I CANNOT too often repeat that the industrial regeneration of India is first and last a moral and intellectual problem, not a technical one. It must begin and end, not with processes and machinery, but in the mind of every Indian man or woman. According to your intellectual and moral ideal, so will India’s future be shaped artistically, industrially and politically, “those who worship the devas go to the devas; those who worship the Pitrs, go to the Pitrs; those who worship the Bhuts, go to the Bhuts.” If you strive to emulate the commercial ideal of modern Europe, India will cease to be India; it will inevitably become, as Mr. Cecil Burns described it a “suburb of London and Paris”. And this is certainly the ideal which a great many preachers of the Swadeshi doctrine make their own and hold up for the admiration of Indians. Only a few weeks ago I noticed that the Bengalee of Calcutta, referring to the success of some so-called Swadeshi cotton mills recently established in Bengal, congratulated its readers that Serampore “bids fair to become the Manchester of Benga”. Now I would ask any Indian who has at heart the welfare of his fellow-countrymen to read the description of the condition of the Manchester industrial population given on a previous page, and then consider whether the methods of industrialism which have produced such frightful degeneration and depravity in Europe are worthy of imitation by Indian reformers.
Serampore, the one district in all India, in which swadeshi industrial methods have so far proved eminently successful, is that which has been chosen by Bengali ‘patriots’ for establishing videshi power-loom factories which are now competing with the local handicraftsmen and diverting their profits into the pockets of the patriotic shareholders! In the Serampore district there are about 10,000 Bengali hand-weavers who have set an example of self-help to the rest of India by adapting European labour-saving appliances to their traditional craft practice. By this they have raised themselves to a condition of comparative prosperity, without any depreciation of the good Indian quality of their handiwork. By calling public attention to the example of these intelligent weavers, I started the movement for the revival of hand-loom weaving which has made such great strides in recent years in many different parts of India.
It would be natural to suppose that the organisers of the Swadeshi movement in Bengal would have been eager to help the remaining 400,000 weavers in the province to adopt the same labour-saving appliances and thus create an efficient indigenous industrial organisation. But this they have left to the unaided efforts of Government. Before I left India I succeeded in persuading the Government of Bengal to establish at Serampore a Central Weaving College, with affiliated schools in the other weaving centres of the province for the purpose of showing the hand-weavers of Bengal how they, with, more perfect appliances could hold their own against power-looms. Now, owing to the establishment of these ‘Swadeshi’ cotton mills at Serampore, the College, only opened six months ago, is already in danger of being diverted from its real purpose of aiding the indigenous hand-loom industry, owing to the clamour of a section of the students not belonging to the weaving caste to be taught European power-loom processes, with a view to getting employment in these ‘Swadeshi’ mills. It is hardly necessary to point out the injustice of using public funds for technical education, which mill-owners are quite able to provide for unaided, only to assist capitalists and middlemen in their efforts to destroy the village hand-loom industry which is in urgent need of better technical equipment. The injustice is none the less because the capitalists in this case happen to be Indians trading as Swadeshi reformers.
I can only hope that the Principal of the College will make a firm stand against this school-boy clamour. I had to face just the same kind of clamour in the Calcutta School of Art, when, some years ago, I persuaded the Government to dispose of a collection of European pictures and to use the proceeds for buying good examples of Indian sculpture and painting. The Indian Art Gallery established in Calcutta by this reform has been the starting point of the only really national Indian artistic movement of modern times that of which Mr. Abanindro Nath Tagore and his pupils are the leaders. It is significant that the unreasoning clamour of the students and parents who opposed me then received strong support in the Bengalee’s Editorial columns, where I was violently attacked because, it was said, I was ignorantly lowering the educational standard in art by adopting these Swadeshi principles. The same journal, by its support of the Indian capitalists who are exploiting the Swadeshi movement in Bengal, is now using its influence to frustrate the somewhat belated efforts of Government to assist Indian handicraftsmen in their struggle against the western competitive system, which is at the root of all the greatest social evils which afflict modern Europe. If the Serampore Weaving College is diverted from its original purpose and becomes only an instrument in the hands of self-seeking capitalists, it will be largely due to the misguided efforts of those Swadeshi politicians, whose western education makes them incapable of approaching Indian artistic and industrial problems from an Indian point of view.
