Khadi, which started as a symbol of the Swadeshi Movement led by Mahatma Gandhi 100 years ago, is now a fashion statement in India and is gradually getting popular across the globe, says Ashok Athalye

Khadi is a textile fabric made by hand-spun and hand-woven cotton, silk, wool or a mixture of these fibres. It is a traditional way of textile manufacturing and is generally produced by rural artisans. The method of manual spinning and weaving makes the fabric structure somewhat rugged and imparts a unique appearance and makes it soft and comfortable to wear. The spinning is carried out on a traditional wooden frame called charkha, while the weaving is done on a handloom.  The specific fabric construction helps in circulation of air within the threads and imparts unique property of keeping the wearer warm in winter as well as cool in summer.

Significance of khadi

India has an ancient heritage of cloth making based on the availability of natural fibrous raw material such as -agricultural cotton owing to the clement climatic conditions and fertile land, varieties of silk from different sericulture and wool from domestically reared sheep. The textile coloration was carried out using abundantly available natural dyes, derived from various plant and animal extracts.

Such flourishing textile base was one of the major attractions for the western world. After mechanised industrialisation, the situation changed and the basic raw material was exported from India, converted into mill-processed finished cloth and the imported fabric was brought back. This led to the demolition of traditional textile manufacturing in India and eventually the art and craft of fabric making diminished.

During the initial phase of the freedom struggle, national leaders like Dadabhai Naoroji and Lokmanya Tilak initiated the Swadeshi Movement to promote Indian-made products. However, it was Mahatma Gandhi who in 1918 brought the focus of India's freedom struggle to khadi by promoting that as a Swadeshi symbol.

Under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, khadi-making regained momentum and became a symbol of revolution and resistance. It also provided employment to the vast rural population of India and achieved distinct identity as a common man's cloth. As everybody could wear the same form of clothing without any distinctions of class, creed or religion, they could demonstrate solidarity in freedom struggle. Wearing khadi became a matter of national pride and united the population of India by surpassing the divisive system of the region, language, religion, caste, age and gender. It reflected our country's legacy of sustainable living and self-reliance. The Indian national flag is also made from khadi material.

Growth and transformation

After independence, the Khadi Village and Industries Commission (KVIC) initiated research in the manufacturing techniques and tools to improve quality and promote khadi products. It established hundreds of new khadi institutions and trained thousands of artisans. This tremendously boosted production of khadi fabric. Further, the developments in high production capacity charkha or spindles, synergistic blending of different fibres, promotional material and shade cards helped enhance the number and variety of khadi products apart from boosting production.

An estimated 15 lakh people are now engaged in producing over 12 crore metres of khadi. KVIC is taking further steps to enhance its production as the market demand for such products is much more than the supply. A new programme is expected to establish the 'Khadi Mark' and a logo to indicate the genuineness of the product.