Wednesday, September 19, 2012

India’s cotton cloth: the once & future king

This is the abstract of my talk in Delhi at India International Centre planned for October 6:
India for at least 18 centuries was the acknowledged world leader in cotton textiles, making a breathtaking diversity of fabrics. With the entry of the British East India Company into production in the mid 19th century the chain of interdependence between cotton farmers and weavers was broken, losing with it the process of cotton textile production that had made India the world’s supplier of cotton cloth. 

The background of the talk is the history of  the traditional Indian cotton textile industry over millennia. Since Roman times cotton cloth from India had been exported to Europe. But for the first time in the early 19th century there were European interventions in production: Changes were introduced by the East India Company into both cotton textile making and cotton growing. Spinning was mechanized & centralized. Cotton had now to be grown for one standardized type of machine, in other words nature had to adapt to technology, rather than – as before - flexible technologies adapted to a huge diversity of cotton varieties.  The damaging effects of those changes on the environment and on the Indian cotton textile industry can be felt today.

The last part is the 20 year story of malkha, from the 1990s to the present. Malkha combines traditional and cutting edge technologies to suit a contemporary context, replacing the resource intensive process of industrial yarn making with a series of small-scale, village based, field-to-fabric production chains.

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