British and Decline Of Indian Handicrafts

Indian handicrafts and textiles were very popular and in high demand in Europe and in the British markets. The officials of the East India Company bought these products at very cheap rates and sold them back in the European and British countries at much higher rates. Thus, the East India Company prospered by huge profits. Due to their high quality and excellent crafts- a manship, Indian handicrafts, particularly textiles, became even more popular abroad and their demand kept on increasing. Decline Of Indian Handicrafts

Our system acts very much like a sponge, drawing up all the good things from the banks of the Thames.

John Sullivan , President , Board of Revenue, Madras

The statement is very true when viewed in the context of the British economic policies in India.

Indian textiles in the European Countries

The main varieties of Indian cloth popular in the European markets and in countries of South- East Asia, West and Central Asia were as under.

Muslin: The cloth derived its name from the place Mosul’in Iraq where the Arab merchants sold fine quality Indian cotton cloth.
Chintz: Printed cotton textile with multi-colours. Produced in Masulipatnam, Andhra Pradesh. The word, ‘Chintz’ is derived from the Hindi word, ‘Chhint’ which means a cloth with colourful flowery designs.
Calico: Plain white unbleached cotton fabric.
Patola: Produced in Surat, Ahmedabad and Patan; Patola had traditional floral and animal prints, mostly in blocks.
Bandanna: A bright coloured printed scarf for head and neck, produced in Rajasthan and Gujarat. It involved the method of tying and dying.
The word ‘Bandanna’ has been derived from the Hindi word ‘bandana’ which means ‘to tie’.
Jamdani: A fine quality of muslin in which decorative designs are woven, mainly in grey and white colours. It was produced mainly in Dacca and Lucknow. A mixture of gold and cotton threads was usually used in its weaving.
Dungarees: It was the coarse variety of Indian Calico.
Gingham: A cotton fabric woven in stripes or checks.
Seersucker: A very light and thin fabric with striped Seersucker Fabric patterns.
The Indian handicrafts that had made the country famous, collapsed under the colonial rule. This was mainly due to the competition posed by the machine made goods that were imported from Britain. The ability of mass production of goods helped Britain to flood the Indian markets with cheap products especially cotton textiles.
The railways facilitated the reach of these goods to remotest parts in India and the procurement of raw materials from these parts. The traditional handicrafts industry faced a tough competition from these goods produced in bulk.

British Empire Consolidation

The Community of Weavers

The people who are skilled in the art of weaving were called weavers. The profession was usually hereditary and weaving skills were taught by one generation to the next. The initial stage of cloth production was spinning. It was done mostly by the women with the help of ‘Charkha’ and Takli’, After the thread was spun on the charkha, it was rolled on the takli, The rolled thread was then woven into cloth by the weaver.

Weaving was done mostly by men. To meet the demands of coloured cloth, the thread was dyed by the dyer, or the ‘Rangrez’. The “Chhipigars’ were the people who specialized in block printing. The goods ready for being sold were first collected in a warehouse known as Aurang. Decline Of Indian Handicrafts

In the early nineteenth century, the four main regions of textile production in India were :

  1. Bengal
  2. Dacca in Eastern Bengal (now Bangladesh)
  3. Madras, Pondicherry and Nagapatam on the Coromondel Coast
  4. Patan, Ahmedabad, Surat in Gujarat
Decline Of Indian Handicrafts
Decline Of Indian Handicrafts

Causes of decline of Indian handicrafts

Till the first half of the eighteenth century, there was a steady flow of Indian textiles and spices in the British markets. These were often exchanged with precious gems, jewels and goods. The aristocratic class and the zamindars also supported the artisans and gave them a share of the village land and agricultural produce in lieu of their services.

With the advent of British on the Indian soil, situations changed both for the peasants and the artisans. The peasants were forced to live on the mercy of the moneylenders because of the overburden of taxes. When unable to pay the revenue, they were deprived of their land. Decline Of Indian Handicrafts

So, the peasants, now, could not give the share of their produce to the artisans as they did in earlier times.

British and Decline Of Indian Handicrafts

The artisans, on the other hand, were exploited by the merchants who compelled them to sell their products at cheaper rates. Thus, the situation was worse for artisan who neither got their share of crops nor did they get adequate pay for their hard work from the merchants.

The officials of the East India Company, at times, gave advance payments of very small amounts to the artisans. This was done to prevent the artisans from working for some other European company or merchants. By accepting the advance payments, the artisans could not look forward to any other profitable orders that could make them more profits.

Thus, the status of an artisan was transformed from an independent worker to a wage labourer. An artisan living in the village was totally unaware of the outside world. He was entirely dependent upon the merchants and traders to sell his products in the markets outside his village, who exploited him to the fullest.

More demands from merchants meant more capital for raw materials. Thus, artisans also came under the grip of moneylenders. Under these conditions, they were forced to give up their traditional craft, and move to the cities in search of work.

By the early eighteenth century, Indian textiles, particularly cotton, silk and wool became very popular in European countries. The ever increasing demand of Indian textiles aroused fear and anxiety among the wool and silk makers in England. They compelled their government to check the inflow of Indian goods. Decline Of Indian Handicrafts

Thus, the British government in 1720 formulated the Calico Act that banned the use of printed cotton textiles (Chintz) in England. Indian handicrafts and textiles were thus, deprived of their foreign markets. At the same time, Industrial Revolution was taking place in Britain. In order to produce good quality textiles, the British now took the help Industrial Revolution of machines.

New machines were invented to facilitate spinning, weaving, dying and printing of textiles. The first step towards this was the setting up of the Calico Printing Industry. Further, the Spinning Jenny was invented by John Kaye in 1764. By using the spinning jenny, a single worker could operate several spindles at one time. This increased productivity as well as reduced labour and saved time.

A revolution in textile weaving was brought by the invention of the stream engine by Richard Arkwright. A bulk of cotton could now be woven in one go. The industrial revolution further worsened the plight of Indian weavers. They now had to compete with the machine- made goods of England in the European and American markets. Decline Of Indian Handicrafts

Further, to check the inflow of Indian textile into Britain, the British government increased the tariff rates and custom duties. It became very difficult for the Indian weavers to export their textiles to Britain. Foreign markets, thus, slipped out of Indian hands. Decline Of Indian Handicrafts

Karl Marx, an eminent historian has rightly remarked, “The British intruders broke up the Indian handloom and destroyed the spinning loom, and inundated the mother country of cotton with cottons”. The machine-made goods of Britain became popular in the markets of Africa, America and Europe. This rendered thousands and thousands of weavers of India jobless and homeless.

The Charter Act of 1813 abolished the Company’s monopoly of trade in India. This opened the gates of India for all merchants of Britain. These merchants came to India not to buy Indian textiles, but to sell their machine- made goods and to take away raw materials from India. The British government also enacted laws to facilitate free entry of Britain- made goods into the Indian markets. Decline Of Indian Handicrafts

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