The industrial development of India is a question which has so many aspects—each of which can be viewed from a great many different standpoints—that it is hardly surprising to find a great dissimilarity in the opinion and judgment of different authorities. In these circumstances it is wise to distrust those who, with loud voice, proclaim a sure and simple solution of all the difficulties of the subject, and, on the other hand, we must avoid the even greater danger of believing that a laissez faire, or let-things-alone policy is the only possible one. For the public it is more important to obtain a general idea of the direction in which progress may be expected and to understand the evil effects which may come from taking a wrong direction, than to attempt to enter into technical details which only experts can properly appreciate. So I will not in this lecture inflict upon you many technical details. The industrial development of a country depends partly on the state of its natural resources, partly on its geographical situation and physical characteristics, partly on political advantages or disadvantages, and partly on its manufacturing capacity. England’s present commercial prosperity has been founded partly on her natural wealth of coal, iron, china-clay, and other raw materials for manufacture; partly on her position as the great carrying power of the world, partly on the inventive genius of her artisans, which gave her the start of other countries in mechanical industry.
In natural resources, and physical and geographical advantages, India is certainly very richly endowed. Politically, India is a partner in the great British Empire—a position which secures for her at least the internal peace, justice, and settled government which are the foundation-stones of all commercial prosperity. It is, chiefly, in her position as a manufacturing country that India has lost ground in the last two centuries. Now I do not propose to make more than a passing allusion to the exploitation of the natural resources of. India, because, in the first place, it is a subject large enough in itself for many lectures, and secondly, because the ways and means of it are not so much the subject of controversy as other questions are. Progress in this direction will always be slow, until scientific and technical education in this country have advanced beyond the theoretic smattering required for academic degrees into the higher plane of sure and practical knowledge, which is generally only reached after academic distinctions are won; and until some means have been discovered to make the field more attractive to private enterprise and capital than it is at present.
A great difficulty, no doubt, is that native capital generally finds highly profitable and safe investments in long-established traditional grooves, from which it is loath to depart for the less known and less certain ways of modern scientific exploitation. I would only venture to observe that the self-reliant character of Englishmen and the traditional policy of England perhaps incline us to expect too much of private enterprise in India. Private enterprise in this country has not yet acquired the same robust and independent constitution as it has in Europe or in the great English Colonies. Neither has the glowing prospectus of the Company-promoter quite the same power of attracting capital in India as it has in London and other great financial centres. The recognition of these conditions may be seen in the guarantees for railways and other means by which the paternal Government tries to put more heart into the timid Indian investor; but when we observe the much more strenuous official support which is given to private enterprise in most European countries and in America, I venture to think it would be well for India if we departed a little more from our traditional policy in this matter.
I will pass over geographical, physical and political aspects of the question, and come to the main point I wish to deal with, namely, the development of the manufacturing capacity of India. We know that in former times this country held a commanding position in the textile industries of the world. India not only supplied all her own wants in textiles, but had a very flourishing export trade. We know also that India has lost that position though improvements made in textile apparatus and machinery by European weavers, above all, by the application of steam power to textile manufacture. Now I have continually noticed that the moral which most people draw from the history of the development of European manufactures is that if India is to regain its position as a great manufacturing country, it must follow in the footsteps of European industry, revolutionise the working conditions of its traditional handicrafts, turn the village workshops into steam factories, and give up hand labour for mechanical power. They start on the assumption that India’s salvation depends on her artisans joining in the great competition for export markets, which is going on in Europe and America. They take it for granted that processes which have become necessary in Europe must also be necessary in India, where totally different conditions prevail.
If these two assumptions were correct, I fear the prospect for India would not be very bright. I think no friend of India could view with unconcern the prospect of a coming era of congested cities and depopulated rural districts, of unhealthy conditions of work, of struggles between capital and labour, uneven distribution of wealth, social unrest and all the attendant evils of the great industrial development in Europe and America. Besides, the Indian artizan is unfitted both by disposition and habits from entering upon such a struggle, and generations must elapse before he could acquire, not only the technical knowledge, but the business methods and business capacity necessary for success in an industrial struggle in European markets. The Japanese, on the other hand, who seem to be preparing to compete in European markets with European methods, are far better equipped in all respects than Indian artisans. They are more self-reliant, they have generally much greater technical skill, greater capacity for adapting themselves to different methods of work, more enterprise and determination. I venture to prophesy that unless India rouses herself to greater efforts in industrial improvement, she will find Japan a more formidable commercial and industrial competitor than either Europe or America. China, too, if she should one day wake from her long sleep, could put into the field an army of highly skilled, patient, industrious workmen which could defeat the Indian artisan at almost every point.
The idea that the handicraftsmen of India must look abroad to foreign markets, of whose requirements they are totally ignorant, when there are over 300,000,000 customers at their own doors whose wants they know and understand, seems to me altogether illogical. First let them struggle to recover the home markets they have lost. If they succeed in that they may possibly acquire the skill and knowledge necessary for attempting the other. If they do not succeed in, one enterprise, in which all the advantages are on their side, is it likely they will win in another in which they will have to face every disadvantage? But, you may ask, is it possible that Indian workmen cam stand against foreign competition without copying foreign methods of trade and manufacture? That is one of those questions which cannot be answered by a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ It depends upon circumstances. But I will assert this, that those who believe that hand labour in manufacture is becoming a thing of the past are entertaining a delusion fatal to real progress in India. Nowhere in the world is there a more splendid field for the development of hand industries than there is in India. If the same amount of thought, enterprise, and capital had been spent during the last 50 years in developing the handicrafts of India as have been spent in establishing mills and factories on the European system, I do not hesitate to affirm that India would have been richer by crores and crores of rupees, and we should hear little to-day of the decline of Indian industries.
Hand manufactures can be developed and improved quite as much as mechanical industry. A country like India, which possesses hundreds of thousands of skilled handicraftsmen, and where the cost of living is many times cheaper than it is in Europe, possesses a source of potential wealth capable of almost indefinite expansion.
It is the most suicidal and fatuous policy to assume that the skilled Indian handicraftsman must be turned into a cooly minding a machine. Yet this is the policy which many people seriously put forward as the only means of reviving Indian industry.
Now I will leave theoretical discussion and enter into practical details. There are one or two points in the present condition of the Indian textile industry to which I should like to draw your special attention. The first is that though the hand-looms used in India to-day are the same as have been used for hundreds of generations, and hardly any attempt has ever been made to improve them, yet the Indian hand-loom industry has by no means been entirely crushed by all the marvellous skill which has been brought to bear upon the construction of the European power-loom. No doubt it is in a very depressed condition, but it is still, next to agriculture, the most important of Indian industries. Two-thirds of the skilled artisan population of India are, at the present day, hand-loom weavers, and the value of the annual outturn of hand-woven fabrics is a matter of crores of rupees. We know that the very keen competition between European manufactures has reduced their profits to a comparatively small margin. If, then, the mechanical efficiency of the Indian hand-loom could be improved, say by 15 per cent,, which would be equivalent to a 15 per cent. duty on the imports of foreign piece-goods, it is reasonable to suppose that the Indian weaver might retrieve his position to a very large extent. Now it is not only probable but an indisputable fact that the ordinary Indian hand-loom can be easily made more effective, not merely by 15 per cent., but by nearly 100 per cent.
