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Background and role of Human Development Index (HDI)

HDI was conceptualised in 1990. It is relevant to revisit its aims and goals in the light of present day discussion on the ideas of economic development, happiness and environmental impact on our shared future. The goal stated in Human Development Report 2019, “To think beyond income, beyond averages and beyond today to remove the inequalities in human development in 21st century” is set to drive the humanity.

A trickle down theory for a nation’s development was adapted almost unanimously through out the world. People at the bottom of the pyramid have been waiting with their hands wide spread out to catch the left over opportunities to earn a decent living and right to education and health. Mahbub Ul Haq (An economist from Pakistan) devised and launched detailed indices of the HDI in 1990. Its explicit purpose was to shift the focus of economic development from national income accounting to people-centred policies. Haq believed that a simple composite measure of human development was needed to convince the public, academicians, and politicians that they can and should evaluate development not only by economic advances but also through improvements in human well-being.

The HDI was created to emphasise that people and their capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for assessing the development of a country, not economic growth alone. The HDI can also be used to question national policy choices, asking how two countries with the same level of Gross National Income (GNI) per capita can end up with different human development outcomes.

Human Development Report 2010 extends its parameters to include people’s freedom to live long, healthy and lead creative lives, to achieve goals they value and to actively take part in shaping their development equitably and sustainably on a shared planet. This endorsement implies that people are both beneficiaries and drivers of human development as individuals and in groups. 

Amartya Sen in his article ‘A Decade of Human Development’ poised a question, “Why is the idea of human development such a success in the contemporary world?” In his opinion Mahbub Ul Haq’s idea of Human Development Report got world wide recognition because it had much to offer to the discerning public and provided very basic level of social understanding to the masses.The indices of HDI cannot be seen as an exhaustive list as our parameters are bound to expand in context of human rights. Mahbub himself included political freedom in the index. Some country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Income (GNI) may be at very high point, but their record of human rights protection may be very low, which deprives millions of their citizens of freedom of expression which should be factored in as a new index. Amartya Sen remarked that Mahbub’s innovation was, in a sense, a philosophical departure. Perhaps it concentrated on socio-economic aspects but not ethical aspect like John Ruskin and Gandhi did. Gandhi made it clear that at the cost of human dignity he was not willing to gain political independence.

In the HDI health, education and development are the main goals to achieve and criteria for assessment of progress, therefore Gandhiji’s views on these points are discussed.

Gandhi’s views on health :

Gandhi’s ideas of good health included elements of spirituality and environmental factors.. He believed that we must consume to survive, not to indulge in over consumption of food. He advocated for vegetarian diet for health and humanity reasons. He preferred a life style that prevents illness and use natural substances like water, mud and energy from the sun to cure illnesses. He advised people to opt for a modern medical intervention only in complicated cases. This idea has been recently supported by some scientists. In the context of the Covid - 19 pandemic the medical experts and researchers found the truths about immunity. They are telling us to opt for vegetarian diet, exercise more and change lifestyle in order to increase our immunity to avoid medical interventions. They have also established the fact that overuse of drugs prompts us to take medicines and carry on with bad lifestyle.

In a booklet ‘Key to health’ Gandhi discussed important issues of health and put forward rational arguments which ordinary people could understand. He mainly discussed basic facts about our body, air, water and food. He even explained which types of food can provide us protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals and in what proportion we should consume them and the notion of balance diet. This was his way to educate people across the board on public health. Gandhi included alcohol prohibition in his Constructive Work Programme. In the last few years the medical experts and socio-economic advisers have endorsed the fact that most of the present day health related problems have their roots in poor quality of air, water, diet and drug addiction. Here is  a diagram which summarises Gandhi’s basic Mantras on health :

Gandhi lived amongst poor and uneducated masses in South Africa and India and practiced these universal ideas of health and hygiene.

The majority of nations are struggling to provide universal health care at an affordable cost and trying to fund their health services instead of investing in prevention of diseases and as a result the environment too. 

Gandhi’s views on education :

A strong link between standard of education and human development is well established. Some countries have made progress in increasing literacy rates. A question still remain unanswered, why development has not reached to all? It is clear that the modern education system is information based, lacking respect for self and others, it does not prepare students to sacrifice comforts and does not teach to suffer so that others can walk with them.

