In his dress and demeanour
Gandhi almost belongs to the ascetic tradition of the East. Not only in his
choice of such and image, but in the essential making of his philosophy and
politics, he took recourse to an innovative set of words and symbols. In deed as
a mass leader he had an uncanny knack for creating and using symbols and like
most popular symbols, In deed as a mass leader he had an uncanny knack for
creating and using symbols, Khadi has a complex and different appellation.
Gandhi sought to convey multiple messages through Khadi, arguable the focal one
among them was a critique of modernity. Khadi was apt symbol of long Indian
tradition on the one hand and a critique of modern western Civilization on the
other hand. In relation to three important concepts, which form the very core of
modernity in India again Khadi, has been used as a critique. These three
concepts are nationalism, industrialism and western education.
“Khadi and Indian Tradition,” Indians have not only been weavers, but even exporters of cotton
fabric since time immemorial. Historians have found clear evidence of Harappans
supplying cotton textiles to Sumerians around four millennia back in the past.
In the more recent history, British themselves imported huge quantities of
clothes from India, before they introduced a colonial pattern of made. At the
time of arrival of the British in India, next to cultivation weaving was the
commonest economic exploitation by the British themselves imported huge
quantities of clothes form India, before they introduced a colonial pattern of
made. At the time of arrival of the British in India, next to cultivation
weaving was the activity in the Indian country side. The saga of the economic
exploitation British is replete with reference to the decline of cotton weavers.
That the theme of hand –woven fabric, that is, Khadi was brought up and invested
with new meaning by Gandhi was nothing but natural. In fact weaving has been a
common metaphor, even in the spiritual discourse of many saints and
philosophers, the most notable among than was Kabir, himself a weaver. His
poetry is replete with reference to warp and woof or the mechanism of weaving.
One of his many oft quoted songs is “Jheeni, Jheeni rebeenee chadria “Kabir
expresses the spiritual endeavour of man through the metaphor of weaving. While
not exactly forsaking the spiritual content, Gandhi reinvented the mundane human
endeavor, no less complex through. Innumerable songs were composed during the
years of freedom struggle or afterwards how Gandhi will or did drive out the
British with the help of his charka. It became symbol of freedom struggle.
“Livery of freedom” as Nehru described Khadi which was however also a means of
economic regeneration of the village and much more. Gandhi declared, “My
Swadeshi chiefly centers around the hand – spun Khadar and extends to every
thing that can be and is produced in India.
(Collected works, XXVI_279)
Nationalism with a Difference:
In his interesting book the illegitimacy of Nationalism’. Ashis Nandy compares Tagore and Gandhi
respect of their position on nationalism in the following words:
“Both recognized the need for a ‘national’ ideology of India as a means of cultural survival and
both recognized that, for the same reason, India would either have to make a
break with the post-medieval western concept of nationalism or give the concept
a new ‘content’. As a result of Tagore, nationalism.” (Italics mine) (p.2)
Interestingly, Tagore who was no great votary of Khadi though, used it as
metaphor in an article on Nationalism written in 1917:
“Before the nation came to rule over us (under British colonial rule) we had other government which
were foreign, and these like all government, had some elements of ‘the machine
in them. But he difference between them and the government by the Nation is like
the difference between the handloom and the powerloom. In the products of the
hand- loom the magic of man’s living fingers finds its expression, and its hum
harmonizes with the music of life. But the power- loom is relentlessly lifeless
and accurate and monotonous in its production.
While Tagore’s critique has a poetic flavour and a streak of romanticism. Gandhi’s critique as
well as proposed alternatives is more robust and real, albert, idealistic.
Gandhi asserted that “violent nationalism, otherwise known as imperialism, is
the curse, non-violent nationalism is a necessary condition of corporate or civilized life”.
He saw Indian freedom movement as ‘India’s contribution to peace'.
