Friday, September 10, 2010

Harry Rivett-Carnac was sent to India by the colonial government in 1867 as 'Cotton Commissioner for the Central Provinces and the Berars'. At that time this area stretching eastwards from Nagpur was one of the most productive cotton textile regions of the country. Originally ruled by the Nizam of Hyderabad, it was wrested from him by Curzon [the Nizam was compensated by an empty British title 'Grand Commander of the Bath'..."Gave Curzon Berar" was his bitter comment].

Rivett-Carnac zealously set about his task of emptying the region of cotton through improved rail and telegraph. The result is chronicled in Laxman D Satya's Cotton and Famine in Berar: 1850-1900. In the course of his duties Rivett-Carnac as is the wont of the 19th century European official, meticulously recorded his observations which are available in his Report on the Operations of the Cotton Department for the Year 1867. In the Report he quotes from another Report, this one on the Assessment of the Land Revenue of the Chimmoor Pergunnah in the Chanda District, December 1864:

"An important article of trade in Chimmoor which finds its way to the weekly fair, and which, strange to say, has not been much affected by the great rise in the price of the raw material, is the manufacture of coarse cloth, which is entirely in the hands of the Dhers, who spin the thread and work the looms. The cloth is coarse and strong, and is in great favour among the Kunbees of Berar, hard-working practical men, whom the comparatively flimsy, but smart looking English-made cloth does not suit..."

The author goes on to detail the number of stalls at the Jamoorghotta weekly market; of which 572 of the 1424 deal in cloth, yarn and cotton. Of these 572, by far the largest segment is the 350 Dhers selling 'coarse cloth of their own manufacture'. The market itself he says ' must be remembered is but one of the many places to which the peasantry flock for the cloth made by the Dhers...' He reckons the 'annual consumption of cotton in these Provinces to be not less than 60,000 bales'

Dhers, of course, were not weavers by caste. Caste weavers would not make their own yarn whereas the Dhers seem to have ginned and carded the cotton themselves and woven the cloth too. I wonder if they figure at all in our estimates of the scale of the Indian cotton textile industry of that time. If there are 350 sellers of the coarse stuff at one of the many weekly markets of the area, besides 110 'Rungarees, dyers, selling stamped and dyed cloth, native, 25 shops selling expensive turbans, dhotees, shawls &c of native manufacture, 5 Koshtees, weavers of finer native cloth, and 5 Salewurs selling coloured cloth for women besides 25 wholesale traders of cotton and 25 sellers of cotton thread' what would have been the total annual local production of cloth? [There are also 5 'shops selling English cloth &c']. And how many families would have been employed in the spinning, dyeing, printing, weaving, transport and trade? And what would have been the value of the local textile industry?

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