1. Question from UPSC Mains
  2. How to write Introduction? (Define / Data / Origin)
  3. Body#1: Colonization -> Artisans hurt
  4. Body#2: Artisans hurt -> Rural Economy Hurt
  5. Conclusion (Examine -> Finding)
  6. Pitfalls / Afterthoughts

Question from UPSC Mains

so far, I have solved the first eleven questions of UPSC Mains General Studies Paper1 (2017).. Now time for the 12th:

  • Q12. Examine how the decline of traditional artisanal industry in colonial India crippled the rural economy. (250 words, 15 marks, asked in GSM1-2017)
  • परिक्षण कीजिए की औपनिवेशिक भारतमें पारम्परिक कारीगरी उद्योग के पतन ने किस प्रकार ग्रामीण अर्थव्यवस्था को अपंग बना दिया.

How to write Introduction? (Define / Data / Origin)

There are three ways to begin an answer

  • Define: But, it’ll look poor and pedestrians to begin with definitions like “Traditional artisans means persons engaged in weaving, tanning, leatherwork, pottery, glasswork and metalsmithing.”
  • Data: We can begin the answer by throwing statistics related to rural economy before and after the entry of Europeans. But such data is hard to find, harder to remember. Better start with origin.
  • Origin: We can start by describing how ‘rural economy’ functioned before colonization. Then in body parts we can demonstrate how rural economy crippled with decline of artisans.

Introduction (Origin):

There were two types of economic transactions in a rural economy involving traditional artisans:

  1. Contractual transactions: Artisans would to supply goods to court nobles and temple elite in exchange of the patronage and as a payment for land revenue for the land allotted to them for cultivation.
  2. Spot transaction: Peasants, tribal and artisans would come to weekly haats and annual fairs to sell their goods and buy what they needed using barter system.

decline of traditional artisanal industry in colonial India crippled the rural economy

Body#1: Colonization -> Artisans hurt

The entry of European, and the process colonization of India hurt the artisanal industry in following ways-

  • The British had annexed large number of the princely states in India. Traditional rulers, court nobles and temple elites were ruined- consequently artisans were deprived of patrons and contractual transactions.
  • British flooded Indian markets with cheap factory made goods. If an ordinary goods has substitutes, then its demand tends to be price-elastic e.g. when cheap machine made cutlery, spades, textile are available, potter, blacksmiths, weavers will suffer a fall in demand. So, in the “domestic sale”, the local artisans had to either cut down prices or stop production. Thus even in spot transactions, he earned less compared to the pre-colonial times.
  • Still there was good demand of Indian handicrafts – particular carpets and ivory among European nobles for aesthetic purpose and as status-symbols. BUT
    • To tieup with such overseas ‘patrons’, an artisan required more working capital, transport-logistics and business network. It gave rise to ‘intermediate economy’ i.e. town bankers and merchants would purchase artisanal goods in bulk, and send it to London for auction and would gulp down large chunk of payment as commission.
    • Unscrupulous Indian merchants started factories in urban areas, and began producing cheap quality knockoff items, because ultimate foreign buyers were unfamiliar about how to judge fine Indian craftsmanship. Thus rural artisans saw further fall in demand for genuine & expensive handcrafted items.

Above text alone is ~200 words, but you can compress it by focusing only on the bold parts. I had to elaborate for educational purpose.

Body#2: Artisans hurt -> Rural Economy Hurt

Artisan hurt-> Rural eco.hurt: Weekly haats hurt-> tribal economy hurt

  • In the weekly rural haats tribals used to supply lac, wax, wood, resin, natural varnish and dyes, hides, tusks and bones, certain rock minerals and other minor forest produce (MFP) to the artisans as raw material. [साप्ताहिक ग्रामीण हाट, लघु वन-उपज.]
  • But in the colonial India, the artisans didnot require so many MFP to produce high quality goods, because patronage of court & temple elites declined. And in the exported items for foreign patrons, the intermediary merchants would insist on using minimal number of cheapest inputs to maximize profits, because ultimate foreign buyers were unfamiliar about how to judge fine Indian craftsmanship. The tribal hunters and gatherers saw fall in demand.
  • A barter system based weekly haat can’t thrive if one of its stakeholder suffer. Under the British rule, both peasants and artisans were suffering. Consequently, spots-transactions declined and weekly haats stopped at many villages. Tribals and small peasants who produced little marketable surplus- couldn’t find buyers easily.

