The Market Revolution, Industrialization, and New Technologies

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What was the impact of the Industrial Revolution on India?

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The Industrial Revolution is a period in history from approximately 1770 through 1850 which was characterized by a change in the manufacturing process through the use of machinery and other innovations.  This time period brought about a distinct working class which worked in the factories of the wealthier class, often producing goods for relatively low pay in less than suitable conditions.  The central hub of the Industrial Revolution was Great Britain. However, the Industrial Revolution had a significant effect on many other countries around the globe.

Great Britain's East India Company collected revenue and raw material from the prosperous area of East India and sent the money and materials to Britain. In addition, after goods were manufactured in Britain, these goods were brought to India to be sold. Thus, India served to expand Britain's market for the sale of Britain's manufactured goods.

India, however, did not benefit from the Industrial Revolution in the way that Great Britain did. In fact, the economy of the country of India, which was once thriving, was devastated by the Industrial Revolution. Before the Industrial Revolution, India was the world leader in textile manufacturing and exporting. Throughout the Industrial Revolution, Great Britain exploited India until India's economy all but collapsed. 

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Even though India had various economic activities that contributed to its economy, the textile industry was a dominant contributor. Prior to industrial revolution, India had an internationally acclaimed cotton textile industry and exported to different parts of the world including Europe, Middle East and the Americas among others. In fact, in 1750, India is documented to have dominated the world’s cotton textile markets. India’s textile industry thrived because it had access to cheap labor that resulted in high quality but low priced calicoes. It is no wonder that the Indian calicoes were popular in Britain the end of the 17th century.

However, after the industrial revolution the table was turned as the textile imports to Britain were hurdled by stringent tariffs and other protectionist policies. Even though the imposed tariffs frustrated the Indian textile market, the superiority of the Indian calicoes remained unrivaled and people still imported it. It was not until the discovery and use of steam power as from 1815 that the Indian textile industry faced a market threat. The steam power made the previous inventions of the spinning mule and power loom more effective and efficient thus reducing the cost of British cotton by 85% and making it internationally competitive. By 1820, Britain was a leading world exporter of textiles significantly displacing India.

Also, India’s colonial masters imposed laws that dictated to the farmers which crops exactly to cultivate and how much crops to cultivate. This led to a situation where no food crops were cultivated because all the land was dedicated to production of raw materials for the British industries. The end result was famine and poverty. Therefore, industrial revolution turned India into a source of raw materials for British industries as well as a market for its finished products. The Indian economy also dwindled because its industrialization process was slowed down. Poverty and starvation also became common.

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The industrial revolution began with the birth of textile manufacturing in England.  Since India was under the imperial control of Britain, Indian farmers (as well as farmers all across the British empire) were forced to grow cotton to fuel the English factories.  Since the Indian farmers were forced to grow cotton as well as other cash crops vital to British interests (opium, rice, wheat & indigo) instead of food for domestic consumption the country was gripped by numerous extremely deadly famines from 1770 to 1900.

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