There are many kinds of hand-looms in use in India, from a primitive arrangement of a few sticks to the elaborate and ingenious apparatus used for Benares kincobs and textiles of a similar class. The loom of the ordinary kind, or that used for cotton cloths of medium quality, is mechanically as effective an apparatus as the European hand-loom was 150 years ago, at a time when the Indian weaver not only had it all his own way in India, but was a formidable competitor in the European market. But since that time, while the Indian loom has remained the same, the European hand-weaver, by simple contrivances, which cost very little, has improved his loom in efficiency by nearly 100 per cent. The chief of these improvements is called the “fly-shuttle,” a simple but ingenious arrangement by which the shuttle, instead of being thrown by hand, is jerked across the warp by pulling a string attached to a lever. It was invented by an English weaver about the middle of the 18th century, and the discovery gave to England the supremacy in the textile markets of the world a position she has maintained since. It has always been a matter of astonishment to me that after a lapse of a century and-a-half this invention is almost unknown in India outside the great mills, where the principle of it is applied to the power-loom. The sewing machine, which is a much more recent invention, is known in almost every Indian village. There are goldsmiths and jewellers, brass-smiths, blacksmiths, and carpenters, all over India, who use European labour-saving appliances and improved tools, but practically nothing has hitherto been done for the improvement of the most important of all Indian handicrafts. European ladies have introduced the sewing machine, European firms and workshops have taught the goldsmith, brass-smith, blacksmith and carpenter; no one has hitherto helped the Indian weaver and he has not, like his European fellow workman, been able to help himself.
In the Madras Presidency, where I have inspected thousands of native hand-looms, I never discovered a fly-shuttle, except in the Basel Mission weaving establishments and a few other Mission schools. The use of it never seems to spread among the weavers outside. A short time ago I discovered, through a Report written by Mr. Collin in 1890, that it was used by a prosperous colony of weavers in the Hughli and adjacent districts, chiefly at Serampore. How they came to adopt it I could not ascertain, but probably some one, during the time of the Danish Government at Serampore, had imported a European hand-loom and taught the weavers how to use it. You will be glad to hear that the Bengal Government, at my suggestion, are taking steps to make the use of the fly-shuttle known, throughout the Province. At present it i’s in partial use in 8 districts out of the 48. No doubt long and patient efforts will have to be made to persuade the mass of the weaving population to overcome their dislike to innovations, even though the benefits to be derived from them may be obvious. I would strongly recommend that the Indian Industrial Association should make this a prominent part of their programme. Your Association could easily form local Committees to assist and supplement Government efforts. If you succeed, as I am sure you would succeed, in bringing the fly-shuttle into general use among the weavers of Bengal, you would do a great service to your country.
The mechanical improvement of hand-looms is, in my opinion, one of the most important industrial problems to be dealt with in India, and perhaps one of those which present the least difficulties. I only hope that other Governments will follow the lead of Bengal in this matter, and that District Boards and Municipalities all over the country will assist in reviving the great Indian hand-loom industry. It is my firm belief that there is hardly a more safe and lucrative field open for Native and European capitalists in India than there is in the development of hand-loom weaving. Handloom factories are profitable in Europe; they should be much more so in India, where conditions are so much more favourable. It is commonly believed in India that the hand-loom industry in Europe has been entirely supplanted by the power-loom. This is very far from being the case. In France, Switzerland, and Italy there is still a great deal of silk weaving done by hand. In Scandinavia, you will find the hand-loom in every village, and the peasant women will not only weave their own linen, but spin the thread they require for sewing. In England, the great centre of the powerloom industry, there has been lately a remarkable revival of hand-loom weaving. Hand-loom factories are being established in many places, where formerly everything was done by the power-loom. The demand for skilled weavers is greater than the supply. I should like to read you a few extracts from a lecture given by Miss Clive Bayley, before the Society of Arts, London, a few years ago: “The recrudescence of the silk trade in the hand branches has drawn its workers away from the congested city streets into the purer air and cheaper regions of Suffolk and Essex. Ipswich, Braintree, Sudbury, and the villages round are becoming centres of renewed activity, and if you want hand-weavers you will find it pretty well impossible to get them. …
“Given the possibility of obtaining good weavers in the silk trade, the proceeds of a hand factory are quite as great as those of a steam factory. The outlay in machinery in the latter instance is far greater than in the former. The time and labour of getting the machinery under weigh is for short lengths far more in a power-loom than in a hand-loom, and the work of intricate patterns is infinitely superior when placed in the hands of a practised weaver than when entrusted to automatic machinery. Hand-loom firms rarely fail—power-loom firms are not nearly, I am told, so fortunate in this respect. But the great deficiency is workers; for after the first conquest of machinery the product of hand-labour was discounted, and the exaggerated importance and value of time seemed to paralyse industry.” …
“The superiority of work in the hand-looms will be a matter of positive proof and can be and is generally becoming a subject of interest. The better the class of hand-workers we train, the greater will be this difference, and the more potent will be the industrial revival which re-conquers what was supposed to be an abrogated kingdom.” ...
“One large silk firm is already raising the roof of its establishment in order to accommodate a large number of such hand working apprentices. Another applied, though for what exact purpose I have not discovered, for 500 similar workers. Another, and I believe a linen firm, was reported to need 2,000 workers.” ... “We have, however, barely touched on that all-important point—wages. What can a hand-weaver earn? As a matter of fact a hand-weaver is paid better than the watcher of machinery labour. He is also better paid now than at the end of the last century.”
If the hand-loom can compete with the power-loom in England, where the cost of skilled labour is many times greater than it is in India, where the supply of trained weavers is very limited, and where the most perfect weaving machinery, worked by steam and electricity, is in use, what a much greater prospect must there be for it in India, where you have an unlimited supply of the most skilful hereditary weavers, content with earnings of three annas to eight annas a day!
I do not wish you to imagine that hand-weaving can hold its own against the power-loom to an unlimited extent. Both hand-labour and machinery have their limitations. But there are splendid possibilities open for the hand-loom industry in India, and it is a preventible loss to India that the skilled weavers should day by day leave their looms and add to the already overgrown agricultural population.
With proper looms and proper instruction the Indian weaver could not only recover a deal of the lost internal trade, but take a leading position in the world in hand-woven fabrics.
There are many branches of native industry in which simple mechanical improvements and labour-saving devices can be introduced, by means of which production can be increased or improved to a very large extent. But as I do not wish to enter into too many technical details, I will only allude to one other. Every one who is familiar with native brass-work knows how all the vessels, lamps and other things made by the process of casting, or, by the native method, laboriously moulded by hand in wax patterns which are destroyed in the casting, so that only one object can be cast from one pattern. This process is also used in Europe, but only for single works of art of value, such as a bronze statue or bust. For ordinary industrial purposes there is a simple process of casting in sand from wooden or metal patterns, patterns which effect an enormous saving of time and trouble, because the patterns, instead of being destroyed in such casting, can be used over and over again.
Shortly before I left the Madras School of Arts, I introduced the teaching of this method into the metal work class there. The subject was dropped afterwards, but I am glad to hear that Mr. Chatterton, who is now in charge of the School, has taken it up again. I must say that if District Boards and Municipalities would take up questions of this kind, and employ trained workmen to go round to the various industrial centres and give practical demonstrations of improved processes and apparatus, they might do much more than Schools of Art and Technical Institutes ever will be able to accomplish in spreading technical knowledge among the artisans of the country. I would commend this suggestion to the Committee of the Indian Industrial Association.
Before I have finished, I will allude briefly to Indian art industries, a subject which was discussed before you not so very long ago by Mr. S.J. Tellery. In some ways, art work must be treated quite differently to ordinary commercial productions, but there is one principle which is common to both—you must establish the home market on a healthy basis before you look abroad for foreign markets. We have heard a great deal lately of the decline of Indian art industries, but in nine out of ten of the proposals, which have been made for reviving them, this principle has been entirely disregarded. Both official and private exertions have been directed almost entirely towards the encouragement of the export trade. I must repeat again and again my strongest conviction that this is an entirely mistaken policy. First find out and remove, if you can, the causes which have led to the degradation of Indian Art in India, and the export trade will revive and expand almost automatically. On the other hand, unless effective measures are taken, before it is too late, to give back to Indian Art the prestige it has lost in India, and to remove those artificial impediments to its natural development which have existed so long, it needs no prophet to foresee that the export trade in Indian artware will die an unnatural death.
