Village Swaraj

Chapter-19: Khadi and Spinning

Khadi denotes the beginning of economic freedom and equality of all in the country. It must be taken with all its implications. It means a wholesale Swadeshi mentality, a determination to find all the necessaries of life in India and that too through the labour and intellect of the villagers. The latter will be largely self-contained and will voluntarily serve the cities of India and even the outside world in so far as it benefits both the parties.
This needs a revolutionary change in the mentality and tastes of many. Easy though the non-violent way is in many respects, it is very difficult in many others. It vitally touches the life of every single Indian, makes him feel aglow with the possession of a power that has lain hidden within himself, and makes him proud of his identity with every drop of the ocean of Indian humanity.
Khadi to me is the symbol of unity of Indian humanity, of its economic freedom and equality and, therefore, ultimately in the poetic expression of Jawaharlal Nehru, 'the livery of India's freedom'.
Moreover, Khadi mentality means decentralization of the production and distribution of the necessaries of life. Therefore, the formula so far evolved is, every village to produce all its necessaries and a certain percentage in addition for the requirements of the cities.
Having explained the implications of Khadi, I must indicate what Congressmen can and should do towards its promotion. Production of Khadi includes cotton growing, picking, ginning, cleaning, carding, slivering, spinning, sizing, dyeing, preparing the warp and the woof, weaving, and washing. These, with the exception of dyeing, are essential processes. Every one of them can be effectively handled in the villages and is being so handled in many villages throughout India which the A. I. S. A. is covering.
If Congressmen will be true to their Congress call in respect of Khadi, they will carry out the instructions of the A. I. S. A. issued from time to time as to the part they can play in Khadi planning. Only a few broad rules can be laid down here:

  1. Every family with a plot of ground can grow cotton at least for family use. Cotton growing is an easy process. In Bihar the cultivators were by law compelled to grow indigo one of their cultivable land. This was in the interest of the foreign indigo planter. Why cannot we grow cotton voluntarily for the nation on a certain portion of our land ? The reader will note that decentralization commences from the beginning of the Khadi processes. Today cotton crop is centralized and has to be sent to distant parts of India. Before the war it used to be sent principally to Britain and Japan. It was and still is a money crop and, therefore, subject to the fluctuations of the market. Under the Khadi scheme cotton growing becomes free from this uncertainty and gamble. The grower grows what he needs. The farmer needs to know that his first business is to grow for his own needs. When he does that, he will reduce the chance of a low market ruining him.
  2. Every spinner would buy—if he has not his own—enough cotton for ginning, which he can easily do without the hand-ginning roller frame. He can gin his own portion with a board and an iron rolling pin. Where this is considered impracticable, hand-ginned cotton should be bought and carded. Carding for self can be done well on a tiny bow without much effort. The greater the decentralization of labour, the simpler and cheaper the tools. The livers made, the process of spinning commences.

Imagine the unifying and educative effect of the whole nation simultaneously taking part in the processes up to spinning! Consider the levelling effect of the bond of common labour between the rich and the poor!
If Congressmen will put their heart into the work, they will make improvements in the tools and make many discoveries. In our country there has been a divorce between labour and intelligence. The result has been stagnation. If there is an indissoluble marriage between the two, and that in the manner here suggested, the resultant good will be inestimable.
In this scheme Of nation-wide spinning as a sacrifice, I do not expect the average man or woman to give more than one hour daily to this work.

Constructive Programme, 1951, p.11-14

The message of the spinning wheel is much wider than its circumference. Its message is one of simplicity, service of mankind, living so as not to hurt others, creating an indissoluble bond between the rich and the poor, capital and labour, the prince and the peasant.

Y.I., 17-9-’25, p.321

I stand by what is implied in the phrase, 'unto this last'. We must do even unto this last as we would have the world do by us. All must have equal opportunity. Given the opportunity, every human being has the same possibility for spiritual growth. That is what the spinning wheel symbolizes.

