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Khadi Outlook

The Newspapers have it that certain young men at Trichinopoly made a public demonstration of their dissatisfaction of the working of the khadi organization by making a bonfire of their khadi. The action was thoughtless. It was calculated to rouse popular passions. It would hinder khadi work which, we trust, was not the object of the demonstrators. Khadi as an item of National economy is common ground for khadi workers and will not serve as the basis of disputes as among themselves. Khadi concerns the lives of the millions in the villages while khadi organization is the business of the few at the helm of the A.I.S.A. To visit punishment on the many for the fault committed by the few is neither just nor patriotic. We hope the example of the Trichinopoly demonstrators will not be copied by khadi wearers elsewhere.

But the Trichy event is ominous. It marks a stage in the development of the Khadi movement which it would be wise to take note of and seriously ponder over. While the patriotism of the general public is keeping up the level of production and sale of khadi, the growth of experience and knowledge on the part of khadi workers is stimulating an attempt on their part to revaluate khadi values. The appeal to prevent the annual drain of 60 Crores of National wealth does not any longer create the stir in our heart it used to. If there is the cloth drain, there are also other drains, economic and moral, which are equally serious and claim our attention. The cloth drain, at any rate, is being systematically fought against and countered by the Indian mills while the other drains are still uncared for. The old argument against machinery as such does not any longer hold water. While exploitation by the few and the sweating of the many which are the outstanding features of mechanized industry today are strenuously combated, the struggle has to take the form of assimilation rather than of expulsion. The inhuman characteristics of the machine are slowly getting humanized.

We hope for a time when conditions of service inside the mills will so improve that human nature will be tempted to work rather than keep idle. Men and women will begin the day’s work inside the mill with the same exhilaration of enjoyment as when they take their turn at the dance when the tune strikes the waltz. They will handle instruments of large scale production even as they will handle tennis bats, and will derive the same experience of healthful recreation. Machinery so transformed will be a delight and will have no horrors for us. Hoping for the advent of the day of such transformation we cannot continue to sustain an antipathy for machinery as such. After all is not the Charkha also a machine? Nay, does not the takli impelled by the momentum of the twirling fingers, assume the shape of the monster and draw out the fibers and eat up the sliver with avidity even as the machine does? Though of diminutive size and complexity, the instruments which produce khadi are of the same hateful genus, machine.

If we do not mind the drain and if we do not object to the machine what is it which sustains our faith in khadi? Frankly, it is the personal equation. Foreign cloth is hateful to us because it symbolizes the foreign exploitation of India’s wants. It displays callousness to the problem of Indian unemployment that wounds our sense of Self-respect. Foreign cloth is red with the blood of the millions who die of starvation in our villages. The Indian Mill cloth is equally distasteful because it is an emblem of sweated labour. It multiplies the idle rich and displays an indifference to the sufferings of the masses. It outrages our sense of economic justice. Indian Mill cloth is red with the blood of thousands who die in the streets of our cities. Khadi is welcome because, it implies no harm or injustice to anyone else. It is not a super-imposition. It preserves our Self-respect. It is our own handiwork and symbolizes our ability for national self-reliance. The labour involved is essentially voluntary. It is the harbinger of Swaraj. Khadi is not a piece of cloth. Khadi is an idea, capable of infinite expansion and infinite application.

That khadi is now the product of the Charkha is but a historical accident due to the limitations of knowledge and of resources pertaining to the age and to the people concerned. In a different age or for a different people khadi will have a different manifestation. Under the ideal conditions we described above, of the prevalence of transformed machinery devoid of its present horrors we can well conceive of khadi being a Mill product. In an age when unemployment, sweating and starvation are unknown, we can afford to confine the hand spinner in a lunatic asylum and to consign the Charkha to a museum. Thus conceived, khadi is but part of a much wider movement for the assertion of the fundamentals of life. It is the expression, on the economic side, of an awakening to the full implications of human rights and human duties. Today therefore we are unable to have a clearer perspective of khadi in its full setting than we had in the earlier days of the movement. If we now find limitations to khadi work, we also realize in a fuller measure the implications and the details of the khadi activity. This necessitates a change of perspective and an adaptation of our methods to meet the new situation. Our responsibilities have, as a result, increased in that there is now an extra need for us to keep vigilant and take the bend at the proper angle. We should restrain haste if we would avoid a crash. The Trichy demonstration is just the wrong way of bringing about the change. It would have served its purpose if we take it as a warning to increase our vigil.

- Revolt, 6 February 1929

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