Causes of Decline:
- Decline of Indian courts: The disappearance of Indian courts struck the first blow at Indian handicrafts. As native states passed under British rule, the demand for fine articles, for display in durbars and other ceremonial occasions disappeared. The ordinary demand did continue for sometime longer, but the younger generation lacked the means and inducement to patronise the arts and handicrafts. And they declined.
- The Establishment of British Rule: The establishment of British rule in India affected cottage industries both directly and indirectly. Directly it led to the establishment of peace and order in the country which adversely affected such handicrafts as the inlaying of arms, weapons and shields. This craft was common in the Punjab and Sindh. By eliminating the need for such weapons and by prohibiting their possession and use, the British reduced the industry to producing ornamental knick-knacks for European tourists. Similarly, the establishment of the British rule made it necessary, through an un-written order, for Indians to wear patent leather shoes when in the presence of British superiors.This brought about the decay of the embroidered shoe industry. Indirectly, the British rule weekend the power of the guilds which regulated trade and supervised the quality of work done. As a consequence, evils such as the adulteration of raw materials and poor workmanship crept in and artistic and commercial value of the products deteriorated.
- Western Education: The new system of English education was another contributory factor. In the early stages, the newly educated Indians were more westernized than even the Europeans themselves. They blindly accepted European standards and fashions and looked down upon everything Indian. Matters came to such a sorry pass that to follow European tastes was regarded as the hall mark of enlightenment. As a result, demand for the products of indigenous industries declined while that for Europeans goods increased.
- Introduction of New Patterns: With the disappearance of Indian states, old rulers and nobles also disappeared and their place was taken up by the European Officers and tourists. Indian craftsmen, however, did not clearly understand the forms and patterns which suited European tastes. They tried to please their new customers by copying their forms and patterns. Very often, the new products were very poor copies of the original and “lacked the vigour and life” of the indigenous products. An instance of this kind is furnished by the Kaftgiri Industry in the Punjab which declined due to indiscreet European patronage.
- Competition of Machine Made Goods: Apart from the abolition of Indian courts and the introduction of foreign influences, it was the superior manufacturing technique based on power and improved machinery which enabled the British manufacturers to drive the Indian artisans from out of their home market. It was what Ranade calls, the competition of Natures’ powers against man’s labour’ which completed the ruin of Indian handicrafts. The invention of the power loom in Europe brought about the ruin of the Indian textile industry and, by 1834-35,” the bones of the cotton-weavers were bleaching the plains of India.” The same story may be recounted of other Indian industries such as the ship-building Iron smelting, glass, dyeing and paper manufacture. The Indian domestic and cottage handicrafts could not possibly have withstood foreign competition which was backed by a powerful industrial organisation, big machinery, large-scale production and complex division of labour. The difficulties of the Indian industries were further aggravated by the construction of the Suez canal, fall in freight rates and the reduction of transport costs which made British goods more cheap in India.
- Policy of the British Govt.: In the beginning, the commercial interests of East India company led it to encourage Indian industries because its exports from India were largely drawn from them. This policy, however, met with determined opposition from vested interests in England which compelled the company to concentrate only on the export of raw- materials so necessary for the expanding British Industries. This policy of making India subservient to the industries of Great Britain was followed with rare determination and fatal success. Orders were issued to force Indian artisans, especially silk-winders, to work in the company’s factories and not in their homes; commercial residents were vested with extensive legal powers over villages and communities of Indian weavers. The use of dyed Indian calicoes was prohibited. Extensive use was made of custom duties to crush Indian industries. For instance, in 1813, cotton and silk goods of India could be profitably sold in the British market at a price 50-60% lower than the price of cloth manufactured in England. However, duties ranging from 70-80% on their value were imposed on Indian textiles in order to drive them out of the British market.
- Role of Intermediaries: Except the village subsistence and rural art industries, in all others, the extension of the market led to the emergence of dealers and financiers who reduced the artisans to “hewers of wood and drawers of water” for their masters. The part played by middlemen in bringing about this stale of affairs is best illustrated by the activities of the East India Company itself. The company, being a dealer in the products of cottage industries, made advances in cash and raw-materials to buy the finished products. Having done so once, it held the craftsmen under its iron grip. For example, it provided that a weaver, who had received advances from the company, “shall on no account give to any other person, European or native, either the labour or the produce engaged to the company” that, on his selling the cloth to others, the “weaver shall be liable to be prosecuted in the Diwani Adalat” ; that weaver “shall be subject to a penalty of 35% on the stipulated price of every piece of cloth that he fails to deliver according to the written agreement”. Whenever the artisans were unable to carry out the agreements forced upon them, their goods were forcibly seized and sold on the spot to make good the deficiency. Unable to resist this injustice, many weavers “cut off their thumbs to prevent their being forced to weave silk.”