TAKING for granted the axiom that it is to India’s best interest, morally, intellectually and economically, that the traditional organisation of her handicrafts should not be broken up and supplanted by the methods of modern commercialism but strengthened and developed in every possible way on its traditional foundation the question arises, how can this strengthening and development be effected?
A better artistic understanding on the part of English-educated Indians, and better official administration, would tend automatically to revive the sumptuary handicrafts which are always developed by the higher aesthetic culture of civilised communities, for they have only degenerated by the lowering of aesthetic culture which has accompanied British administration and English education. But the lower grades of handicraft, which depend partly on the necessities and partly on the luxuries, of the poorest of the population, stand on a different footing. Of course, even a wealthy person will, in ordinary circumstances, buy in the cheapest market provided that he gets the quality he desires; but sumptuary productions for the upper classes have not, even in Europe, been affected by modern mechanical science to anything like the same extent as articles of necessity, because, as I have tried to explain, the highest artistic quality can only be produced by the methods of the handicraftsman, and not by the methods of the mechanic. No improvement in mechanical science can alter this fundamental law. It is not the methods of the Indian sculptor, painter, or master-builder, nor those of the Benares kincob weaver, nor of the best Indian goldsmiths, which have kept behind the times. Their methods remain as good as the best of Europe are now. It is the Indian princes and other English-educated patrons of the native artist and handicraftsman who have fallen behind the times in artistic discrimination: when they become up-to-date in their European education Indian craftsmanship will need no outside help or Government aid.
But with the great majority of India’s industrial population the millions of handicraftsmen who provide the necessities of civilised life to the mass of the population the case is different. The public they work for demands cheapness more than artistic quality, and it is imperative that, whenever possible, they should be equipped with efficient tools and apparatus to meet the competition of machine-made productions. It is impossible for me to go over the whole range of Indian handicraft and show what help can be given in each case, so I will confine myself to the question of hand-loom weaving, which is still the backbone of Indian industry and of much greater economic importance than any other, though this patent fact has not yet been made evident in official statistics. It is with the ordinary village weaver, who makes the common dhoti, sari, or puggaree for the mass of the Indian population that I am now chiefly concerned, though some of the most valuable mechanical improvements, made centuries ago in Europe, which can be introduced into Indian hand-weaving, apply to the whole industry.
But before we can discuss mechanical improvements it is necessary to consider the present condition of the poor Indian village weaver. I saw a good deal of it in the course of six years’ official touring through remote districts in the Madras Presidency, so I know how hopeless it seems to be, and must always seem, to the Anglo-Indian official. It is indeed a case which demands endless patience, tact, and sympathy; and I fully admit that often it is almost beyond the power of the best official methods to deal with it effectively. The hard-workedd Anglo-Indian officer, even the most sympathetic and devoted, cannot give the time and attention necessary to uplift such a mass of helpless and hopeless ignorance, apathy and despair. I know that in some districts of Madras the poorest weavers working from morn till night can barely earn the means to keep body and soul together, in the best of times.
When times begin to be bad they have the choice of crawling to the famine camp or dying of starvation. It is useless to talk to such helpless creatures of the wonders labour-saving appliances can do for them to tell them that they might weave four cloths in the time they now weave one. At the beginning, all possible improvements they could make use of must be brought to their doors, given to them free of cost, and the time they take to learn the use of them must be paid for. Even this work a Government official could hardly undertake; he would be suspected of some deep, sinister motive. When I myself came to such weavers’ huts I was generally mistaken for an officer of the Salt Department making secret enquiries into illicit manufacture.
Undoubtedly this lower stratum of the industrial population can be reached more effectively by private than by official agencies. It is here that the influence of the Indian home, striving after Indian domestic ideals, can be most effectively used. Indian women of the higher classes who learn weaving and spinning as a domestic industry, not for adding to their income, but for the psychological benefit of handicraft in the home, could, if they would, throw away the prejudices of caste pollution and extend sympathetic help to the village weaver toiling for bare subsistence. Indian young men who have practised weaving as a school or college exercise according to the curriculum I have suggested, could do the same. There is an immense field of usefulness for the ‘Servants of India ‘trained in Mr. Gokhale’s School, and for the ‘Sons of India’ enrolled by Mrs. Besant.
But do not let it be supposed that the mechanical improvements necessary for the continued existence of India’s greatest industry are mainly a matter for expert knowledge. They are a few simple things, which any intelligent school boy or girl could learn to manipulate in a week, though they are so important for the village weaver that, were the Education Department as efficient as it should be, every village schoolmaster would teach them and every Inspector of Schools would be able to demonstrate them. Possibly some day a Director of Public Instruction may come to realise this, bub having vainly hammered at official doors for many years I cannot waste much more time there. It is, after all, more important that India should learn the lesson of self-help.
