Words like globalization, liberalization, open markets, WTO, development pale in significance in front of this simple letter by a humble yarn spinner who used to spin yarn on the spinning wheel. One can see the strength of a steel wire in this tale of a simple cotton yarn.

The editor of the magazine was   one of the colleagues of Shri Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the writer. A highly educated writer and social activist, he used to publish a newsletter called ‘SAMVAD’ which was also edited by his associate Mr.Bandoy . The two friends fell out due to their difference of opinion on whether to resort to English Law to bring about an end of the ritual of ‘Sati’.(Sati is the  custom Bandoy was not in favour of taking the East India Company’s  help to ban this evil practice in India, where a husband’s funeral, meant the wife would also be cremated at the same time).

Around this time, the import of English yarn had commenced as a result of which the yarn spinners in India started feeling the pinch as they could not compete with the foreign yarn. One such unfortunate woman, most humbly, asks in this letter whether the English women who spin this yarn are in even more desperate situation than her. She reasons that the English women may be finding it difficult to sell their yarn in their own country so they must be being forced to sell it at a low price in India.

Gandhi saw this letter and published it in the 21st May 1931 issue of ‘Young India’ with his comments, and it is a lesson in technology in Jamaica.  How much technology do we need to succeed?

The letter of this unfortunate woman says, “I am writing this letter with a very heavy heart. I am told that if I write a letter to your newsletter, my woes will reach the appropriate authorities to whom I would like it to be delivered. I am a very unfortunate woman. My husband died when I was just 22 leaving behind three daughters and his parents for me to look after. He was the lone bread winner in the family and used to somehow manage to run the household by running a minor business. He could therefore not leave much savings for us. I sold some ornaments that I had to complete his funeral rites.

Now what, was the big question facing me. I had to feed five persons, what was I supposed to do? At such times one looks up to the Almighty to show the way.

I sat down cross-legged and started spinning yarn. I used to get up early in the morning and sit by my charkha (spinning wheel) and spin one tola (a measure normally used to weigh precious material and was equivalent to one silver coin and which is about 10 grams today) of yarn. Then I used to complete my household chores, cook, bathe, feed the family and eat two morsels myself. After completing my kitchen work, I used to sit again with my spinning wheel. This time I would use the distaff and spin about one tola of a finer variety of yarn.

The weavers used to come can and with great respect collect the yarn spun by us spinners. The hand spun yarn would fetch a rupee for three tolas of yarn and the finer variety would fetch a rupee for one and half tola. When in need they did not mind giving us advance money also and in this way I could provide for my family’s basic needs.    

With time, my skill improved and I started making more money as a result of which I could save about 150 rupees after taking care of my household expenses. I managed to get all my three daughters married spending a decent amount so that no one would lift a finger at them and say they are daughters of a widow. Immediately thereafter, my father-in-law expired and on my request all the weavers gave me an advance to complete his funeral rites. Thanks to my spinning wheel, I repaid all my debts within a period of one and half years. Life was passing comfortably for me.

But recently, I don’t know why, my yarn was losing its market and I started facing problems. Weavers have stopped coming to buy our yarn. Even if I send it to the market with someone, I only get one fourth of the price I used to get earlier. I could not understand what was happening.  I then learnt that there is a country called England from where very fine yarn is being brought and the weavers are now using this foreign yarn.

I used to be proud of my yarn and think that no one can spin as fine a yarn as me. I asked someone to bring me some of this English yarn. It was really finer than mine and was available at three or four rupees a ‘seer’ (equivalent to 97 tolas in Bengali). I cursed my luck, but then I thought that these English women must be even worse off than me for being forced to sell such fine yarn at such a cheap price. This means that prices in their country must be surely even lower and that is why they must be sending their yarn to our markets. I noticed that their yarn was not as durable as our yarn and fabric woven from this yarn would not last and tear in three or four months.

I want to ask these English yarn-spinning sisters of mine if it is right to flood our markets with this kind of cheap but poor quality yarn. Is it a good thing to do?

I request you, the editor, to publish this letter from a helpless woman.”

Gandhi writes at the end of the letter: “I can’t but appreciate the  innocence of this poor woman who, in her ignorance, thinks that poor English ladies even poorer than her are churning out this yarn and therefore feels compassion and sorry for them. She was unaware that the ‘foreign yarn’ was now made in England by French Machines.

 She would have even been able to continue with her spinning if our industrialists would not have wanted to capture the market and adopt a policy which destroyed our village industries.”

Which they did unfortunately: The importers, wholesalers of India( and Jamaica)  give no consideration to local developments, in technology; as long as there was more return in imported goods, no matter the cost to the poor, no matter the skills they were about to ignore, their pockets came first. There was the business in which they prospered.

So it matters not that India now sends rockets to Mars, or can build their own industry as effective as any other country; India’s resources, human and technical, will cause them to advance over other countries.

We should also look at Industries here in Jamaica, including bottled water and cereal flakes, and decide whether to produce what we can, or wait on the imported luxuries.

Ramesh Sujanani

Kingston, Jamaica  20/05/2014  (1199 words)

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