Rediscovering India by Dharampal

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Reindustrialization of India       

Friends this chapter gives you % of population engaged in which industry, most imp industry was mining of metals, high status of Indians in the metals business even compared to Brahmans, India’s downslide started app 1800 and Brit type of industrialization started app 1880. Net result tells how the ‘Backwards’ of today came into being.

Some Ideas on the Reindustrialization of India  - The proportion of the Indian people engaged in industry as distinguished from agriculture, cattle and animal breeding, trade and commerce, cultural and religious pursuits, administration, and police and militia till about the end of the eighteenth century was probably in the range of 20 to 25 per cent. Of these a substantial proportion were occupied in the construction of houses, temples, forts and other public buildings, and in the construction of tanks and roads. The materials used in construction activity would have included stone, baked bricks, mud, various types of tiles, wood, some metal and a variety of mortars. Even a larger proportion seems to have been occupied in the various processes related to the manufacture of cloth-ginning, carding, spinning, weaving, dyeing, printing, finishing, etc. The number of weavers in India around 1800 could well have been in the range of 15-20 lakh families, and the households which would have spun the cotton, woolen or silken thread for the cloth which was woven could easily have been ten times the number of weaver families.

Besides these two, the major areas of industrial activity would have been in the mining and manufacture of metals, the conversion and shaping of metals into consumer articles, in the preparation of chemicals including the manufacture of salt as also of saltpeter; fishing in inland rivers, lakes, tanks, ponds, etc., as well as in the sea; in the collection of herbs including plants used in the making of dyes and of agents which fixed the colour as well as the manufacture of sugar, spirits, medicines, herbal delicacies, and essences, etc.; and a multiplicity of craftsmen who worked in wood, iron, silver, gold, diamonds, cropper, brass, bronze, glass, etc. besides there were the oil extractors, potters, leather workers and so on. Till the end of the eighteenth century, those engaged in industrial pursuits, especially those in the various fields of construction and those engaged in the manufacture and shaping of metals considered themselves in no way inferior to the Brahmins either in learning in ritual status, especially in south India. And even the Brahmins would concede them precedence on many occasions.

Yet it does seem that because of a alien political dominance, or because of some internal tension between those engaged in industry, on the one hand, and those engaged in agriculture, on the other, or because of a combination of these and several others factors, the status of those engaged in industry, and even in trade, commerce and banking, seems to have started to suffer by the early eighteenth century. The often-repeated prominence given to the alleged contribution of European and other foreign craftsmen, designers, etc., in the construction of many structures including the Tirumal Naick Palace in Madurai or in the construction of astronomical observatories. etc., of Sawaj Jaisingh of Jaipur (Rajasthan), seems to be indicating of the declining status of those running Indian industry.

The 19th century sees the extensive uprooting, disruption and stagnation of all sphere of Indian industry and the large-scale conversion of those who had been historically and traditionally engaged in them, into mere laborers, and often into a destitute population. In a way this was a replay of that which had been happening to the craftsmen of England, and increasingly of other areas of Western Europe, since about 1750, and more so, after the availability of the energy produced by coal and steam. Yet after their initial uprooting and displacement most of England’s craftsmen gradually got absorbed into the new industrial structure and as time went on, most of those engaged in agriculture and other occupations were also taken into the new power driven industry. Further, many of the craftsmen of England and those of Western Europe, entered into the new industrial structure as its master craftsmen, designers, supervisors, trainers, etc., and not merely as laborers doing the hard, menial and unpleasant jobs.

In India the process of uprooting, disruption, etc. planned as it was by the British-run Indian State to suit the needs of England and of those of the West generally and of the newly transformed Western trade and commerce, got directed differently. Initially, the craftsmen, especially those engaged in the making of cloth, in the mining and manufacture of metals, and those engaged in construction, stone work, etc., were through fiscal and other devices reduced to a state of penury and homelessness and led into either a state of bondage or destruction. This turned most of the technological and industrial innovators, designers and craftsmen into mere laborers, and most of the remaining were reduced – because of lack of resources and lack of demand – to a state of industrial crudity and barbarism.

Mining and the manufacture of metals were either directly prohibited by administrative regulations or made economically impossible by the levy of high license fees, take-over of mining land as well as forests by the State as the property, and through the import of tariff supported British and European products into the country. The same began to happen from about 1815 in all sectors of the cloth industry from the stage of carding, spinning, dyeing, weaving, to printing and finishing. By about 1820 Indian industry was wholly on its knees and in the sort of state in which Mahatma Gandhi found it around 1915.

