There are three types of industries, 1. Major or heavy or large scale industries, 2. Small-scale industries and 3. Village or cottage industries. In the first two categories, machinery is used and less number of men is employed. The third category is mostly rural based and carried on by men individually. For example, the potter, the black smith, the gold-smith, the tailor, the weaver, and the carpenter could all be considered as those working in cottage industries.
India was very famous for cottage industries in the past. Each village or a group of villages had these artisans. The raw material required for them was available in villages. The skill required was passed on from father to son for generations. It was the basis for caste system.
On account of continued involvement of the family members in the industry they became specialists and did their work with excellence. Prior to the British, India was conquered by many and they all came and settled in India and encouraged cottage industries. In the case of British they came here as traders and later became rulers. They took away all the raw material from India, and dumped finished goods on India. They killed the indigenous cottage industries.
India was famous for weaving handloom clothes in cotton and silk. Its people were also famous for dyeing and printing in works like Kalamkari. Similarly, there were famous goldsmiths and were making good jewellery. The British not only took away the raw material but they also imposed the influence of western industrialization on India. The establishment of cotton mills, though small in number, deprived the traditional weavers of their occupation.
The advancements in science and technology, the invention of plastic and synthetic fibers and the use of these to make household and agricultural tools deprived the potters, blacksmiths, and carpenters of their professions.
English education which gave better job opportunities and which also was a better status symbol attracted the traditional artisans to leave their ancestral occupations and run after clerical jobs. The establishment of industries resulted in the migration of many artisans as laborers to work in factories. Except for agricultural laborers nobody could eventually stay in villages. The British rule turned the once prosperous villages into poverty stricken huts.
Gandhiji brought in the Swadeshi Movement to ban foreign goods and encourage Indian goods. He wanted to re-establish to old glory of our villages where 80% of our population lived. In his programme of Rural Reconstruction he suggested the use of spinning, weaving, oil mongering, carpentry, cobbler, pottery, etc, to be revived. During his period when the Swadeshi Movement was at its zenith, some life came back to cottage industries.
After Gandhiji the Swadeshi concept died on its own. After the British left, Indians took over the large industries. The cottage industry cold not competes with them as their products were cheap and better finished. The use of electricity and gas made the production cheap and there was no need for much of manual labor.
Tastes and fashions also changed with the expansion of roads, transport and communications. Radio and T.V. advertise many products with which an artisan working in a village cannot compete all by himself. So even though everybody says that cottage industries are to be revived, very little can be done when the tastes of the users have changed. There is need in villages now for mechanized skill as they have also become modern. They use electric pump sets, mechanized tools and modern methods in agriculture.
Still the government can help the revival of cottage industries by giving monopoly rights to them in certain areas like bee-keeping, soap making, handmade paper, sericulture, silk weaving and allied sectors based on natural resources. Experience and expertise will reduce the cost of production in coming years. This is one way to preserve our age-old cottage industries.
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