Gandhi defined his version of nationalism in terms of Swadeshi and Swaraj. He declared that his ‘Swaraj is to keep intact the genius
of our civilization.
This is extended to include the principles of love and ‘freedom for the meanest of the
countrymen’ on the other. Both of these ere linked with the cause of Khadi,
which was part of our long tradition as also the need of the poor.
He exhorted his fellow beings to spin and weave Khadi. “I would ask you to come in Khadi, for
Khadi links you with the fallen and the down trodden.” Khadi epitomized the
noble spirit of truthfulness and purity He averred that ‘Khadi had been
conceived as the foundation and the image of ahimsa, Areal Khadi wearer will not
utter an untruth. A real Khadi-wearer will harbour no violence, no deceit, no impurity.
Against mechanistic and aggressive concept of nationalism in the west, Gandhi proposed a
concept of People’s Swaraj based on truth and non- violence for which Khadi was
an apt symbol. Moreover, this symbol also linked the concept of Swaraj with the
concern for the poor- the last man and village, the supported bastion of
backwardness. Prior Gandhi, the nationalist leaders had acquiesced in by an
large to a western concept of nationalism; Gandhi not only critiqued that but
provided an alternative concept, more deeply rooted in the tradition and
encompassing all Indians, rich and poor alike, He gave a moral perspective to
the national movement for which a set of new symbols were created by him, Khadi
Ramraj, and Satyagraha he was designing a new framework of ideology more
appropriate for the teeming millions of India, eighty five percent of them
residing in the country side. His critique was not merely, an alternative
ideology, it was a plan of mass action that he visualized was again not merely a
political programme but a social and economic agenda, to quote one of his
sentences: “Khadi service, village service and the Harijans service are one in
reality, thought three in name".
An Alternative Frame Work of Economics :
True economics, according to Gandhi, ‘never militates against the highest ethical standard, just
as all true ethics to be worth its name must at the same time be also good economics’.
He was critical of pursuit of materialism which
was the characteristic of the advancement of the west. He was generally opposed
to machines and centralization of production and favored on the contrary a life
of labour for everyone in the society, succinctly contained in his concept of
bread labour. He believed in the ideal of economic self- sufficiency of the
villages. He describes his idea of an ideal socio- economic order in the following words:
“Independence must begin at the bottom, Thus every village will be a republic or Panchayat having full powers.
In this structure composed of innumerable village there will be ever widening, never ascending
circles. Life will not be pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. But it
will be an oceanic circles whose centre will be individual always ready to
perish for the village, the latter ready to perish for the circle of villages
till at last the whole becomes one life composed of individuals, never
aggressive in their arrogance but ever humble, sharing the majesty of the
oceanic circle of which they are integral parts.
In this there is no room for machines that would displace human labour and that would concentrate
power in a few hands. Labour has a unique place in a cultural human family.
Every machine that helps every individual has a place.
Khadi is evidently the centre piece of the strategy for such an economic utopia. It not only means
compulsion of labour through spinning but a very decentralized mode of
production contributing to the possibility of a self-sufficient rural economy.
It is both a value system in it self and defines an alternative framework of
economy. He writes clearly that ‘Khadi mentality means decentralization of the
production and distribution of the production and distribution of the necessaries of life’.
(Mind of Mahatma Gandhi, 1968)
In this years of with – drawal from active politics from 1924, Gandhi devoted himself to the
propagation of Khadi turning it into a cult, as a strategy of nation building
‘from the bottom up’ He suggested a ‘Khadi franchise’ for the organization and
even ‘envisaged a ‘yarn currency’.