From about 1800 onwards the condition of those engaged in industry had become pitiful in the major industrial centers. This extended to other localities also were because of the rapid decline of Indian agriculture and of India’s commerce and trade the industry suffered as well. The craftsmen and their families had enjoyed a citizenship status in the villages as well as the small towns. Most of them had rights to house-sites, back garden, and some manyam land and generally received a substantial proportion of the agricultural produce at the time of harvest. Similarly, many of them received incomes in various shapes from those engaged in commerce, banking and trade. As the localities began to deteriorate and crumble, because of British rack-renting, decline in the overall economy etc., most of the craftsmen became impoverished. Many were no longer needed for the functions they performed and through legalistic arguments even deprived of their manyams and house-sites. This continued during most of the nineteenth and early twentieth century and a large number of the craftsmen and others constituting the local infrastructure had to quit the localities. 

The state of penury and destitution penetrated practically into every locality and habitat of India. The aim seems to have been to convert India into a land, which mainly produced raw material through agriculture and cattle breeding. Industry if any like blacksmith, carpentry, or pottery, was seen merely as an adjunct to the needs of agricultural production.

Because of various pressures and especially because of the British desire to invest newly acquired British capital, a new structure of industrialization began to be established in various parts of India, especially round Calcutta and Bombay, by about 1880. But the new industry required cheap and fairly large industrial manpower; in fact that was what promoted its establishment in India. However it can be said with all certainty that those employed in this new industrial structure, on the shop floor, practically all came from the earlier industrial occupations. The miners and manufactures of mental went into iron and steel, and other metallurgical industries and the experts in stone, the sculptors, painters, masons, tank diggers, etc., were taken into construction and became the labor force of the departments of public works and of the increasing tribe of contractors. Practically all these were treated as laborers and at the most as the mates who directly supervised them.

Thus the basic workforce of the Indian industry largely came from such occupations and jatis, which had practiced similar pursuits historically and traditionally, and largely, continues to come from these occupations, even today, in the so-called more modern sector of the Indian industry. Further, it seems fairly evident that if this workforce, which derives its skills from age-old practices and skills, was somehow to disappear, the modern Indian managers, engineers, technocrats would find themselves wholly useless in the running of modern industry. Their relation to modern Indian industry is in no way significantly different from the relation of the personnel of the Indian administrative and allied services to the offices and departments over which they preside. In both cases it is their positions and offices, which give them the authority to manage men. As experience tells us, they are hardly qualified or gifted in the way of technical inventiveness or innovation, or creativity in forging workable institutions and structures.

The larger proportion of the historical and traditional professionals of Indian Industry however, even today, work outside the modern industrial complex, and mostly work individually and on their own. In the idiom of today they would form a fairly large proportion of the ‘Backward’ and ‘Other Backward’ castes. The occupations and jatis from which they come would understandably wish to have their proportionate share in the political and administrative set-up of India, a set-up in which they have not even had a subordinate voice, a privilege which however halting, the Brahmins, the kayasthas and a few others had begun to have from about the mind-19th century onwards.

However, while these professions and jatis must have their due share in the working of Indian polity, most of them coming from the professions and jatis would additionally be of great value to India if they were to become the backbone of a regenerated and flourishing Indian industry - based on the precious skills, practices and initiative as well as scholarly understanding of the actual working of Industrial processes which they have. Those who manage and supervise the modern sector of Indian industry have, by and large, no such skills and understanding coming as they do overwhelmingly from the non-industrial sections, sections which moreover constitute to more than 2 per cent of the Indian people. If one were to converse with people belonging to this very large indigenous Indian industrial sector, one would find that both individually, as well as groups, many of them still retain great ingenuity, sense of discrimination, an aesthetic imagination and judgment, and confidence in their own abilities.

Workers in stone, even on the outskirts of Madras, feel confident that if given the chance they can build a temple like the Brihadeeswara Temple at Thanjavur, or the great temple at Suchindram. A goldsmith with few assets feels competent in handling a computer needing repairs, and is confident that given the appropriate resources, the could perhaps even make himself. And so on.

Our biggest inheritance from British rule is a wholly-politically, institutionally, culturally and spiritually-disoriented India. The impoverishment and deprivation during that period had not only weakened the physique of our people and sapped their individual and social strength but further laid waste their knowledge systems and their occupational and professional talents. The India which the British transferred to Indian hands, to an insignificant minority of the westernized and exhausted administrative and political elite, despite the inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi and the euphoria produced by the freedom struggle was, in practically every sense, a wasteland in which native intelligence and talent had no place. Though the grip of then British system has been somewhat loosened by time, there is little significant change so far in the way of the utilization of indigenous Indian talent in the running of India.

According to current findings the India-China region was producing around 73 per cent of the industrial manufactures of the world around 1750. Even in 1830 its industrial production is estimated at 60 per cent of world manufactures. Given appropriate effort the craftsmen and technicians of the Indo-China region can regain their 1750 positions within a few decades.

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