The Gandhi-King Community

For Global Peace with Social Justice in a Sustainable Environment

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Senior Gandhian Scholar, Professor, Editor and Linguist

Gandhi International Study and Research Institute, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09404955338, 09415777229


Mailing Address- C- 29, Swaraj Nagar, Panki, Kanpur- 208020, Uttar Pradesh, India


Handlooms and Mahatma Gandhi


I wish I could give you a sketch of the handlooms but I cannot. It is an intricate affair. You cannot have any notion from my description because I cannot give you a technical description. Suffice it to say that it has as much string-work as wood-work. The cost of the simplest loom is under £7. 1 But its activity has gradually widened and includes (i) weaving by means of handlooms, (ii) an experiment in evolving a national type of education, (iii) spread of Hindi as a common medium for educated India.  The handloom weaving is in a dying condition. Everyone admits that whatever may be the future of the mill industry, the handlooms ought not to be allowed to perish. Dr. Mann in his recent pamphlet says that probably one of the causes of the growing poverty observed by him in particular villages was the destruction of handlooms which complemented agricultural occupation. The object of the Ashram, therefore, is for every inmate to learn hand-weaving and thus study at first hand the secrets and defects of the art and then find out the means of saving the industry. Every inmate, though none belongs to the weaving class, now knows something of the art. And a few have attained considerable skill in the art.

The Ashram is already supporting weaving families numbering 17 souls and one family having learnt the art at the Ashram has set up independently and is trying to support itself from the business. Seven looms are working at the Ashram. It has involved a capital expenditure of Rs. 3,000/-. It ought soon to be self-supporting. Nearly Rs. 500 worth of stuff has already been sold by the Ashram and many who have hitherto used the shoddy mill-made stuff, whether foreign or home-made, are using the durable Ashram-made cloth. This enterprise is expected in 10 years’ time to resuscitate hundreds of weavers who have for the moment abandoned their trade in hopeless despair. The system of education at present in vogue is, it is held, wholly unsuited to India’s needs, is a bad copy of the western model and it has by reason of the medium of instruction being a foreign language sapped the energy of the youths who have passed through our schools and colleges and has produced an army of clerks and office-seekers. It has dried up all originality, impoverished the vernaculars and has deprived the masses of the benefit of higher knowledge which would otherwise have percolated to them through the intercourse of the educated classes with them. The system has resulted in creating a gulf between educated India and the masses. It has stimulated the brain but starved the spirit for want of a religious basis for education and emaciated the body for want of training of handicrafts.

It has criminally neglected the greatest need of India in that there is no agricultural training worth the name provided in the course. The experiment now being carried on at the Ashram seeks to avoid all t he defects above noted. The medium of instruction is the provincial vernacular. Hindi is taught as a common medium and handloom-weaving and agriculture are taught from the very commencement. Pupils are taught to look up to these as a means of livelihood and the knowledge of letters as a training for the head and the heart and as a means of national service. The curriculum has been mapped so as to cover all the essentials of the graduate course in the existing institutions within a period of 13 years. The experiment is in the hands of Professor Shah, late of the Gujarat College. Mr. Shah was associated with Professor Gajjar for 10 years. He is assisted by Mr. Narahari, B.A., LL.B., Mr. Fulchand Shah, B.A., Mr. Dattatreya Kalelkar, B.A., Mr. Chhaganlal Gandhi and Mr. Kishorelal Mashruwala, B.A., LL.B. All but the last named have pledged themselves exclusively to he work for life on a pittance enough to support them and their families. Mr. Kishorelal has given his services free for one year, having means of his own, and will if he finds the work congenial at the end of the year cast in his lot with the rest. The experiment is confined to about 12 lads including two girls belonging to the Ashram or being children of the teachers. It is being supervised by Professor Anandshankar Dhruva, Vice-Principal of the Gujarat College. I build the highest hopes upon it. My faith in it is unquenchable. It may fail but if it does, the fault must not be in the system but with us the workers. If it succeeds, voluntary institutions after its model can be multiplied and the Government called upon to adopt it. 2