H., 17-11-’46, p.404

I can only think of spinning as the fittest and most acceptable sacrificial body labour. I cannot imagine anything nobler or more national than that for, say one hour in the day, we should all do the labour that the poor must do, and thus identify ourselves with them and through them with all mankind. I cannot imagine better worship of God than that in His name I should labour for the poor even as they do. The spinning wheel spells a more equitable distribution of the riches of the earth.

Y.I., 20-10-’21, p.329

I feel convinced that the revival of hand-spinning and hand-weaving will make the largest contribution to the economic and the moral regeneration of India. The millions must have a simple industry to supplement agriculture. Spinning was the cottage industry years ago, and if the millions are to be saved from starvation, they must be enabled to reintroduce spinning in their homes and every village must repossess its own weaver.

Y.I., 21-7-’20, p.4

If the reader would visualize the picture of the Indian skeleton, he must think of the eighty per cent of the population which is working its own fields, and which has practically no occupation for at least four months in the year, and which therefore lives on the borderland of starvation. This is the normal condition. The ever recurring famines make a large addition to this enforced idleness. What is the work that these men and women can easily do in their own cottages so as to supplement their very slender resources? Does anyone still doubt that it is only hand-spinning and nothing else?

Y.I., 3-11-’21, p.350

Cottage manufacture of yarn and cloth cannot be expensive even as domestic cookery is not expensive and cannot be replaced by hotel cookery. Over twenty-five crores of the population will be doing their own hand-spinning and having yarn thus manufactured woven in neighbouring localities. This population is rooted to the soil, and has at least four months in the year to remain idle.
If they spin during those hours and have the yarn woven and wear it, no mill-made cloth can compete with their Khadi. The cloth thus manufactured will be the cheapest possible for them.

Y.I., 8-12-’21, p.405

What is claimed for spinning is that:

  1. It supplies the readiest occupation to those who have leisure and are in want of a few coppers;
  2. it is known to the thousands;
  3. it is easily learnt;
  4. it requires practically no outlay of capital;
  5. the wheel can be easily and cheaply made. Most of us do not yet know that spinning can be done even with a piece of tile and splinter;
  6. the people have no repugnance to it;
  7. it affords immediate relief in times of famine and scarcity;
  8. it alone can stop the drain of wealth which goes outside India in the purchase of foreign cloth;
  9. it automatically distributes the millions thus saved among the deserving poor;
  10. even the smallest success means so much immediate gain to the people;
  11. it is the most potent instrument of securing co-operation among the people.

Y.I., 21-8-’24, p.277

The disease of the masses is not want of money so much as it is want of work. Labour is money. He, who provides dignified labour for the millions in their cottages, provides food and clothing, or which is the same thing, money. The Charkha provides such labour. Till a better substitute is found, it must, therefore, hold the field.

Y.I., 18-6-’25, p.211

Idleness is the great cause, the root of all evil, and if that root can be destroyed, most of the evils can be remedied without further effort. A nation that is starving has little hope or initiative left in it. It becomes indifferent to filth and disease. It says of all reforms, 'to what good?' That winter of despair can only be turned into the 'sun-shine of hope' for the millions only through the life-giving wheel, the Charkha.

Y.I., 27-8-’25, p.299

The spinning wheel is an attempt to produce something out of nothing. If we save sixty crores of rupees to the nation through the spinning wheel, as we certainly can, we add that vast amount to the national income. In the process we automatically organize our villages. And as almost the whole of the amount must be distributed amongst the poorest of the land, it becomes a scheme of just and nearly equal distribution of so much wealth. Add to this immense moral value of such distribution, and the case for the Charkha becomes irresistible.

Y.I., 17-2-’27, p.52

Indeed, in some places, there are to be found weavers who are classed as untouchables on account of their occupation. They are mostly weavers of coarsest Khadi without any pattern. This class was fast dying out when Khadi came to the rescue and there was created a demand for their coarse manufacture. It was then discovered that there were numerous Harijan families that even subsisted on spinning. Thus Khadi is doubly the poor man's staff of life. It helps the poorest, including the Harijans, who are the most helpless among the poorest. They are so because many occupations which are available to the others are not available to the Harijans.

