Saturday, 8 October 2016

Gangaben - Khadi, Swadeshi


 



Things don't just happen. They are a result of a process. And process is a result of a play. Of many forces. For and against. In that sense, every production in the world is like a #StartUp, an enterprise. In Gandhi's times we'd call it Prayog, experiment.

Gandhi’s experiment with Swadeshi involved capital, investment, belief, passion, and yes, many enterprising people who made it happen. Some of those have gone missing from the memory of us Independent Indians.

One of them is Gangaben Majmundar.

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We don't know much about her life. But when we look back into the pages of history, we realised she created the foundation, she earthed the idea of Swadeshi.

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1917

Gangaben lived in Vijapur with her daughter Saraswati. She noticed many women like herself who had lost their husbands. Some were well off. Some not so well off. Each was a little lonely. Each was a little … wasted. The time, the energy that was once used for creativity (women were traditionally engaged in spinning, now taken over by mills) was going into, nothing.

The skill they once possessed created a possibility. With that idea she met Gandhi who then lived in Sabarmati Ashram.

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Meanwhile Gandhi was going through the roller coaster ride of experimentations.

Here he was imagining that the entire country would be making clothes. And, no one. Not even a single person in the ashram or in the nearby area knew how to! The textile mills - from the west and from India - had replaced almost entirely what was the genius of the land.



So crazy things were tried. One day a weaver was cajoled into the ashram. Teach us, Gandhi said. Teach us, other ashram folks said. Run away, the weaver said. No way was he going to teach his traditional skills to anyone outside his community! No, no! Secret.

And then there was spinning. Not even one charkha was found in Ahmedabad. Traditionally a woman’s skill, it was now totally replaced by mills. Very few remembered. But … one did. And how!

She walked in with a spinning wheel. Gangaben Majmunder. Sat near the river Sabarmati. Patiently teaching Gandhi spinning. And thus, in the Indian Independence movement, happened the first CLICK!

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Sometime early 1918. Village Vijapur.

Gangaben had no formal education. But she had instinct. She sensed the moment right. It started small, with a few women. She motivated each one, giving them a vision of not just themselves, but of Independent India. Silently she put in her energy, her heart, and her own money.

Soon by July 1918, some 300 women had started spinning on 100 wheels.Then she got 30 weavers to join in. Carding, Slivering, Spinning and Weaving. There was a huge revival of homegrown textile underway in Vijapur. By 1921 Gangaben had 2000 spinning wheels at the centre.

This became the first ‘working model’ of Swadeshi. Gandhi’s hope. If this could happen in Vijapur, it could happen anywhere!



Gangaben and these hundreds of ‘illiterate’ women - whose name we will never know - laid the foundation of India’s Independence. Foundation of our moral pride, creativity, of our hope.

About a 100 years on, waving a salaam to Gangaben and her magic spinning women, #JaiHind !

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