I have tried to explain in two papers, published in the Calcutta Review, my reasons for believing that the decay of Indian art is mostly due to the fatal mistake which has been made in Indian public buildings in supplanting the living traditional styles of Indian architecture by imitations of modern European scholastic styles. Architecture is the principal door through which the artistic sense of the people finds expression. If that door is mostly choked with rubbish, as it is in India, is it surprising that art industries should decline? I know that this theory is not easily grasped by those who imagine that art knowledge means only a knowledge of pictures, and that this knowledge can be acquired by going to exhibitions or by making a picture collection in the same way as collections of postage-stamps or bric-a-brac are made. If I wished to estimate the value of any one’s pretensions to art knowledge, I would look first at his house, his tables and chairs, his carpets and everything connected with the routine of his home, last of all at his pictures; for, if he does not understand the elements of art, it is not likely that he will have a correct appreciation of higher and more abstruse principles. In England, there has been lately a remarkable art movement which is likely to have a most important influence on public opinion, since it has been strong enough to persuade that venerable, but somewhat effete institution, the Royal Academy, to modify some of its hoary traditions.
While England and Europe generally are beginning to free themselves from the corrupt artistic influences of the last two centuries, it is not encouraging to find that Indian art feeling is far more debased in the great centres of European civilisation than it is in remote towns and villages. But why, I will ask, do Indians wait for Government initiative in the matter? No one compels you to go on following what is now recognised as the depraved European taste of several generations ago, which unfortunately was imported into India long before Art Schools were established either in England or in India. You have magnificent examples of your own architecture and art to follow. Government would hail with the greatest satisfaction any efforts you made to rescue Indian art from the ruin which is overtaking it. Queen Victoria herself employed the Indian artisans whom India neglects, to decorate her Palace at Osborne in Indian style. Why then do the Princes, aristocracy and wealthy men of India continue to build those monstrous and ridiculous palaces and mansions, in imitation of the most corrupt period of European art, to the detriment of the art industries of the country, and to the disgust of every one whose artistic sense is in any degree developed?
In the last edition of the “Encyclopædia Britannica” the writer of an article on Indian industries and trade makes a mis-statement which is very typical of the one-sided view often taken of Indian industrial problems. In the paragraph on textiles he gives the following information regarding this industry:—“Next after agriculture, the spinning and weaving of cotton at steam-mills is the most important industry in India.” He proceeds to give the number of mills 186, looms 38,420, and persons employed 163,200. The output of yarn by these mills is given as 501,294,000 lbs. Of this total, according to the writer, 243,000,000 lbs. is exported, and apparently the mills themselves consume enough yarn to make up 95,320,000 lbs. of woven goods; there is, therefore, a balance of 162,974,000 lbs., of yarn turned out by the steam-mills, or nearly double the quantity consumed by themselves, which is unaccounted for either by exports or by manufactured cloth. Besides this surplus there is an import of cotton yarn to the value of 24,600,000 rupees. Where does all this yarn go to? If the writer had reflected on the significance of his own figures, he would have been reminded of the existence of a native hand-loom industry which numbers over one-third of the entire industrial population of India, or, roughly, about 5,000,000 workmen! He has fallen into the common, but very serious, mistake of taking the industries, mainly supported by European capital, to represent the whole industry of India; yet for every man employed by the European mills there are about thirty skilled weavers at the native handlooms. The amount of yarn imported from Europe, added to that turned out by the Indian mills, is by no means a true index to the importance of this gigantic native industry, for in a great many districts the weavers use only hand-spun yarn which is made locally. I am not aware of any reliable statistics as to the value of the entire out-turn of the native hand-looms, but it must very largely exceed the whole production of the steam-mills. Without putting too much reliance on census statistics one can get some idea of the importance to India of this hand-loom industry by endeavouring to imagine what must be produced by the shuttles of an effective army of the most skilful weavers, approximating in number to the entire population of London, plied with the enduring patience of the Oriental through most of the hours of daylight, week in, week out. If it is a remarkable fact that they have been able to survive so long the competition of all the marvellous textile machinery of modern Europe, it is still more surprising that an authority on Indian affairs, writing for a great standard work of reference, should ignore altogether the part they take in the Indian industrial system.
The total number of the artisan population of India, actually engaged in industrial pursuits, is approximately twelve millions. Compared with European countries this may seem to bear a very small proportion to the total population, but it must be remembered that owing to climate, habits of life and social conditions, the wants of the natives of India are very small compared with what Europeans consider to be essential for their well-being. The native has few of the artificial requirements which inexorable custom imposes upon us, and even fewer of the luxuries for which we crave. The artisans of India are hereditary handicraftsmen, bound together by the laws of caste into compact and thoroughly disciplined organisations which had their exact counterpart in the old Trade Guilds of Europe. The European Guilds have ceased to exist, but the laws of heredity even now play a not inconsiderable part in European industry. The unrivalled skill of English potters, inherited from many generations of potter families, is one conspicuous instance, and many others might be cited. It is generally the case in India that this great industrial organisation is looked upon compassionately as an interesting relic of past ages, doomed to be dissolved before the irresistible march of modern scientific progress. But, surely, this is only the view of a sect of narrow-minded thinkers, ignorant of an important phase of modern European industrial development, who would date the beginning of the world from the invention of the first steam-engine and would consign to a general limbo of disuse everything of greater antiquity.
Is there sufficient warrant for the assumption that this great industrial machine is so hopeless, antiquated and impossible of development that it must be treated as of no account in India’s commercial future? Are these twelve million skilled handicraftsmen inevitably doomed to degenerate into mill “hands,” packed together in over-crowded cities as the brainless drudges of automatic machinery? Is there no hope that modern intelligence and modern science can find a way for making use of the vast industrial resources which have afforded India wealth and prosperity ever since the dawn of civilisation? The answers which Indian administralors give to these questions are of vital importance to the well-being of the country. Some years ago, in the course of official investigations into the condition of native art industries, I had special opportunities of studying the state of the native hand-loom industry. Those whose knowledge of Indian handicrafts is gathered only from curiosity shops and exhibitions may be led to believe that the native textile industry is mostly concerned in the manufacture of carpets and of the brocaded silks, cloths of gold and other gorgeous apparel, which there represent the work of Indian weavers. They will be surprised to learn that the manufacture of such articles de Luxe occupies a small fraction only of the whole industry, and is of comparatively little commercial importance. By far the largest proportion of the weavers, scattered throughout the innumerable villages and towns of India, are occupied in making the common white and coloured cloths which are the only wear of the great mass of the population. That they have suffered enormously from European competition may be realised by the fact that the yearly imports of foreign piece-goods, according to the last returns, were valued at about eighteen million pounds sterling. Even in the by-gone days when Indian cotton goods were only prevented from overflowing European markets by high protective duties, Indian weavers have always been kept in a state of semi-slavery by the rapacity of the native middlemen. Now that the imports of European piece-goods have made the middlemen largely independent of the native weaver’s labour, their condition is still more miserable. But their sedentary occupation renders them unfit for most kinds of manual labour, and until famine drives them out-of-doors, the weavers will cling to their looms. They are skilful workmen and patient, uncomplaining creatures, satisfied if by working most of daylight hours they can earn enough for bare subsistence. Mechanically, the ordinary native loom is very much the same as the old-fashioned European loom, still largely used in Scandinavia. In other industries modern inventions, such as the sewing machine, have been introduced into India, and readily adopted by native artisans; but, though this industry is of far greater importance than all the other native handicrafts, no one has ever tried to help the unfortunate weaver, and he is generally in too abject a condition to attempt to help himself.