These suggestions apply to the village weaver who is too poor, helpless, and ignorant to make any attempt to adopt even the simplest improvements to his apparatus. The educational measures hitherto employed, officially and unofficially, hardly touch his case at all. It is useless to provide schools, exhibitions and demonstrations of improved appliances for his edification. He cannot afford to leave his loom to attend them and has not the means, even if he had the energy, to obtain the required improvements which might help him out of his difficulties; though the cost of them would seem to be a small matter, for a total expenditure of ten or twelve rupees would provide him with apparatus which would certainly double, and, in some cases, treble his output.
In most European countries, if there were such a clear case for making a vast improvement in a great national industry, there would be sufficient public spirit to create at once a powerful national organisation to provide the money and means of instruction required for the purpose, even if Government assistance were not forthcoming. In India, this kind of public spirit is at present mainly restricted to political activities, and Indian political leaders do not yet seem to realise how much stronger their position would be if they devoted their attention to constructive work, rather than to political manoeuvres, such as the boycott of European manufacturers, which can only be carried out by inflaming the animosities of the masses a very dangerous game for all parties.
India requires somewhat less of the keen-witted political lawyer, and a great deal more of the levelheaded organiser and man of business, to help to solve her artistic and industrial problems. If Bengali politicians had used the funds they collected for their propaganda in financing model weaving villages in fifty suitable centres in Bengal they would have done a great deal more than the boycott has done to put the Swadeshi movement on a sound economic footing. Now that the Serampore Weaving College has started work nothing would be easier than to organise such model weaving villages in different parts of India, under the charge of the trained teachers and managers which the College could supply. The capital required for fifty model villages would be much less than is necessary for launching one sham Swadeshi power-loom mill, and there is not the least doubt that with good management they could become self-supporting and profitable in a very short time. The proof of this is that even without any improved apparatus the village industry in favourable localities can be resuscitated and made comparatively flourishing. I have several times called public attention to the success which Mr. A. F. Maconochie, I. C. S. had, while he was Collector of Sholapur in the Bombay Presidency, in reviving the local weaving industry by the simple expedient of making arrangements to provide the weavers with raw materials on reasonable terms, advancing them cash at reasonable rates in the slack season, and enabling them to obtain the best market price for their labour all of which advantages are denied them by the rapacious village money-lender. In three years the condition of three hundred weavers had greatly improved, twenty-five of them had paid off all their old debts, and recovered their mortgaged property from the sowcars; and at the same time the scheme itself had given a fair dividend on the capital used.
If this can be done without any attempt to improve the methods and appliances of the weavers, it stands to reason that an efficient organisation which gives both financial and practical educational assistance would be certain of success. The example of ten thousand weavers in the Serampore District of Bengal is a proof that simple improved appliances can enable village weavers to double their earnings even without any outside assistance.
I will indicate roughly how the scheme might be worked. It should be understood, that, though good management would undoubtedly secure a fair return on the capital invested, the first object of the scheme should not be to secure dividends for the middle class investor, but to put a great national industry upon a sound economic basis an object which should surely commend itself to the whole-hearted support of every Swadeshi reformer. I would fix the initial capital at one lakh of rupees, a sum amply sufficient to finance fifty model weaving villages with an average of one hundred weavers each, but it could equally well be started with half a lakh of rupees and twenty-five villages. The scheme should be managed by a Committee or Board of Directors, located at a suitable centre, where a deposit for the yarn, dyes, and all other raw materials of good quality required by the weavers should be established. In charge of each of the fifty or twenty-five local branches the weaving villages there should be a trained manager capable of instructing the weavers in the use of the fly-shuttle and other simple mechanical improvements such as those now used in Serampore. To win the confidence of the weavers should be the local manager’s first endeavour. At first he should limit himself to working on the lines of Mr. Maconochie’s scheme, retailing to the weavers at a small profit the materials supplied from the central depot, advancing cash on the security of finished cloths to help them over the slack season, and assisting them to dispose of their clothes in the best markets, etc. Gradually he should show the most intelligent of the weavers the use of simple labour-saving appliances and supply them free of cost, only taking in return, after three months’ trial, a fair percentage of the increased output which they were enabled to make by the use of them. Some of the Members of the Central Board, or Inspectors appointed by them, would have to visit the local centres from time to time to satisfy themselves of the conduct of the local managers.
