The spinning wheel goes round and round — much like the lives of Bashruddin and his two married sons in their village of Ramdiha in East Champaran district of Bihar.
The wheel serves as a means of livelihood for this family of ten. They work from dawn to dusk to ensure that enough thread is spun, disentangled and tied into neat spools to weave 11 meters of yarn a day. This fetches the family about Rs 127 everyday.
Weavers of Champaran, who took part in a conference in New Delhi organised by the Ministry of Culture with Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti this week, have asked the government to help save khadi. What they propose is that the government can order and buy khadi for uniforms worn by the military, police, school children and nurses. Bashruddin’s group wants the people in the state, or at least in their own village, to set an example by buying khadi.
The story of the Bihar weavers is one of penury, though rich silk fabric is woven in their looms. They are dressed in synthetic, as their fingers manipulate the loom to make clothes fit to be worn by a king. Though e-commerce is yet to reach the weavers, the fast shrinking community is aware of the need to expand their markets. They are taking inspiration from Assam where citizenry consumes all that is woven and, thus, keeps demand and supply flowing constantly.
Of the 2,500 weavers in Champaran, just about 100 families are still in the occupation. The rest have ceased weaving or have migrated, according to Bashruddin and his group. This group includes six persons with cycle wheels, another group with spinning wheels and yet another with huge looms that cost anything up to Rs 30,000. They are still sticking to the looms, despite the poor money in it.
The weavers of Champaran dream of a day when each villager would become a buyer of at least 30 meters a year. And, a day when the government would buy khadi for its schools, hospitals, military and offices and, thus, create a steady demand.
The picture is less despondent in the hills of Assam, where woven clothes are in such huge demand that it’s a lucrative occupation.
April 14 is the popular Bihu festival, which marks the harvest cum new year of the Assamese. The boys will dress up in red tongalis, bright clothes that can be worn by non-Assamese as a stole. The women weavers of Assam, organised into self-help groups (SHGs), are busy making hundreds of tongali — confident that every single piece would be sold. Biju Borbaruah, founder of the Asha Darshan trust, says the SHGs are being put together as a federation to scale up the quantities collected and sold. They get no government aid.
Damini, who is busy weaving half saris called chadar and mekhala, herself wears a silk mekhala. These would be sold the moment these are ready. Every Assamese woman wears either chadar or mekhala. We cannot do without these, she says.
‘Let those who spin wear khaddar and let no one who wears (khadi) fail to spin’, was the message of the Mahatma, who never was separated from his spinning wheel. This should have seen many join the spinning schools run by Gandhi Smriti, whose chairperson is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But the classes rarely happen now, as there are not enough seekers, says Gandhi Smriti Director Manimala.
Most weavers feel steps to make khadi an organic part of people’s lives are needed, rather than subsidies that rarely reach them. The midday meals and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, says weaver Abdul Gani of Benaras, are nothing but ways to waste public money. Why can’t they make school children wear khadi instead, asks the weaver.
At the same time, a spinning wheel to make their own clothes could make education a lot more fun.