World’s leading journalists and historians have been writing about pandemic woes of present and are comparing the same with similar events of devastating consequences in the recent memory.
In the past two centuries, millions have been killed by flu, plague and similar pandemics and you will notice they all coincided with the post-industrialization era that also led to massive urbanization. Textile industry and textile market are prime examples of industrialization and urbanization. And during an event of pandemic, it is the huge assembly lines that are the first ones to be locked down, throwing millions of workers out of job and it is the densely populated urban centers that succumb to the ruthless spread of the virus. This is a prime example of what sustainable development is not.
It is unfortunate that we need to reiterate the values associated with Khadi, a hand spun hand-woven fabric made of natural fibers and keep reemphasizing how Khadi is a symbol of sustainability in terms of economy, resilience to pandemics and for health and hygiene.
The heritage model of Khadi production is to use small clusters of artisans, set in a rural environment. This in itself is a deterrent to the spread of pandemics, unlike in the urban and industrial context. And Khadi, since it is hand crafted and not produced in excess like other textiles, it does not collapse under a lock down kind of situation. Small clusters of artisans continue to work in the rural settings and their income is not compromised by the deep economic slowdown, which may happen as a consequence of long lock downs of industry or mega markets.
Khadi production is also distributed nation-wide unlike a few production nuclei of the textile or other industries. As such, the products are locally available, won’t require an enormous network of hazardous movement during pandemics and more than all, affordable to every level of our economic being.
Thirdly, the Textile industry exposes its workers to an array of chemicals, thereby compromising their health conditions and affecting greatly their immune system to diseases. COVID19 kind of viruses do exploit those sections of people that are immunity deficient. Khadi being chemical free, carbon neutral and completely natural in both its ingredients and the production process, the chemical exposure of individuals and environment is completely absent. Those who wear Khadi also benefit from this chemical free product and its health and hygiene benefits.
Two weeks ago, under the severe impact of COVID 19 that has killed thousands of people in America, ‘Cotton Incorporated’, a US based research organization, conducted a survey among Americans about the benefits of wearing cotton and natural fibres at a time like this. Over 84% of the people responded that they are browsing the Internet for textiles and clothing made of natural fibres. Even when questioned about the most comfortable and worry-free attire they wish to wear, over 55% looked for cotton. This survey has helped the US Government to re prioritize their support to natural fibres sector within the textile industry, realizing that the long-term sustainable development of communities is only possible when we stay close to nature and natural ways of life.
India is endowed with a timeless tradition of making Khadi, which has weathered challenges of time and history to remain stable and strong. Pandemics, economic upheavals, historic events, climate change, political movements, natural disasters are a few prime causation factors that have destroyed many industries and made many vulnerable. Khadi has never altered its course of life. Since, these Khadi production clusters are widely distributed and not arranged as urban centers, it also intrinsically works in line with social distancing at times of pandemic
This enormous in-built resilience in Khadi in terms of its composition, process, community and market make it an exemplary example of sustainable development.
(Writer Vinai Saxena is the Chairman, Khadi and Village industries Commission,
Govt of India, New Delhi )