For a proper observance of the pledge, it is really necessary to use only hand-woven cloth made out of hand-spun yarn. Imported yarn, even though spun out of Indian cotton and woven in India, is not swadeshi cloth. We shall reach perfection only when our cotton is spun in India on indigenous spinning-wheels and yarn so spun is woven on similarly made handlooms. But requirements of the foregoing pledge are met, if we all only use cloth woven by means of imported machinery from yarn spun from Indian cotton by means of similar machinery. Thousands of men believe that by using cloth woven in Indian mills, they comply with the requirements of the swadeshi vow. The fact is that most fine cloth is made of foreign cotton spun outside. Therefore the only satisfaction to be derived from the use of such cloth is that it is woven in India. Even on handlooms for very fine cloth only foreign yarn is used. The use of such cloth does not amount to an observance of swadeshi. To say so is simple self-deception. Satyagraha, i.e., insistence on truth is necessary even in swadeshi. When men will say, “we shall confine ourselves to pure swadeshi cloth, even though we may have to remain satisfied with a mere loin cloth”, and when women will resolutely say, “we shall observe pure swadeshi even though we may have to restrict ourselves to clothing just enough to satisfy the sense of modesty”, then shall we be successful in the observance of the great swadeshi vow. If a few thousand men and women were to take the swadeshi vow in this spirit, others will try to imitate them so far as possible. They will then begin to examine their wardrobes in the light of swadeshi. Those who are not attached to pleasures and personal adornment, I venture to say, can give a great impetus to swadeshi. 3

The true swadeshi ideal consists in the use of hand-woven cloth only made out of hand-spun yarn, but it is physically impossible today to secure a supply of such cloth for any large number of people. It is expected, however, that true lovers of swadeshi and real art will not only themselves, even at some inconvenience, wear hand-woven cloth made out of hand-spun yarn but will also endeavour to set going as many handlooms and spinning-wheels as possible.  4 In order to keep the people fully engaged and teach them that the best way of expressing one’s sympathy with the principles of Satyagraha is to practise them, I have begun an active swadeshi campaign; and within the short period of six weeks, it has spread very rapidly. Many Indian sisters have bravely volunteered in the cause, of the movement, and, in addition to themselves observing the vow by wearing Indian-made clothes woven from Indian yarn and also setting up handlooms, have found men to work them. A true sympathizer’s duty with the swadeshi movement is not only to wear swadeshi clothes but also to help in producing them. In Bombay, the shuddha Swadeshi Stores have been already opened and other centres will also be opening similar stores soon. Shuddha swadeshi consists in wearing clothes hand-woven from hand-spun yarn. Of course, at this early stage, it will not be possible to get fine shuddha swadeshi clothes but one should not mind that. 5

It is the duty of every one of us to help in the production of cloth, be we rich or poor. The rich may do by means of mills, but for the poor there should be means suitable to themselves wherewith they may help in this great work. These means are our old spinning-wheels and handlooms. 6 There is thus room in the country for both the mill industry and the handlooms weaving. So let mills increase as also spinning-wheels and handlooms. And I should think that these latter are no doubt machines. The handloom is a miniature weaving mill. The spinning-wheel is a miniature spinning-mill. I would wish to see such beautiful little mills in every home. But the country is fully in need of the hand-spinning and hand-weaving industry. Agriculturists in no country can live without some industry to supplement agriculture. And in India, which is entirely dependent on favourable monsoons, the spinning-wheel and the handloom are like Kamadhenus. This movement is thus intended in the interests of 21 crore peasants of India. Even if we have sufficient mills in the country to produce cloth enough for the whole country, we are bound to provide our peasantry, daily being more and more impoverished, with some supplementary industry, and that which can be suitable to crores of people is hand-spinning and hand-weaving. Opposition to mills or machinery is not the point. What suits our country most is the point. I am not opposed to the movement of manufacturing machines in the country, or to making improvements in machinery. I am only concerned with what these machines are meant for. I may ask, in the words of Ruskin, whether these machines will be such as would blow off a million men in a minute or they will be such as would turn waste lands into arable and fertile land. And if legislation were in my hands, I would penalize the manufacture of [labour-saving]1 machines and protect the industry which manufactures nice ploughs which can be handled by every man. 7 