The HDI has emphasised the importance of access to education and level of attainment. Most of the developing countries are trying to minimise the number of drop outs, maintain the attainment targets and most importantly make the education relevant to the lives of educated and control the rate of educated unemployed population. Under the colonial rule India’s education system was not compatible to it’s cultural values or socio-economic structure, therefore Gandhi devised a new system known as ‘Nayi Taleem’ or ‘Buniyadi Shiksha’ (Basic education). An article ‘Gandhi’s Educational Thoughts’ by Dr. Shruti Tandon has listed core principles of the Basic Education.

Free and compulsory education for the children up to the age of 14.

Craft centred education: where education begins with a useful and productive craft. Craft should form the nucleus of all instruction. The brain must be educated through the hands.

The income from handicraft and products from farming and textile industries can not only develop the personality of the child, but can also make education self sufficient.

Mother tongue as the medium of instruction. English can hinder the development of a child’s understanding and precision of thought or clarity of ideas.

Creed of Non-Violence: The scheme of Basic Education is imbued with the cardinal creed of non-violence and idea of co-operative living. It is based on truth and non-violence in individual and collective life.

Dignity of Labour: Active participation in productive work and manual labour enlarges the heart and enriches the personality.

Emphasis on practice rather than theory: The child is not a passive recipient of knowledge but active participant in the learning process. It fosters learning by doing.

Develop social awareness and responsibility through the involvement of students in programmes of community service. In the light of present social and economic climate, teaching the value of manual labour, learning by doing, getting involved in community service and above all foster non-violence through education from very early age can be included in our curriculum from this education system.

In the English edition of Hind Swaraj, Gandhi touched on the issue of education. He could see that mere literacy can prove a weapon, it can be used for good or bad causes. In the last few decades despite of the increase in literacy and numeracy, crime, social evils and conflicts are not abating. The present education system is not value based. It does not shape humanity, it only creates employees that fits like a cogs in a machine. We educate children within four walls and make them employable in white collar jobs. Gandhi gave us an alternative method which ensures an educated person can follow the rule of nature, he can see justice, his mind is pure and peaceful. A key to shape global citizens who can pursue non-violent path of actions.

Gandhi’s idea of education system deployed three Hs: Heart, Head and Hands. By education, he meant an all-round drawing of the best in child and man in body, mind and spirit. He also insisted that his scheme for primary education would include the elementary principles of sanitation, hygiene and nutrition. Gandhi’s notion of education was ‘Education for life, education through life, and education throughout life.

In order to materialise the HDI’s goal of improving the level and attainment of education and make it relevant to life of all - village and city dwellers alike, we need to examine the shortcomings of the present education system and fill the gap with the Basic Education system described above.

Gandhi’s views on holistic human development :

Industrialisation and capitalism exploited the labourers beyond our imagination. Colonial rule’s exploitative regimes created a treasure of wealth by enslaving others and  looted natural resources. In capitalism an individual’s social and economic standards are determined by the market. No ethical values are attached to manufacturing, trading, sale and consumption of products. The HDI indicators have made us consider above and beyond our own financial gains and include the ethical aspect of all our industries.

The term ‘Development’ means increase in individual earnings. The term ‘Economy is thriving’ means production and sales of goods are increasing and products are cheaper. The Gandhian ideology of economy and development is gearing us to think, who is paying for our necessities and luxuries? Factory and mill workers are working hard and sustaining their lives on minimum wages.

Gandhi’s alternative system based on village industries saves you from accumulating wealth based on other’s poverty, and helplessness because it may be wealth for you, but calamity for those who produce commodities for you. In the book Hind Swaraj, Gandhi defined development. In his views development means, a man pays his duty towards the society, for which he needs to follow a moral path and to do that he needs to control his desires and retrain his senses. We have let our greed loose, our development has gone mad like an elephant destroying everything in its path. We are destroying dignity of humanity and nature in the name of development.

Gandhi’s perspective of development in context of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) seems very crucial as it was explained by Usha Thakkar in the article ‘Gandhian Perspective of Development’ His concerns for human development encompassed the whole of human race and not just India, South Africa and England. Gandhi raised moral issues about the means used in raising the standard of education, health and employment. The questions he posed regarding social, economic and political justice still remain of crucial importance. We measure economic development through industrialisation, consumption of energy and urbanisation, but they have proved to be inadequate to address the miseries of the millions. Gandhi was aware of the results of the unequal distribution of wealth between different classes in a society.