The first and one of the most important improvements ever made in weaving apparatus was invented in 1733 by an English weaver, John Kay, who, wearied with the slow process of throwing the shuttle by hand, contrived a simple mechanical device for jerking the shuttle backwards and forwards by pulling a string attached to a lever. This not only relieved him of the labour of throwing the shuttle by hand, but doubled the speed of the shuttle! John Kay’s invention, called the fly-shuttle, gave an enormous impetus to the English trade, and was the beginning of England’s supremacy in the textile industry. In the course of one of my official tours I saw some European fly-shuttle looms in a Mission Industrial School in the Madras Presidency, and was much struck with the facility with which they were worked by native converts who had had no previous experience in weaving. But such is the helplessness and conservatism of the native caste-weaver that even when such an effective improvement is brought to his doors, he is very slow to adopt it, and I never came across it in any of the looms of the thousands of caste-weavers, which I visited in the Madras Presidency. However, several years afterwards, I was taking part in an enquiry into the industries of Bengal, and in an old official report I found an allusion to a large and unusually flourishing colony of weavers in Serampore, and the surrounding districts, whose prosperity was attributed to an improved loom in which the shut tie was jerked by a string attached to a lever. Serampore, which is situated on the Hooghly, a little above Calcutta, was one of the settlements of the Danish East India Company, and among other interesting historical associations it is famous for having given shelter to William Carey when the old John Company found his presence in British territory inconvenient. It was from Carey’s printing press at Serampore that the first vernacular translation of the Bible was issued, followed by many others. A visit to Serampore showed me that the improved loom, referred to in the report, was simply the adaptation of the fly-shuttle to the ordinary native loom. I further ascertained how it was that only in this quiet little corner of India the caste-weavers had been induced to adopt this most effective improvement. It appears that sixty or seventy years ago some Europeans had started a hand-loom factory and imported European looms. The local weavers were employed in the factory and had learnt the use of the fly-shuttle and a few simple laboursaving devices in the preparation of warp. The factory, however, did not exist for long, but when it was closed the weavers went back to their ordinary work, taking the fly-shuttle and other improvements with them. The effect of these has been just as remarkable in the case of the Serampore weavers as it was in the English hand-loom industry more than a century before. The hand-loom workers in the surrounding districts to the number of about 10,000, who adopted these improvements, have doubled their earnings, and though they are in close proximity to the great port of Calcutta, where day by day steamers unload their thousands of bales of foreign piece-goods, they have been able to maintain a fairly prosperous and independent condition in the face of the competition of the power-loom. The Bengal Government promptly took action to place the 400,000 weavers in other districts in a position to take advantage of these improvements by sending selected weavers from every district to be taught at Serampore. At the same time carpenters were sent to be taught to adapt the fly-shuttle to the native looms in the least expensive manner. The ordinary native loom can be converted into a fly-shuttle loom at a cost of about ten rupees. The question also began to arouse public interest, and some of the delegates of the National Congress were inspired to organise an Industrial Exhibition in Calcutta at the Congress Meeting in 1901, where the practical working of the fly-shuttle was demonstrated side by side with the old native loom, and a number of caste weavers were brought to see it. The Exhibition is apparently to be a permanent side-show to the political gathering of the Congress, for another was held in Bombay last December and seems to have aroused the sympathy of the Government, who doubtless recognise that it will be an unmixed blessing to India if the Congress party temper the fervour of their political propaganda with rather more practical interest in the industrial development of the country. The Indian Press aided me in making the facts known in other parts of India, with the result that during the last twelve months the question has been taken up more or less vigorously in almost every province of British India and in many of the Native States, especially in Mysore, where four weaving schools have been sanctioned expressly for teaching weavers the use of the fly-shuttle. In the Bombay Presidency, energetic steps have been taken by District Boards and by local officials interested in helping the hand-loom industry. Grants-in-aid amounting to 50,000 rupees have been voted and schools have been opened at Sholapur, Bijapur and other great weaving centres. A recent report sent in to the District Board of Bijapur states that the school has created the greatest interest among the neighbouring weavers, numbering about 12,000, who are coming in every day from the surrounding villages to receive instruction.
While it is yet far too soon to expect actual results which can demonstrate statistically the benefits gained by the weavers from these new centres of instruction, it is quite possible to establish from facts already known a sound policy for the future official attitude towards the great hereditary handicrafts of India. It is already a fact beyond dispute that two or three simple mechanical improvements have enabled about 10,000 weavers in the districts round Serampore to nearly double their earnings—that is, instead of an average of 4 or 5 rupees monthly, they now earn from 7 to 9 rupees. There are various technical difficulties which prevent the fly-shuttle being used for all classes of weaving, but for the great majority of the weavers it would be an enormous advantage. Supposing that 4,000,000 weavers were thereby enabled to increase their earning in the same way as the Serampore weavers have done, it would mean that their total monthly earnings would be increased by 12,000,000 to 16,000,000 rupees, or an annual increase of 144,000,000 to 192,000,000 rupees, a sum approximating to two-thirds of the total value of the yearly imports of foreign piece-goods. When it is further considered that the improvements which have already done so much for the Serampore weavers are the very first of a long series begun in 1733, and that the latest English hand-loom is five or six times as effective as the old-fashioned loom, now used at Serampore, it is possible to realise the splendid future which might be opened out for the Indian hand-loom industry. There can hardly be a doubt that were the most effective modern hand-looms placed in the hands of the skilled and industrious Indian weavers, they could supply the greater part of the textile requirements of India at prices with which the highly capitalised power-loom factories would be unable to compete. On the other hand, the spinning mills of India would benefit very largely by the increased demand for yarn which a prosperous handloom industry would create.
I had an opportunity recently of seeing a demonstration of the capabilities of the latest English handloom in a factory at Cairo. A Belgian Company had imported the looms which, though a marvel of mechanical ingenuity, are perfectly simple in manipulation. Under the supervision of a single trained foreman a number of Arab boys and men, who had had no previous experience of weaving and were delighted at the opportunity of displaying their newly-acquired skill, were working these looms with a facility which was evidently a source of great satisfaction and profit both to themselves and to the Company. The results of the first year’s working had been so satisfactory that the Company has resolved to extend its operations by a large increase of capital. It is already well known to the textile trade that of late years the hand-loom, under favourable conditions and in certain classes of weaving, has even in Europe been steadily regaining some of the ground which, it was believed, had been finally occupied by the power-loom. But I believe it has not yet been realised what a splendid field might be opened for it in countries like India and Egypt, where the old hand-loom industry is still alive and where the cost of skilled labour is very much less than it is in Europe. In Egypt, there are still 30,000 hand-loom weavers who, with the primitive hand-loom of antiquity, have yet survived the competition of the power-loom.
The existence of these great organised armies of skilled handicraftsmen, both in India and in Egypt, points to the unwisdom of working exclusively on the lines of Europe’s nineteenth-century industrial methods in the economic development of these countries. If the village handicrafts of India can be developed to a high degree of prosperity by other methods surely it is nothing less than a crime to allow the villages to be depopulated and to crowd the inhabitants into filthy factories, polluting both earth and sky, where all their mental and moral faculties are debased. Should not the social evils caused by industrial development in Europe and America make Indian statesmen pause before they commit themselves to a policy which, if attended by many evils in Europe, would be a far greater curse to India? Hitherto, the view of India’s industrial interests generally taken by Indian Administration has been that which Mr. Carnegie has deprecated. They have devoted the whole force of the State machinery to the development of the export trade, leaving the home industries to take care of themselves. They have nearly always assumed that India’s industrial future is safe in the keeping of the enterprising and clear-headed merchants who control the trade of the great Indian sea-ports. But it must be clear that the interests of the capitalists engaged in Indian commercial enterprises run in a narrow groove and do not always coincide with the larger interests of the Empire. Already in Europe there are signs which indicate that before many generations have passed we shall come to regard many phases of the last century’s industrial development as a hideous social nightmare. When electricity has taken the place it will eventually take in our industrial system, there can hardly be a doubt that many industries will return to the villages and many pestiferous rookeries in the great towns will be cleared off the face of the earth. Why then regard as the only policy in India that which means the multiplication of such social plague spots? India is intended both by Nature and by the genius of her inhabitants to be a hand-worker’s paradise. Why should we only employ methods originating in totally different conditions of social economy, and give her an inferno for her paradise? [East and West, September, 1903.]
