. India is the hub of handlooms and heritage textiles - the largest in the world, but we are soon losing this virtue because of lack of proper support. Many of the weavers today remain unemployed or are switching to unskilled labour and remain below poverty line because importance is not being given to the indigenous handloom sector.
Ever since historical times, starting from the Indus Valley Civilization human beings have worn hand-spun and hand-woven fabrics. In the pre-industrial era before the mechanization and commencement of industrialization, Indian textiles were used to clothe the world. Textiles were primary commodities of trade for the Portugese, Dutch, the French and the British. Indian textiles like chintz, kalamkari, ikat, batik and others were exported directly to European countries where they were as valuable as gold.
Among these fabrics was muslin which was traded especially with the Romans and the Greeks. Muslin was nothing but what is indigenously known as khadi. Khadi is a fabric that is hand-spun and hand-woven. It may be made of cotton, silk or wool. Until the British colonial rule, muslin was exported from Mughal Bengal which is today West Bengal and a part of Bangladesh. However, ever since British colonial rule in India, the Bengal muslin industry was severely repressed and British colonial laws supported the use of industrially manufactured textiles.
The first image shows a white muslin dress of the 19th Century, followed by an exquisite cotton piece from the Coromandel Coasy, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the last image shows Empress Josephine’s (1763-1814) bed, draped with Dhaka muslin, France. (Source:Pinterest, Scroll)
During India’s fight for freedom from Colonial rule, Mahatma Gandhi understood the importance of indigenously spinning and weaving our own fabric as a resistance to the British in order to establish swaraj and self-reliance. He started the Khadi Movement in 1918 for the poor masses. He believed that every village should harvest and produce their own raw materials for spinning yarn and each person should engage in spinning and weaving whatever fabric is needed for use.
When people began to complain to Gandhi about the cost of khadi, he stopped wearing an upper garment and started wearing only khadi dhotis that he himself had woven. He said that it was better to wear even as little khadi if possible than to wear something that is not Indian!
The first image shows woman using a charkha, the second shows a pirn carrying khadi weft and the third image shows khadi being woven on a hand-loom.
Mahatma Gandhi’s vision for India was broad and it can be incorporated even in present times. In the present day, Khadi has economic benefits as well as practical solutions for some of the major problems that we face. Following Gandhi’s legacy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that Khadi showcased the culture of India, while at the same time it could employ thousands of people. In his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ address, 2016, he said “Khadi has the power to provide employment to crores of people. It has now become a symbol and a center of interest of the nation’s youth. He added, “Due to the efforts of many government organizations in the field of Khadi, around 18 lakh people can be granted employment.”
You might ask why we should wear Khadi, when in this day and age there are a plethora of cheaper options that are easily accessible. The only reason that khadi is relatively expensive is because of the number of processes that it goes through. First the fibers are hand-spun into yarn and then this yarn is hand-woven to obtain the ultimate fabric. Being hand-spun and hand-woven, no two pieces of fabric will ever be the same! Wearing khadi is a very wise choice because cotton khadi has the unique property of keeping the wearer cool in summer and warm in winter. It is soft and breathable and makes the wearer feel comfortable.
More importantly small choices in our everyday lives can make large impacts. Bunosilo loves Khadi and we believe that popularizing khadi in today’s times will not only renew interest in the textile, but will give us all a sense of pride in wearing something indigenous. Khadi is also sustainable and environment friendly and the manufacture and subsequent demand for khadi will give freedom to thousands of people whose livelihood depends on weaving. This is what true independence is all about! Let us make khadi not only a means to an end, but let us all do our own small bit in making it a way of life!
Words by Vanessa Fernandez
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