We just celebrated Gandhi Jayanti and all that come as a flash in front of our eyes is the image of him spinning charkha and wearing khadi. ‘Khadi’ or ‘khaddar’ as called in rural areas was woven on simple looms since more than a millennium ago across India including the present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh. Gandhi used the word ‘Khadi’ and used it as symbolic political term or an effective and powerful element of Indian soft-power only second to his concept of ‘nonviolence’, and Khadi subsequently transformed into the very fabric of the idea of India.

Prime Minister Modi has time and again expressed his support for khadi, cottage industries, crafts and handlooms and he is reported to have given a call to the masses to buy rakhis made of Khadi for Raksha Bandhan and to buy khadi products during the coming festive season. However, what is important is that Government agencies should carefully listen to the vision of the Prime Minister over Khadi and take necessary steps for its promotion.

For weaving genuine Khadi or khaddar, short-stapled organically grown cotton is used. And what makes it unique is its uneven texture and colour as cotton bolls differ from region to region in terms of its colour. However, what is sold today in the name of Khadi look like handloom fabric, with mill-produced yarn, screen-printed and often mixed with mill-made polyester. And this has resulted in loss of Khadi’s original charm and true identity.

The Centre for Public Policy Research in its paper titled “Unlock Khadi” campaign states, “According to the Khadi Mark Regulations (KMR) of 2013, no textile can be sold or otherwise traded by any person or institution as Khadi or a Khadi product in any form if the Khadi mark tag issued by the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) is missing.

This restricts the scope of trade to a few approved entities, thereby creating recognisable barriers to enter the market for Khadi. The certification process described in Chapter V (Clause 20 (a)) of the KMR requires accredited agencies to perform an on-site verification of hand-spinning and hand-weaving processes.” And this has further complicated the path for local weavers and entrepreneurs to enter the Khadi market effectively and rely over it as a dependable means of sustenance and survival.

The policy that the yarn is to be procured only from the Khadi and Village Industries Corporation depots or the Cotton Corporation of India and to add on to it is the ambiguous descriptions of mechanisation and electrification and the Rs 50,000 needed for certification makes it difficult for the small producers.

Craft skills also include hand-spinning and weaving although hand-spinning part is additional in Khadi. However, it is deplorable that the KVIC has put non-hand-spun silk-printed sarees, polyester fabrics on its website and catalogue. What is further more ridiculous is that the Khadi mark can be obtained for various non-Khadi items like polymer and chemical-based industry, non-edible oils and soap industry, the leather industry, the cottage match industry and the plastic industry while genuine khadi producers find it difficult to get the mark owing to the cumbersome and ambiguous process of obtaining it.

Fact remains all those sectors may still be village industries/enterprises or grameen udyog but do they deserve to get the “Khadi” tag when they are not the one.

 It is to be realised soon that Khadi and Village Industries are two different entities that have come together under one administrative roof, maybe for the convenience of the administration but cannot in any case be amalgamated under a single tag while branding specific category of products pertaining to a specific industry. It is good that the KVIC online catalogue mentions products under MSME like bags and wallets, but what is unwelcome is the Khadi label for those products. This actually creates ambiguity about the speciality of the Khadi products and undervalues its importance.

Experience suggests that Khadi and all handicrafts be kept under one Ministry which will make it much easier to frame better policies to govern this sector and implement them effectively and bring in efficiency in the institutions under this Ministry/department.

The Gandhian idea of Khadi is democratic weaving and wearing of Khadi, which symbolises both independence and enterprise without much governmental control.

This article was published in The Pioneer.

Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.

Image courtesy: https://www.tripuraindia.in/

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