All patriotic Indians agree that India should be a self-clothing country that is that India should not import foreign yarn or piece-goods. The question is as to the best and the quickest means of attaining that object. The charkha has been preached to be the means. We, now ever, believe that there are easier, quicker, and in every respect better means for accomplishing the object. What are they? Let us declare at once that they are:

(1) Increasing the number of handlooms in India;

(2) Preaching that it is the imperative duty of every Indian to be satisfied for the present with comparatively coarse cloths made from yarn produced in India and to avoid using imported cloths and cloths made in India from imported yarn (chiefly fine), however comfortable wearing these clothes may be. A little explanation is necessary. One of the cardinal facts to remember in this connection is that, if the total amount of twist and yarn that is now produced in India without the use of charkha was converted into cloth, it would practically suffice to clothe India from her own produce, supposing the country were prepared to wear coarse cloths only. As a matter of fact, about 143 million pounds of twist and yarn made in India are exported every year from India. Convert, i.e., weave this stuff into cloth in India and prepare the country for making the small sacrifice involved in being content for the present with the coarse cloth thus produced, and the great problem of making India self-clothing within a very short time is solved. Here the first question that crosses one’s mind is whether the existing power-looms and handlooms of India would be able to weave the above huge quantity of yarn into cloth. The answer must be in the negative. What then is to be done? The obvious answer is: increase the number of looms. It would be difficult to increase the number of power-looms at once. A large quantity of machinery (weaving) would have to be imported from foreign lands. That means a delay of two or three years, leaving aside for the nonce the difficulties arising from the unfavorable rate of exchange and the recently imposed high import duty on this kind of machinery. To increase the number of handlooms is not difficult.

They can be manufactured here in India within a very short time and at a very small cost. From a calculation based on statistics for the year 1919 published by the Director-General of Statistics, which however I do not wish to inflict on your readers, it can be easily shown that it would be practically sufficient for our present purposes, if we multiply our handlooms to twice their existing number. And I appeal to the readers to consider the matter with all the earnest care that the importance of the question demands, and put their powerful shoulders to the wheel. The correspondent seems to ignore the fact that the propaganda of hand-spinning involves that of hand-weaving. India cannot be self-contained for her clothing if the hand-spun yarn could not be hand-woven. But the mere multiplying of handlooms cannot solve the problem. The art of hand-weaving is not dead. There are today more handlooms working in India than power-looms. But they mostly weave foreign yarn. I heartily support the proposition that we should use only coarse cloth and induce the weavers to weave only Indian yarn. The correspondent should also have advised ‘the leaders’ to appeal to the mill-owners not to export yarn at all. Only it is well nigh impossible to induce the mill-owners to forego the larger profits they make by exporting yarn.

If only the mill-owners and the other capitalists took it into their heads, they could certainly bring about a complete boycott of foreign cloth during this year but even so the problem of hand-spinning remains. It is not enough merely to bring about boycott of foreign cloth. It is absolutely necessary to give the millions of the peasantry a supplementary industry. They must utilize, as they did before, their spare hours in some occupation supplementary to agriculture. The millions who are living in semi starvation for want of occupation must find an easy one in their own homes. This is again hand-spinning. What the correspondent urges is going on. The number of handlooms is increasing; the people are taking less to wearing coarse cloth. But universal hand-spinning alone can immediately solve the problem of the growing poverty of the masses. Let me put my conviction still more strongly. India cannot become a contented, fearless, and self-supporting India without hand spinning. It is therefore that Mr. Krishna Rao of Masulipatnam instinctively recognized the duty (dharma) of hand-spinning as a sacramental rite. The masses with their clear imagination have certainly recognized it as such. I ask everyone who thinks like Dr. Mitra not to divert the national mind from the central fact. Hand spinning includes all that the correspondent suggests, but it includes much more. An ocean necessarily includes that which is yielded by a river. 8

