British colonialism severely impacted the Indian textile industry and economy during the 100-year colonial period, and has had long-lasting effects progression and development of this industry today. These impacts can be attributed to the rapid advancements in technology, reformation of state policy, and the strict rule of the British Raj in the 19th and 20th centuries. During this period, India’s textile industry stood as the most lucrative form of income for the nation, contributing roughly ‘14% to the overall Index of Industrial Production (IIP), 5% to India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and 13% to India’s total exports’ (Goyal, Kaur & Aggarwal 2017, p. 16). During the establishment of the British Raj and throughout governance, India was subject to policy changes and the restructuring of national interest from Indian to British values. New policies included bans on exports of Indian textiles into Britain and capitalist systems of land taxation to stimulate and maintain the economic prosperity of the ruling class. Policy changes were accompanied by a change in social order, as the introduction of land taxation systems provided a multilevel power distribution in society, leading to the abuse and degradation of the working class. This class divide in society was exacerbated under the British Raj, allowing colonialists to abuse and mistreat working class individuals. Aiming to destroy the Indian textile industry, colonialists forged a pathway for Britain’s fabric exports to dominate the textile trade industry during the industrial revolution period, through the importation of efficient mechanised textile production at low costs.

The introduction of the Calico Acts in Britain in the 1700s, substantially impacted on India’s trade, barring off one of its major trading partners of calico and other textiles. Prior to the expansion of the population of Britain after the 1750s, the number of sheep greatly outnumbered the human population; as the state became popular for ‘its high-quality wool’ which was imported into the Europe ‘as far back as the roman times’ (Spear 2016, p. 53). Compounded with this influx of wool, Britain pushed to discover more efficient ‘sophisticated production methods’, and these methods lead to the increased wealth in the agriculture and textiles sector (Spear 2016, p. 53). Amounting great wealth, a newly implemented ‘wool tax’ became the government’s largest source of revenue. Linking back to India’s textile trade, to protect the interests of the wool industry, the British Parliament introduced the Calico Acts in 1700 to limit the import of cotton goods from India, the world’s dominant textile manufacturer. The East India Trading Company (EIC) would trade cotton ‘in the form of calico, a dyed or printed textile that could be used for things like drapes, bed sheets, dresses, and other clothing’ (Fisher 2012, p. 2). Moreover, by the time of the industrial revolution, Britain’s barring of cotton imports allowed the wool industry to flourish. In tandem with the increase of efficient methods of production, Spear (2016, p. 54) describes this enhancement in technology as ‘labour saving machinery’ that increased ‘employment and prosperity’. However, this transfer to machine-based production led many ‘hand loom’ workers to ‘riot’ and carry out ‘attacks on employers’ (Spear 2016, p. 54). The cotton boom in Britain was period of devastation for the Indian Textile Industry, as ‘innovations such as the stocking frame, the flying shuttle and the spinning jenny’ allowed textiles to be manufactured more efficiently and accurately (Spear 2016, p. 54). John Kay played an active role in the transformation of the textile industry by introduced the ‘flying shuttle’, which provided ‘double the output of a weaver’ thus causing implications for industries around the world (Spear 2016, p. 54). More efficient methods of production allowed cotton products to be sold at cheaper prices, eliminating competition with the more expensive Indian industry which relied on laborious and time-consuming production from hand weavers. Thwarting the progress of the Indian textile industry further, as of 1653 the ‘Dutch intra-Asian trade in Coromandel textiles’ sought to import fabrics at low prices, advertently removing any competition with the Indian textile market which relied on hand-based production sold at a higher price (Prakash 1998, p. 3). However, advancements in modes of production such as ‘the conversion of handlooms into power-driven small weaving factories’ aided the Indian textile industry during the post-colonial period (Roy 1999, p. 7). After the colonial rule was ousted in 1947, the Indian government could institute new policy for the state to revive the industries that were suppressed under British Rule. India underwent a ‘rapid and sustained growth’ of the economy from ‘mid 1985 to early 2005’ after almost 40 years of restructuring state policy (Tomlinson 2013, p. 189). In attempt stimulate the growth of their fabric industry, during the industrial revolution Britain engaged in unilateral action to eliminate India as its main competitor in the global textile trade. The introduction of the Calico Acts in the 1700s combined with the introduction of cheap European fabric imports severely stunted the development of the state. However, India has been able to later revive these industries and is continuing to expand its influence in the global textile market.

