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     Volume 8 Issue 72 | June 5, 2009 |

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Special Feature

Khadi Reviving the Heritage

Tithi Farhana

The survival of khadi and subsequent rise in its recognition as a tradition worth preserving for its historical and economical value is certainly a remarkable story. Khadi has been very much an integral part of our life and fashion, and its evolution has occured for hundreds of years. From the economic point of view, khadi earned fame in the early nineties and has kept our local weaving industry from the onslaught of smuggled Indian garments that have flooded the markets. In the last fifteen years or so, fashion houses have succeeded in bringing khadi back as part of contemporary fashion.

Khadi or khaddar refers to the different versions of coarse cotton cloth, which have been hand woven using hand spun yarn. Peasants and artisans in pre-industrial India always wore Khadi that had been made from locally grown organic cotton, harvested by local labourers, spun into thread by their womenfolk and woven into cloth by men from various specialist-weaving castes. The exact technology involved in the production of khadi would vary from region to region, as would the techniques used for its decoration (dyeing, embroidery, printing etc). It is a versatile fabric, cool in the summer and warm in the winter. However, being a cruder form of material, it creases faster than other preparations of cotton. In order to improve the look, khadi is often starched to have a stiffer shape. It is widely accepted in the fashion world.

The first promoter of this cloth was Mahatma Gandhi when he recommended all the

Khadi has found a place in the fashion scene.

people of India to wear khadi garments. It was not only an attempt for self-reliance but also to find some common thread (literally) to bring about unity among Indians. Khadi was given a more prominence by Gandhi after his return from South Africa. While in search of the charka (spinning wheel) Gandhi felt that for a nation to be self-reliant, it had to revive indigenous manufactured goods. Gandhi wrote: Swaraj (self-rule) without swadeshi (country made goods) is a lifeless corpse and if Swadeshi is the soul of Swaraj, khadi is the essence of swadeshi. Consequently, khadi became not only a symbol of revolution and resistance but part of an Indian uniqueness. Gandhi acknowledged though, “When I first discovered the spinning wheel it was entirely through perception. It was not backed by knowledge so much so that I confused charka with kargha (handloom). These two forms of fabrics have always confused people. While khadi is hand made, handloom yarn is processed at the mills.”

Comilla has been playing a significant part in producing woven crafts since the days of the Mughals. There were numerous weavers in the Tripura state during the 17th century. The 1890 Tripura Gazetteer notifies us that a woven craft existed in the area which employed thirteen thousand men and two thousand women weavers. Among them most were Hindu and came from Mainamoti, Chandina, Gauripur, Nobinagar, Kalikachha, Dhamti and Borkamta. Brightly coloured lungis in check design as well as sarees and gamchhas were made in Mainamoti. These cost between two taka and five in the currency of that time. The weavers from Shorail, Kalikachha and Nabinagar used to make very good quality dhotis and bed sheets. These used to cost from two to five taka a pair, depending on their quality. Woven craft was mainly concentrated within the areas of Moinamoti, Muradnagar, Gauripur and Chandina. These weavers who had been practising this craft for generations were apt in this field long before the craft became famous in Europe. Even when the demand for material imported from London and Manchester was high, the demand for material woven within the country remained unaffected. Apparel of modern design were made from the posh imported material whereas the everyday clothing of the people of the country, such as lungis, dhotis and saris were made from our own material.

Mahatma Gandhi's exemplary principles and protests against foreign cloth inspired the beginning of>khadi craft in Comilla. In 1921 Gandhi came to Chandina to inspire the weavers and taught them the handling of charka. A branch of the Nikhil Bharat Tantubai Samiti was founded in Comilla which supported to promote the exceptional products of the khadi industry in Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai. After the partition of India in 1947, khadi work was almost on its way to extinction due to various changes in the political and social environments. Comilla also suffered the effects of those changes. As a result about 5000 spinners in several thanas of Tripura district were thrown out of their part-time employment. Through Abhoy Asram, Comilla tried their best to keep the programme alive, but its organisational capacity was found to be inadequate to cope with the demand of such a large number of spinners.

After the language movement of 1952, Dr. Akhter Hamid Khan, who was a Professor of Victoria College and the Director of the Bangladesh Academy of Rural Development, Comilla, along with the then Governor Firoz Khan Noon established “The Khadi and Cottage Industries Association”. The objectives of the association has been stated in the by law as to encourage and provide facilities to produce and manufacture Khadi and other cottage crafts like tanning, pottery and sericulture etc and to arrange sale and marketing there: Akther Hamid Khan in his report for the first quarter (from October 1, 1956 to December 31,1956) mentioned that the aim of the association was to revive and encourage cottage industries by providing trained workers to organise production of Khadi. Another objective of the association was to educate and organise the village artisans to form various types of artisan cooperative for their self- improvement.

Khan received three Ambar charkas with one trained operator as donation from Indian government in 1957 and took up a small project on an experimental basis for six months with the donated charkas. The purpose of the experiment was to ascertain the productive capacity and the cost of producing Ambar yarn and the quality of cloth produced with Ambar yarn. The result was encouraging and later on the small industries cooperation approved a scheme of Rs. 3.5 lakhs and imported 400 Ambar charkas from India. The charkas were handed over to the Khadi Association but later on they were given to the women's programme of the academy for propagation of Amber spinning wheels among the village women.

