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The Gandhi cap (Hindi: गांधी टोपी) is a white coloured sidecap, pointed in front and back and having a wide band. It is made out of khadi. It takes its name after the Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, who first popularised its use during the Indian independence movement. Worn commonly by Indian independence activists, it became a symbolic tradition for politicians and political activists to wear it in independent India.
Caps of similar design and material have been worn throughout history by the people of Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Karnataka and other parts of India. Such caps are still worn by a large segment of Indian society without any political significance. The cap gained significance after it was regularly donned by Gandhi, whose popularity was rising fast. Gandhi's homespun khadi attire of traditional Indian clothes were symbolic of his message of cultural pride, the use of Swadeshi goods (as opposed to those manufactured in Europe), self-reliance and solidarity with India's rural masses. The cap became common to most followers of Gandhi and members of the Indian National Congress. A connection to the independence movement was implied when any individual wore the cap in those times.
Prisoners in South African prisons classified as "negroes" (a category into which Indians fell while Gandhi was in South Africa) also were required to wear similar caps in prison. Gandhi's close friend Henry Polak cites Gandhi's time in South African jail, where he was classified as a "negro" and thus required to wear such a cap, as the genesis of the Gandhi Cap.
Similar caps of black colour were adopted as uniform by the activists of the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Nationalist leader Subhas Chandra Bose wore a khaki, brown coloured cap of the same design to symbolise his militarist convictions and generalship of the Indian National Army.
The first generation of post-independence Indian politicians were almost universally members of the freedom struggle. Gandhi's death in 1948 gave an emotional importance to the Gandhi cap, which was regularly worn by Indian leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister. Succeeding prime minister such as Lal Bahadur Shastri and Morarji Desai would continue the tradition. Most members of the Indian Parliament (especially politicians and activists of the Congress party) wore khadi clothing and the Gandhi cap. Large numbers of people donned the cap when celebrating India's independence on August 15 or the promulgation of a republic on January 26.
In later times, the cap had lost its popular and political appeal. Although many members of the Congress party continued the tradition, rival political parties preferred to dissociate themselves from the tradition linked with the Congress. The mass acceptance of Western-style clothing had also diminished the importance of wearing Indian-style clothes for politicians.
The cap remains the most popular everyday headgear worn by men in rural parts of Maharashtra.
Re-emergence of the Gandhi cap
In 2011, the Gandhi cap once again rose in popularity in India after Anna Hazare, an eminent Gandhian started an anti-corruption movement in India. The epicenter of this movement was in Delhi. In August 2011, thousands of people wearing Gandhi caps accumulated at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi to support Anna Hazare on his fast-unto-death. This movement spilled over to many other parts of the country and stadiums, community centers and grounds were booked for assimilation of a similar nature. The mass movement witnessed people of all age groups, religions and social standings (mainly the Middle Class) as participants, many among them shouting slogans and wearing Gandhi caps.
- H.S.L Polak Mahatma Gandhi (London: Odham's Press, 1949) pg. 61
- Katherine Frank, Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi (2002)
- Rajmohan Gandhi, Patel: A Life (1992)
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