Strands of a revolution
Studying Mahatma Gandhi’s use of clothing as a metaphor for unity, empowerment and liberation from imperial subjugation, Salesian edu-communicator Peter Gonsalves’ latest work Khadi: Gandhi’s Mega Symbol of Subversion investigates the power of a symbol to qualitatively transform society.
Threading together historical evidence by discussing the complex challenges in Gandhi’s highly polarised environment, Gonsalves examines the symbolic potential for change—through khadi—as a strategic ploy to achieve independence. The book is intimately connected to his previous work, Clothing for Liberation. The point of departure is the same: Gandhi’s communication through clothing—a choice that Gonsalves claims was “an extremely courageous strategy intended to destabilize unjust authoritative systems in the pursuit of purna swaraj”. However, the present work is noteworthy for the originality of its approach, the richness of the documentation it supplies, and the clarity with which the relevance and depth of Gandhi’s thoughts and actions are demonstrated.
The author adopts a multi-disciplinary approach to bring together historical evidence of Gandhi’s search for a semiotics of attire in his quest for personal integrity and socio-political change and closely examines the subversion underlying his sartorial communication. He also discusses the complex challenges in Gandhi’s highly polarised environment, such as the conflict between the British Empire and the Indian National Congress, the Hindu-Muslim tensions, the rural-urban divide and the role of the caste in fragmentation of the Hindu identity.
The book opens with Part A, the story of Gandhi’s personal struggle in subverting the ego and the impulse for appearing trendy, powerful and popular. Parts in the book comprise the bulk of the historical analysis, presenting Gandhi’s subversion from the eco-political, psycho-cultural and socio-religious perspectives. The final part examines the philosophical thrust underlying his proactive engagement with the people and situations through the use of khadi as a mega symbol of subversion.
Throughout the book Gonsalves concentrates on three interlocking issues: Gandhi’s evolving awareness of the semiological properties of clothing; his resolute use of khadi as a metaphor of subversion in major dimensions of life; his adherence to principles and values underlying a clear-cut strategy for socio-political change. He also discusses the complex challenges in Gandhi’s highly polarized environment, such as the conflict between the British Empire and the Indian National Congress, Hindu-Muslim tensions, the urban-rural divide, and the question of untouchability.
History bears testimony to the momentous consequences of Gandhi’s sartorial subversion. It exploded the myth of the civilising mission of the colonial powers. It gave birth to the world’s largest democracy. It was instrumental in ending imperialism across the world. According to Gonsalves, Gandhi was aware of the wider dimensions of the change he was ushering in the world. He quotes Gandhi: “Through deliverance of India I seek to deliver the so-called weaker races of the earth from the crushing heels of Western exploitation in which England is the greatest partner.”
Today, khadi continues to be used by many, although wearing it does not assume the same meaning and spirit that Gandhi envisaged.