Khadi as a garment, has had a very synonymous history with the history of India. The first image of free India is often a picture of Mahatma Gandhi on his charkha, weaving and smiling. The Charka became a symbol of resistance against foreign rule and products and became a symbolic revolution with the rising of the Indian freedom movement. Khadi is as synonymous with Indian Cottage industry as its it with its artisan, but as with all things that lose favour, when newer shiner gadgets appear on the market, our humble khadi was relegated to the back of our closets. With newer technology, came newer materials and threads, rayon, nylon, and a hundred other fashions, easier to mass produce and cheaper to buy and longer lasting.
In this, Khadi the humble cloth, was lost.
Khadi refers to a handspun and hand-woven cloth. The raw materials may be cotton, silk, or wool, which are spun into threads on a charkha, a traditional spinning implement. Khadi was launched in 1920 as a form of self reliance, which later translated into a symbolic political weapon in the Swadeshi movement of Mahatma Gandhi.
Khadi cloth is sourced from different parts of India, depending upon its raw materials – While the silk variety is sourced from West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha and North Eastern states, the cotton variety comes from Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. Khadi poly is spun in Gujarat and Rajasthan while Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir are known for the woollen variety. The Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), is a statutory organisation created by an Act of the Parliament and is engaged in promoting and developing Khadi and village industries.
The importance of Khadi in our economy is not just as a cloth. It is a symbol of our self reliance, or more recently as our Prime minster said ‘Atmanirbharta’. the Khadi Gram udyog is an industry that is made up exclusively of village economy. Khadi gram udyog provides a way for the rural craft and knowhow to penetrate the urban, shining, glitzy economies and in turn, lifts up the rural population, and their production capacities.
As a young woman, I remember going to Khadi to buy kurtas for my brothers, because no Fab India existed at that time. Our woven rugs and patola sarees were all sourced from khadi gram udyog showrooms and if we were lucky there would sometimes be little treats like aam papad which we would buy and bring home.
Khadi has in essence embodied the spirit of an urban India, an India which still lives in the nostalgic Indian Coffee Houses and comprises of individuals with one eye to the west, dressed in clothes from the fanciest labels in Paris and Milan, but have ‘dadi ke nuske’ for when they catch a cold.
From 4.23 % to 8.49, Khadi’s share in textile production has doubled in the last five fiscals. Khadi has also seen increase in its production by 65.42 million square meters in last five years till 2019. The production has grown from 103.22 million square meters in 2014-15 to 170.80 million square meters in 2018-19.
The Khadi and Village Industries Commission officials finally are seeing a resurgence in their brand, the new reforms brought in by the Modi government seem to have started the road to revival for the industry and the revival of the thousands of people whose livelihood depends on these crafts.
The MSME Ministry and departments have been active and extremely supportive in giving impetus to village industries, from taking suggestions from stakeholders, to implementing these suggestions as well as following up. The project for revival of khadi was taken on a war footing with the Modi government.
In 2018, an exercise was initiated of creating a plan for the vision for KVIC to take it to the next level. This was to shift the focus of the KVIC from ‘administration’ to ‘sales’. The KVIC has taken the idea of the Prime Minister of ‘good governance’ and ‘ease of doing business and implemented it: for example no vendor now has to come to office for payment and all payments have to be cleared within 45 days of sale of their products. If the payment is not cleared, the approving authority pays 5 % interest from his/her pocket. File movement is limited to three levels and each level needs to take action within seven days (unless requiring SFC / Commission approval). This is to cut the delays on file movement.
The commission officials have been advised to use ‘Common sense’ more than the ‘Committees’. KVIC was known for committees which led to inordinate delays. This change gives the senior officials the authority to act swiftly and independently and also, fix the individual accountability for wrong decision and delays. Another important change has been to cut down the external influence on decisions.
Khadi is not a cloth, it is a movement, as has been eloquently put by our Prime Minister. The Prime Minister Narender Modi is himself known to favour and wear khaki, even when he was a party worker in his younger days, and today it is due to his impetus and the call ‘Khadi for the nation, Khadi for fashion’ that the Khadi industry has seen a 167% rise in its sales.
The biggest lure of khadi to anyone who is patriotic is that it is home grown, woven by weavers, often women, in villages, it is a way for many homes to earn that extra income which would eventually go towards educating their children, or towards paying off pending loans. The fact that the Khadi Ashram in Varanasi, which was lying defunct for the last 26 years has today been revived is a telling parameter of the way that Khadi has been revived.
Today, in a world ravaged by the pandemic, it has become more important than ever to look inward, to given impetus to homegrown products, of which khadi is an inalienable part. World over, there is a clarion call for sustainable fashion, and to reject and discard fashion fashion. To India, Khadi is that answer.
Sr. Adv. Pinky Anand has served as the Additional Solicitor General of India. She has also served as the head of the Legal Cell of the Bharatiya Janata Party.