In the beginning of the 20th century the world headed towards rampant industrialisation backed  by capitalist regimes. We became aware of our wrong footing which has given the birth to HDI. The Gandhian philosophy narrates that the human values and not the market should govern our lives. Service of the poorest of the poor is of the utmost importance. Gandhi presents the humane face of development and not the mere financial aspect.

Gandhi maintained that wealth is to be used judiciously, governed by the principle of 'each according to his need'; and emergence of inequality has to be curbed at all levels. As he stated in the magazine ‘Harijan’, all amassing or hoarding of wealth, above and beyond one's legitimate requirement is theft. At this juncture he gave us the idea of trusteeship where by an individual is a trustee of his/her earnings and uses it after sharing with all its share holders. In Gandhi’s view a developed society is based on collectivity and not on individual needs and greed. Wealth has to be created collectively and enjoyed collectively. In the context of paying wages his mantra was, “(take) from them according to their capacity and (give) according to their needs.” This idea derived from a leading English art critic, philosopher and prominent social thinker of Victorian era John Ruskin’s ‘Unto This Last’. Many western thinkers also noticed exploitative and dehumanising trends of industrialisation. As we are witnessing the economic progress devoid of moral elements has not ultimately helped the people but it’s making internal divisions more intense, Gandhi’s critique of the modern western civilisation seems more relevant today.

Social justice and human development goes hand in hand. Some of Gandhi’s contemporaries and present days elites opposed his ideas of revival of the village economy because villages were dirty, lacked education facilities and job opportunities and they were inhabited by orthodox communities. For this precise reason Gandhi wanted the villages to be clean, so he picked up a broom; he wanted to educate village population, so he gave us a basic education system; he wanted them to earn decent wages and be self sufficient, so he picked up a spinning wheel; he wanted the village communities to be free from social evils, so he tirelessly campaigned to remove untouchability. Gandhi’s way of ensuring social justice, equality and creation of peaceful society was people centric, where no one was left behind. According to him life cannot be divided in spheres like social, political, economic, moral and religious sectors. If one part of the society suffers, all parts suffer. That was Gandhi’s definition of democracy, development and Poorna Swaraj - Complete Independence.

Gandhi’s ideology of serving the last person standing has become more relevant in 21st century.

Co-relation of environmental protection and human development :

An agenda of consideration for existence of non human species and safety of environment is included in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Great visionaries and social reformers like David Henry Thoreau, Tolstoy, John Ruskin and M.K. Gandhi have provided directives based on spiritual and ethical morals which has paved the path for more humane way of development.

In the article ‘Gandhian Development’ Jaydev Jana explains that in Gandhi’s opinion, sustainable development is economic development based on ecological principles like environmental harmony, economic efficiency, resource conservation, self-reliance and equity with social justice. Gandhi’s ideas of development were implicitly environmentally sustainable. Without environmental sustainability, economic stability and social cohesion can hardly be achieved. Whenever human civilisation receded from the path of sustainable development, the danger to its survival was ensured.

Economists, humanists, environmentalists and politicians have come to an agreement that it is imperative to take care of the environment in the process of human development. Gandhi draws our attention to protect the environment and to guard against the abuse of natural resources. Big dams, giant industries, projects of HS2 trains in England and bullet trains in India and other massive ventures raise questions about the quality of life affected by those infrastructures. Tushar Gandhi in his article ‘What we destroy in the name of development.’ discussed this issue in context to the decision taken to destroy the very trees planted by Gandhi and his associates. Tushar Gandhi states, “Our concept of development is selfish. We have decided that only humankind deserves to develop and at the cost of all other life forms. We dammed rivers so that we could provide water to monoculture farms to satisfy our hunger and our never-satisfied hunger for electricity. We drained subterranean aquifers, not to quench our thirst but to fill our two-gallon toilet flushes. Every time we have taken a step for our development, it has been at the cost of nature and all the other life forms who have as much right to live as we do. My city needs a Metro Rail system, so it’s fine to cut thousands of trees. That’s not genocide because I don’t recognise trees as living entities. This is how selfish we have become. In our greed, we have forgotten the one critical law of nature: all life is interlinked, nothing is independent. All life matters because we matter. We are the only life form that is bothered about our heritage. Yet, our life is all about the present. We take pride in our 5,000 year-old civilisation but we aren’t bothered about conserving our heritage.”

