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THE SPIRIT OF KHADI
A LEAF FROM THE LIFE OF MAHATMA GANDHI

( Presented by S. N. Goel, Kamla Nagar Hospital, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India)

Khadi: The life of Mahatma Gandhi is an open book. He strode on this earth as a common man. He spent his life like a common man and exhibited all those weaknesses and limitations that a commoner has. The greatest inspiration that a common man can draw from his life is that with all his simplicity and failings as an individual, he was able to scale unassailable heights and left his tread marks all over the world, as long as he lived and ever after. A simple illustration is his propagation of Khadi. During the thirties India was a stratified society and hand spun and hand woven cloth, which was considered as coarse cloth, was normally worn by economically poorer sections of the society, particularly in predominantly rural areas. All fine varieties of cloth used to be imported from the textile mills of England for meeting the needs of city elites and other affluent sections of the society. Mahatma Gandhi could see that cloth is an essential item of mass consumption and that the production of hand spun and hand woven cloth in every village and every household could meet this essential need of the people and at the same time it could generate tremendous opportunities for fruitful work for economically depressed populace. Subsequently, this hand spun and hand woven coarse cloth, popularly known as Khadi, gradually got all the respectability, when the affluent, high and mighty in the land started using it and adopted it as a part of their formal dress and started vying with each other in exhibiting their Khadi outfit in all public appearances. Thus, Khadi helped in breaking the visible barrier between man and man and between affluence and poverty and provided unlimited opportunities for fruitful work for millions of people, who had almost nothing productive or fruitful to see in the economic vacuum of the colonial era. We may not have been able to appreciate it, but we can see that Khadi, the magic wand of Mahatma Gandhi can well be treated as the fore-runner for opening up large scale productive opportunities of work for those masses, which had almost nothing to fall back on.

2. Opportunities for work: The dreams of a common man are usually very modest and close to realities. All that he wishes is availability of sufficient opportunities for work and the freedom to enjoy the fruits of his labour in a relaxed manner, in an environment of safety, security and goodwill. Opportunities for scrambling two square meals a day, gradually kindle in him the urge for improving facilities for better shelter, better education and better health. These are common urges. Everybody has them and with proper environment and opportunity, everybody has the capacity to cross the hump.

Mahatma Gandhi developed a number of Gandhi Ashrams in early thirties. In the initial stages, these were primarily cotton spinning centers for the production of yarn for Khadi. The primitive Charkha was the basic tool. The wages of manual laborer in those days were of the order of ten paisa per day and even for this, sufficient work opportunities were not available. Under that context, Gandhi Ashrams made an offer to anybody and everybody to come to the Ashram, learn the use of Charkha and utilize whatever spare time was available for spinning yarn from the Charkha. Cotton was made available by the ashram and the spun yarn was taken by the ashram. The labour for spinning yarn was paid to the man in cash by the Ashram. Thus anybody who did not have opportunities for fruitful employment, went to the Ashram, put in his spare time there and earned something. That something may have been of the order of two paisa or four paisa or more or less, depending on the time, skill and dedication of the person concerned. Charkha did not provide a living wage, but it did provide something, where there was nothing to be seen. It did supplement the income of the family and the family was slightly better off than what it was. Gradually, the man acquired a Charkha, placed it at his home and all members of the family were spinning, whenever they were free and whenever Charkha was available. Charkha did not make them affluent, but it did help them in scrambling two meals a day. And gradually they started thinking about better things and better life.

3. Gram Swarajya (village self-administration) or dispersion of opportunities for work: With all the scientific advancement, millions of people, all over the world, are suffering from hunger, malnutrition, disease, unhealthy living conditions and poverty. All nations and almost all international bodies have continuously thought about it and have been pouring billions of dollars and other resources in aid every year for the alleviation of the sufferings and improvement in the lot of these unfortunate people, but the problems are colossal and appear to be unending. To-day China has assumed the role of manufacturing centre of the world. The industries from all over the world have moved to China and the movement continues unabated. The simple secret is opportunities for productive work available there. Similarly, India is fast becoming as the service centre of the world. All major corporations of the world have a presence in India and multifarious service tasks of the world are handled there. Again the secret is ready availability of world-class pool of highly trained, English speaking professional manpower in the country and unlimited opportunities for work for them. It may look ironical, but almost all developed countries of the world, which have helped China and India at some stage or the other in realizing their present potential, are facing continuously shrinking opportunities for employment and loss of high end jobs. And, of course the problem appears to be getting out of hand everywhere. In this context, we may look to another concept projected by Mahatma Gandhi - the concept of gram swarajya. We can take it as an ideology for the dispersion of opportunities for productive and fruitful work. This is again a magic tool and has the potential universality to be effective in all countries and in all types of diverse strata of society.

In conclusion, the life and times of Mahatma Gandhi were very different. Whatever he has written or spoken are in the context of those times. However, the spirit, concepts and thoughts behind all that he did are a beacon of light at all times for all those who want to benefit from it.

The civilized world has very few options. They can draw inspiration from the works of Mahatma Gandhi for survival of the present generation and for the safety, security and prosperity of the generations to come.

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