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Destruction of Handicraft Industries during British Rule in India
Indian handicrafts were famous all over the world. In fact, such was the demand for Indian handicrafts that as early as I.C.B.C, Pliny lamented on the heavy drain caused by payments made for Indian imports. The demand for indian handicrafts was no less in the modern times (c. 16th to c. 19th A.D.) Defoe, the writer of the famous novel Robinson Crusoe, complained that Indian cloth had "crept into our closets and bed chambers; curtains, cushions,. chairs, and at last beds themselves were nothing but calicos or India stuffs".
The fine silk fabrics were manufactured at Murshidabad, shawl making industry was localized in Kashmir, Bengal and Gujarat were famous for their cotton and Muslin-fabrics.
The 19th and 20th century saw the decline of the handicraft industries and this was not sufficiently replaced by the modem industry. This development has been termed as "Deindustrialisation", by some historians. Colin Clacke's estimates substantiate this by showing that during this period there was a fall in the percentage of population involved in manufacturing and rise in the, percentage of population dependent on agriculture.
Discussing the decline of Handicrafts sector in India, to start with, the advent of European traders gave an impetus to the Handicraft industries. However, once the British usurped political power^ things ,took a different shape.
The East India Company officials exploited the artisans. The Company servants, acting through Indian banias and Gumastas, procured fabrics for export. The gumastas met the weavers and made them sign what they pleased; and when the weavers refused to accept the exploitative terms, they were flogged. The artisans were no longer independent to decide what and ho much to produce when and whom to sell, and what price to quote. The English carried on the put-out system of manufacture where the artisan was supplied with the materials and the finished product was brought at a low price. Over a period of time the English stanglehold increased. The English procured raw cotton from peasants, at a low price and sold it at exorbitant rates to the artisans. Thus, the artisan suffered both as a buyer and a seller.
Further, the British manufacturers put pressure on their government to restrict and prohibit the sale of Indian goods in England. By 1720 laws had been passed forbidding the wear or use of printed or dyed cotton cloth. In 1760 a lady had to pay a fine of £200 for possessing an imported handkerchief. But the real blow on Indian handicrafts fell after 1813 when they lost not only their foreign markets but also, their market in India itself. The industrial revolution in Britain completely transformed Britain's economy and its economic relations with India. With the establishment of factory system Britain emerged as a major manufacturing country. Manchester and. Lancashire emerged as cotton , textile centres. It was now in Britain's interest to capture the world market (including that of India) for manufactured goods and for that it had to compete with the old established Indian handicrafts., The British Indian government followed a policy of free trade or unrestricted entry of British goods. "Indian handicrafts were exposed to the fierce and unequal competition of the machine made products of Britain and faced extinction", to quote Bipin Chandra. The government took many steps to promote a significant Indian market for British manufactures. The policy of fresh conquests and direct occupation of protected states like Avadh meant the decline of royal patronage and demand for handicrafts. Many British officials, political leaders, and businessmen advocated reduction in land revenue so that the Indian peasant might be in a position to buy foreign manufactures. They also advocated modernization of India so as to inculcate taste for Western goods among Indians. The Railways enabled British manufactures to reach and uproot traditional industries in the remotest of villages.
To quote "D.H.Buchanan, "the Armour of the isolated self-sufficient village was pierced, by the steel rail, its lifeblood ebbed away".
The unequal tariff policy was glaring, while India was kept open to foreign goods, Indian handicrafts continued to pay heavy duties on entry in Britain. Duties in Britain were very high. As late as 1824, a duty of 671/2 per cent was levied on Indian calicos and a duty of 371/2 percent on Indian Muslims. In some cases duties in Britain (on Indian goods) reached unimaginable heights. All this transformed India into an exporter of raw materials (cotton, silk etc.) virtually ceasing its exports of manufactured goods.
Unlike elsewhere, in India, it was not adequately replaced by the modern industry. Thus, it resulted in an increased dependence on the agricultural sector, implying deindustrialization. The decline of handicrafts of India was largely the consequence of a conscious commercial policy followed by the British Indian government, pertaining to the colonial relationship existing between India and Britain.