The same incoherency of thought is shown in the present agitation for the repeal of the Excise duty on Indian power-loom fabrics, which has been receiving strong support from the Indian press. None of the Indian politicians who are demanding protection for indigenous industries seems to have realised that, from the Indian standpoint, this duty is wholly justifiable, because it gives a slight measure of protection to the indigenous hand-loom industry. Personally I think protection is an artificial and insufficient remedy, which organisation and education ought to render unnecessary. But if protection, as a temporary expedient, is right, then surely the first persons entitled to it are the millions of long-suffering, struggling, village weavers, and not the few hundreds of well-to-do shareholders of Indian power-loom mills whose pockets have been already well lined at the expense of the indigenous industry. Even assuming that the Excise duty has only been imposed in the interests of Lancashire capitalists, the fact that it assists the indigenous industry, until such time as proper organisation and educational methods shall make it able to help itself should commend it to the strong support of Indians who desire the greatest good for the greatest number of their fellow-countrymen.
The Swadeshi movement will be utterly discredited in the eyes of all right-minded Indians if, instead of holding up a truly Indian ideal of life and work it is used to exploit Indian Industry only for the selfish interests of capitalists and middlemen, as industry has been exploited by capitalists and middlemen in modern Europe. The Indian industrial ideal must not be that of Manchester and Birmingham.
When a new Indian ideal of life has grown out of the national consciousness fully informed by the wisdom of both East and West and guided by the experience of both good and evil knowing the good to be good and the evil to be evil that ideal will be the motive power which will restore the industrial vitality of India. The solution of the artistic problem is the solution of the industrial problem also; the key to both is to be found in learning to live well. And as life is begun first in the home, and not in the school or workshop, so it is in the home that the foundation of India’s industrial regeneration must be laid, whether that home be a hut or a palace.
It is not given to every Indian to arrive at that full knowledge which will enable him to create an ideal Indian home; but it is certainly open to every Swadeshi politician to practise in his home the principles which he preaches in public. Without this practice it will be impossible for him to gain the power of discrimination which will make his judgment sound in artistic and industrial questions, and, without that power of discrimination added to it, the Swadeshi movement will never revitalise Indian art and industry.
There is a lamentable want of discrimination in the Indian who excludes everything Indian from his home because he believes that everything European is superior and that his preference for European pictures, Brussels carpets and Tottenham Court Road furniture proves his superior educated taste. But Indian reformers who preach the Swadeshi doctrine must be careful that they do not fall into the opposite error, and assume that all things are good because they are called Swadeshi. A great many things called Indian are neither good as art nor are they really Indian. Especially is this the case with that class of things, known to Europeans as Indian art ware, which fill the shops of Indian curiosity dealers, and represent Indian art in Exhibitions in Europe. The reason for their badness as art is sufficiently indicated by the name applied to them: they do not belong to real life and work, they are ‘curiosities’ freaks of art produced for the amusement of those who stand entirely aloof from true Indian culture.
Look for the motive or idea by which every work of art is produced, for in it you will discover the measure of its merit or demerit. Those whose Swadeshi sentiments are mainly governed by the idea of political or commercial advantage will not understand or produce good Swadeshi art, or create true Swadeshi homes. It is not enough to banish from the Indian home crude Brussels carpets, Brummagem chandeliers, tenth-rate European pictures, sculpture, and furniture, only to replace them by equally bad Indian carpets, furniture, sculpture, and pictures. The same want of discrimination which has made even the best educated Indians, and those to whom expense is no consideration, place their artistic consciences in the keeping of European shop-keepers and picture-dealers, will make them equally indiscriminative in choosing Indian things. It is not easy for Indians without artistic education to discriminate, even in Indian art, because for the last fifty years India has been ransacked for all its portable art treasures the things which were formerly part of the domestic life of cultured Indians to fill European Art Museums and private collections; so that, except in ancient monuments and in a very few Museums in India, there is little left which is representative of the highest standard of Indian domestic art. Indians have despised their own art and have willingly exchanged their best art productions for European things of a vastly lower artistic standard. In China and Japan, in spite of the invasion of European fashions, the best works of indigenous art have been so highly valued that very few European Museums or private collectors have been willing to pay the local market value for them, so comparatively few of the best things have found their way to Europe.
But such books as Dr. Coormiraswamy’s on Sinhalese domestic art could easily be supplemented by others, were there a demand for them, and India still has an industrial asset of higher value than even the most precious works of antiquity in the living tradition of her craftsmen. Given the intellectual and moral impulse, it is much easier to restore the artistic standard in Indian domestic life than it is in Europe, where the old craft traditions have been almost obliterated by the industrial methods of the last two centuries and by the insatiate greed of the capitalist.