Standard of living as a measure of development :

The standard of living is measured by per capita income and what material comforts can be purchased by money. Is the amount of money earned the only measure of progress and happiness? Should all human being be granted an equal right to earn a decent living? Here I would like to quote John Ruskin from his book ‘Unto This Last’. He addressed to the poor, “You have a right to ask for a share of bread, but do not wag a tail and beg like a dog, but ask for your right as a member of the same family, but you should also demand your right for pure, holy and clean life.” Gandhi, having imbibed Ruskin’s principles believed that India was spiritually and socially bankrupt, therefore before securing political freedom, she should have a right to improve her social and spiritual status. As a result of his holistic view of human development, Gandhi incorporated social and religious reform programmes in his Constructive Work Programme.

Unequal distribution of wealth and standard of living is the root cause of stagnation in human development. Inequality is visible in income as well as in labour. In capitalist society, the less you labour, the more you earn and the more you sweat the less you earn! Communism made the government powerful and capitalism made businessmen powerful. Both systems left the common people deprived of basic necessities. Gandhi found a middle path. Cottage and village based production industries and cooperative busyness model which is based on moral values. The ideas of development should be able to instil  the values of equality, liberty and dignity in the people. One of the HDI’s indices, ‘Decent standard of living’ points to this value based criteria of development. Human race has evolved and developed since homo sapiens roamed the earth, but the speed and spread of progress and disregard for the surroundings is threatening our survival. In Gandhi’s opinion, greed is detrimental to social good and political emancipation without economic equality is hollow. As he made clear in the magazine ‘Harijan’ economics stands for social justice. For this reason he endeavoured to bring social justice and level the gaps between the rich and the poor alongside the struggle for political independence. An individual’s welfare is secured in the whole society’s welfare, and that is the ideal of Sarvodaya.

Direction and the state of modern development :

We made politicians and businessmen powerful, forgetting the power of ethics behind good governance and trade. This has resulted in a huge gap between rich and poor. India followed the path of developed countries after the independence. More industrialisation and mechanisation was supposed to bring prosperity. It did bring wealth for some but left so much disparity in the provision of health, housing and job opportunities in some of the richest countries. Clearly that model of ‘Development’ has not worked for the western countries either. It is stated in the book ‘Mahatma Gandhi & Environment’ by T.N. Khoshool and John S Moolakkattu. Gandhi was asked, would he like the people of India to adopt same standard of living as the British people? His reply was, “It took Britain half the resources of the planet to achieve this prosperity. How many planets will a country like India require?” 

Gopalkrishna Gandhi delivered a speech at the Edinburgh university on ‘India Yesterday and India Today’. He talked about the glorious past and changes seen in India today by pointing out the direction and state of our development. He said, “Today the game played in India is; ‘Go, go, go. Go and get it, go quickly, and get plenty.’ That is the mantra of consumer lead society. He warned us that although we need to progress, but beware, the speed of development is dangerous and detrimental to our environment. Instead of ‘Development for India’ we are driven by ‘India for Development’ and that will exhaust our natural resources.

Capability approach and Constructive Work Programme :

The meaning of the capability approach mentioned in the statement for HDI has different dimensions. Amartya Sen in an article ‘Introduction to Capability Approach gave us a moral framework for this concept. Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen in their book ‘An uncertain glory - India and its contradictions’ have unfolded many aspects of development. It has become clear that capitalist economy embraced percolation theory to remove poverty. It has failed. We realised that without equal distribution of wealth increase in GDP is meaningless. For how long will the ‘Have nots’ wait? That model of development had no connection to social justice which HDI is aiming to achieve. Sen believes, we need human development as a horse to drive a carriage like economic development. This is where Sen, Dreze and Mahbub Ul Haq’s idea of harnessing health and education progress in order to bring forth sustainable growth is compatible to Gandhi’s efforts to bring welfare system for all.

Capitalist and centralised economic structures have created disparity in income and in social justice. Is the creation of a welfare state the solution to lift the people out of poverty? Graeme Nuttall, (OBE) an English solicitor and an adviser of Employee Ownership Trust made a statement in the context of Indian economy. He said, reservations based on caste, tribe or religious minority and laws on minimum wages can create conflict in long term, while increasing capabilities of unskilled workers can pay its dividend in long term.

Capacity building is the motto of Constructive Work Programme designed by Gandhi which aimed to create a just society so that the people of free India can be what they intend to be in their life by their own choice and not be forced by any other person, power or social norms and are capable to run own country. He had a vision for independent India where mansions of multi millionaires and slums cannot exist side by side. He admitted that the path to achieve economic, social and political equality by non-violent means will be a long path because it requires a change of hearts which takes longer than destructive actions. He also assured that it will deliver an everlasting result.