In the beginning of 1901, when I laid down the proposition that the soundest basis for the industrial regeneration of India was to be found in the revival of the great hand-loom industry, I was preaching a new and strange doctrine opposed to all accepted theories. The Government Commissions and Committees which, during many years, had attempted to deal with the problem, had always accepted the common theory, still maintained with some insistence but with considerably diminished authority, that skill in hand-weaving was a factor reduced to insignificance by modern mechanical invention and modern industrial methods. Official statistics of trade and industry at that time completely ignored the existence of hand-loom weaving as an industrial asset worth consideration, and that great storehouse of concentrated wisdom, the Encyclopædia Britannica,still records the then official view that India’s greatest industry after agriculture is the manufacture of textile materials and fabrics carried on in Anglo-Indian power-loom mills.
Up to a few years ago, all the schemes which have been the outcome of twenty years’ discussion of a subject which is even now only vaguely understood in India technical education have been based on the same fallacy. I believe it will be within the mark to state that in 1887, out of hundreds of so-called “Technical Institutes” opened with much enthusiasm and in many cases with a liberal grant of Grovernment funds, not one per cent, took into account the existence of the hand-loom industry or the immense potentialities represented by it. India is fortunate if the great sums of money wasted on these technical schemes, the futility of which I pointed out at the time of their inception, are the last which will be thrown away on ill-conceived projects of the same kind.
The facts and inferences on which I ventured to propose an entirely new departure in principle and in practice were based partly on experience gained by me a Reporter on Arts and Industries to the Government of Madras, and partly on information dug out of old official records in Bengal. They were embodied in a paper read before the Indian Industrial Association of Calcutta, in July 1901. The lecture was reported in full by the Anglo-Indian and vernacular newspapers throughout India, and it induced hundreds of people in all parts of the country to begin practical investigations on the lines I advocated. The Press on this occasion asserted its great value as an educational agency, for no official, working only through official channels, would have the remotest chance of seeing his ideas taken up and worked into practical shape with the same speed as the co-operation of the Public Press has given to the movement for the revival of hand-loom weaving in India during the last six years. Hand-loom weaving has by this means been dragged from its obscurity and is not likely to be altogether passed over in any future discussions of industrial development in India.
The chief points with which I enforced my argument were, first, the remarkable revival of hand-loom weaving in some European countries, and, second, the hitherto unnoticed existence of many thousands of weavers in the districts adjoining Serampore, near Calcutta, who by adopting the old-fashioned English fly-shuttle loom, and a few simple but very practical improvements in the preparatory processes of weaving, had raised themselves into a comparatively flourishing and independent position, a striking contrast to that of their fellow-workers in other less advanced districts. This fact had, indeed, attracted the attention of a Bengal Civilian who had been deputed by Government, eleven years before, to advise upon industrial education, but he, having no technical knowledge of industrial processes, failed to realise the significance of the fact, and no official action was taken upon it. Even now, after six years’ discussion and practical experiment, I do not believe there exists in India a more useful object-lesson for those who are endeavouring to ameliorate the condition of the hand-loom weaver.
Among the first to start practical work on the lines of my proposals was the late Mr. P.C. Ghosh, who, as Editor of the “Indian Mechanic,” had been an earnest advocate of Swadeshi principles long before Swadeshi became a political battle-cry. He commenced the manufacture of improved looms and apparatus on the Serampore model in his workshops at Hooghly, and at the first Industrial Exhibition of 1901, held under the auspices of the Congress at Calcutta, he gave a practical demonstration of them, side by side with the old native loom. He also distributed ten thousand copies of my lecture which he had reprinted at his own expense. In 1902, he was invited to the Bombay Presidency to give instruction in the Serampore processes to the large colonies of weavers in Sholapur and its neighbourhood. There, unfortunately, soon after he had started work with a great promise of success, he fell a victim to plague and India lost in him a very zealous and able worker in the cause of industrial progress.
This valuable work has, however, been continued by his partner and successor, Mr. P.C. Dey of Chinsurah, who has supplied models of the Serampore apparatus to almost every part of India, besides teaching the use of it for a very moderate charge to numbers of weavers and others who have been sent to him, and giving practical demonstrations at a great many melas and Exhibitions. Since 1901, Mr. Dey has sent out nearly 800 complete looms and about 1,400 “lays” or the essential working part of the fly-shuttle loom. This means that he has been instrumental in starting about 2,200 fly-shuttle looms in many different centres throughout India. Probably no one has done more practical work than this in helping the hand-loom industry.
The Bengal Government in 1901, translated my lecture into four vernaculars for distribution to the District Boards. Direct support on the part of Government in Bengal has been limited so far to a grant of a few hundred rupees given by Sir John Woodburn in 1901-2, to enable a few weavers to undergo a month’s training under my supervision at Serampore. The hesitation of the Government of India to commit itself to a change of the view maintained by its advisers for so many years has no doubt prevented many of the Local Governments from giving a more active support to a movement which has gained so much impetus from non-official agencies. Sir George Watt, formerly Reporter on Economic Products to the Government of India, declared about four years ago that the extinction of hand-loom weaving in India was inevitable, and that “to bolster up the effete methods and appliances of bygone times would of necessity involve the suppression of national progress.” Lord Curzon at the Delhi Durbar repeated the old argument that the hand-loom must inevitably give way to the power-loom “just as the hand punkah is being superseded by the electric fan,” but in 1905, he was sufficiently impressed by the arguments on the other side to sanction a comprehensive scheme I drew up for developing hand-loom weaving in Bengal. This scheme, however, has not yet been put into operation.
Many of the Native States have, from the first, given a vigorous support to the movement. I believe Mysore led the way by opening a number of schools and experimental workshops. Travancore followed, and the Baroda State, with the keen personal interest of the Gaekwar and of the Revenue Minister, Mr. R.C. Dutt, has for some years taken a leading part in investigating all the practical problems connected with the question. Recently, the Madras Government has joined in with a strong official support. Mr. Alfred Chatterton who in 1901, after consultation with me, began a series of experiments for his own information in the Madras School of Arts, for some years maintained an ambiguous attitude on the whole question, but he has now become an active worker in the cause of hand-loom weaving, and after further personal investigation in Bengal he has lately induced his Government to establish a number of hand-loom factories in various great weaving centres in the Southern Presidency. It seems like a return to old John Company days to find an Indian Government engaged directly in the weaving trade, and as private enterprise in the last two years has shown itself quite ready and able to establish hand-weaving factories without Government assistance, it is difficult to see the advantage of official weaving establishments conducted on commercial principles, when, as Mr. Chatterton has admitted, they stand in need of expert advice and provoke more hostility and suspicion on the part of the local weavers than private undertakings of the same kind.
In fact, the real strength of the movement and the most hopeful sign for its future progress are shown in the eagerness and capacity with which non-official Indians have thrown themselves into it. I have myself, since 1901, carried on a voluminous correspondence with Indians all over the country anxious for advice and information, and the growing confidence in the prospects of handloom weaving as a profitable undertaking for small capitalists has led to the opening of not a few handloom factories under entirely Indian management. The yearly exhibitions and demonstrations of hand-loom apparatus which is now the most prominent feature of the industrial programme of the Congress have been most helpful in this direction. In the first Exhibition of 1901-02, organised by Mr. J.Chaudhry, the late Mr. P.C. Ghose was the sole exhibitor, but in 1906-07, when the Congress again met in Calcutta, there were besides Messrs. Hattersley of Keighley, who on my recommendation sent a special representative to demonstrate the latest English hand-weaving appliances, adapted for Indian requirements, about thirty Indian exhibitors from different parts of the country, some of them showing improvements of their own invention.