H., 27-4-’34, p.85

To those also who aspire to observe Brahmcharya I present the spinning wheel. It is not a thing to be despised, for it is experience here that speaks. A person who wants to subdue his passions has need to be calm. All commotion within him ought to cease; and so quiet and gentle is the motion of the spinning wheel that it has been known to still the passions of those who have turned it in the fullness of faith. . . . Human passions are fleeter even than the wind, and to subdue them completely requires no end of patience. All that I claim is that in the spinning wheel they will find a powerful means of cultivating steadiness.

Y.I., 27-5-’4-26, p.190

Spinning would spell the organization of crores into a joint co-operative effort, the conservation and utilization of the energy of the millions, and the dedication of crores of lives to the service of the motherland. The carrying out of such a gigantic task would, further, give us a realization of our own strength. It would mean our acquiring a thorough mastery of the detail and innumerable knotty problems which it presents, e.g. learning to keep account of every pie, learning to live in the villages in sanitary and healthy conditions, removing the difficulties that block the way and so on. For, unless we learn all this, we would not be able to accomplish this task. The spinning wheel, then, provides us with a means for generating this capacity in us.

Y.I., 27-5-’26, p.190

The only universal industry for the millions is spinning and ho other. That does not mean that other industries do not matter or are useless. Indeed from the individual standpoint any other industry would be more remunerative than spinning. Watchmaking will be no doubt a most remunerative and fascinating industry. But how many can engage in it? Is it of any use to the millions of villagers? But if the villagers can reconstruct their home, begin to live again as their forefathers did, if they begin to make good use of their idle hours, all else, all the other industries will revive as a matter of course.

Y.I., 30-9-’26, p.341

The revival (of Charkha) cannot take place without an army of selfless Indians of intelligence and patriotism working with a single mind in the villages to spread the message of the Charkha and bring a ray of hope and light into their lustreless eyes. This is mighty effort at co-operation and adult education of the correct type. It brings about a silent and sure revolution like the silent but sure and life-giving revolution of the Charkha.
Twenty years' experience of Charkha work has convinced me of the correctness of the argument here advanced by me. The Charkha has served the poor Muslims and Hindus in almost an equal measure. Nearly five crores of rupees have been put into the pockets of these lakhs of village artisans without fuss and tomtoming.
Hence I say without hesitation that the Charkha must lead us to Swaraj in terms of the masses belonging to all faiths. The Charkha restores the villages to their rightful place and abolishes distinctions between high and low.

H., 13-4-’40, p.85

The spinning wheel is a symbol not of commercial war but of commercial peace. It bears not a message of ill-will towards the nations of the earth but of goodwill and self-help. It will not need the protection of a navy threatening a world's peace and exploiting its resources, but it needs the religious determination of millions to spin their yarn in their own homes as today they cook their food in their own homes. I may deserve the curses of posterity for many mistakes of omission and commission, but I am confident of earning its blessings for suggesting a revival of the Charkha. I take my all on it. For every revolution of the wheel spins peace, goodwill and love.

Y.I., 8-12-’21, p.406

It is my claim that (by reviving Khadi and other village industries) we shall have evolved so far that we shall remodel national life in keeping with the ideal of simplicity and domesticity implanted in the bosom of the masses. We will not then be dragged into an imperialism which is built upon exploitation of the weaker races of the earth, and the acceptance of a giddy materialistic civilization protected by naval and air forces that have made peaceful living almost impossible. On the contrary we shall then refine that imperialism into a commonwealth of nations which will combine, if they do, for the purpose of giving their best to the world and of protecting, not by brute force but by self-suffering, the weaker nations or races of the earth. Such a transformation can come only after the complete success of the spinning wheel. India can become fit for delivering such a message, when she has become proof against temptation and therefore attacks from outside, by becoming self-contained regarding two of her chief needs— food and clothing.

Y.I., 29-6-’21, p.206

When once we have revived the one industry (Khadi), all the other industries will follow. I would make the spinning wheel the foundation on which to build a sound village life; I would make the wheel the centre round which all other activities will revolve.

Y.I., 21-5-’25, p.177

The ideal of Khadi has always been as a means, par excellence, for the resuscitation of villages and therethrough the generation of real strength among the masses—the strength that will ipso facto bring Swaraj.