Constructive Work Programme can be divided into four main sectors :

[1] Economic: Khadi and Village industries, improve and protect farming industry, protect labourers and tribal population’s rights and an agenda to work towards economic equality.

[2] Health: Prohibition of alcohol, cleanliness and hygiene.

[3] Social: Community cohesion, irradiation of untouchability, propagation of gender based equality.

[4] Education: Child centred new Basic Education system; adult education, promote regional and national language and train students to follow all programmes stated above.

The Constructive Work Programme was developed on a bottom up theory. It is known as a ‘Self help’ principle in modern terms. It covers major aspect of life starting from health to economic progress. India and many South Asian and African countries can adapt this model with some relevant changes to improve capabilities of their citizens.

It seems the idea of capability approach is relatively new in socio-economic domain. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” is a quote from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism. Our older civilisations owned cumulative wisdom based on the experiences of our ancestors. Some social and economic structures in Asian and African countries still survive. Ujama and Ubuntu are two of them among many others.

The concept of Ujama :

Here is the narrative of the term Ujama

The meaning of the term Ujanma is explained in the article ‘What Was Ujamaa and How Did It Affect Tanzania?’  The Swahili word Ujama means extended family or brotherhood; it asserts that a person becomes a person through the people or community. Julius Nyerere, the president of Tanzania used Ujama as the basis for a national development project, which intended to recreate nuclear families and engage the small communities in an "economy of affection” by tapping into the traditional African attitudes, while at the same time introducing essential services and modern technological innovations for the rural population that was necessary for the majority of the population. This socialist movement not only changed many economic production practices, but also altered the ways in which family dynamics were pursued within the country, particularly gender roles as it is explained in the ‘The fourth principle of Kwanzaa’.

The values of traditional pre-colonial rural African society encouraged local people to cooperate with each other to provide for the essential necessities, and to build and maintain their own stores, and other businesses and to profit from them together. The idea of collective farming led them to village based economy rather than urbanisation. Ujamaa also called for the nationalisation of banks and industries and an increased level of self-reliance at both an individual and national level which would serve the interests of the masses instead of the few industrialists. To bring back the principles of Ujama, the government said it is best to move people out of the urban cities like the capital Dar es Salaam into newly created villages dotting the rural countryside to recreate precolonial traditions and re-establish a traditional level of mutual respect and moral ways of life.

By embracing a traditional economic model, the people of Tanzania were welcoming a social and political cohesive practice which was very much part of their ancient culture. What was branded as ‘Backwards’ and ‘Uneducated society’, the black community was based on gender equality and inclusive production and trade systems.

The concept of Ubuntu :

Ubuntu can best be described as an African philosophy that places emphasis on 'being self through others'. It is a form of humanism in Zulu phrase which can be expressed as 'I am because of who we all are' which literally means that a person is a person through other people.

Ubuntu is that nebulous concept of common humanity and oneness. Over 2000 years ago, black people of Africa developed a collective meaning of life to describe the kind of relationship an individual person is expected to have with their family, community, society, environment and their spiritual world. As the Africans migrated mostly from the west part of the continent to the east, central and south, and beyond the continent, they carried with them this meaning of life.

From the beginning of time the principles of Ubuntu have guided African societies. In the article of Oct. 19, 2018  ‘Why Global Citizens Should Care’ Hlumelo Siphe Williams  states, “Ubuntu is essentially about togetherness, and how all of our actions have an impact on others and on society. It is the common thread of the UN’s Global Goals, and the motivation in the mission to end extreme poverty so that everyone, everywhere, can live equally. Join us by taking action to end extreme poverty.”

The philosophy of ”Ubuntu" allowed to achieve community equality by propagating the distribution of wealth. The seeds of ‘One world, One health and One nation’ lies here. Ubuntu also implies that everyone has different skills and strengths; people are not isolated, and through mutual support they can help each other to complete themselves. Elizabeth Frawley Bagley who served as a secretary of State also discussed Ubuntu in the context of American foreign policy stating, "In understanding the responsibilities that come with our interconnectedness, we realise that we must rely on each other to lift our World from where it is now to where we want it to be in our lifetime, while casting aside our worn out preconceptions, and our outdated modes of statecraft.”

