Indian Textile Industry – Nineteenth Century

In previous article Indian Textile Industry – Eighteenth Century we have already discussed about the rise in influence of East India Company over textile industry, their strategies, monopoly, decay of Surat and Hoogly ports while growth of Bombay of Calcutta ports, and life of weavers. By the turn of the nineteenth century, cotton weavers faced a new set of problems.

Manchester Comes to India

In 1772, Henry Patillo, a company official, had ventured to say that the demand for Indian textile could never reduce, since no other nation produced goods of the same quality. Yet by the beginning of the nineteenth century, we see the beginning of the long decline of textile exports from India. In 1811-12 piece-goods accounted for 33 percent of India’s exports; by 1850-51, it was no more than 3 percent.

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As cotton industries developed in England, industrial groups began worrying about imports from other countries. They pressurized the government to impose import duties on cotton textiles so that Manchester goods could sell in Britain without facing any competition from outside. At the same time, industrialists persuaded the East India Company to sell British manufacturers in Indian markets as well. Exports of British cotton goods increased dramatically in early nineteenth century. At the end of the eighteenth century, there had been virtually no import of cotton piece-goods into India. But by 1850 cotton piece-goods constituted over 31 per cent of the value of Indian imports: and by the 1870s, this figure was over 50 per cent.

Cotton weavers in India thus faced two problems at the same time:

  • Their export market collapsed and
  • The local market shrank being glutted with Manchester imports.

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The Commissioner of Patna wrote:

“It appears that twenty years ago, a brisk trade was carried on in the manufacture of cloth at Jahanabad, and Behar, which has in the former place entirely ceased, while in the latter the amount of manufacture is very limited, in consequence of the cheap and durable goods from Manchester with which the Native manufactures are unable to compete.”

Produced by machines at lower costs, the imported cotton goods were so cheap that weavers could not easily compete with them. By the 1850s, reports from most weaving regions of India narrated stories of decline and desolation.

Reporting on the Kostis, a community of weavers, the Census Report of Central Provinces stated:

“The Koshtis, like the weaver of the finer kind of cloth in the other part of India, have fallen upon evil times. They are unable to compete with the showy goods which Manchester sends in such profusion, and they have of late years emigrated in great numbers, chiefly to Berar, whereas day labourers they are able to obtain wages …”

By the 1860s, weavers faced a new problem. They could not get sufficient supply of raw cotton of good quality. When the American Civil War broke out the cotton supplies from the US were cut off, Britain turned to India. As raw cotton export from India increased, rice of raw cotton shot up. Weavers in India were starved of supplies and forced to buy raw cotton at exorbitant prices. In this, situation weaving could not pay.

Then, by the end of the nineteenth century, weavers and other craftspeople faced yet another problem. Factories in India began production, flooding the market with machine-goods. How could weaving industry possibly survive?

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3 COMMENTS

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