Swaraj through Charkha 1945, p.8

My experience tells me that in order to make Khadi universal both in ' the cities and villages, it should be made available only in exchange for yarn. As time passes I hope people will themselves insist on buying Khadi through yarn currency. If, however, this does not happen and they produce yarn grudgingly, I fear Swaraj through non-violence will be impossible.
An increase in the number of mills and cities will certainly not contribute to the prosperity of India's millions. On the contrary, it will bring further poverty to the unemployed and all the diseases that follow in the wake of starvation. If town-dwellers can look upon such a spectacle with equanimity there is nothing more to be said. In such an event it will be the reign of violence in India, not a reign of Truth and Ahimsa. And we shall be forced to admit that there is naturally no room there for Khadi. Military training will then have to be compulsory for all. But we must only think in terms of the starving crores. If they are to be restored, if they are to live, then the Charkha must be made the central activity and people must spin voluntarily.

Swaraj through Charkha 1945, p.5

Our work had a very humble beginning. When I started Khadi I had with me, apart from Maganlalbhai and others who had elected to live and die with me, Vitthaldasbhai and a few sisters. We have travelled a long way since then and today about two crores of people have come under the influence of the Charkha. By its help we have been able to provide the village people with a large amount of money. But can we still hold, as we have always maintained, that Swaraj is impossible without the Charkha? So long as we do not substantiate this claim the Charkha is really no more than a measure of relief, to which we turn because we can do nothing else about it. It would not then be the means of our salvation.
Secondly, we have failed to carry our message to the crores of our people. They have neither any knowledge of what the Charkha can do for them nor even the necessary curiosity for it.
The Congress did accept the Charkha. But did it do so willingly? No, it tolerates the Charkha simply for my sake. The Socialists ridicule it outright. They have spoken and written much against it. We have no clear or convincing reply to offer to them. How I wish I could convince them that the Charkha is the key to Swaraj! I have not been able to justify the claim all these years.
Now for my third point: Non-violence is not something of the other world. If it is, I have no use for it. I am of the earth and if non-violence is something really worthwhile I want to realize it here on this earth while still I am alive. And how else can it be realized except in a society which has compassion and other similar virtues as its characteristics? If you go to the house of one who has use for violence you will find his drawing room decorated with tigers' skins, deers' horns, swords, guns and such like. I have been to the Viceregal Lodge, I also saw Mussolini. In the houses of both I found arms hanging on the walls. I was given a salute with arms, a symbol of violence.
Just as arms symbolize violence the Charkha symbolizes non-violence, in the sense that we can most directly realize non-violence through it. But it cannot symbolize non-violence so long as we do not work in accordance with its spirit. The sword in Mussolini's hall seemed to say "Touch me and I will cut you." It gave a vivid picture of violence. It seemed to ask you to touch it and realize its power. So also we must illustrate the power of the Charkha so that a mere look at it may speak to us about non-violence. But we are bankrupt today. What is our answer to Socialists? They complain that we have been harping on the Charkha for years and yet we have achieved nothing.
The Charkha was there during Muslim rule also. Dacca was famous for its muslins. The Charkha then was a symbol of poverty and not of non-violence. The kings took forced labour from women and depressed classes. The same was later repeated by the East India Company. Kautilya mentions in his Arthashastra the existence of such forced labour. For ages the Charkha was thus a symbol of violence and the use of force and compulsion. The spinner got but a handful of grain or two small coins, while ladies of the court went about luxuriously clad in the finest of muslins, the product of exploited labour.
As against this, I have presented the Charkha to you as a symbol of non-violence. If I did not make it clear to you so far, it was my mistake. You know I am among the maimed and can move but slowly. Yet I do believe that the work done so far has not been a waste. I shall now pass to my fourth point. We have not yet proved that there can be no Swaraj without the Charkha. It cannot be proved so long as you do not explain it to Congressmen. The Charkha and the Congress should become synonyms.