There is a curious want of discrimination, which is shown even by those Indians of the wealthy and aristocratic classes who in their intimate domestic life still keep up more or less Indian artistic traditions, in the almost universal custom of furnishing in a quasi-European fashion the part of their house or palace in which they receive their European guests. It is done out of a mistaken sense of hospitality and courtesy, but the real effect of the custom is to emphasise and strengthen the social barrier which exists between the Anglo-Indian and Indian communities. Nothing would tend to draw the two communities closer together more than the feeling that there was somewhere a meeting ground in social life, where East could be West, and West, East. But this custom simply proclaims to the world at large that there cannot be an approach from both sides, that East can go to the West but never can West go East. To all Europeans who earnestly desire to gain a closer acquaintance with real Indian life and thought it is a disappointment to find themselves in the atmosphere of suburban England when they are invited to enter an Indian household. It cannot be flattering to an intelligent European to be presented with what is hardly ever better than a travesty of Western artistic culture, and for those who believe that future social progress in the world lies in a blending of eastern and western ideals it is grievous to discover that even in the opportunities for social intercourse which Indians themselves provide for us, unnecessary obstacles are put in the way of a true appreciation of the Indian social ideal.
It is very true, that, among uninformed Europeans, there is a general assumption that India is a savage country which it is England’s divine mission to civilise. But when English-educated Indians themselves often present to their European guests no higher domestic ideal than that of a London boarding house, and speak of their fellow-countrymen who keep to the Indian tradition of domestic life as; ‘jungly’ folk, it is not surprising that the same belief should be prevalent among Anglo-Indians also. No doubt many Anglo-Indians are as much in need of art education as Indians, but I believe that if some of the leaders of Indian Society were to set the example of having their reception rooms decorated in a good Indian style, with good Indian pictures and sculpture and furniture designed after good Indian models, the change would be welcomed by all the most cultured of Anglo-Indian Society and it would tend to put the social relations between Indians and Europeans upon a much better footing, for nothing tends to promote misunderstanding more than social customs which imply a feeling of social inequality.
Besides bringing a more wholesome atmosphere into social relations, the change would certainly have a very good effect upon Indian industrial conditions. It would give more opportunities for Indian craftsmen and for students of Indian Schools of Art, and Anglo-Indian firms which now only teach Indian craftsmen to imitate European designs would quickly find it to their advantage to allow their designers to work on Indian traditional lines. The home is the microcosm of the State. The first endeavour of industrial reformers should be to establish a healthy psychological atmosphere in the home, for the psychology of home-life largely determines the industrial conditions of the nation.
As the home is par excellence woman’s sphere, the true ideal of the Swadeshi home will be found in the minds of women, rather than of men. Very few of the English-educated Indian men of this generation possess the discrimination to distinguish between good art and bad, and but or the intuitive sense and spirituality of Indian women Indian art would have sunk much lower than it has done. It is their influence in the home, and not any political or commercial propaganda, which has given the Swadeshi movement whatever real vitality it possesses; and it will be by their work in the home, rather than by the craftsman’s intelligence, that India will be saved from falling into the quagmire of western commercialism, if saved it will be. Indian women will not reckon India’s progress by counting the factory chimneys.
Hitherto the psychological aspect of the industrial problem seems to have been totally disregarded by most Swadeshi reformers. They have looked everywhere abroad for its solution to Europe, America and Japan they cry out for foreign machinery, for foreign technical experts, technical schools, schools of art, industrial conferences, etc., etc., (all on foreign models) to help India out of its difficulty. They rail at Indian art and at the great caste organisation of Indian industry which once made India the greatest industrial country of the world; they pray for more political enfranchisement, so that they may hasten the day when India has her Manchester and Birmingham, without knowing what they pray for. All this outcry only tends to the unmaking of India and to the destruction of all Indian ideals; it is the industrial application of Macaulay’s foolish dictum that all India’s literary culture was not worth a single bookshelf of a good European library. It is a blind leading of the blind.
Indian industry has declined less from the competition of European science and machinery, than from the psychological degeneracy of the Indian home. There is profound truth in what Dr. Coomaraswamy, with his knowledge of all that western industrialism has achieved, tells you:
If we loved and understood Indian art we should know that even now the Indian craftsman could, if we would let him, build for us and clothe us in ways of beauty that could not be attained in modern Europe for any expenditure of money at all. We could, if we would, even to-day, live like the very gods; but we lust after the fleshpots of Egypt, and deservedly our economy suffers.
This psychological degeneracy began in times long anterior to British rule; had it not been so there would have been no British rule. British rule gives you the opportunity to make a new India stronger and greater than it has ever been, if you will but begin the regeneration of India’s industrialism, where the mainsprings of all industry necessary for a good and healthy life are centred in the home.
