GANDHI’S CHARKHA (a glimpse of his mind)
We often find Mahatma Gandhi’s photographs wth his charkha (spinning wheel). Charkha was his revolutionary idea. What was his thoughts behind the charakha movement?
Mahatma Gandhi himself had written about it in magazine Young India in issue dated 21.08.1924. This article titled “Waste of Energy?” was written in order to address criticism on his hand-spinning movement. Let us get a glimpse of Gandhi’s mind.
Waste of Energy? – by Mahatma Gandi
A friend has invited my attention to an article in the Welfare of May last which is an examination by Mr. M. N. Roy of Acharya Ray’s address at the opening of the khaddar exhibition at Cocanada. The copy has been lying among my papers for fully two months. I am sorry that I have not been able to read the article before now. Having read it I feel that Mr. Roy’s refutation of Dr. Ray’s contentions has been often refuted in these pages. But as readers have short memories, it is perhaps as well for me to re-state the arguments in a connected form. Dr. Ray’s critic considers that all the effort made on behalf of the charkha is “a waste of energy”. The central point in Dr. Ray’s argument is that the charkha has a message specially for the peasant in that it enables him to utilize his idle hours. The critic contends that the peasant has not any idle hours to utilize. What leisure he has, he needs. If he is idle for four months, it is because he has over-worked himself for eight months and that if he is made to work the four months at the wheel, his efficiency for eight months’ work will deteriorate from year to year. In other words, according to the critic, the nation has no leisure for the charkha.
It appears to me that the critic has little if any experience of the peasantry of India . Nor has he been able to picture to himself the way the charkha would work, and indeed is working today. The peasantry does not need to slave at the charkha. It affords a pleasant variety and recreation after hard toil. As a permanent institution, it is presented to the women of India . They will spin during odd moments. If the majority of the toilers were to give on an average half an hour per day they would spin enough yarn for themselves and to spare for the rest. Such worker would add to his or her income at least Rs. 1-11-0 per year—not a bad addition to the income of a starving person. It is admitted that there are enough handlooms and weavers today in India to weave all the cloth we may require. The only question is therefore that of hand-spinning. If the peasantry would take to it, the problem could be solved without any great outlay of capital, of India becoming self-supporting for her cloth. This would mean at least sixty million
rupees circulating among the millions of spinners and thousands of carders and weavers of India working in their own cottages and to that extent raising the earning capacity of the peasantry.
It is the experience all the world over that peasants need a subsidiary occupation to supplement their earnings or occupy their leisure hours. It must not be forgotten that not very long ago India ’s women spun during spare hours all the yarn it required. Revival of spinning has demonstrated the truth of the statement in a most striking manner. It is an error to suppose that the movement has failed. The workers have indeed partly failed. But wherever they have done their work well, it has continued. It is true that it has not yet acquired stability. This is because of incomplete organization and also because the spinners are not yet sure of being steadily employed. I invite Mr. Roy to study the conditions in the Punjab , Karnatak, Andhra, parts of Tamilnad and he will find out for himself what possibilities spinning has.
India is a land of famines. Is it better that men and women should break stones, or card and spin? Through chronic famine conditions, the people of Orissa have been reduced to beggary. It is the most difficult thing now even to make them work. They are slowly dying out. Revival of spinning is their only hope.
Mr. Roy lays stress upon improved agriculture. This is neces- sary. But spinning is not to replace the contemplated improvement. On the contrary it will herald it. This improvement has tremendous difficulties in its way. We have to surmount the unwillingness of the Government, the want of capital and the obstinate refusal of the peasant to take to new methods. What is claimed for spinning is that
1. it supplies the readiest occupation to those who have leisure and are in want of a few coppers;
2. it is known to the thousands;
3. it is easily learnt;
4. it requires practically no outlay of capital;
5. the wheel can be easily and cheaply made. Most of us do not yet know that spinning can be done even with a piece of tile and a splinter;
6. the people have no repugnance to it;
7. it affords immediate relief in times of famine and scarcity;
8. it alone can stop the drain of wealth which goes outside India in the purchase of foreign cloth;
9. it automatically distributes the millions thus saved among the deserving poor;
10. even the smallest success means so much immediate gain to the people;
11. it is the most potent instrument of securing co-operation among the people.
The difficulties in the way are want of faith among the middle- classes which alone can supply the required number of workers. The greater difficulty still is the disinclination of the people to take to khaddar in the place of the fine-looking mill-made cloth. The dearness of khaddar during the transition stage is an additional difficulty. If the people respond to the spinning resolution in sufficient numbers, khaddar can be made to compete with mill-made cloth . There is no doubt that the movement does require for its success a little sacrifice on the part of the people. Even this direct sacrifice will not be necessary if we had our own Government mindful of the wants of the peasants and determined to protect them against foreign competition. Voluntary sacrifice for a time by the middle- class can do that the Government would do if it was national.
There is no question of waste of energy. Have the thousands of our sisters, to whom Dr. Ray was previously giving doles of charity and is now giving honourable employment and making them partly or wholly self-supporting, wasted their energy? They have no other occupation save that of begging or starving. Is it waste of energy for young men to be going to the villages, studying their wants, feeling for them and helping them onward? Is it waste of energy for thousands of well-to-do young men and women to think of the poor half-fed millions and for their sakes to set apart half an hour religiously to spinning on their behalf? If one man or woman spins for a few pice, when he or she has no other occupation, it is so much gain; if one man or woman spins as a sacrifice, it is also so much gain. If there is one activity in which it is all gain and no loss, it is hand- spinning.
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