Artisan hurt-> Rural eco.hurt bcoz Intermediaries increased

  • Previously, both production and consumption of traditional crafts were primarily rural. Hence ‘middlemen’ didnot occupy prominent space in the economic transactions. Quality standards were strict as buyers were local and knew about the criteria to judge fine craftsmanship.
  • Thus, landed peasantry dominated the economic and social relations in rural economy before colonization.
  • But in colonial India, weekly haat based barter system declined, and artisans and farmers did not have surplus-cash to buy their inputs material. So, “cash, credit and contract-transactions” increased e.g. farmer to Baniya / plantation owners, weaver to carpet-exporters.
  • As cash, credit and contract gained prominence- Merchants, bankers, Baniya and other intermediaries begun to dominate the economic and social relations in rural economy during colonization. [मध्यस्थको / बिचौलियों की वृधि हुई]
  • Their usury (ब्याजखोरी) and unscrupulous trade practices led to further impoverishment of tribals and small peasants.

Artisan hurt-> Rural eco.hurt bcoz farm labour uncertainty

  • Before coloniazation, rural economy was mainly centered around grain-based barter system. [अनाज आधारित वस्तु विनिमय अर्थव्यवस्था]
  • To cultivate grains, peasant required minimal capital.
  • Family members of the village tanner, potter and blacksmith would also act as farm labourer. [खेत मजदूर]
  • Thus farmers and artisans had a mutually beneficial economic relationship.
  • But as colonial rule began to ruin crafts industry, the traditional artisans would migrate to cotton/jute mills, sugar, cement, paper, woollen mills, brewery, and steel industries.
  • However, with wars and recessions in USA and Europe these factories would see boom and bust cycles– leading to influx and outflow of artisanal families, thereby affecting supply of farm labourers, affecting production of foodgrains, thereby aggravating the impact of famines.
  • Commercialization of agriculture, shift towards cash crops and British land revenue & tenancy systems made the farmers dependent on moneylenders and plantation owners. In such atmosphere, the uncertainty about farm labour availability further increased the farmers’ distress.

Conclusion (Examine -> Finding)

Question says “Examine”, so we’ve to present finding in the conclusion (which is merely the summary of what I’ve written in the body-headings.)

Traditional artisan was an important cog in the rural economy. As his situation deteriorated in the processes of colonization, rural economy too was hurt by the fall of weekly haats, rise of intermediaries, farm labour uncertainty and the impoverishment of tribals and small peasants.

Pitfalls / Afterthoughts

  • Answer is ~1000 words but I had to elaborate for educational purpose. In real exam, can’t recall every point so automatically this will compress to 250 words- when you focus only on the bold-lines.
  • Avoid “Haay haay” type of sentimental answer e.g. Candidate focuses excessively on how artisans and peasants were impoverished, they were dying of famines, malnutrition, atrocities by plantation owners, zamindars and money lenders etc. That is all correct, but the UPSC examiner has specifically asked you to examine “how fall of artisan -> crippled rural economy”. Therefore, answer should focus on highlighting that linkage, instead of wasting time and words & getting all too sentimental about suffering.
  • To prepare this answer, I’ve used The Economic History of India 1857-1947 Book by Tirthankar Roy. Because the routine books focus too much on individual farmer / artisan’s hardship without explaining the finer nuances of rural economy functions e.g. spot vs contractual transaction, tribals and MFP etc.
  • But that is not to say you should also read this book, because one swallow doesn’t make summer, and one should not change reading strategy merely because one question could be solved in better manner from a particular book.
  • Besides, Mains is not about writing the best answer, but about writing a less bad answer than others. But even to do that within given time limit, you’ve to practice answer writing.

Visit Mrunal.org/Mains for more on the Art of Answer-Writing.