When the ancient lawgivers of India laid down regulations for the four great castes their intention was not to create impassable racial and social barriers, but to unite all the members of the great Hindu family together on a basis of mutual co-operation. Each member of the caste family had his or her special duties to perform, but these were not to make them consider themselves independent of each other, or to forget the unity of the whole family. The father was the intellectual and spiritual head of the family. The sons were the protectors of the household in war and breadwinners in peace; they were also the master-builders skilled in the higher crafts. To the mother and daughters fell the most important household duties, which included the finer artistic work the adornment of the home and the weaving of apparel; to the servants the rough and menial work. So long as each member of the family not only fulfilled the duties of his or her particular sphere, but was mindful of mutual obligations, so long as the father helped the sons, the sons the mother and daughters so long, in fact, as the fourfold division of caste duties was on a real, co-operative basis India remained great and strong. But when the idea of pollution crept in; when the head of the family, forgetting his obligations to the other members, shut himself up in a corner of the house and refused access to the rest of the household, lest his spiritual vocation should be lowered in dignity by contact with worldly affairs; when each member was concerned only with the duties of his or her caste, then caste became a source of weakness instead of strength, the family lost its cohesion and India became an easy prey to every foreign invader. Caste is not necessarily an evil; so long as the unity of the family is not forgotten, it is a splendid institution for concentrating the national strength and making the best use of it. Caste has been the salvation of Indian art and industry during the critical period of transition through which India is now passing, and the caste traditions are still the most valuable industrial asset India possesses.
What India wants is not the entire abolition of caste traditions, but the restoration of the artistic and industrial cohesion of the whole caste family. English education, so far as it has helped to restore the political cohesion of India has been a great national gain; but this advantage seems to have blinded English-educated Indians to the fact that owing to its one-sided character their education has been, artistically and industrially, the disintegrating factor which has brought confusion and discord into the Indian household. If Swadeshi politicians are wise they will let harmony be restored by ceasing to invite outsiders into their own domestic concerns, and leave to the Indian housewife the task of setting her house in order again.
As an outsider myself, I am loath to intrude my advice upon the Indian housewife, but a Madrasi gentleman, Mr. M. C. Nanjunda Row, M. B., P.C.S., lately sent me a paper written by him for the Mysore Dassera Industrial and Agricultural Exhibition of 1911, which contains many excellent suggestions for her. He says:
There is waiting to be utilised an enormous quantity of hand-power in our homes, and the special purpose of this paper is to lay stress on the importance of home, or domestic industries, as distinguished from cottage industries ... In India, until a few centuries ago, the daughters of Eve span even when the sons of Adam remained idle and abstained from digging. The humming sound of the spinning wheel of the Punjabi peasant women is said to have kept time and tune with the repetition of the Hamsa mantram (Sivoham Sivoham Sivoham} by them.
The rigid observance of the caste distinctions by the Brahman as who, he says, assigned manual labour to the Sudra caste, helped to disturb the old routine of family life: it resulted in the dethronement of the dignity of labour, and made idle gossips of the ladies.
It is not quite accurate to say that manual labour was originally assigned to the Sudra caste. Even at the present day some of the higher Hindu craftsmen claim equalit}’ with Brahmanas. In the Ramayana the, priests themselves carved the sacrificial posts, and the craftsmen who assisted at sacrifices “were accorded equal honour with the priests. But it is certainly true that, owing to various causes, the old ideal of the Indian household has degenerated, to the great detriment of the economic status of the whole Indian community. I believe there still survives in Assam, and probably in other parts of India, an old tradition of the Indian household, that the unmarried daughters even in the highest social position, should spin and weave the garments required for their own wedding outfit and for that of their future husbands. The practice of such handicrafts was an essential part of domestic life in mediaeval Europe, from the royal palace down to the peasant’s cottage, and from the creative energy thus generated in every household was produced the great industrial developments of modern Europe. If all Indian ladies, especially those of the higher and middle classes, were to re-introduce this admirable custom into their households it would go a long way towards solving the industrial problem of India.
Mr. Nanjunda Row seems to be mostly concerned in providing an additional means of livelihood for indigent middle-class families and from this standpoint his suggestions are well worth consideration. But I should regard the psychological aspect of the question as of much greater importance. When the psychological atmosphere of the Indian household, from the highest to the lowest, is re-charged with creative energy, then the immense powers of the traditional Indian industrial system will no longer be wasted in such a blind and foolish fashion as they are now. The Indian caste family will be replaced on its old co-operative footing and with the revived power of artistic discrimination India will choose wisely her own ways of industrial reformation, which will be better than any which foreign experts can prescribe for her.