THE mid-nineteenth-century expectation was, as we earlier noted, of an imminent Indian industrial revolution, but, crucially, one based entirely on the rapid development of modern factory industry. Concerning India’s traditional handicraft industries, the contemporary assumption — dramatised in Marx’s famous phrase about ‘the British intruder who broke up the Indian hand-loom and destroyed the spinning wheel’ [5: 91] — was of grave decline created by competition from Western manufactured imports. Since, however, the actual development of the modern industrial sector proved sluggish and patchy, this latter interpretation has raised, for the subsequent historiography, fundamental issues about the overall progress of industrialisation in India. The problem can be presented most clearly in employment terms. As late as 1931, workers in modern factory industry totalled only just over 1.5 million out of a population of around 353 million [17: 136]. Obviously any substantial fall in activity in the handicrafts industry, more widely distributed within the economy, could have more than counterbalanced this, producing overall decline in industrial employment. At the outset of our investigation of industrialisation, then, we need to consider whether the effective trend in nineteenth-century India was actually towards ‘de-industrialisation’.
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