Industry and Trade during British rule

The industrial populations of India, before modern methods of production were introduced, were of two types, the village artisans and those engaged in specialisation crafts in the towns. The craftsmen in the towns made goods of utility as well as luxury products and had markets both inside and outside the country.


The cotton textiles formed the chief item among these specialised products. It’s important centres of production were Dhaka, Krishnanagar, Banaras, Lucknow, Agra, Multan, Lahore, Burhanpur, Surat, Broach, Ahmedabad and Madurai. The chief luxury varieties were Calico and Muslin.

The ship-building industry of India in the 17th and 18th centuries had earned fame and the most important ship building yards were at Goa, Surat, Masulipatnam, Satgaon, Dhaka and Chittagong. With the gradual abolition of the princely order in the British territories, demand for finer varieties of Indian industrial products went on declining. Some of the princes and nobles used to retain expert craftsmen on a regular salary. But the British officials who replaced the nobles did not patronise the Indian craftsmen to an equal degree. In fact, it was only in the territories where Indian princes continued to rule that some of the traditional crafts survived.

India’s destiny now lay in the hands of the traders and industrialist of Britain. By the end of the 17th century the demand for Indian cotton goods in England went so high that the native textile industry there got crippled. This led to the passing of laws in Britain in the year 1700 and again in 1720 prohibiting the entry of many varieties of the Indian textile products. Indian Chint (a kind of printed cloth produced in Lucknow) was a favourite with English ladies.

By 1754, the English printers were claiming to have excelled the Indian workmanship. When in Dhaka, the biggest centre for producing Muslin, the weavers resisted this and demanded higher price for their goods. Bengal received the finest varieties of cotton from the Deccan. The company’s officials used to make purchase of Deccan cotton in bulk and sold it to the weavers of Bengal at high prices. The most significant improvement in transport, however, began with the introduction of railways in India. In 1853, the first railway was started. It connected Bombay with Thane. In 1853, the telegraph was also introduced in India.

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