Tradition to tarnish: A story of India's textiles

Tradition to tarnish: A story of Indias textiles

India is one of the first third world countries to have a history with textile production, as early as 3000 BC. On one hand, India has a history of rich fabrics like gauze cotton, silk and brocade that are hand painted and have batik prints. On the other hand, the textile industry of India has been abused by the western countries extensively and there have been few who were able to survive the onslaught.

History of the Textile in India

Continuous research and archeological evidence shows that as early as 3000 BC, there was a thriving cotton production industry. In the 1340 A.D., the Sultan of Delhi employed approximately 4000 silk weavers to make robes for the royalties and dignitaries. India also dressed the Europeans who initially wore animal skin. The 1500s saw the emergence of Kashmiri shawls. Napoleon's Josephine owned approximately 300-400 of these beautiful Kashmiri shawls. With this rich history of textile, one would take India to be a world leader in the fine textiles industry today. But the reality is far from this. Instead, India is now a common contributor to the mass-produced textiles and garments over the world, mainly using bonded labor. What exactly happened?

In the 1700s and 1800s, the English government banned the import of cotton fabric from India for the good of the local flax and wool mills. They started mass production by using quick technology and cheap labor to compete the Indian cotton fabric. Mill owners imported raw cotton from American colonies, copied the colourful prints of India and then entered Indian market. They flooded the Indian local and export markets with their cheaply produced cotton fabric with the exact same design at very low prices.

During the time of WWI, when Europe and England were engrossed in war, India started its own mills. But they hired women on contracts to live in terrible conditions at very low pay rates and no health care facilities. This is the point in time where bonded labor came into existence. It has been declared illegal for time immemorial but there is lack of enforcement. And pay grades are still very low in textile industry with abysmal working conditions.

India is the second largest producer of fibre in the world, the largest producer of jute, the 2nd largest producer of silk and the 7th largest in wool. India's textile raw materials and fabricated garments are exported to several countries, namely Europe, Asia, Africa, and the United States.

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