India’s famed handicrafts like Benarasi silk, Kashmiri shawls, Moradabad metalware, and world renowned handloom textiles like Muslin, Chintz, Calico suffered steep decline under British colonial rule. Cheap imports displaced artisanal goods while high taxes and unstable conditions dislocated production. The demise of these rural decentralized industries impoverished millions of artisans and crippled the wider agrarian economy.
British colonial policies led to the decline of these industries:
1. Lower import duties and one-way free trade allowed mass import of cheaper machine-made goods from Britain which displaced local artisans. For example, import of British cotton cloth increased from 1 million yards in 1814 to 136 million yards in 1850, leading to closure of many Indian handloom units.
2. High taxation, unstable political conditions, repression after 1857 revolt disrupted their operations. Artisans lost their patronage and earnings. For instance, famines and oppressive revenue collection impacted artisans in Bengal silk industry.
3. Discriminatory tariff policy favoured raw material exports and obstructed growth of manufacturing industries. For instance, low export duty of 3.5% on Indian raw cotton versus high import duty of 78% on Indian textiles led to decline in Indian textile competitiveness.
4. Competition from machine-made goods led to decline of handicrafts like silk, cotton textiles, toys, calicos etc. Production and exports of key Indian textiles like Dhaka Muslin, Madurai Sungudi, Kashmir shawls declined drastically.
5. Rural artisanal industries had strong linkages with agriculture. Their decline impacted agriculture earnings and bargaining power of farmers. For example, weavers in eastern UP also cultivated land, decline of weaving reduced their agriculture income.
This decline crippled the rural economy in several ways:
1. Unemployment and impoverishment of millions of artisans and weavers. By early 20th century, share of rural artisans fell from 1/3rd to 1/20th of Indian workforce rendering millions jobless.
2. Increased pressure on agriculture and reduced incomes due to lack of subsidiary occupations. With no alternate earnings, farmers were forced to solely depend on agriculture.
3. Reduced rural purchasing power and disruption of traditional artisanal credit systems run by indigenous bankers and merchants. This impacted the wider rural economy.
The systematic destruction of traditional rural industries under colonial rule led to the decay of the once flourishing rural economy of India. Reviving them can provide sustainable livelihoods and boost the rural economy.