It does not, however, promote confidence in the wisdom of political intrusions into the field of industrial economics to find that Bengal, one of the most promising fields in all India for hand-loom factories, has been the one province which has been induced by Swadeshi politicians to adopt the very un-Swadeshi system of power-loom mills, a policy which, carried to its logical conclusion, must severely cripple any project for raising the unfortunate village weaver from his present state of helplessness and ignorance. It is true that the boycott of foreign manufactures, which is part of the Swadeshi programme in Bengal, has for the time being given so much remunerative work to the village weavers that the number of working hand-loom weavers in the province has, it is said, been doubled; but a scheme based only on political passion and without any sound economic or educational basis is not likely to give the industry anything but temporary relief.
This confusion of ideas, natural, perhaps, in the great multitude of counsellors which has now entered the field, seems to make it desirable to restate some of the economic, ethical and artistic principles involved in the whole question. When six years ago I expressed my conviction that Indian weavers, with proper appliances and instruction, could produce profitably a great part, if not all, of the textiles now imported from Europe, the possibility of increasing the wealth of the country by some twenty million pounds sterling a year was to me a question of far less interest than the means by which that result might be achieved. The possibility of building up on the foundation of the old Indian village community and of the Indian hereditary handicraft system a strong self-reliant, intelligent, co-operative organisation adapted to the present and future needs of the country, yet avoiding the terrible evils which modern science has brought into the industrial system of Europe, seems to me always a matter of infinitely greater importance to India than the prospective material gain, however great that might be. As to the question whether the powerloom will or will not supersede the hand-loom, the answer is simple. As long as the artistic sense is part of the intellectual equipment of humanity, so long will hand-labour be as necessary in weaving as it is in any other art; and thus so far as art is involved in weaving, the hand-loom will never be superseded. When weaving is reduced to a purely automatic movement of a shuttle, the power-loom will supersede the hand-loom whenever the cost of power is less than the cost of hand-labour. Mr. Chatterton, in a recent lecture, stated that wherever the hand-loom still exists in Europe, there are special reasons for its survival which are not applicable to India. This is an entire misapprehension of the case. The two reasons, artistic and economical, apply with exactly the same force in India and in Europe. The hand-loom exists in Europe wherever one or other of two conditions prevail. The first is when hand-labour is cheaper than the cost of mechanical power; the second is when public taste is sufficiently developed to discriminate between the real art of the hand-worker and the sham art of the automatic machine. In the last fifty years, in Europe, there has been a great advance in artistic knowledge and education, accompanied by an improvement in public taste, and a corresponding revival of hand-loom weaving. In India, there has been during the last hundred years a continuous decline of public taste, so that at the present time the educated Indians probably stand behind the rest of the civilised world in artistic understanding. There has been a complete neglect of art education and a corresponding decline in the higher branches of weaving, and many of the most beautiful fabrics for which India has been famous from time immemorial are no longer produced, because they have ceased to be appreciated. On the purely industrial side, handloom weaving has declined in India only because the whole question of technical education as applied to Indian handicrafts has been as much neglected as art education. Even now, though the commercial interests of hand-loom weaving are only second in importance to those of agriculture, there is not yet in Government service anywhere in India a single expert in weaving, as expert knowledge is understood in Europe. The result is that technical questions which were common knowledge in Europe a century ago are still left to be worked out again in India by costly and tedious experiments conducted by engineers, agriculturists, or chemists whose knowledge of weaving is necessarily limited to the scope of their individual experiments. Hand-labour for weaving in India is never really more expensive than mechanical power and is not likely to be so for many generations. The Indian handicraftsmen are only being beaten by the power-loom, because, in the first place, the artistic understanding of the people has degenerated, and, in the second place, because the weavers themselves are totally ignorant of the improvements in hand processes and hand-apparatus which have been made in the last 150 years in Europe.
Though I have discriminated between art and industry in weaving, it is an exceedingly difficult matter to fix any dividing line between them. It may be stated generally that the higher the artistic sense is developed, the less distinguishable is the difference between the two. Even in plain weaving by hand processes there are beauties patent to the educated eye which mechanical processes can hardly obtain. But what I want chiefly to emphasise is that a national decline in artistic taste spells not only intellectual impoverishment but commercial disaster, and for this reason the problem of the industrial reorganisation of India is as much an artistic as an economic one. It is certainly not from sentimental or purely artistic reasons that England since 1857 has spent millions of hard cash on schools of art and design, but because the Government after many years was forced to the conclusion that other countries with better artistic knowledge, were driving many English manufactures out of the market. It is also certain that India’s ruinous loss in industrial capacity would have been far less serious, or have been avoided entirely, if during the last hundred years a sound artistic policy had been established. At the present time we seem to be as far off as ever from the realisation of those measures which are necessary to prevent further deterioration in that great commercial asset represented by India’s artistic power and understanding. India has had no share in the marked artistic revival which has been progressing in Europe for the last fifty years, though her traditional art knowledge is being continually exploited in every direction for the benefit of European art and manufacture.
Unless we take for granted that Indian art must necessarily, in the name of scientific progress, be dragged through the same mire as that in which art in Europe began to wallow more than a century ago, the theory that the hand-loom is doomed to disappear is wholly untenable on artistic grounds. Let us now begin to consider from an ethical standpoint the merits of the present European system which the advocates of “progress” wish to substitute for Indian hand-loom weaving. The only ideal the power-loom factory has in view is cheapness for the purchaser. But at what a frightful sacrifice of the miserable humanity which is dragged behind the car of progress is this cheapness obtained! Mr. Allen Clarke, one of the best authorities on the subject—for he was the son of a mill-hand and himself one of them—has described it graphically in his book on “The Effects of the Factory System.” “It is marvellous,” he says, “that any good is still left in the mill-hands of Lancashire. They are slaves of the machines, instead of the machines being the slaves of men.” The system is, he declares, unhealthy, dangerous, bad for mind and body, injurious in its effects in family life, unfitting women for motherhood, cursing the children and causing the people to deteriorate. It is probably true that in the majority of Indian mills the physical welfare of the worker is better provided for than in Europe, and perhaps on this account Sir George Watt says chat the objections to the system are “misguided and sentimental.” On the other hand a Parsi mill-owner recently described the conditions of labour in the Bombay mills as revealing “a degrading and disgraceful spectacle of cold-blooded inhumanity.” This is synchronous not with a period of bad trade, but with an unusual burst of prosperity due to the Swadeshi movement.
It may be that legislation, by imposing restrictions on the hours of labour and improving sanitary conditions, may check the rapacity of mill-owners and shareholders, and it may be that the latter in their own interests will some day do as much for their employees as wise and considerate men do for their horses and cattle, but even the wisest and most humane cannot in the pursuit of the ideal of cheapness make the modem system of labour, in power-loom mills, otherwise than intellectually and morally degrading. Nor can they remove the even greater evils which the system brings with it the over-crowded, filthy, air-polluted cities the depopulation of rural districts and the struggles between capital and labour which in Western countries constantly threaten the very foundations of society.