(B. R. Nanda, Mahatma Gandhi p.148)
B. R. Nanda comments ‘that Gandh’s almost emotional attachment to the spinning wheel should
have baffled both the British and Western educated town – bred Indians, educated
town-bred Indians, is not surprising’ for ‘they were both unable, the former
form lack of will, the latter from lack of ignorance, to grasp the incredible
poverty of Indian village. Even Tagore, otherwise an admirer of Mahatma ,feared
that spinning wheel that spinning wheel and the economic stagnation it implied
will cause a ‘death – like sameness in the country.’ Gandhi reply was loud and clear:
“I didn’t want the poet to forsake his music, the farmer his plough, the lawyer his brief, and the
doctor his lancet. They are to spin only thirty minutes every day as sacrifice.
I have every day as sacrifice. I have in deed asked the famishing man and woman,
who is idle for work whatsoever to spin for a living and the half-starved farmer
to spin during his income.”
Gandhi’s appeal surely had a moral ground and further he would make spinning wheel the centre of
his scheme of rural reconstruction building up anti-malaria campaigns,
improvement in sanitation, settlement of village disputes, conservation and
breeding of cattle and hundred of other beneficent activities required for the
resuscitation of the village. He proposed that ‘Khadi is the sun of the village solar system.’
It is well-known that Ruskin’s book Unto This Last had and indelible imprint on his mind. Behind
the whole Khadi campaign, it was this last man who was always in Gandhi’s mind.
On the other side, he opposed the tendency of ever increasing consumption and
multiplication of wants. The self-abnegation and asceticism of Gandhi’s economic
prescription has often been criticized as too idealistic and taken to the
extremes Even if it is true, now environmentalists are veering round to almost a
similar position. Excessive consumption may not be sustainable and may result in
depletion of the limited resources on the earth. Sidestepping this debate, it
may benoted that the Khadi – centered scheme for rural development was typical
of Gandhian economic framework, rather, its core principal.
Not with standing misgivings about the feasibility of his economic ideas, in the first ten years
of it s existence the. The all India Spinners Association had extended it
activities to 5300 villages and provided employment to 220,000 spinners 20,000
weavers and 20,000 carders and disbursed more than two crores of rupees in
Indian villages. Gandhi, of course, knew the limitations of his efforts in the
context of the magnitude of the problem. He decided to settle in a village,
named, Segaon near Wardha, which was later renamed as Sevagram. Soon Sevagram
became a centre of Gandhian Scheme of village welfare and several institution
All Indian Village Industries welfare and several institutions started there
including All Indian Village Industries. The Association set up a school for
training village workers and published it own periodical, Gram Udyog patrika.
Hindustani Talimi Sangh was the other institution which experimented on Gandhi’s
ideas of education. Basic Education as Critique of Modernity.
Education was arguably the most important arena for the introduction of modernity in India.
Designed as it was by the colonial masters, besides remaining generally divorced
from India tradition, it was also oblivious to the needs and problems of the
teeming millions in the countryside. Gandhi’s basic education scheme was
primarily a system of rural education and handicraft constituted the medium of
instruction. Spinning and weaving was again Gandhi’s preference among the crafts
and so his entire pedagogy and educational philosophy was intermeshed with his
khadi based approach to life.
From his earliest days in Indian public life Gandhi was critical of the Western system of
education for much of what it stood for in his opinion. A sample of his critique
can be read below:
“The system of education at present in vogue is wholly unsuited to India’s needs, is a bad copy
of the Western model and it has by reason of the medium of instruction being a
foreign language sapped the energy of the youths who had passed through our
schools and colleges and has produced an army of clerks and office-seekers. It
has dried up all originality, impoverished the vernaculars and has deprived the
masses of the benefit of higher knowledge which would otherwise have percolated
through the intercourse of the education classes with them. The system has
resulted in creating a gulf between educated India and the masses. It has
stimulated the brain but starved the spirit for want o f a religious basis for
education and emaciated the body for want of training in handicrafts. It has
criminally neglected the greatest need of agricultural training worth the name...”
