Pin It

wooden charkhaI observe that the words I said in dispraise of khadi has roused discussion. I doubt whether there has been clear and close argument: there has been anger and warmth of feeling, a suggestion almost of sacrilege, all of which prove that such words as I ventured to utter have gone home. And in all matters of intellect and in the search after truth, there is nothing like controversy to clear things up. I for one do feel that further pursuit of the question will help.

Will Mr.Ramachander allow me a small dialectic victory to start with? The effect I noted of khaddar on the fortunes of Gandhiji, Rajagopalachari and Shaukat Ali laid hold of by him to prove that khaddar was not a futility. I did not say that khaddar was impotent in every sense; all I suggested was that economically it was a futility: as a superstition, it is very potent.

I have considered carefully and respectfully everything that my critics have said: but I am not bound to say I am not convinced. First, there is the high price of khaddar, two hundred per cent above that of mill cloth of similar quality. I am happy my figures have not been challenged; in fact they are unchallengeable. But all that Mr.Ramachander can do is to be contemptuous of percentage and talk of blood. Gandhiji and the A.I.S.A are business-like if they are nothing else. If they cultivated the same disregard of percentages as Mr.Ramachander does, khaddar will be just nowhere at all. What does redeem the A.I.S.A is its business habits and you cannot have business habits ignoring percentages and talking of blood. My simple proposition is that khaddar is economically impossible and will always remain so if the average grihasata-like consumer is asked to pay eighteen annas for the length of cloth which the haberdasher will give him for six annas if only it is not khaddar. Inspite of all talk of blood, the consumer will prefer the cheaper article and resolutely decline to subsidise the A.I.S.A.

Then there is the question of the injustice to the workers. I called it sweating and I say it is. The first fling is at me personally and suggests that I should make it my business to give six annas a day to the khadi spinners after keeping a rupee a day for myself out of my earnings. This confusion of personal righteousness with sane economic conduct is very common. But Tolstoy found out long ago that personal righteousness would not put an end to economic injustice and sweating. If you want a more recent exposure of the fallacy, I shall refer you to an illuminating section in Bernard Shaw’s “The Capitalism”. It is Mr.Ramachander’s business to run khaddar sensibly and without starving the wage-earners. If I point out that he can’t do it and that the failure is due to no fault of his own but to the inherent economic unsoundness of the whole show, instead of judging the question on the merits, he turns round and says that I should live on a rupee a day and double the wages of his workers. I am not going to do anything of the kind. If A.I.S.A is not able to do its business without giving its laborers starvation wages, it is a public danger and the sooner it is wound up the better. Secondly, my critics are altogether mistaken in assuming that I can live on one rupee a day. For the kind of life I lead (and I assure Mr. Ramachander that it is not a lurid or extravagant one), fifty rupees a day is what I want and it is all I can do to get it.

Then there is the familiar argument. The woman who is paid three annas for eight hours labour by the A.I.S.A. is not able to make even that much elsewhere; ergo she must be duly thankful. In the first place, I am not sure about the fact. I do not think you get any woman to give a day’s labour for an anna and a half as stated. In Madras it is eight annas and even in the districts it is six annas. I do not see why she should take to spinning if all she gets is three annas. But the crux of the matter is something else. I say no human being can get sufficient food for three annas and the sweating consists in giving the woman less than what is essentially necessary for her existence. Let not anybody think that spinning I object to; it is giving the labourer less than the living wage. And the trouble is that the making and selling of khaddar do involve the tragedy of a wage on which life cannot be maintained. I confess I have no patience when people talk about a ‘social ceremony’ in connection with the distribution of a wage of three annas for a full working day of eight hours. Condemn the Mill as much as you please; but they do not give three annas for a full working day.

There is one more confusion that I have space to deal with. We are told that Khaddar is to be produced in the hours of leisure and that the judgment about wages is irrelevant. This answer is based on a mistake.

I shall deal with the argument when Khaddar spun during leisure becomes a considerable enough element in the case. Today we are concerned with the A.I.S.A. The A.I.S.A is just a business association dealing with workers, spinners and weavers, sales agencies and consumers. The spinners are paid three annas and my criticism is concentrated on that fact. It is no consolation to me, it is no consolation to the spinners to be told that some day when Khaddar comes back to its pristine glory and universality, they will spin in their leisure hours and get the weaving done in the village and that they will get nothing at all for their spinning not even the miserable three annas.

The truth of the matter is that cloth can be spun and woven cheaper through the mills than by hand. The machine has beaten the handicraftsman in several things, and the manufacture of cloth happens to be one of them. Mr.Ramachander may have seen in the streets of Madras human beings pulling along cart-loads of heavy articles from the harbour to the godown. It is a painful sight and I would far rather have the goods taken along in a motor lorry; it is cleaner, is more efficient and there is more of human mercy in it. It is a similar feeling that comes over me when I think of the activities of the A.I.S.A.

- Revolt, 16 January 1929


 You can send your articles to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Pin It

Add comment


Security code
Refresh