Rediscovering India by Dharampal

India’s Material Progress      

Friends this chapter tells you that India made cloth, steel furnaces, sugar and ice. British borrowed from India modern plastic surgery, steel manufacture practices etc. So India had a manufacturing sector before the British came in, they destroyed it thereafter.

Coming to India’s material culture, its manifestations are very visibly commemorated in India’s still standing great temples, some of which go back at least to the sixth century, in the innumerable inscriptions India still possesses, like the early tenth century inscription at Uttiramerur near Madras relating to the organization of the area’s polity; in India’s ancient small, medium and large water works; and in the large number of ancient iron pillars, like the well known iron pillar at Delhi. Though most of the hitherto published material, both Indian and western, does not make much reference to it, such a material culture was still very manifest in not regions and localities of India around AD. 1800. It is possible that it had declined in its excellence and sweep relative to the heights it had reached before the twelfth century. But even if it had lost its heights, it was still very extensive on the ground till about 1800.

India seems to have been divided fairly early in her history into some 400 smaller regions, now called districts and into some 15 to 20 main linguistic and cultural regions. Most regions and districts of India continued to have spinning, dyeing, weaving and printing of cotton cloth and of some silk and wool too, on a vast scale. Cloth was manufactured in practically all the 400 districts. Many districts of south India had 10,000 to 20,000 looms in each district even around 1810.

Similarly, it seems that at a moderate estimate, India had some 10,000 furnaces for the manufacture of iron and steel. Indian steel was considered of very high quality and in the early decades of the nineteenth century, it was being used by the British for the making of surgical instruments. Each of these small portable furnaces had the capacity to produce about 20 tons of good iron in 40 weeks of operation in a year. There were large numbers of silversmiths and goldsmiths, bronze and brass workers, and people who worked in various other metals.

Similarly, there were those who mined the ores, undertook the manufacture of various metals, and engaged in stone quarrying. There were carves of stones, painters, builders, and many others. Besides, there were manufactures of sugar, of salt, of oil (perhaps upto 1 per cent of the people), and manufactures of many other commodities. Crafts and industry seem to have employed some 15 to 25 per cent of the Indian people, the proportion varying from region to region, before and around 1800. In addition, there was part-time spinning of cotton yarn. Eight hours of weaving on a loom would have ordinarily needed about 25 hours of spinning on the spinning wheel. As the number of weaver households was around 5 per cent of the total households, it seems that most households of India would have engaged in some spinning throughout the year.

British Took - Regarding the health of human beings, as also of domestic animals Indians had a well-established ancient system of medicine and surgery. Base plastic surgery and surgical operation of cataract, etc. were being performed in various parts of India till around 1800. Incidentally, modern plastic surgery in Britain is stated by its inventor to have been derived from and developed after the observation and study of the Indian practice from 1790 onwards. The widespread Indian practice of inoculation against smallpox was also observed and described in detail by British visitors or residents in India around mid-eighteenth century for the benefit of British medical men.

It may be added that practically all detailed description of each and every Indian practice communicated by British observers and specialists to Britain was with a view to the improvement of such practice in Britain, or suggesting that the adoption of a specific practice would be beneficial. A detailed communication to the British Royal Society by a British commander-in-chief in Bengal, around 1770 was of the latter type. It related to the process of the artificial manufacture of ice in the relatively warm climate of the Allahabad region. Instances of the former are many. Some seed drills were sent from south India to the Board of Agriculture in London around 1795 so as to help improve the newly introduced British seed drill. Details of the process and ingredients of Indian mortar and dyes, and of the manufacture of steel communicated to Britain seem to have been aimed at improvement in the then existing British practices. When Britain started the education of its ordinary children around 1800, it had to initially depend on the monitorial method of imparting school education as it was practiced in India and noticed by Europeans during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The major occupation of the Indian people was agriculture, and along with it, animal husbandry. However, in most regions no more than half of India’s people were engaged in agriculture directly. As mentioned above, the tools of agriculture were of high sophistication. But also seem to have been various agricultural practices, including the selection of the seeds used, their preservation, the manuring of land, the cropping patterns and the methods of irrigation. Through their sophisticated practices and implements, the peasants of India were able to obtain rather high yields. According to an 1803 British review comparing agricultural production in the Allahabad-Varanasi region with that of lands in Britain, it was found that the Indian production of wheat was about three times that in Britain. Recent ongoing research pertaining to the district of Chengalpattu in Tamil Nadu seems to suggest that the average production of paddy in this district around 1770 was around 3-4 tons per hectare, and the best lands in the district produced 6 tons and more per hectare. It may be mentioned that the high yields of paddy production in the world today are around 6 tons per hectare.

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