Page 21 - Science India August 2022
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          AD), the textile sector contributed sig- nificantly to the flourishing of Bengal’s economy. Textile products of Bengal vil- lages were highly valued, sought after and enjoyed by people in many parts of the world. As a result, Bengal became the harbour of excellent quality cotton fabrics, resulting in brisk trade of cotton goods with distant countries, such as Arabia. Sericulture was also very popu- lar in Bengal.
A large number of factories or centres called ‘Kuthi’’ were set up on the banks of Bhagirathi river by the British, Dutch, Portuguese and French to transport silk to the world. In the late 17th century, the English East India Company established its factories and centres at Coromandel, Surat and later in Bengal and imported cotton, mostly in the form of calico, a dyed or printed textile. Cotton textiles were hugely popular in Britain as they were much more comfortable than tradi- tional wool clothing and much cheaper than silk. In 1700 AD, the Indian hand- loom fabric was so popular in England that King William III had to impose a fine of 200 pounds on those who wore Indian silk and calico. The Calico Acts (1700, 1721) banned the import of most cotton textiles into Britain to revive the British wool and silk industry, followed
In 1700 AD, the Indian handloom fabric was so popular in England that King William III had to impose a fine of £ 200 on those who wore Indian silk and calico
by restriction on the use and sale of most cotton items. It was a form of economic protectionism, largely in response to India which dominated world cotton textile markets at the time. When Brit- ishers started taking control of the sub- continent, Bengal was the major hub for foreign merchants dealing in textiles, specially the silk clothes. Dacca, Mur- shidabad, and Cossimbazar used to be full of foreign merchants buying famous Dhaka or Bengal Muslin, Baluchari silk and Jamdani silk clothes. Bengal silk clothes were of premium quality. Textile products from other parts of the coun- try too were major export items to the world.
At the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution transformed the way goods were produced in Europe. It became possible to produce goods on a massive scale compared to handicraft and handloom industries. The industri- alists driven by greed for money soon ran out of raw material and market to sell their finished goods in. This dual need was served by the colonies acquired by them. Thus, the rush to acquire new colonies for selling their finished goods and sourcing raw materials from, began. The declining Mughal power in the 18th century and internal power struggle in India provided a perfect opportunity to European trading companies to estab- lish their control over Indian territory.
The English East India Company made its mark as a political power at the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and at the Battle of Buxar in 1764. It acquired Bengal and established its rule from Calcutta. In the changed scenario, the Britishers looked upon India as the proper destination for procuring cheap raw materials as well as a market for
their products in post-Industrial Revolu- tion times. British authorities persuaded Indian rulers to increase their authority over the Indian market. The local weav- ers were forced to sell at fixed rates, and were bound in contracts to sell exclu- sively to the British. The weavers could barely redeem 80% of the total cost of production, which forced them into ex- treme poverty over time. In 1835, only a minimal import duty of 2.5% was levied on cotton cloth from Britain, whereas an export duty of 15% was charged on the Indian cotton textiles. Furthermore, goods from England could be brought only in English cargo ships (This same principle was used by the British in other colonies as well, such as in America). As a result, Indian goods could not enter the British market while British goods flooded the Indian market and systemat- ic destruction of Indian local industries took place. The English East India com- pany also destroyed the silk industry of Bengal by introducing a new variety of mulberry silkworm in Bengal, and a new improved method of silk reeling. Further, the company started collecting high taxes on the sale of raw silk and controlled its prices. This reduced the local people and silk weavers to extreme poverty. Furthermore, after 1833, Brit- ish factories were completely closed due to huge losses and led to complete de- struction of the silk industry in Bengal.
Sudden decline of the Indian handi- crafts and textile industry created un- employment for a large community of weavers. Left with no other alternative, many of them migrated to villages to work as agricultural labourers which in turn increased pressure on rural econo- my and livelihood and led to disguised employment. India used to manufac- ture 25% of the world’s textiles in the 17th century, which was later reduced to just 2% by the end of colonial rule in 1947. Indian textiles, which once had a huge demand in Asia, Europe and Af- rica, were now deprived of the domestic market as well because finished, ma- chine-made and cheaper British goods flooded the Indian market. In England, the ruin of the old handloom weavers was accompanied by the growth of the

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