On the other hand, some weavers of Comilla region had played an important role to produce and promote khadi in our country; among them Shoilen Guho is considered as one of the pioneers of the khadi creations and was known as Khadibabu. Shoilen was so determined to promote this craft that he used to gather the thread from surrounding villages and spin and sell his own cloth and spent a lot of time to his own village Chandina Comilla to create and promote khadi as well as to instruct and educate the locals in the art of spinning. His business expanded, as there was a boom in the demand, and he started supplying his products to Calcutta. After his death in 1995 his eldest son Arun has been continuing his father's dream to protect our heritage by improving Khadi to make it more appealing to all classes of people. There are many others who have kept this age-old craft alive: Prabodh Das, Noni Saha, Taruni Mohan Raha, Dinesh Babu, Manmohan Dutta, Shantosh Dutta, Samar Majumdar, Swapan Majumdar, Bahar Mia, Jairam Shaha, Prodip Kumar Datta and Shankar Babu.

After independence, a growing sense of national identity has made people realise the worth of our indigenous crafts. While muslin was once the most sought after textile by the elite of the world khadi earned the love of the common people. Now however, the appeal of khadi has crossed classes and generations although the producers of khadi have been fighting hard for their survival with the modern industry made cloths. “We have to import most of the raw materials to produce the textile, as a result the cost of production is becoming high, moreover, we have to fight with the free trade economy” said Prodip Kumar Dutta owner of Bishuddah Khadi Bhandar.

Despite all these hurdles, some courageous entrepreneurs are trying to make khadi a product of our everyday life and heritage. Some of them have already become successful and gradually khadi-craft has turned into an industry. The weavers of Comilla have kept up with the changes in design with time, and they now follow the modern designs of Madras and Bombay to keep their work up-to-date and suitable for contemporary designs. Conversely, Ashraful Rahman Faruq was one such individual who presented khadi as a fashionable collection. He opened Nipun the first shop to sell khadi goods at Malibagh in Dhaka in 1973. He introduced traditional khadi made products (sari, punjabi, shalwar kameez) as well as brought diversification, such as blankets, napkins etc. He did not stop at simply constructing the clothing materials but went on to connect value by utilising colouring, printing and block techniques. Thus, other shops displaying khadi sprouted such as Champak, Kumudini, Joya etc. It was the birth of a new country and what better way to join the jubilation than to revel in the country's own product? With such a mindset, K S M Faruq opened up Khadi Bitan near the Dhaka Science Laboratory, selling khadi from Comilla.

The 80's saw a revolution in the demand for khadi. Men could find everything from winter jackets and scarves to summer outfits like punjabi. Aarong, Kumudini and later Prabartana promoted khadi in a different light as something desirable. They had their own designers along with their own factories and craftsmen.

Internationally celebrated designer and model Bibi Russel came back to Bangladesh in 1994 and started work on promoting the local weaving industry. She set her eyes on the jamdani, muslin, check and khadi introducing these textiles for a fashion development programme. A lot of the work revolved around Shoilen Guho's khadi products. The duo helped to bring khadi further into the limelight during the mid-nineties. Bibi arranged fashion shows at home and abroad to increase the popularity of khadi resulting in a significant following alongside Indian khadi. Bibi commented that people prefer to use natural and ecologically friendly materials like khadi. She is endeavouring to further the work that Shoilen Guho started and also trying to protect the Comilla khadi society.

The khadi industry has been struggling for survival as it has had to make do with outdated equipment, inconsistent product quality, lack of professional expertise and funding, and lack of unity and resolve within the industry to adjust to changing market trends. In contrast, the country's overall textile sector has grown tremendously with the adoption of modern technology, branding, and strong marketing.

The art of spinning needs continuous practice. Some spinners are leaving their profession and switching to other work. Many of them have left the country and their replacements have not been proportionate to. A continuous training programme can solve this problem. But running a training programme is an expensive affair.

Khadi has crossed classes and generations.

Al- Helal, Proprietor of Purbasha Cottage, Comilla explained that the adequate working capital is needed to keep the industry on a winning streak. Many times items are delivered on credit. Also the cotton required for production is often unavailable according to demand. As a result the workers have to make do with whatever is available. A continuous twelve-month work period cannot be maintained. Thread made with pit loom and power loom does not provide a good finish. Producers of khadi spend about eight months using thread from textile mills and the other four months using cotton threads.

Long staple cotton of good quality is not grown in Bangladesh. Import of such cotton from foreign countries requires spending of hard earned foreign exchange. Storage of supply of cotton has become the most serious problem. This problem can be solved by widespread plantation of cotton trees in Bangladesh. There is shortage of other materials such as dyestuff, printing equipment and spare parts for charka.

Experience shows that trendy, good quality khadi products have a good market. It is beyond the capacity of the weavers to pay for a designer. A subsidy to the extent of the salary of a qualified designer can help the weavers improve the quality of their product and serve the community better.

According to Fatima Islam, a woman entrepreneur, (Owner of Agrani Kutir Shilpo) SME loans, and advancement of technology are not being linked to this industry. “Thus,” she says. “While India is thinking about its revival, we are losing our heritage.”

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is lending India $150 million to restore the popularity of khadi, a widely revered handspun and hand-woven cloth left behind by poor production and marketing. Reviving the khadi industry is anticipated to bolster employment opportunities in India, predominantly in the rural areas where 73% of the country's poor live. India's 11th Five Year Plan acknowledges that khadi production has huge employment prospects, particularly for women and minorities. A $2 million grant will be provided by the Japan Special Fund, through ADB, to maintain the implementation and monitor the progress of the khadi industry reform package funded by the ADB loan. The programme will promote khadi by establishing a “Khadi mark” including the design of a logo to indicate the product is genuine and to help build awareness and popularity of khadi. A marketing organisation with majority shares owned by the private sector will also be set up.

In spite of the huge demand and passion for khadi, it's not expanding as much as expected. So our government and other stakeholders should come forward to give policy support as well as financial support. Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), for instance, can arrange more fairs locally and internationally with subsidised subscription and SME loans should be extended for this sector with easier conditions. As a whole, it is our collective responsibility to protect this heritage that has such great economic potential.

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