The history of India’s freedom struggle is interwoven with the charkha. The khadi fabric epitomised India’s evolution into a self-identifying nation. The cotton fabric symbolises the rich heritage of the indigenous weaving industry in India. Post-independence, the Indian government established the All India Khadi and Village Industries Board, which later became the Khadi, Village and Industries Commission (KVIC) in 1957. Ever since, the KVIC has been planning and executing various programmes linked to the development of the khadi industry in India. It also works in promoting research in production techniques, supplying raw material and supporting indigenous weavers.
Present market of khadi
The revival and rejuvenation of brand khadi has found an extended market in India. Khadi was traditionally taken to be the preferred fabric of the economically weaker sections in India. However, that has changed with extensive branding and private players like Fabindia and Khaddar taking the lead in popularising the fabric in urban Indian markets. The West Bengal government is also keen to promote this indigenous fabric. The Bengal government is promoting this fabric through its Biswa Bangla stores.
According to a recently published report, the sale of khadi and village industries shot up by over 14% to reach `37395 crore during the financial year of 2015-16. This growth can be linked to the economic development of India’s rurality as an estimated seven lakh privately owned household units are involved in khadi manufacturing that is funded through government schemes. Another report states that khadi fabrics and garment sales witnessed a 29% growth and crossed `1500 crore mark in the same financial year.
Problems faced by the khadi industry
The sector is dominated by the informal sector. The main problem lies with extending the expertise needed for this sector and to ensure self-sufficiency of these weavers. The weavers need to be kept updated with the latest trends in the market and that remains a difficult proposition for the rural producers. Additionally, it is necessary to involve the latest production technology for the production of this fabric. Embracing the latest technology remains a difficult proposition for the marginalised weavers, who are mostly based out of remote, rural locations. According to the weavers with whom BE interacted, the market rates of various types of khadi fabrics remain different. Fabrics with thread work designs tend to fetch better prices. However, many of the weavers did not have the technical expertise to shift to the production of this types of fabric and remained confined to the traditional cotton than.
Starching is an integral part of khadi production. However, manual starching was another issue of contention as it negatively affected the health of the producers. Many women involved with starching complained of swollen hands. Mechanising this process can enhance production. A larger number of these weavers are economically marginalised. They are unable to accumulate the capital needed for infrastructural development. Though the government is looking to provide easy credit to these weavers, the penetration of such credit mechanism remains low.
Remedies by the government
The government has enhanced its involvement with the promotion of this industry as it is linked to a large section of rural and marginalised weavers. According to Biswajit Sarkar, Planning and Development Officer, West Bengal, Khadi Board, the government has taken up certain measures and schemes to educate weavers regarding the latest market trends and to update them about the latest production procedures. The Khadi Board has collaborated with Dr. Debasis Das from the University of Calcutta, in order to educate weavers regarding producing indigenous dyes. He also informed that the government has initiated “Project Muslin” with a budget overlay of around `62 crore. This project is aimed to disseminate the traditional knowledge related to the industry. The project is expected to give a major boost to the industry.
There is a problem associated with the cotton used for weaving. It has to be imported from Salem, Tamil Nadu which pushes the production cost. It becomes difficult for the independent weavers or the societies to buy cotton throughout the year. The Khadi Board has initiated a cotton bank from where the weavers and societies can avail cotton at a lower price. The government has provided around 3500 new looms and 3000 ‘charkhas’ to the weavers under this scheme. The government is also trying to incentivise the construction of work sheds for weavers. The government and the Khadi Board have also proactively involved themselves in marketing khadi products.
The ambit of the Khadi Board’s activities is limited to those weavers who are registered with them. The number is around 18,000. However, there is a large section of weavers who are not registered with the Khadi Board and remain deprived. The Board must act to expand its base in order to benefit the industry.