In 1930, Gandhi spent 8 months in the Yerawada Jail in western India. During that time, he invented a new spinning wheel that came to be known as the Yerawada charkha. The Yerawada charkha is one of the more beautiful pieces of technology I’ve seen; it’s elegant, easy-to-build, and efficient.
Gandhi made the spinning wheel a linchpin of his independence campaign. And it worked. By spinning their own cloth, poverty-stricken villagers gave themselves a source of income and spiritual sustenance. They freed themselves from their dependence on the British textile industry. And they spawned an ecosystem of trades and tools, from weaving to dying to washing to carpentry, that restored vibrancy to the villages.
It has always intrigued me that Gandhi spent so much time thinking about technology. I understand the wisdom of it, but it’s rare to see such tool-centric activism. It would be like today’s leading civil-rights leaders urging their constituents to learn how to program mobile devices.
So I find it ironic that Gandhi’s critics labeled him as anti-technology, although I can understand why they did. Gandhi fiercely opposed expensive technology. And at the time, modern technology was expensive technology. If you opposed the factory, you opposed modernity.
But what Gandhi understood is that tools are most useful to the people that own them.
And villagers didn’t own factories.