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De-industrialization in the Nineteenth Century: Myth or Reality

Amit Bhattacharya

By Amiya Kumar Bagchi
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 303, Rs. 795.00


This book is a collection of nine articles on different aspects of the economic history of India during British colonial rule. They were published in Nineteenth Century Studies, Bengal Past Present, Journal of Development Studies, Frontier, Journal of Peasant Studies, IESHR, as also in edited books like Essays in Honour of Professor S.C.Sarkar.   If one makes a comparison between the condition in India during the preBritish/lateMughal period with that in contemporary Britain/preIndustrial Revolution Britain, one will be able to see that the quality of products made in the Indian industrial centres was far superior to that produced in Britain. There was no factory industry in Britain then; whatever industry there was in India at that time belonged mainly to the category of handicrafts and partly to that of manufactory. Indian products, particularly cotton and silk textiles were fairly wellknown throughout the world and exported to many countries in Southeast Asia, West Asia and Europe. However, British colonial rule coming in the succeeding stages of merchant capitalism and industrial capitalism, ruined indigenous industries along with their technical knowhowsa phenomenon seen in other colonies also and generally came to be known as 'deindustrialization.'   After the establishment of British rule in Bengal and some other parts of India, the East India company and its agents virtually reduced petty commodity producers, specially weavers(for whose goods there was a great demand in Europe), into virtual slaves whom they coerced into selling their products much below their value. William Bolts, who had served in Bengal from 1760 to 1768, observed: Inconceivable oppressions and hardships have been practised towards the poor manufacturers and workmen of the country, who are, in fact, monopolized by the(English East India) Company as so many slaves (Considerations on Indian Affairs, London, 1772). According to him, there were innumerable methods of oppressing the poor weavers, by which the number of weavers in the country has been greatly decreased. The prices of goods which the Company was interested in buying were fixed in all places at least fifteen per cent, and in some even forty per cent less than the goods so manufactured would sell for in the public Bazar, or market, upon a free sale, Bolts wrote. The weavers were reduced to the position of indentured workers by the companys regulations issued between 1775 and 1789. Advances of money were forced on them and in case of defaults, and such cases ...

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