When one observes the effect upon social life in Europe and America of the system of industrial organisation created by the application of mechanical power, it is surety reasonable to pause and ask whether it is so inevitable that India should abandon entirely her old industrial methods and follow in the wake of what is called progress in Europe. The Indian weaver has now no choice between the servitude of the powerloom mill and the servitude of the village sowcar. But is this the last word of science and of statecraft? It would be foolish and wicked to suppose so; and herein lies the fallacy of the argument that India must necessarily sacrifice all its old industrial methods because Europe did so fifty or a hundred years ago. The present European industrial system, with all its obvious defects, was founded on the first clumsy and crude experiments of modern mechanical science commenced little more than a century ago. The scientific improvements of to-day are thrown in the scrap-heap to-morrow. Is India, then, blindly to take this clumsy, cruel and immature system as a model to imitate, or should she not rather, instead of rejecting as useless the institutions on which her whole industrial organisation has been based, try to develop them as far as present means allow, with an intelligent preparation for what the science of the future will surely bring?
Mr. Chatterton, in a lecture before the Southern Indian Association, recently declared that much false sentiment has been wasted on the village weaver. It is common for modern scientists to profess a fine contempt for sentiment. Sentiment, they argue, did not help the hand-weavers of Europe nor will it in the long run save the hand-weavers of India. The village weaving industry represents thousands of generations of India’s artistic culture. This culture, however, according to the scientist’s argument, is only a matter of sentiment which we practical men of the present day neither feel nor want. Therefore let the village industry go, if only we can devise some means for cheap manufactures sufficient for India’s present needs. Sentiment, nevertheless, is a force more powerful than scientists are generally willing to allow. It is sentiment which makes the weaver cling to his village life instead of clamouring for employment in the Bombay mills. This same sentiment has, therefore, helped to save for India an industry worth commercially more than the whole of the Anglo-Indian industries. Sentiment, or the artistic sense, is even now in Europe bringing about a revolt against the rabid commercialism of the last century, and sentiment will sooner or later be served by a high and better science than what we call science to-day. There is as much false science as there is false sentiment. Europe has now realised from the experience of the last two centuries that there is a science in art. The destruction of Indian Art which is going on under British rule is a loss to civilisation and to humanity which can and should be avoided, if Indian industrial reformers will bring to their work the true science which Europe has painfully learnt only after the destruction of all her traditional art. It should not now be necessary for India to follow the bull in-the-china-shop methods which we have too often applied in the name of European civilisation, science and progress.
It is a comparatively easy matter to bring into India the practical knowledge for manufacturing all the textiles required in the country. But to attain that object without sacrificing all the present village industry and the traditional art which it represents, is a problem of far greater difficulty, requiring not only scientific and artistic knowledge, but statesmanship, tact, patience and perseverance. The first step to be taken is undoubtedly to release the village weaver from the clutches of the money-lender and make him a free man. Industrial progress is impossible when the weavers are in their present state of servitude. A few years ago I drew attention in the Press to an admirable scheme started by Mr. A.F. Maconochie, I.C.S., while Collector of Sholapur, a great weaving centre in the Bombay Presidency; the ordinary hand-loom weaver in India gets his yarn and other materials from the village banker on credit, and sells the finished products on terms fixed by the banker, who generally takes cruel advantage of the necessities of the weaver. Mr. Maconochie’s scheme is practically a Co-operative Bank which purchases yarn, etc, at wholesale rates and retails it on credit to the weavers at a small profit. It also advances cash to help the weavers over the slack season, taking the finished cloths as pledges to be redeemed when the marriage season makes a brisk demand for them. In this way the weavers get their raw materials at reasonable rates and obtain the best market price for their labour. The scheme, originally started for charitable relief after the famine of 1899, has been placed on a regular business footing since 1901. In 1904, Mr. T.J. Pitre, the officer in charge of it reported that out of 300 weavers on his books at least 25 had paid off their old debts and recovered their mortgaged property from the sowcars. The weavers were so punctual in the repayment of advances that the law had not been invoked in a single instance, and while their condition had greatly improved, the scheme itself was a fair financial success.
It ought not be impossible by the cordial co-operation of Government and people to spread such an excellent and practical system throughout the country and thus release the weaver from the crushing burden of debt which famine and times of scarcity constantly impose upon him. When he is a free man he will not be found quite so stupid or so unteachable as popular opinion represents him. He has at any rate great hereditary skill which is recognised even in Europe as a very important qualification. MrChatterton complains that he objects to turning out more yards of cloth than he has been accustomed to. But the objection is perfectly natural and sensible as long as the only result of increased production is to put more money into the hands of his task-master, the Sowcar.
When the weaver has been released from this tyranny, he will be able to take full advantage of such opportunities for using modern labour-saving appliances as may be afforded him. It should be the duty of every District Board and Municipality throughout India to provide such opportunities, but sympathetic personal interest on the part of zemindars and great landholders is more likely to be fruitful than the ordinary perfunctory measures of these bodies. The Mysore Government has recently followed Mr. Maconochie’s excellent example by authorising the formation of a Weaver’s Co-operative Society in Bangalore and by advancing it money up to Rs. 2,000 free of interest. It has also undertaken to supply models of improved looms and appliances free of cost for the purpose of experiment by members and ordered suitable facilities to be provided for elementary instruction of weavers’ children in day and night schools in the city. All these measures are entirely in the right direction and part of the same enlightened policy in art and industrial matters which has distinguished the Government of Mysore in recent years.
Hand-loom factories may undoubtedly be very useful agencies for spreading the knowledge of improved methods and appliances all over the country, but they must by no means be regarded as an entirely satisfactory substitute for the existing industrial organisation or as the only means of saving the latter from annihilation. In the first place, they will be directed mostly by small capitalists without the slightest artistic knowledge or tradition, and without any other ideal except cheapness of production. Their educational use will be comparatively restricted because the weavers employed in them will be nearly all drawn from the classes lowest in skill and intelligence, which will usually prefer to remain in a dependent position rather than make use of their training as a means of gaining an independent livelihood for themselves. And unless, as I have said before, the weaver is freed from the hands of the Sowcars, he will have no incentive for attempting to better his position. That this will be the case is shown by the fact that the Basel Mission hand-weaving factories on the Malabar Coast although they have been working with great financial success for many years, have had practically no educational influence on the weavers in the surrounding districts. Hand-weaving factories under Government control, like those started by Mr. Chatterton, may be more successful in this way if artistic supervision is adequately provided for, if commercial aims are subordinated to the educational, and if the not unnatural suspicions of the weavers can be overcome by tact and patience. It is not surprising that these ignorant, long-suffering folk, who have endured so much in the last century, should be rather sceptical of the benevolent intentions suddenly manifested on their behalf by the paternal Government. Well-conducted factories might indeed be extremely useful as educational institutions if the better class of weavers could be induced to serve in them, not as permanent workers, but for a fixed period, on the understanding that when their time had expired they would receive as part payment for their labour a gift of the improved apparatus they had been trained to use.
It is a remarkable circumstance that the great number of weavers in the neighbourhood of Serampore, estimated at about 10,000, who have doubled their earnings by the use of improved apparatus and processes, are said to have been indebted for this great gain to a hand-loom factory established at Serampore when that place was under Danish Government about eighty years ago. If the story be true, it is most instructive to note the difference between the success of this factory in its educational effect, and the failure of the German Mission weaving factories to influence the weavers in that neighbourhood. I cannot believe that this difference is entirely a matter of chance.
Denmark in the development of its agricultural industries on co-operative principles, has created a model for the rest of Europe. A great deal of attention is also paid to hand-weaving throughout Scandinavia. It is extremely probable, therefore, that in the administration of its Indian possessions the Danish Government made an organised effort to develop an industry so closely connected with agriculture as handloom weaving is in India, and I have little doubt that an investigation into the old Danish records of Serampore would prove this to be the case. The process and appliances used are so admirably adapted to the needs of the Indian industry that it is difficult, even with the great advance in hand-weaving appliances made in recent years, to suggest improvements likely to be adopted by ordinary weavers. It cannot be repeated too often that by the use of the Serampore processes (which involve no departure from the present organisation of the hand-weaving industry) in conjunction with appliances which can be adapted to the ordinary village loom at a capital cost of about fifteen rupees, the hand weaver of plain or simply-patterned cloth can double his present earnings.