Ubuntu education uses the family, community, society, environment and spirituality as sources of knowledge but also as teaching and learning media. Ubuntu social work, welfare and development refers to Afrocentric ways of providing a social safety net to vulnerable members of society, which is quite different from what we see in the modern western and developed countries. The emphasis is on collectivity. The Ubuntu approach validates worldview and traditions. This ideology is against materialism and individualism and looks at an individual person as part of the whole society. Those who believe in Ubuntu based socio-economic structure think that the social interventions done by social workers, and development workers should strengthen, not weaken families, communities or societies and protect the environment and peoples's spirituality.

The notion of Ubuntu has been implemented in political arena as well. Recently in a news broadcast, the South African epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist Salim Abdol Karim spoke in context of Covid - 19 “None of us are safe from Covid if one of us is not. We have mutual interdependence.” Vaccine nationalism is of a great concern. He warned Europe and other wealthy countries not to deprive poor countries of vaccine as the virus will spread and stay in those wealthy countries too. This message has clearly delivered the principle of Ubuntu.

Conclusion :

The correlation between the indices of HDI and views of Gandhi and principles of Ujama and Ubuntu can be clearly established. The HDI has drawn us towards more human-centric worldview based on moral values and sustainable way of living. We have experts in economics, powerful politicians and great thinkers preaching new ideologies, but none of them have lived among the millions, have known their needs and plight to survive by using the resources they have as Gandhi did. And it is this virtue of Gandhi that gives unparalleled importance to his theories of development. He does not believe in survival of the fittest, but survival and good survival of all. His talisman is of great value: "Whenever you are in doubt, try the following expedient. Recall the face of the poorest and the most helpless man whom you have seen and ask yourself whether the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him”

The present version of development has increased the wealth of a minority, providing them with luxurious consumables for their pleasure, but lost its ethical value. One owner controls countless labourers for the sake of one individual’s self interest and even takes intellectuals such as scientists and technology inventors and researchers on board in the name of progress. We measure national growth in its capacity to consume material wealth. To be satisfied with necessary materials rather than be greedy is the real mark of human development; and to make that happen, change in individual mindset is the only way. We need to decide, do we want to create a richer society or better individuals and citizens for a peaceful world?

Gandhi believed that the goal of economic development must be reached through just means, and progress to be achieved by following the laws of nature. The core principles of HDI are compatible with the ones laid out in John Ruskin’s ‘Unto This Last’ and rephrased by Gandhi in ‘Sarvodaya’. Everyone can work according to one’s skills and abilities and can earn more than others; but basic income should depend on individual’s needs, not on their capability is their message. One fact is emerging clearly that the whole society will only progress if capability is improved of all its members to eliminate inequality which breads violence. Honest people’s contributions in social, economic and political life and not mere increase of material goods is the real development.   

Gandhi was a visionary. He could see that if you interpret development as mere monetary or financial growth and ignore other aspects of life, you will end up in living with rife capitalism resulting in inequality. Capitalism is unethical because the way it  allows accumulation of wealth, while communism kills individual human rights. We are tasting the fruits of the Western civilisation which he opposed for this particular reason.

The United Nations Development Plan’s goal stated in its Human development report 2019, is to think beyond income, beyond averages and beyond today to remove the inequalities in human development in 21st century is set to drive the progress of humanity.

e.mail : [email protected]

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features

Festival of Natural Fibres - 1

Asha Buch
20-11-2021

Festival of Natural Fibres, now in its forth year was organised by the Khadi London and  co-hosted by Gandhi Foundation U.K was held during 21-29 August 2021.

The collaborative organisers were: Khadi London, Free weaver Saori Studio and ONE.

Khadi London is a social enterprise (Community Interest Company) set up to support ethical fashion designers and small and medium scale enterprises that produce ethical fashion and homewares.

Free weaver Saori Studio is a London’s registered Saori weaving studio. Workshops led by Erna Jenine from her studio at the Craft Central

ONE is led by Paula Wolton which began as touring exhibition ‘OneHutFull’ to campaign for sustainable wool production in hill farming context. Now evolved as a project which supports sustainable, ethical and responsible practices in textile and fashion.

The venue was Craft Central - a magnificent Grade 2 listed building which is part of 19th century ship and girder bridge building history, which now contains an architect designed freestanding birchwood construction housing studios, workshop spaces, meeting rooms and large exhibition space.

