British Policy towards Indian Handicrafts
The European companies began arriving on the Indian soil from 16th century. During this period, they were constantly engaged in fierce competition to establish their supremacy and monopoly over Indian trade. Not surprisingly, therefore, initial objective of the English East India Company was to have flourishing trade with India. Later, this objective was enlarged to acquire a monopoly over this trade and obtain its entire profit. Although the trade monopoly thus acquired by the Company in India was ended by the Charter Act of 1833, yet the British Policy of exploiting the resources of India continued unabated. In this respect, the nature of the British rule was different from the earlier rulers.
As far as the traditional handicraft industry and the production of objects of art were concerned, India was already far ahead of other countries in the world. The textiles were the most important among the Indian industries. Its cotton, silk and woolen products were sought after all over the world. Particularly, the muslin of Dacca, carpets of Lahore, shawls of Kashmir, and the embroidery works of Banaras were very famous. Ivory goods, wood works and jewellery were other widely sought after Indian commodities.
Apart from Dacca, which was highly famous for its muslins, the other important centres of textile production were Krishnanagar, Chanderi, Arni and Banaras. Dhotis and dupattas of Ahmedabad, Chikan of Lucknow, and silk borders of Nagpur had earned a worldwide fame. For their silk products some small towns of Bengal besides, Malda and Murshidabad were very famous. Similarly, Kashmir, Punjab and western Rajasthan were famous for their woolen garments.
Besides textiles, India was also known widely for its shipping, leather and metal industries. Indian fame as an industrial economy rested on cutting and polishing of marble and other precious stones and carving of ivory and sandalwood. Moradabad and Banaras were famous for brass, copper, bronze utensils. Nasik, Poona, Hyderabad and Tanjore were famous for other metal works. Kutch, Sind and Punjab were known for manufacturing arms. Kolhapur, Satara, Gorakhpur, Agra, Chittor and Palaghat had likewise earned a reputation for their glass industries. Making of gold, silver and diamond jewellery was another important industrial activity in which many places in India specialized. These entire handicrafts industry indicated a vibrant economy in India.
Despite enjoying such fame in the world, the Indian handicraft industry had begun to decline by the beginning of the 18th century. There were many reasons for it. First, the policies followed by the English East India Company proved to be highly detrimental to the Indian handicrafts industry. The Indian market was flooded with the cheap finished goods from Britain. It resulted in a steep decline in the sale of Indian products both within and outside of the country. In 1769, the Company encouraged the cultivation of raw silk in Bengal while imposing service restrictions on the sale of its finished products. In 1813 strategies were devised by the Company to enhance the consumption of finished goods from Britain. In this respect the tariff and octroi policies were suitably modified to suit the British commercial interests. To cite an example, in 1835 only a minimal import of British duty of 2.5 per cent was imposed on the import of British manufactured cotton cloth whereas a very high 15 per cent export duty was charged on Indian cotton textiles as per the new maritime regulations.
Moreover, goods from England could only be brought by the English cargo ships. As a result of all these policies, the Indian textiles could not enter the British market, whereas the Indian market was flooded with British goods.
Thus, with the rise of British paramountcy in India, the process of decline in the power and status of Indian rulers had set in. Thus, the demands for the domestic luxury goods like royal attires, armory and objects of art by the Indian royalty also reduced drastically.
So, with the disappearance of the traditional dynasties, their nobility also passed into oblivion. This led to a sharp decline in the demand for traditional luxury goods.
Besides, the Industrial revolution led to the invention of new machinery in Europe. Power looms replaced handlooms. In India also the advent of machines led to the decline of handicraft as now the machine-made products were available at cheaper rate and more goods could be produced in much lesser time.
Finally, the new communication and transport facilities brought about a revolution in public life. Earlier, goods used to be transported either by bullock carts or by ships. Thus, during the rainy season, it was not always convenient to carry on with the normal transportation. But now conditions were changed with the introduction of railways and steamer services. Concrete roads were laid to connect the country's agricultural hinterland. The import of goods from England also increased with the simultaneous increase in exports of raw materials from India, leading to massive loss of jobs among Indian artisans and craftsman who lost their only means to livelihood.