Why not ‘Clothes Security’

Bharat Dogra

Food, clothes and Shelter (or Roti, Kapda aur Makaan) are widely accepted as the most basic needs of daily life. It is also widely acknowledged that in India (as well as in many other countries) millions of people are unable to meet these needs in a satisfactory way. However due to some inexplicable reasons while food and shelter have received a lot of attention, at least on paper, clothes have been denied this attention even at the level of development discourse and debate.

It is common to see various targets being set and plans being made to meet these targets as well as budgets being allocated for these plans as far as food and housing needs are concerned. It is another matter that these plans and budgets may not be adequate, or may not reflect the right priorities, but at least plans are made and budgets are allocated. Hence there is recognition of the importance of meeting these two basic needs. However in the case of clothes even this is not done. It is difficult to recall any plan or even concept like 'clothes security' or 'adequate clothes for all'. This neglect at the conceptual level or at the level of planning for basic needs has been responsible to a significant extent for clothes being neglected as a basic need of people.

Yet there is absolutely no doubt that in the daily life of people clothes constitute a very strongly felt basic need at least at two levels. Firstly, there is the need for protection of human body from all weather extremes, from injury and illness. Clothes clearly play an important role in this and different kinds of clothes are needed in different weather conditions and in different locations. Needless to add, adequacy of clothes has a different meaning in winter or summer or in an extremely cold region compared to tropical weather conditions.

Secondly, there is the basic human need for dignity in which clothes play an important role firstly, by providing a cover for human body and secondly by providing a cover which is adequate in terms of different perceptions of dignity. This perception is of course different for a child compared to an adult, a woman compared to a man, a worker compared to a bureaucrat. The basic need for clothing needs is to be understood in terms of individual perceptions of dignity in the broad cultural context of any area or community.

Seen in this way, clothes constitute a basic physical need (in terms of providing protection from weather extremes, illness and injury) as well as a basic emotional need (in terms of protecting dignity).

Wider acceptance of the importance of clothes as a basic need will lead to more attention to the clothing needs of the poorest and most vulnerable people. Another aspect is that this need should be met in such a way that more employment is generated for weaker sections. Yet another aspect is that the need for clothes should be met in environment friendly ways.

Mahatma Gandhi was one of the very few great thinkers who emphasised all these aspects. He was pained at the denial of adequate clothes to most of his fellow citizens of India and he decided to use only the minimum essential clothing himself as long as this basic need was not met satisfactorily in the case of all citizens of India. Secondly, he said that he would wear only that cloth which is spun and woven by hand (khadi), thereby providing the maximum possible employment. He accorded the highest importance to spreading the production and use of khadi, thereby creating employment opportunities for several hundred thousand poor people and that too in environment friendly ways. The production of khadi can be entirely pollution free and does not involve the emission of greenhouse gases.

This, then, is an example of holistic thinking on the issue of clothes where prioritising the needs of the poor, environment-friendly methods of production and generation of maximum employment are all brought together in conformity to each other.
This is extremely different from the modern approach of textile industry which emphasises production for the rich consuming class, preference for highly mechanised methods, onslaught on handweaving and hand spinning while showing scant regard for environment protection.

Vol. 46, No. 7, Aug 25-31, 2013

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