Khadi Activist

Alessandra L'Abate

Alessandra L’Abate, or Chandra, as she is known in India, is an Italian weaver who has been working in India for over 10 years. Her parents were Gandhians and members of Servas, an organization that fosters inter-cultural communications as a way to contribute to world peace. Despite, or perhaps due to, a childhood filled with foreign guests and imbued with values of nonviolence (she and her siblings were not allowed to fight), Chandra is working with a Gandhian weavers group in Tamil Nadu, and also works as a cultural mediator for socially responsible tourist groups from Italy.

For many years, Chandra, like Mark and I, has been a “free agent”, working independently with many different people and groups for whom she could make a difference. Her main activities revolve around the fair trade marketing of khadi (handspun and hand woven cloth), primarily for export. Until about two years ago, she spent most of her time in Gandhigram, not too far from Madurai. She now splits her time between Gandhigram and Calengute, Goa, where she has opened a retail outlet for the tourist market in Goa. She is working to challenge the purely commercial mindset of retailers in Goa and introduce the concept of social value behind the products that people consume. Chandra has now formed a nonprofit organization, Weavers with Trust, to continue her work with the khadi community.

Chandra invites artists and other volunteers to work with her in supporting the weavers with whom she works as well as promoting the local and export marketing of these “fair trade” products. She currently has two volunteers from Banca Etica (Ethical Bank) working with her in Goa. She supports her volunteer activities by leading small tour groups from Italy and introducing them to life in some of the villages of weavers.

But Chandra’s network extends far beyond weavers. When told that we would be in Pondicherry for a few days before heading down to Madurai for The Wedding, she asked us to contact several people to see if there was any way in which we could help: Meenakshi, who runs an educational center for children from the villages around Auroville; Sarasvati Devi, who houses a small number of destitute women in her home; and Tojo, who runs a boys home for street children.

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