About the Festival :

This festival consisted of three main components, An Exhibition showcasing an array of work which explored the possibilities of reconnection between fashion to farming, the Who grew-your-clothes movement, unpicking fast fashion, & shifting consumer values.

The winners of the competition held at the Chelsea College of Arts and some students inaugurated the festival by waving a banner woven and embroidered by hand with a quote from M.K.Gandhi: “In a gentle way you can shake the world”

Panel discussions this year explored ways to support local level clean & green manufacturing in the UK and ways to create ethical & sustainable global supply chains.

Craft Workshops and demonstrations provided opportunities to learn crafts, such as spinning, weaving and sewing. Community quilting gave opportunity to the visitors to come together to create a community quilt and a mural with inspiring thoughts.

Visitors came from as far as Devon, Shropshire, Bristol and Denmark. The aim of the Festival was to bring together fashion and textile designers and sustainability experts as well as students who are learning to create and source natural fibres and fabrics for themselves and their businesses.

An exhibition showcasing British and Indian fibres reconnected farming to fashion. Distinctive nature of Indian fibres such as cotton, jute, forest silk and wool and British fibres such as wool, hemp, nettle and flax was explained to the viewers.

Community Quilting :

Creating a quilt using pieces of Khadi samples was also part of the events. The aim is to create a bond between the community by sharing their views and ideas on matters affecting the lives of women, art and craft and social justice

Panel discussions :

The interactive panel discussion began with the students and recent graduates who have worked with Khadi. The winners of a competition at the Chelsea College of Arts and other students shared and exchanged their experiences they had and challenges they faced while working with the Khadi material and remote interaction with the artisans from India. Their final product of newly designed fabric formed an important part of the exhibition.

Second session was focused on climate change action and what can the campaign learn from Gandhi and his constructive work programme. The panelists imparted their knowledge and experiences. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Global Warming suggests that we are on the brink of dangerous climate change, so, immediate action is required for the fashion sector too, to be aligned with the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and move towards net-zero emissions by 2050. UN Climate Change work program aims to connect all stakeholders in the textile and fashion industry, including raw material producers, textile producers, apparel manufacturers and brands, to make this industry fully environmentally friendly.

The panelists and participants of the interactive session all agreed that the environmental crisis is real. The fashion industry has to take a lead to fight on several fronts by deploying measures such as initiate community action, organise non violent actions and take active part in lobbying for legislations regarding ethical textile production. Above all, taking personal responsibility as socially responsible consumers, educating customers, changing lifestyle and mindset and bringing brand names, fast fashion industries and retailers on board was also seen as a way forward in tackling this multifaceted issue.

Sunday morning was devoted to the Indian fibres. Various strands of regenerative, organic, sustainable and ethical fabrics were woven together in exploring the relationship of producers from cotton to cloth, fashion designers, brands and market.

Technological advancement and automation has created mass unemployment creating a huge gap between haves and have nots. There was lively discussion on whether it is possible to retain human touch while embracing new technology. A technology specialist Soma assured that there is work in progress on designing a type of weaving loom which may allow the weaver to remain a craft person without becoming an industrial worker.

Since the inception of the fibre fest four years ago, British fibres have come a long way. The passion and hard work of producers of fabrics from wool, hemp, flax, leather and nettle requires infrastructure and support for artisans and traceability.

Enthusiasm was palpable among the organisers, panelists and visitors who recognised the need and scope to widen the audience and grow the movement for natural fibres.

An exhibition cum roundtable meeting was held on 22 October at the High Commission of India. The meeting was chaired by the Economic Attach Rohit Vadhwana. A brief on Khadi London’s educational programme was presented by Kishor Shah, followed by an overview of Chelsea Khadi project by Caryn Simonson and an academic input on relevance of Khadi to the younger generation presented by Asha Buch.

Open discussion on the future of the Khadi London, how to involve other cplleges, diesign a curriculum, work with other mainstream organisations and ideas for going forward were shared. An idea of organising a global Khadi and all other natural fibres in London was put forward.

The deputy High Commissioner Shri Charanjeet Singh awarded the certificates to the winners of the Chelsea Khadi Competition and made some concluding remarks with a promise of more positive inputs from the IHC in the Khadi London’s future endeavours. The guests visited the exhibition and they were given insight into how much each item of the exhibits was made and the concept behind it.

The Festival of Natural Fibres 2021 was a success. The seeds of more involvement from the colleges and other elated organisations were shown. We hope that this collaborative work will help towards resolving the economic and climatic crisis.

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Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features