For textile mills have themselves to incur almost the same cost on weaving as do handlooms. The people of India understood this and hence they were as accomplished in the use of the spinning wheel as in cooking; with the disappearance of the wheel we came to lead unholy and godless lives and ceased to fear God. If you wish to have faith in God, to become pious, to protect your sisters’ honour, then adopt the spinning-wheel. In its wake will follow the awakening of the country, the unity of Hindus and Muslims, the end of the country's poverty and the salvation of all the peasants of India. The entire social structure of India is based on the spinning-wheel. 9 Mills and handlooms are mutually antagonistic. Mills do have a place the national economy of India will surely continue for many years to come, perhaps they may live forever. My contention is that those who understand should not argue that they are mutually helpful. Mills are independent. They do get help from Swadeshi movement, and they should get it, but in saying that both handlooms and mills deserve help, the handlooms get less help. 10

In my opinion India is able, with certain facilities, to manufacture sufficient textiles in her village supplemented by indigenous mills without any difficulty. At the present moment, one third of India’s cloth supply is manufactured on handlooms, one third in mills, and one-third is imported. My message to Textiles Mercury and through it to Lancashire is not to prejudge the whole issue through prejudices, but to study it in all its bearings. 11 It is difficult to say how far these figures are reliable. But I think it may safely be assumed that if they err at all it is on the side of understatement. The actual production of the handlooms is probably higher. We ought to be able to convert all these handlooms to the use of hand-spun yarn, but we are powerless to do that today. Our charkha yarn today is neither of sufficient strength nor is it produced in sufficient quantity. So long as we cannot produce hand-spun yarn that will stand comparison with the mill yarn in strength and uniformity, the handloom weaver will refuse to handle it and for very good reason too. In the first place, the employment of weak and uneven yarn reduces the quantity of cloth that he can turn out in a given time and thus affects his earning capacity. Secondly, the handloom weaver today has specialized more or less in higher lines of production while our output of hand-spun yarn of fine count is extremely meagre and that too is confined mostly to Andhra. The solution of the difficulty involves a complete mastery of the khadi science. But I am not asking anybody to tackle this problem today. It can for the present wait. There are a number of other problems which will have to be successfully tackled before we can cope with the question of the handloom. Only let it be borne in mind that this problem will have to be successfully tackled before the dream of universalizing khadi is realized. 12

I do not like the idea. We do not use compulsion with regard to spinners. We cannot use it for weavers. Let us go to the root of the difficulty. Our initial mistake was that we took to spinning but neglected weaving. If we had adopted universal weaving along with spinning, all these difficulties would not have arisen. The remedy is to improve the yarn so that the weavers have as little difficulty in weaving as possible. We should reason with the weavers and explain to them that dependence on mill yarn must kill their avocation in the end. Mill-owners are no philanthropists. They would draw the noose tight round the handloom weavers’ neck the moment they came within effective range of competition with mill cloth. If we have faith in the charkha, we must forge ahead undismayed by these temporary bottlenecks. The number of handlooms weaving hand-spun will increase in due course. We have got enough artisans and indigenous skill in our country to produce all the cloth that we require for ourselves. 13 

As for khadi, it has some kind of a place, if we separate it from ahimsa. But it does not have the pride of place it would have had as a symbol of ahimsa. Those who are in the political field wear khadi as a matter of convention. Today we see the triumph not of khadi but of mill-cloth, for we have assumed that but for the manufactures from our mills, millions would have to go naked. Can there be a greater delusion than this? We grow enough cotton in the country. We have any number of handlooms and spinning-wheels. India is not unused to the art of hand-spinning and hand-weaving, but somehow or other the fear has seized us that the millions will not take to hand-spinning and weaving hand-spun yarn for their own needs. A haunted man sees fear even when there is no cause for it. And many more die of fright than of the actual disease. 14




  1. Letter to Hermann Kallenbach, October 23, 1915
  2. Circular Letter for Funds for Ashram, On or after July 3, 1917 
  3. The Bombay Chronicle, 18-4-1919
  4. Young India, 17-5-1919
  5. Indian Opinion, 12-9-1919 
  6. Young India, 13-9-1919
  7. Young India, 17-9-1919 
  8. Young India, 11-5-1921
  9. Navajivan 25-1-1925
  10. Comments on Galley-Proofs, January 20, 1931
  11. Textiles Mercury, 18-9-1931 
  12. Harijan, 17-4-1937 
  13. Harijan, 20-10-1946
  14. Harijanbandhu, 2-11-1947 



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