[Solved] Examine how the decline of traditional artisanal industry in colonial India crippled the rural economy ( UPSC GS-1 Mains 2017)

[Solved] Examine how the decline of traditional artisanal industry in colonial India crippled the rural economy ( UPSC GS-1 Mains  2017)

By the standards of the 17th and 18th centuries, before the advent of the Europeans in India, India was the ‘industrial workshop’ of the world. India’s traditional village economy was characterized by the “blending of agriculture and handicrafts”.

  • Industrial revolution, establishment full pledged British power in India happened simultaneously. Britishers want India to be their colony, they will take away the resources and import the cheap goods to India.
  • Those products are machine made, less cost, so our rural handmade costly products did not given enough competition to them, with that entire market taken over by the Britishers.
  • Because of historical reasons land in India concentrated in few hands, these artisans who lost their livelihood cannot do agriculture.
  • If at all they want to do they will work like a coolly or share cropper or tenant , which gives only meager income. Because of this, rural economy get completely destroyed.
  • Prior to Britishers the jamindars, local kings, lords used to patronize the artisans in their court. Decline of traditional artisans and removal of jamindari and other local kings started same time.
  • With this artisans lost their patronization , this also get effected their economic condition which in turn effect the entire rural economy.

 Reasons for decline of traditional artisanal industry:

 • Disappearance of court culture:

 – With the abolition of the royal court, one source of demand for the products of these crafts dried up.

 • Western education:The consumption habits of newly created Indian ‘bourgeoisie’ not only disdained the products of the indigenous industries but also tried to copy everything European which was considered to be the “hallmark of enlightenment.”

 • The loss of guilds:

 – This led to the adulteration of materials, shoddy and slovenly workmanship, resulting in a decline of the artistic and commercial value of the products.

 • Tariff policy pursued by the British Government

 – This ‘one-way free trade’ policy which preached that what was good for England was considered to be good for India.

 – To put her manufacturing industries on a sound footing at home, England pursued the policy of protection through the imposition of import duties.

 – Indian goods were also subjected to high tariffs in the English market whereas the British goods gained duty free access into the Indian markets.

 • Indian craftsmen did not clearly understand the forms and patterns which suited European tastes.

 As a result of these policies Indian handicrafts faced a severe challenge from the foreign goods. India now became the exporter of raw materials to British industries and an importer of ready-made goods from Britain.

 This phenomenon of the ruination of Indian handicrafts industries is most well known as Deindustrialization.


 • Destroyed the self-sufficient village economy as the destruction of the traditional industries led to overcrowding in the agrarian sector.

 • The artisans were displaced from traditional occupations. Finding no other alternative source of livelihood, the artisans fell back on land.

 • Such overcrowding of agriculture badly affected its efficiency. Present problems of subdivision and fragmentation of land holdings, over-cultivation or cultivation of inferior and unproductive land, etc., are the direct effects of the British rule.

 • Created a bogey of rural disguised unemployment and underemployment.

 • Indeed, women spinners who earned their livelihoods were the worst victims of de-industrialization.

 • Ultimately the people were left amidst extreme poverty. Major cottage industries like textile, leather, oil, pottery, etc. were ruined and no alternative source of production was setup in India. Thus, India had to depend on the British manufacturers.

 Thus, the process of de-industrialization proved to be a process of pure immiseriation for the several million persons. Exporter India was converted into importer India. Self-sufficient village economic gave way to colonial economy and India was transformed into an agricultural colony to produce and supply raw materials.

 Destruction of traditional artistry and its effects on rural economy

 Lower demand for raw materials

 The raw materials needed for traditional art in rural India was supplemented by rural peasants. With the introduction of alternate products to challenge traditional art, the demands for the handicrafts decreased due to which the artists had to abandon their profession and migrate to other profession. This meant that peasants did not have a buyer for their raw material.

 Ex: Indian handloom industry was destroyed by introduction of power looms and cotton farmers no longer enjoyed the available market for handloom./decline of traditional/

 Urban migration

 With traditional handicrafts no longer an option, artisans moved to cities to work in manufacturing industries. This meant that one of the major link in rural economy was lost. With no alternative profession, rural folks had to rely on not-so-profitable peasantry. British factories gained due to this factor.

 Change in agricultural pattern

 Farmers had to give up profitable Indigo cultivation due to the loss incurred due to no rural demands. This paved way for alternate agricultural pattern in form of food grains, which was sufficient only for sustainance. Peasants became poorer with passage of time.

 Benefits to British

  • With no competition from traditional crafts, British products enjoyed monopoly in Indian market. The profits were shifted for development of Britain without investing in India.
  • Indian peasants had no option but to sell their products to factories in Britain due to lack of demand in Indian market. The British reaped huge profits due to cheap availability of raw materials.
  • The British aimed to use this as a form of cultural makeover by making Indians adhere to British way of life.
  • Pre-colonial India had favorable foreign trade due to excellence in indigenous production. Indian artisans were famous all over the world for their skills.  There was large scale production on cotton and silk, jute, dyestuffs, mineral and metallic products like arms, metal wares and oil. India, towards the end of the 18th century was, undoubtedly one of the main centers of world trade and industry. This status of India was completely destroyed under colonial times.

 There were various reasons which weakened the rural economy of India such as:

  • Industrial revolution in England resulted in the flooding of machine-made goods in Indian markets from England. These machine-made goods were cheaper and gradually replaced the indigenous manufacturers. The number of weavers also declined.
  • In the course of the traditional artisanal industry also lost most of its patrons like rulers and zamindars etc.
  • India became a supplier of cheap raw material and provided a huge market for the finished goods coming from London.
  • The British pursued a biased policy which provided them duty free access to Indian markets. On the contrary Indian goods were subjected to high tariffs in the European markets.
  • Decline of traditional occupations led to moving of artisans towards agriculture for livelihood which tremendously increased both dependency and pressure on land.
  • Introduction of railways also helped in further exploitation as it fastened penetration into Indian hinterland for economic and commercial exploitation.

 As a result, in the course of around two hundred years (1757-1947) Indian artisans, craftsmen and important trading centers collapsed and whatever manufacturing activity existed was destroyed under the impact of increased imports which led destabilization and crippling of Indian economy.

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