The task of proving the superiority of non-violence is a difficult one. We have to fathom its depths if we are to realize its truth. The world is going to put me to the test. It may declare me a fool for my tall talk about the Charkha. The task of making the Charkha, which for centuries had been a symbol of poverty, helplessness, injustice and forced labour, the symbol now of mighty non-violent strength, of the new social order and of the new economy, has fallen on our shoulders. We have to change history. And I want to do it through you.
I hope you follow what I am saying. But if in spite of it you do not believe that the Charkha has the power to achieve Swaraj, I will ask you to leave me. Here you are at the cross roads. If you continue with me without faith you will be deceiving me and doing a great wrong to the country. I beg of you not to deceive me in the evening of my life. It is- I who am responsible for defects in our working so far. The fault is mine because I have remained the head even when I was conscious of its defects. But let bygones be bygones. Do we honestly believe today that the Charkha is the emblem of non-violence? How many of us are there who believe so from the depths of our heart?
Now we have the tri-colour flag. What is it but a piece of Khadi of specific length and breadth? You can well have another piece in its place. But behind that Khadi cloth lie encased your feelings. It is a symbol of Swaraj, a symbol of national emancipation. We cannot forget it. We will not remove it. We are prepared to die for it. So also the Charkha should be an emblem of non-violence.
What does the Charkha, as an emblem of nonviolence, signify in the economic sphere? Call it self-sufficiency or what you like. In the name of national reconstruction and self-sufficiency millions are being bled white in Western countries, as also in other countries for their sake. Ours is not a self-sufficiency of that pattern. The Charkha is the way to get rid of exploitation and domination. I am not so much concerned with words as with the thing itself.
We are familiar with the controversy in our religion as to whether God has a form or no. The believers in form prefer to worship God through an emblem. So if non-violence is to be pursued as an ideal, the Charkha must be acknowledged as its true form and emblem, and kept ever before view. Whenever I think of non-violence the picture of the Charkha comes before me. We cannot visualize non-violence in the abstract. So we choose an object which can symbolize for us the formless. That is what the Charkha does for me and that is why I worship it. Unless you understand and imbibe this spirit behind my worship of the Charkha you will not gain an understanding of non-violence even for a hundred years. That capacity for non-violence which I find in the Charkha can also be perceived by you only if you approach it with a heart like mine. That is why I say: Follow me or leave me. If you want to come with me I will give you a scheme and do everything possible. If you have not understood what I mean I am prepared to sit and discuss it with you the whole day. But if you say that you have grasped my meaning when you really have not, you will be deceiving both yourselves and me. Ours is not an Association for making profit. We do not seek loaves and fishes. There are a thousand fields in which we can serve the country. Why then remain in Charkha work and sail under false colours? Please do not therefore remain with me under an illusion. Let me go my way alone. But if it were found that I was myself suffering from an illusion and that my belief in the Charkha was mere idol-worship, either you may burn me to ashes with the wood of the Charkha, or I myself would set fire to the Charkha with my own hand.
If the Charkha Sangh has to go, let us wind it up with our own hands. That will put an end to all our struggle. Then the Charkha which has for the moment put us into a labyrinth of difficulties will be left in the hands of a few who believe in it, and may in their hands prove to be a mighty weapon. If you regard it as sheer folly I certainly have no ambition to run an idiots' association and thus degrade the country. On the other hand, if you can manifest non-violence through the Charkha, it will not merely move but sweep forward. You will not then have to worry about keeping it alive.
I repeat that you either leave me alone or digest what I say and follow me. I have brought this new idea to you after two years of penitential thinking. I do not know if I have succeeded in conveying my idea to you. If I have been able to carry conviction please do one thing. Those of you who want to remain with me give me in writing that you regard the Charkha from today as the emblem of non-violence. You have to make your decision today. If you do not or cannot regard the Charkha as the emblem of non-violence and yet you remain with me, then you will thereby put yourself in an awkward plight and also drag me down with you.

Khadi – Why and How, 1959, p.153-57

One epoch of Khadi has ended. Khadi has achieved something for the benefit of the poor. Now we have to demonstrate how the poor can be self-supporting.

Ideology of the Charkha 1959, p.94

I saw that our work would be incomplete, so long as we did not carry the message of the Charkha to every home.