I believe that in less than three years under a scheme of this kind, the first fifty or twenty-five model weaving villages would need little further assistance. The best weavers, at least, would be released from the clutches of the local sowcars, and would have realised the advantages of simple labour-saving appliances. The Directors of the scheme could then, of course, devote their attention to other centres. With men of good business capacity and power of organisation at the head of it, this scheme would do more for India in five years than all the Technical Schools have done in fifty. India does not require to create the technical skill for her great weaving industry; the skill is already created. It is only recklessly wasted for want of proper organisation.
I have dealt with the lower stratum of the weaving populations consisting of the ordinary village weavers who are too poor and too miserable to make ordinary educational methods applicable to their case; but there still remain a great many of the more intelligent and skilful weavers who could and would profit greatly by suitable object-lessons placed before them.
In this case much depends upon the character of the object-lesson chosen for their instruction. Ordinary exhibitions and demonstrations of weaving appliances, however useful they may be for small capitalists of the middle class, are not as a rule very convincing for the practical weaver; at all events, he rarely has enterprise enough to venture upon altering his usual methods on the strength of such object-lessons as these. The best and most convincing object-lesson which has yet been put before the weavers of India, undoubtedly, was the hand-loom factory which was started seventy or eighty years ago at Serampore when that place was under the Danish Government. Of the exact history of that hand-loom factory I have not been able to discover much. How long it existed, and what the promoters gained by it, are matters of small importance. What really matters is, first, that ten thousand village weavers profited so largely by the lessons it taught them, that their earnings are now double those of similar weavers who have not had such lessons; secondly that they have maintained their individual existence as village craftsmen, and are much less indebted to the sowcars than the ordinary weaver; and, thirdly, that the factory itself has been absorbed by the village industry.
Now you have in Madras a very able and energetic exponent of European commercialism. Mr. Alfred Chatterton, Director of Technical Enquiries, who holds views on technical education directly opposed to mine, though in the matter of hand-loom weaving I can claim him as a partial and somewhat unwilling convert to my propaganda. He has repeatedly told you that the only hope for the handloom weaver is to commercialise his industry, through the European factory system, and to quote his own words, that “ to attempt to assist the artisans of India and to neglect the results of the mercantile efforts of the whole of the last century (in Europe) is to court failure”. To him the factory is the ideal to be aimed at, the summum bonum and the indispensable thing in all industry, artistic or otherwise for to Mr. Chatterton the artistic factor does not count for much. He has warned you against the ( sentimentalism’ and ‘ dilettantism’ of the artist. Indian art must submit to be dragged behind the car of human ‘progress/ which, in his view, means the progress of mechanical invention.
In my view, the factory in hand-loom weaving may be useful as a means to an end the education of the village weaver but it is neither an indispensable nor a desirable thing in itself. In the hand-weaving industry all the economic advantages of the factory system can be obtained by the village weaver through intelligent co-operation and organisation, as Sir F. W. Nicholson maintained in an able paper he contributed to the Madras Mail in December 1901. 1 do not ignore the results of the mercantile efforts of the whole of the last century in Europe as Mr. Chatterton would make you believe. It is really Mr. Chatterton who is greatly behind the times in his policy, as Sir F. C. Nicholson showed in his paper. He said:
In the latter half, chiefly indeed, in the last quarter of the last century, a new factor has come into industrial life, viz., the principle of cooperation, organisation for the purchase of raw material, implements, etc., for the sale of manufactured goods, and for the necessary credit; and it is in this new factor that the hand-loom weavers will find the power of competing with the large mill-owner and the dealer. The old Guilds and Town Leagues of the West can never be revived, but the new co-operation by mutual contract will be a permanent feature of the new century. Already the accounts of the new powers and hopes which it creates are almost beyond belief. In many Societies it has effected a saving to producers of almost half the costs, while it has largely increased their effective receipts. There seems no limit to the economies to be effected, to the material good to be obtained, to the qualities of character that may be evolved ... It is not strange when the character of co-operation is considered, that the characters of the individual workers are developed by such co-operation; foresight, industriousness, punctuality, honesty, business-capacity, and the other characteristics of a thriving, hopeful and self-respecting community become the rule and not the exception.
The co-operative system, also, by preserving the individuality of the craftsman is also the best guarantee for the preservation of the artistic element in Indian hand-loom weaving. I do not, like Mr. Chatterton, regard this as a subordinate consideration, but as the most vital of all. To preserve Indian art is to preserve India. The really vital point in the object-lesson of Serampore is that Indian craftsmanship has survived, and the factory system has been eliminated or absorbed, by the traditional organisation of village handicraft. The principle of co-operation will do even more for that organisation than the factory system can ever do.
