Travel: How a khadi centre in India has become the heart of sustainability and empowerment

Spinning yarns of simplicity

By Rashmi Gopal Rao

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Top Stories

Published: Fri 29 Sep 2023, 12:06 AM

Last updated: Mon 2 Oct 2023, 7:37 PM

“If we have the khadi spirit in us, then we should surround ourselves with simplicity in every walk of life.” — Mahatma Gandhi

Often associated with the freedom struggle and the swadeshi movement, it is not an understatement to say that Khadi is a revolutionary fabric. Synonymous with self-reliance, this hand spun or hand-woven Indian cotton fabric traces its origin to 1917-18 when the first piece of the cloth was woven by Gandhiji on a ‘charkha’ in Sabarmati Ashram, Gujarat. Given its slightly coarse texture, it was christened ‘khadi’ by the Mahatma and since then the cloth has been an indelible symbol of Indian heritage. And keeping this legacy alive is the Badanavalu Khadi Gramodhyoga Kendra located in the seemingly non-descript village of Badanavalu just about 30 km from Mysore in the southern state of Karnataka. This centre is entirely run and managed by the Khadi & Gramodyoga Sahakara Sangha Ltd., Holenarasipura.

Steeped in history

Having started early in the morning from Bangalore on a Friday morning, I reached the sprawling centre well before 10am and as I entered it, the tranquil ambience and serenity all around was unmissable. “It is a tad early and the weavers are expected to arrive soon,” says centre supervisor, Somashekhar J S. I decided to take a stroll around the campus spread across an area of about 7.5 acres. The centre was built in 1927 and was believed to have been started by four Dalit women. It is interesting to note that the centre was also visited by none other than Mahatma Gandhi at that time. “This is indeed a historic centre as Gandhiji called a meeting here along with all the villagers and inspired them to take part in the Swadeshi movement. He implored them to boycott British goods and adopt the usage of khadi which could be easily manufactured by them in the centre,” says Somashekhar.

He adds that while the industry flourished for a few decades, there was a lull around the early 1980s when the production of khadi in the centre declined. “Most people moved out to work in industries set up in Mysore and other nearby cities. But in 1987, the government took up an initiative to revive the khadi industry and since then, the centre has been a source of employment to about 50-60 women. Since then, the production of khadi cloth has been a constant here,” says the 31-year-old supervisor.

A statue of Mahatma Gandhi within an enclosure and a stone emblem denoting the commencement of the centre stand in the middle of the large expanse of land. It also serves as a subtle reminder to the fact that the centre is almost a century old. “We have a spinning and a weaving unit here and we manufacture various products like cloth for men and women's wear, handkerchiefs, towels etc., which are supplied to the khadi retail stores in Hassan, Holenarasipur, K.R. Nagar and Mysore,” explains Somashekhar.

Lessons in sustainability

As we continued to admire some old photographs of Gandhiji’s visit in one of the rooms, a distant, almost synchronous, vibratory sound in the background indicated that the women had arrived for the day. The sight of women, some as old as even 80, sitting on the floor and spinning yarn from raw cotton on their charkhas was quite a revelation. Somashekhar revealed that the yarn is bundled into units locally called laddis and on an average, a person could produce three laddis in an hour. “I have been working here for over 65 years and can manage to make about 12 laddis in a day,” says 76-year-old Puttsubbama. The centre produces about 600-700 laddis a day, which is commendable considering the fact that the entire process is manual. Each laddi holds about 1,000 metres of yarn.

The raw material for the yarn is cotton, which is procured from farmers and processed at the KVIC central sliver plant in Chitradurga. This cotton, which costs about Rs350-400 per kg, is bought by the centre and spun into yarn. The yarn is then treated with a mixture of starch and refined flour so that it gains tenacity and strength. Thereafter, warping is done depending on the design and the end use of the fabric. Weaving is done on looms operated by hand. Currently, there are about ten looms and the centre has the capacity to produce 150-200 metres of cloth in a day. Depending on the demand from the retail stores, the production each month is rotated between towels (which come in three sizes — 70, 80 and 90cm) and running fabric.

Empowering women

It is heartening to note that the centre is a sustainable source of employment for women who come to work here from the surrounding villages. “The centre provides a flexible working environment for the womenfolk as most of them come here after finishing their chores at home. Some of them also work in the fields and come in the afternoon after completing agricultural work. They are free to work for as many hours in a day and are paid accordingly,” says Somashekhar.

“This is a job I enjoy as I can do it after finishing up my duties at home. It is fairly easy and the lack of restrictions on timings work well for me,” says 60-year-old Sarojamma, who has been working here for the past 35 years. Similar sentiments are echoed by Prabhamani and Kumari who are in their 40s. “We are financially independent, which gives us a sense of satisfaction and pride,” they said.

Given the significance of the centre, there have been several proposals in the recent past to develop the venue in a big way and model it on the lines of the Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat. This would augur well not only for the cause of the khadi cottage industry, but would also help promote tourism. It will also be a shot in the arm for the centre itself and its employees in the light of rising costs, especially that of cotton raw material.

More news from Travel