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Charkha: A symbol of National Unity



Charkha and handicrafts are the epitome of national unity. It is the symbol of independence from foreigners, interdependence on fellow humans and self-sufficiency. Mahatma Gandhi, Father of our Nation, used the Charkha as a symbol of Indian national unity irrespective of religion, caste and creed around the villages and cities in India. Mahatma Gandhi’s manner of dress and commitment to hand spinning were essential elements of his philosophy and politics. India had gone through its freedom struggles against the British rule of 200 hundred years. The civil disobedience movement, the non-cooperation movement and the Swadeshi Movement were inspired by Gandhi. His activities ranged from improving Hindu-Muslim relations, elimination of untouchability, inspiring and promoting khadi and rural upliftment thereby creating the spirit of a new horizon.

He chose traditional loincloth to represent the entire nation’s rejection of western culture and as a symbolic identification of the survival of the impoverished rural population. Gandhi’s calls for swadeshi and charkha movement did not fall on deaf ears. People benefitted more morally than materially. The age old social stigma of classism attached to weaving was removed from people’s mind. People started spinning wheels to produce yarn and make clothes irrespective of their religion, caste, class, creed or gender. They boycotted foreign made garments. Western clothes were thrown into bonfires in protest. The aim was to bring economic pressure on the British government who used this vast market for their cotton factories in Manchester, United Kingdom.

My mother, who was a simple woman from Sylhet, now in Bangladesh, used to tell us tales based on her experience from during the pre-independence era. She used to wear the swadeshi-saree that my father, who was a member of the Anusilan Samity (an organisation fighting to end the British rule), used to bring for her. Those charkha made sarees were simple; the fabric was loosely woven and resembled the humble ’gamchha’ (thin coarse cotton towel) of today. But in those modest garments lay her pride, her pride in fighting her part in freeing her India. She used those very carefully to ensure they did not get torn, because she refused to touch the foreign clothes, let alone wear them. In her mind, like all other Indians during that time, the hand-spun clothes were a symbol of the nation’s strength and aspiration. My mother used simple taklis (hand held spindles) to make yarns. People sang on roads, ‘মায়ের দেওয়া মোটা কাপড় মাথায় তুলে নে রে ভাই’ (‘Mayer deoa mota kapor mathay tule ne re bhai’) by lyricist Rajanikanta Sen, which loosely translates to mean ‘take the humble coarse cloth that our mother, Mother India gave, and keep it safely’. I still remember spinning away in glory listening to the tales of the brave fights my parents saw, while the cotton threads spun soundlessly around in loops on the thin metal spools, holding the taklis in one hand, knowing that I was creating what mother nature offered in her abundance.

Other than fighting for the freedom of India, Gandhi was also a social reformer in the frontier. He aimed to promote handicrafts, khadi and village industries in an indigenous method using indigenous resources. He wanted all of India to come together to celebrate our rich culture and not bow our heads to any foreigners any more. India is a resourceful country. The promotion of khadi and village industries or the handicrafts aim towards an economic independence of village youths as well as upliftment of women power which is the force or strength behind any society’s economy. As the village industries revolve around agriculture and based on natural extracts, these are labour intensive and environment friendly. These can provide employment and generate income to the population of rural India bringing in socio-economic equality and increasing the happiness index considerably. These handicrafts require very low investment in plant, power and machineries. These are one of the best examples of humans working together in harmony to create uninhibited beauties. Handicrafts are an eco-friendly income generating sector that helps in developing a social network of growers, carders, spinners, weavers, distributors and users.

The Government of India has taken several policy decisions towards development of the khadi and village industries following the path showed by the Mahatma. At a time of great turbulence, the nation needs to come together and amongst many approaches, art with a purpose with a focus on bringing our culture alive can help not only empowering the youth or the women, but also create love and harmony between everyone over a shared pride and the knowledge of belongingness.

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