Accepting the factory system as one of the means but not the only means or the most desirable means, for helping the village weaver to help himself, I will now explain what I have done to promote the system of hand-loom factories for small capitalists in India. In October 1904, 1 addressed a letter to the London Times inviting the co-operation of the best European makers of textile machinery in the task of improving the hand-apparatus now used by Indian weavers. I also addressed personally many such firms in America. The only response I received was from one of the best English firms, Messrs. George Hattersley & Sons, Ltd., of Keightley, who some years previously had been asked by the Roumanian Government to produce a loom suitable for the hand industry in that State. The hand-apparatus which they invented for this purpose was the means of promoting a very great revival of hand-weaving in the Balkan States. Messrs. Hattersley have introduced about twelve thousand improved looms into that part of Europe, the Roumanian Government allowing them to be imported free of duty. The result has been that the local hand-weaving industry has been successful in keeping power-loom productions almost entirely out of the local markets.
Messrs. Hattersley then began under my advice to produce apparatus suitable for India. They sent an expert to India to study local conditions and have spent considerable capital in perfecting all kinds of apparatus especially adapted for Indian hand-loom factories. With their expert knowledge of all the latest developments of textile machinery in Europe they have attacked all the most difficult technical problems connected with the Indian industry, from the winding and sizing of the yarn until the cloth is taken from the loom, and no one in Europe or in India has brought so much scientific knowledge to bear upon these questions.
Last year at the Franco-British Exhibition I arranged with the India Office that they should have a special exhibit in the Indian section, for which the highest award for hand-power machinery, a gold medal, was given by the expert judges. They are now exporting to India every week sufficient improved loom and preparatory apparatus for a small hand factory, not a very great result from a mercantile point of view, but for the development of the Indian industry and for the education of the village weaver it is of the highest significance. One hand factory, only seventy or eighty years ago in Bengal, was the means of enabling ten thousand village weavers to learn improved mechanical processes and to double their earnings. Now, through Messrs. Hattersley’s instrumentality alone, India receives every week material for one hand factory material which, through the principle of co-operation, could also be used in the model weaving villages I have advocated.
In a recent letter, Messrs. Hattersley informed me that they believe they have now overcome the difficulty of beaming and sizing warps by hand, with their latest hand-power, beaming and slasher-sizing machines, designed for an out-put of about fifty hand-looms.
These are two of the most difficult technical problems connected with Indian hand-weaving. The beaming machine is for putting yarn on to the warper’s beams direct from the warping bobbins by hand; and the sizing machine is for sizing the yarn as it passes from the warper’s beams on to the loom beam. The great difficulty of drying the yarn after sizing it is overcome by forcing hot air through four layers of warp by means of a fan worked by a hand-wheel. Besides various kinds of improved looms, worked by hand or by foot, adapted for weaving silk, cotton, linen or wool for saris and dhotis, etc., as well as for small wares such as lamp wicks and working four or five times as fast as the ordinary village loom, Messrs. Hattersley have produced a simple and excellent warping mill and creel, weft winder, warping bobbin winder, pirn winder, etc. Among their latest inventions is a hand-loom for heavy fabrics such as dhurries and reed sun-blinds, together with the necessary preparatory apparatus.
Though Mr. Chatterton has condemned off-hand Messrs. Hattersley’s looms as being too heavy and complicated for the Indian weaver, the fact remains that they have been already successfully used in a hand-factory in Ganjam, and in many other places. They have been fitted up and repaired by an ordinary village blacksmith and worked by an ordinary village weaver. As a weaving expert, Mr. Chatterton has no claim to ask the public to put his experience by the side of the best technical skill of Europe, for his experience in the matter only began when I drew his attention to the question, and though he has superciliously alluded to my efforts as the ‘dilettantism of the artist, ‘I prefer to rely upon the best technical skill of Europe in these questions, rather than upon the amateur experiments of departmental officials. I have no interest whatever in recommending Messrs. Hattersley, beyond my knowledge of their position as the best English technical experts, and as the only ones who have ventured a considerable amount of capital in perfecting weaving apparatus for India so far without any adequate return. The Roumanian Government aided them considerably in making a success of their apparatus in that State, and I think that in their efforts to perfect the mechanical efficiency of weaving appliances in India they are entitled to more encouragement than they have received from the official who is responsible for these matters in Madras.