Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Letter from a suffering spinner

This letter, from the 1820s written in Bengali and printed in the Bengali paper Samachar Darpan, is one of the million stories of how the thousands years old Indian cotton textile industry was deliberately undermined by Colonial policy, and how the links between the stages of spinning and weaving broken:

“To the Editor, The Samachar,

I am a spinner.  After having suffered a great deal, I am writing this letter. I have heard that, if it is published, it will reach those who may lighten my distress and fulfil my desire. Please do not slight this letter from a poor sufferer.

I am very unfortunate.  It would be a long story if I were to write all about my sufferings. Still I must write in brief.

When my age was five and a half gandas (22) I became a widow with three daughters.  My husband left nothing at the time of his death wherewith to maintain my old father -and mother-in-law and three daughters...I sold my jewellery for his shraddha ceremony.  At last as we were on the verge of starvation God showed me a way by which we could save ouselves.  I began to spin on takli and charkha. In the morning I used to do the usual work of cleaning the house and then sit at the charkha till noon, and after cooking and feeding the old parents and daughters I would have my fill and sit spinning fine yarn on the takli.  Thus I used to spin about a tola.  The weavers used to visit our houses and buy the charkha yarn at three tolas per rupee.  Whatever amount I wanted as advance from the weavers, I could get for the asking.  This saved us from cares about food and cloth. In a few years' time I got together seven ganda rupees (Rs28).  With this I married one daughter.  And in the same way all three daughters. There was no departure from caste customs. Nobody looked down upon these daughters because I gave all concerned ....what was due to them.  When my father-in-law died I spent eleven ganda rupees (Rs 44) on his shraddha.  This money was lent me by the weavers which I repaid in a year and a half.  And all this through the grace of the charkha.  Now for 3 years we two women, mother-in-law and I, are in want of food.  The weavers do not call at the house for buying yarn.  Not only this, if the yarn is sent to the market, it is not sold even at one-fourth the old prices.  I do not know how it happened.  I asked many about it.  They say that bilati (foreign) yarn is being largely imported. The weavers buy that yarn and weave.  I had a sense of pride that bilati yarn could not be equal to my yarn, but when I got bilati yarn a saw that it was better than my yarn. I heard that its price is Rs 3 or Rs 4 per seer.  I beat my brow and said, ‘Oh God, there are sisters more distressed even than I. I had thought that all men of Bilat were rich, but now I see that there are women there who are poorer than I'. I fully realized the poverty which induced those poor women to spin.  They have sent the product of so much toil out here because they could not sell it there.  It would have been something if they were sold here at good prices.  But it has brought our ruin only.  Men cannot use the cloth out of this yarn even for two months; it rots away.  I therefore entreat the spinners over there that, if they will consider this representation, they will be able to judge whether it is fair to send yarn here or not.”

The English translation is printed by Gandhi in Young India in 1931 with his caustic comments on Imperial policy. We tend to forget that the Industrial Revolution was built on the suffering and devastation of millions of people and of the countryside, first in England, then wherever it spread. 

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