Khadi – Why and How, 1959, p.149

The Charkha is the symbol of non-violent economic self-sufficiency. If we and the people grasp this significance of the Charkha not a pice need be spent on propaganda for the Charkha. Nor need we look to the rich for alms. We shall without effort become the centre of hope, and the people will come to us of their own accord. They will not go elsewhere to seek work. Every village will become the nerve centre of independent India. India will then not be known by her cities like Bombay and Calcutta, but by her 400 millions inhabiting the seven lakhs of villages. The problems of Hindu-Muslim differences, untouchability, conflicts, misunderstandings and rivalries will all melt away. This is the real function of the Sangh. We have to live and die for it.

Khadi – Why and How, 1959, p.150

The pursuit of the Charkha must become the mainspring of manifold other activities like village industries, Nai Talim etc. If we are able to adopt the Charkha intelligently we can revive the entire economic life of our villages once more.

Khadi – Why and How, 1959, p.151

By its help we have been able to provide the village people with a large amount of money. But can we still hold, as we have always maintained, that Swaraj is impossible without the Charkha? So long as we do not substantiate this claim the Charkha is really no more than a measure of relief, to which we turn because we can do nothing else about it. It would not then be the means of our salvation.

Khadi – Why and How, 1959, p.154

Now I feel that Khadi alone cannot revive the villages. Village uplift is possible only when we rejuvenate village life as a whole, revive all village industries and make the entire village industrious.

Khadi – Why and How, 1959, p.181

Khadi is not an occupation or draft merely to earn a livelihood. None of us should harbour this idea.

Khadi – Why and How, 1959, p.184

Our reason for putting forward Khadi is that it is the only way to redeem the people from the disease of inertia and indifference, the only way to generate in them the strength for freedom. If other crafts are also thus revitalized, our villages could be made self-sufficient and self-reliant.

Khadi – Why and How, 1959, p.185

But what we are required to prove above all is the necessity for Khadi for establishing a strong, non-violent village economy.

Khadi – Why and How, 1959, p.189

In my opinion, however, the real celebration (of Charkha Jayanti) will come only when the music of the wheel which is the symbol of Independence and non-violence will be heard in every home. If a few or even a crore of poor women spin in order to earn a pittance, what can the celebration mean to them and what achievement can that be? This can well happen even under a despotic rule and is today visible, wherever capital holds sway. Millionaires are sustained by the charity, they dole out to the poor, may be even in. the form of wages.
The celebration will only be truly worth-while when the rich and the poor alike understand that all are equal in the eyes of God, that each one, in his own place, must earn his bread by labour, and that the independence of all will be protected, not by guns and ammunition but by the bullets, in the shape of cones of hand-spun yarn, i.e. not by violence but by non-violence.

H., 22-9-’46, p.320

Ponder and realize what wealth this would mean to India, if 300 crores worth of cloth are produced by their own hands in the villages. This is a veritable mint of gold for them and if Khadi became universal, the villages would rise to unknown heights.
Today our masses are poverty-stricken, without the lustre of hope or intelligence in their eyes. The pure hands of the spinners could create this miracle for them and everyone could help. They should have understanding hearts and seeing eyes to detect the beauty in Khaddar even if it is coarse and not be allured by mill finery which could never clothe their nakedness in the true sense of the term. The only way to clothe their nakedness and drive away hunger is for them to grow their own food and make their own cloth. If this happy consummation could be achieved, the eyes of the whole world would be turned towards India,.

H., 22-9-’46, p.322

Before the Charkha class in full swing, everything else appears dull and lifeless to me. For I behold my Rama dancing in every thread drawn. I find Swaraj in it. When I contemplate the strength of the yarn drawn by 40 crores of hands, my heart is filled with an ecstasy of joy. 'O, but 20 crores of Indians will not take to spinning,' you say. Is it not a sign of our ignorance and lack of faith to refuse to believe in the possibility? Is it an impossible thing to expect every one of half, the population to spin for an hour a day? If we have not the capacity to sacrifice even this much for our Motherland, what is our love of country worth?

H., 22-9-’46, p.322