Judith Brown has rightly observed, it is difficult to appreciate quite how radical and abrasive
Gandhi would have sounded to educated Indians as he castigated their educational
training and their values and told them they were traitors to their mother land
by being willing ‘victims’ of the current system’ (1989, 107). Despite their
opposition to British rule, most their nationalists did not reject the British
rule, most other nationalists did not reject the British system of education
outright, since they viewed it as a means by which India could became a
materially advance nation. But form the beginning of his career Gandhi thought differently.
Alongside Champaran Satyagraha, his earliest foray into local politics, he launched his
experiment in education. In November 1917 the first school was opened in
Barharwa just a week after. The experiment grew mature and eventually in 1937
after Wardha Conference fully developed was announced, although system was
announced although it was indeed a modified version of Gandhi’s won scheme of
education. Even in June 1921, writing in Young India he had outlined his views
with a great deal of clarity:
“I can see nothing wrong in the children, from the very threshold of their education, paying for it
in work. The simplest handicraft, suitable for all, required for the whole of
India undoubtedly spinning along with the previous processes. If we introduced
this in our educational institutions, we should fulfill three purposes. If we
introduced this in our educational institutions, we should fulfill three
purpose: make education self – supporting, train the bodies of the children as
well as their minds and pave the way for a complete boycott of foreign yarn and
cloth. Moreover, the children thus equipped will become self-reliant and independent.
It would be erroneous to think that Gandhi rejected ideas form the modern west in to or that
remained un influenced altogether. It may be pertinent to not that he viewed his
life as ‘experiments with truth’, ostensibly a tribute to science, to which he
was sufficiently exposed as a student. Although he claimed that he was what he
was ‘in spite of western education’, he didn’t insulate himself from the western
influence. Of course, he was both selective and innovative when it came to
borrowing from the west. Two persons who deeply influenced him were John Ruskin
and Leo Tolstoy, but neither in deed was a typical representative of
‘modernity’. They themselves were critics of modern civilization.
As Tolstoy saw it the false supposition of modern thinkers such as Renan, Strauss, Comte, Spencer
and Marx was the human betterment effected ‘not by moral efforts of individual
men towards recognition, elucidation, and profession of truth, but by a gradual
alteration of the general external conditions of life.’ They believe that ‘the
chief activity of man who wishes to serve society and improve the condition of
mankind should be directed not to the elucidation and profession of truth, but
to the amelioration of external political, social, and above all, economic
conditions… Let all those external conditions be realised’, responds Tostoy,
‘the position of humanity will not be bettered’.
Gandhi read a number of other nineteenth century of western civilization including Thomas
Carlyle (1979-1881), Henry David Thoreau (1817-62), Ralph Waldo Emerson
(1803-82) and Robert Sherard (1861-1943). A list of such works forms appendix of Hind Swaraj.
In one of his works Bhikhu Parekh has neatly analysed the synthesis of East & West that can be
noticed in Gandhi’s Thought: (Gandhi) took over the concept of ahimsa
(non-violence) from the Indian Traditions, especially the Jain. But the found it
negative and passive and reinterpreted it in the light of the activist and
socially oriented Christian concept, yielded the novel idea of an active and
positive but detached and non emotive love. (parekh 1997,35).
Noted educationist Krishna Kumar too highlights his indebtedness to western thought in his scheme
of education. He observes that if it were possible to read his plan as a
anonymous text in the history of world education, one would conveniently
classify it in the tradition of (the) western radical humanists.
Khadi was not exactly a simple economic activity confined to the rural households, it was an
active socially –oriented campaign, a drill for the shoulders of national
movement and an occasion for creating a social dialogue in a hierarchical
society. Khadi was a doubt a critique of the typical western modern civilization
based on industrialism, materialism. And yet it shares many a feature of the
radical humanist tradition in the west, while remaining firmly rooted in the
indigenous tradition. Gandhi himself started his position with regard to
influences in a picturesque manner. He declared that he did not want his windows
to be stuffed and wanted free air to blow about from all sides. He simply added
that he would not like to be swept off his feet.