Give a brief account of Daniel Thorner’s critique of the Nationalist thesis on de-industrialization

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The subject of India’s de-industrialization during the colonial rule was one of the primary themes raised by the nineteenth-century nationalist intellectuals. The British cotton textile industry was criticized for the influx of British products into India, which resulted in the collapse of traditional handicraft industry and, in particular, the incomes and occupation of weavers and spinners. From Mahatma Gandhi, Lokmanya Tilak to Dadabhai Naoroji , nationalist leaders consistently emphasised the damaging effects of British produced products entering the country. As per nationalists, India was subjected to British economic requirements, becoming an importer of manufactured goods and an exporter of agricultural products. India was relegated to an agricultural  partner of the British economy during the Industrial Revolution in Britain. The expansion of industrialization in the modern sense did not make up the loss in artisanal output. The inflow of British manufactured goods into the country, particularly after 1813 when the East India Company’s charter was amended, was blamed for the miserable conditions of the weavers, the greater reliance on agriculture and decline in living standards of the general population, and the increased incidence of famines in India in the 19th century. Because of the availability of inexpensive transportation for bulk commodities, the process of artisanal production destruction accelerated with the establishment of railways in India in the second half of the nineteenth century. If India had become an independent country, it would have taken efforts to maintain its traditional industries, but colonial authority rendered this impossible. The British colonial authorities pursued a free trade policy, allowing Lancashire cotton to access the Indian market without paying customs taxes. These policies have the combined power to disrupt the traditional industry and limiting India’s ability to establish contemporary large-scale industry.

An examination of statistics on employment from the decennial Censuses from 1881 to 1931 provided a significant refutation of the nationalist thesis. Later, in the 1950s, Daniel and Alice Thorner claimed that a case for a drop in secondary-sector jobs over the time covered by census data could not be made. Thorners’ main point was that, at least during the census era, from 1881 to 1931, there was also no change in the proportion of the population involved in industrial activities. The argument for India’s de-industrialization emerged from a faulty interpretation of the facts included in Census data. Because there is no apparent separation of labour inside the home in an agrarian economy, categorization of vocations is difficult. From the early to the late Census reports, the foundation for categorising the people into distinct occupations changed. The fundamental cause of the problem was an overestimation of the numbers and proportion of people employed in industrial professions in the 1881 Census due to a misunderstanding of the categories used in that survey. Thorner stated that the Census categories of “Manufacture and Trade” should be considered in one band, “Agriculture and General Labor” in another, and the statistics for male and female employees should be separated. Between 1881 and 1931, the proportion of males working in ‘Manufacture -cum-Trade’ decreased from 18% to 15% of all working males. The rate for 1881 is estimated to be 16 percent based on precise data for all provinces and four states. Over the period 1881-1931, the drop was reduced from 3% to merely 1%. Between 1881 and 1931, the proportion of men employed in ‘Agriculture-cum-General Labour’ changed by only 2%. In 1881 and 1901, 74% of the population was female, followed by 75% in 1911, 76% in 1921, then 76% in 1931. The entire case for de-industrialization, according to Thorner, hinged on “somewhat doubtful female numbers but, above all, on adoption of the meretricious 1881 data.  Thorner calculated that the number of women working in the ‘Manufacture-cum Trade’ fell from 17 percent in 1901 to 14 percent in 1931 if the 1881 statistics were excluded. Women’s employment in ‘Agriculturecum General Labour’ increased from 77 percent to 78 percent within the same time period. As a result, he believes that serious deindustrialization occurred only between 1815 and 1880. Thorner, on the other hand, was interested by the fact that the economy’s industrial fabric remained “practically stable” throughout a half-century in which India’s population increased by about one hundred million people.


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