Another point to be noted is that whereas mechanical improvements in hand-looms, such as the fly-shuttle, have a somewhat restricted application, some of the Serampore improvements in the preparatory processes and appliances, used before the warp is ready for the loom, are applicable to every kind of weaving throughout India. The most important is a simple apparatus for winding threads which costs only two or three rupees and reduces the labour of winding to at least a twentieth part of the old Indian system. The practical value of this, which is often overlooked in the keen discussion of the rival merits of improved hand-looms, can be best realised when it is known that in the ordinary Indian method of weaving plain cotton cloth, half the cost of the finished cloth is incurred before the thread is put on the loom for weaving. Moreover, without these preliminary improvements the advantage of using better looms is very often nullified.
The appliances now in use in Serampore and the surrounding districts are practically the same as those with which the English hand-weavers at the close of the eighteenth century trebled their earnings and turned the tables against their Indian competitors. Their adaptability to Indian conditions has been amply proved, and there is not the slightest doubt that the position of the hand-loom industry would be immensely strengthened if the weavers throughout India could be placed in a position to follow the example of their Serampore brethren.
The measures proposed by Mr. Chatterton for achieving this end differ essentially from the original example. He regards the present organisation of the weaving industry as hopeless, and by leaving the village weavers severely alone he would force them, when at last driven to extremities, to enter his model weaving factories. He would thus sweep away entirely all the artistic traditions of the famous Indian industry and reduce the weavers to the condition of day labourers under the control of individual capitalists who have no other qualifications than their knowledge of up-to-date mechanical appliances, and no other ideal than that of filling their own pockets. This is an easy policy to follow, but I fear it has very little else to recommend it.
It is easier to take the line of least resistance, and bend or break everything Indian into a European mould, than it is to promote a new life in Indian institutions by adapting them to their modern environment. It is easier to dissolve the old Indian village communities than to make them an integral part of the administrative system. It is easier to fabricate sham Classic and Gothic architecture for public buildings than to acquire the knowledge and artistic skill necessary for adapting the living traditions of Indian architecture to present-day administrative uses. It is easier to foist a travesty of Western culture upon India than to revive the old spirit in her ancient institutions. And it is certainly easier to leave the old Indian industrial system alone than to restore its vitality and help it to combat on fair terms the influences which are now destroying it.
The Serarnpore example points a better way than the one which Mr. Chatterton would take. Instead of degrading the Indian weaver into a factory hand, I would take the co-operative system practised with such signal success in Denmark as a model easily adaptable to the Indian weaving industry, and an ideal both economically and artistically sound. There is nothing in the most scientific modern process of weaving which could not be adapted to this system whenever it can be usefully employed, and the principle of division of labour which it implies is already recognised to a much larger extent in the Indian industry than is commonly assumed. Some time ago, the writer of several articles in the London Times, on the causes of India’s poverty, described the Indian weaving industry as being organised on the primitive system by which every village produced the cloth required by itself, and quoted Adam Smith to show the economic unsoundness of the principle. This description is only true as regards the manufacture of some of the coarsest descriptions of cloth used by villagers, and is by no means applicable to the industry as a whole. The weavers, as a rule, are organised into industrial communities, sometimes numbering thousands of workers, who either through middlemen or by arrangements made by themselves, supply the requirements of large districts and even those of distant provinces. Formerly, as is well known, they were the centres of a great export trade also. The sudden cessation of this trade by the East India Company in the early part of the nineteenth century was probably the chief cause of the Indian weaver being now a helpless tool in the hands of the money-lender, and always the first victim in times of famine.
The principle of the Danish co-operative system as applied to dairy farming is the combination of a number of small proprietors for sending their products to a central factory in which each of them has a share proportionate to the quantity of his contributions. In the management of the factory each member has an absolutely equal voice, irrespective of his holding. Adapting such a system to the Indian weaving industry, each weaving community would have a central establishment under its own control which would arrange the purchase of materials at wholesale rates, prepare warps for the weavers’ looms and organise the sale of the finished products. The actual weaving would be carried on as at present in the weavers’ houses by the master weavers and their apprentices. A system of this kind would retain the economic advantages of the factory system and eliminate its many evils: it is obvious that a factory owned and controlled by the weavers themselves and worked only for their advantage is a very different thing to a factory controlled by capitalists, only for the purpose of exploiting the labour of their employees.
Neither would such a system prevent the weavers from making use of mechanical power to the fullest extent possible whenever they should find it advantageous to do so. But it would ensure that they always remained the masters of the machine instead of being its slaves, and this alone would tend to diminish the abuse of mechanical power in art industry. The present monstrous overgrowth of the factory system by which thousands of looms are crowded together under one roof originated from the impossibility, in the early days of the application of steam power to manufacturing purposes, of transmitting power over any considerable distances. Electricity and improvements in mechanical apparatus have changed all that and it would now be quite feasible, in Mysore for instance, to transmit the power from the Cauvery Falls to a vast number of weaving communities organised, as I have proposed, so that by turning a switch any weaver could convert his hand-loom into a power-loom whenever and for as long as he might choose. Modern science is also giving to the individual workman a means of freeing himself from the serfdom of the factory system by constantly lowering the minimum of power which can be profitably employed for industrial purposes. This means that many industries can be profitably worked on a much smaller scale than formerly.
It would not be at all surprising if the further advance in this direction which is inevitable should lead to a great revival of the old system of the single workshop with its master workman and apprentices. As I pointed out in a note on hand-loom weaving which was communicated to the Industrial Conference at Benares in 1905, the weaver’s loom is a one-man power machine, and no advantage can be gained by applying more than a one-man power to it. As soon as the means of producing mechanical power and the application of it to industrial purposes is so far improved that the master workman and his five or six apprentices can use it at almost as cheap a rate as the employer of thousands of mill hands, the capitalist will find the field for the exploitation of skilled labour considerably restricted. The scientific principle of art industry will then once more assert itself.
Nothing is more remarkable in recent industrial developments in Europe and America than the reintroduction of methods and systems which, half a century ago, were ridiculed as effete and obsolete. The Indian Trade Journal recently stated the fact that the Japanese Government, in preparing to compete with European nations for commercial supremacy, “is showing a distinct reversion to former ways and methods.” It especially drew attention to the steps which are being taken in Japan to reorganise the old Trade Guilds. The Journal summed up its comments in the following words:—“In re-adapting ancient methods Japan places herself somewhat in advance of other nations, the present national tendency being to stimulate and encourage trade by every possible means. Germany is perhaps the most advanced exponent of co-operative export trading, supported by the encouragement and aid of the State, and Japan does but go one step further in the same path. The lessons to be drawn from these considerations is that as the various Guilds grow in power and influence they will be able to dictate to European or American traders, unless the latter also enter into combination. This conclusion not only applies to trade in Japan, but also to trade in China, Manchuria and Korea.”
In India, up to the present time, it has been usual to regard the caste system, which is the Indian counterpart of the Trade Guilds of Japan and Europe, as an impediment to economic progress, instead of the strongest basis for re-construction. As India in relation to art and industry always lags fifty years behind the least progressive thought of Europe, it is to be feared that bull-in-the-china-shop methods will continue to play havoc with Indian industrial institution for an indefinite period. Fifty years hence, perhaps, India will begin to discover that by following in the wake of European progress, instead of showing the way, she has thrown away a great deal of her most valuable possessions and reaped a crop of difficulties even more formidable than those she has to deal with now.—East and West, August 1907.
- 1. A lecture delivered before the Indian Industrial Association, July 1901.