Throughout the colonial period, systems of land taxation were introduced under the British Raj to maintain the wealth of the ruling class and eliminate social mobility at the expense of agricultural development. The agricultural sector to plays a vital role in providing the natural resources utilised by the Indian textile industry and thus, implementing taxation systems stunts the growth of both sectors simultaneously. Throughout the 18th century, ‘land tax consisted of ‘more than two-thirds’ of total ‘government revenue’ (Skinner 1991, p. 494). These systems significantly impacted India’s agricultural sector, as workers were required to pay tax which consisted of most of their income. First of the three systems was the deemed the Zamindari system, requiring landowners (Zamindars) to collect taxes from farmers, transferring much of this sum upwards to the ruling class and keeping a sizable portion for themselves (Jha 2005, p. 2). Ultimately, this system sought to maintain the social status of the working class by severely limiting financial development. The Mahalwari system would seek to institute a socialist framework for society by redistributing the wealth claimed on land tax back to the workers (Bandyopadhyay, 1993, p. 151). Although this framework theoretically favours the cultivators of the land, the introduction of this system drove individuals to work in agriculture, weakening the development of other industrial sectors. Bandyopadhyay (1993, p. 151) presents that the Mahalwari structure assisted the establishment of a ‘large agrarian proletariat’, widening the divide between working and ruling classes (Marx and Engels 1848). Moreover, both classes require the other to function effectively to survive. The Mahalwari system aims to exacerbate the divide between these two classes, as there is no room for social mobility or opportunity for disadvantaged individuals to attain greater monetary success. Sir Thomas Munro introduced the Ryotwari system to broaden the divide between the working and ruling classes (Banerjee 2005, p. 1198). This system entailed governments collecting taxes directly from the Ryot (or land cultivators) leading to greater government revenue as the money was being directly extracted from the workers and not through Zamindars (land owners). However, direct taxation further stagnated social mobility, as individuals were forced to comply with the demands of the ruling class and live on only a subsistence wage. Throughout the colonial period under British Rule, India’s agricultural sector saw little to no development under the strict taxation policy and lack of agrarian investment. In the early 1950s, states around India abrogated landlords and intermediaries, closing the class gap between land cultivators and government officials (Banerjee 2005, p. 1202). Research conducted by Banerjee (2005, p. 1215) illustrates that the redistribution of wealth occurred at the greatest level in ‘landlord areas’, and there was an observable level of ‘decline in inequality’ in these areas due to ‘social conflict’ and worker ‘insurgency movements’. This research conducted on financial inequality on an agrarian level concludes that post-colonial movements allowed the working class to culminate and oppress the ruling class in search for a more equal social structure. Moreover, the establishment of the Indian Constitution (1949) and Land Ceiling Acts of the 1970s required states to undertake financial redistribution to stimulate the growth of the agricultural sector after a period of stagnation under colonial rule (Jha 2005, p. 2). The implementation of land taxation systems by the British Raj stunted the growth of the agricultural sector and the Indian textile industry. These attempts to increase government revenue placed extreme pressure on cultivators living on subsistence wages to work and survive. However, post-colonial efforts to stimulate growth of these industries has been successful, as Land Cultivation Acts under the newly founded constitution aim to redistribute wealth back into the agrarian financial ecosystem. Unrestricted post-colonial agricultural development now fosters advancements in technology, boosting efficiency and productivity for both textile and agrarian sectors.

British colonialist neglect for the development of India’s textile industry led to the destruction of cotton mills and textile factories, coupled with the verbal and physical abuse experienced by workers in the industry. This disregard was expressed through the lack of care for the environment of workers especially in the initial stages of the textile production process. The region of Girangaon, Mumbai was essential for providing cotton for India’s textile industry, and was home to ‘ninety-seven mills’ between ‘1855 and 1925’ (Chandavarkar 1994, p. 244). However, only five mills remained in 1925 as the pre-existing mills had either been ‘burnt down, closed or dismantled’ (Chandavarkar 1994, p. 244). This example illustrates the colonialists’ attempt to depreciate the Indian textile ecosystem, allowing Britain’s development to surpass India as the dominant player in the global textile trade. Extending on from the lack of development in the Indian textile industry, colonial rulers focused more on infrastructural as opposed to agricultural development. Infrastructural development and urbanisation draws rural workers to migrate in search of more stable and lucrative employment. Zachariah (1968) found that urban workforces ‘consists overwhelmingly of migrants’ showing Britain’s advertent attempts to depreciate rural, agrarian development. Constant focus on urbanisation could be justified as an attempt to foster a growing society with focus on enhancing technology, transportation and production, however this posed a substantial threat to agrarian development which India’s economy heavily relied on. Physical abuse of Indian weavers occurred in a torturous form as the British officials would cut off the fingers of weavers ‘in order to protect the machines’ (Tharoor 1993, p. 126). Coupled with the inhumane treatment of the workers, on the mills and in textile factories labour had to be restricted to a twelve-hour day due to ‘chaos and strikes’ (Chandavarkar 1994, p. 353). Strikes occurred prior to independence and large labour forces stood up against the authoritative colonial government and millowners demanding justice for the degrading harassment and mistreatment of workers in the mills and textile factories. Workers were able to carry out ‘long general strikes… between 1919 and 1940’ in search of a safe work environment (Chandavarkar 1994, p. 194). Although mostly unsuccessful, strikes manifested into protests, leading to the widely held societal belief that independence must be attained. Post-colonial advances in workers’ rights has been limited, as textile industry owners illegally continue to operate under the Sumangali scheme, an illegal form of child labour in Tamil Nadu (Veeravali 2010). The colonialists’ abuse of Indian textile weavers and plantation workers still exists in modern Indian society, as workers continue to advocate for rights. The image of the authoritative colonialist is embodied by wealthy individuals and government officials in Indian society today, and there continues to be unified system of workers’ rights. Lastly, there is little post-colonial advancement in safe labor practices and this issue continues to plague the textile industry.

              Britain’s colonial conquest in India has been substantially impactful on the growth of the Indian textile industry. Occupying full control through coercion, the colonialists instituted values and policies to enhance British development in Europe through limiting the development of its largest trading competitor. Through exacerbating the class divide, the British could establish themselves as a dominant ruling sector, subsequently eliminating social mobility through taxation and financial control in the country. Coercion and force is evident in small scale industries, as production and output is valued over individual wellbeing and worker rights. Post-colonial efforts to enhance development of the textile industry have been successful, as restrictions and barriers instituted by the British were lifted after independence. Overall, Britain has had a substantial negative impact on the growth and development of the Indian textile industry during the colonial period, and the lack of economic growth can be attributed to the colonialists’ neglect for India’s largest and most lucrative industry.


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