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Crafts and Industries of India during the British Rule

by Harshit
Crafts and Industries of India during the British Rule

This chapter tells the story of India’s crafts and industries during British rule, which includes two industries, textiles and iron and steel. Both these industries were important to the industrial revolution in the modern world. The mechanized production of cotton textiles made Britain an industrialized nation in the nineteenth century. And as its iron and steel industry began to grow in the 1850s, Britain became known as the “workshop of the world”.

Crafts and Industries of India during the British Rule

The industrialization of Britain was closely related to the conquest and colonization of India. You have seen how the English East India Company’s interest in trade led to the occupation of the region, and how the pattern of trade changed over the decades. The company was buying goods in India in the late eighteenth century. and earn profit through this sale, exporting them to England and Europe. With the growth of industrial production, British industrialists began to see India as a huge market for their industrial sector.
Products, and over time items made from Britain began to flood India.

British Rule scaled

How did it affect Indian crafts and industries? This is the question that we will describe in this chapter.
Indian Textiles and World Market Let us first look at textile production.

In about 1750, before the British conquered Bengal, India was the world’s largest producer of cotton textiles. Indian textiles have long been renowned for their exquisite quality and exquisite craftsmanship. They traded extensively in Southeast Asia (Java, Sumatra and Penang) and West and Central Asia. From the sixteenth century, European trading companies began to buy Indian textiles for sale in Europe.

The memories of this thriving trade and the craftsmanship of Indian weavers are still preserved in many words in English and other languages. It’s interesting to trace the origins of such words, and see what they tell us. Words tell us history.

European traders encountered the first cotton cloth from India made by Arab traders in Mosul, present-day Iraq. So he began to refer to all finely woven fabrics as “muslin”, a term that gained wide currency. When the Portuguese first came to India in search of spices, they landed in Calicut on the Kerala coast in south-west India. The cotton fabrics they took back to Europe with the spices came to be called “calico” (derived from Calicut), and calico later became the generic name for all cotton fabrics.

Crafts during the British Rule

There are many other words that point to the popularity of Indian textiles in the western markets. Fig. 3 you can see a page of an order book that the English East India Company sent its representatives to Calcutta in 1730.

That year the order was 5,89,000 clothes. While browsing through the order book, you must have come across a list of 98 varieties of cotton and silk fabrics. These were known in European trade by their common name, as goods—usually pieces of woven fabric that were 20 yards long and 1 yard wide.


Fabric in the book. The pieces ordered in bulk consisted of printed cotton fabrics called chintz, kos (or khasa) and bandana. Do you know where the English word chintz comes from? It is derived from the Hindi word chhint, which is a cloth with a design of small and colorful flowers. From the 1680s a craze began for printed Indian cotton fabrics in England and Europe, mainly for their exquisite floral designs, fine textures and relative cheapness. The rich people of England, including the queen themselves, wore Indian clothes.

Similarly, the term bandana now refers to any brightly colored and printed scarf for the neck or head. Originally, the word is derived from “bandhana” (Hindi for tying), and referred to a variety of brightly colored fabric produced through a method of tying and dying.

There were other clothes in the order book that were noted from their place of origin: Kasimbazar, Patna, Calcutta, Orissa. Cot. The widespread use of such words shows how popular Indian clothing had become in different parts of the world.

Indian clothing in European markets


until the beginning of the eighteenth century. Worried by the popularity of Indian textiles, wool and silk makers in England began to oppose the import of Indian cotton fabrics. In 1720, the British government enacted a law banning the use of printed cotton textile chitz in England. Interestingly, this act was known as the Calico Act.

At this time the development of textile industries in England had begun. Unable to compete with Indian textiles. The English manufacturers wanted a secure market within the country by preventing the entry of Indian textiles. The first to develop under government patronage was the calico printing industry. Indian designs were now imitated and printed in England on white muslin or plain unglazed Indian cloth.


Competition with Indian textiles also led to the discovery of technological innovation in England. in 1764. The spinning jenny was invented by John Kay which increased the productivity of traditional spindles. The invention of the steam engine by Richard Arkwright in 1786 revolutionized cotton weaving. The cloth could now be woven in great quantity and also cheaply.


However, Indian textiles dominated world trade until the end of the eighteenth century. European trading companies – the Dutch, the French and the English – made huge profits from this flourishing trade. These companies bought cotton and silk fabrics in India by importing silver. But as you know Chapter 2), when the English East India Company gained political power in Bengal, it no longer had to import the precious metal to buy Indian goods. Instead, they collected revenue from farmers and landlords in India, and used this revenue to buy Indian textiles.


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