Many enthusiasts are intolerant of suggestions that may be made to improve or modify cottage industries. They seem to imagine that the pristine beauty of these industries should be preserved and not spoiled by new fangled ideas. This attitude is entirely mistaken and has been responsible for the general stagnation and lack of enthusiasm for cottage products. This stay-put mentality is usually put in people who refuse to think progressively or comprehend things in a larger sphere. Their ideas would have fitted in with a society which had not developed beyond the primitive stage and had not come into contact with modern culture or civilization.
We in India have been particularly fortunate in having most of our cottage crafts preserved through all these centuries in spite of the many conflicts and vicissitudes which our country had to pass through. This is due to a great extent to the simplicity of our own wants and to a greater degree to the tenacity of our national character and the religious and social customs that have helped to maintain a continuity in all crafts and industries. But cataclysmal changes are taking place in the world and transformations of State and Society almost magical in effect are revolutionizing life in many countries. Old theories are thrown overboard and new ones are coming into their place. Science and organized industry have affected human activities and human wants to an incomprehensible degree and society today is not what it was, even a decade ago. In such a world, if cottage industries have to remain alive they must march with the times and must be organized on a progressive and flexible basis. There is no reason no cottage industries should not play a leading part in the modern world beset as it is by big business and vested interests. Luckily India has not been very much affected by these two vicious systems, and if only we could devote a little clear thinking and careful planning we could organize our cottage industries to take a more useful and a larger part in the social economy and the national welfare of our country and thus set an example to other countries which are undecided whether to choose the path to the factory or the road to the villages.
Cottage industries could be organized along two main lines of work. The first would content itself with the village economy and the second would cover a larger field meeting the demands of the urbanite and perhaps of the State also. In the first group would be included such items as carts and cart wheels, ploughshares and other farm implements, water lifts, bricks, roofing materials, storage bins, and similar products to meet the villagers’ needs. In the second group could be included fabrics and dress materials, paper, toilet articles, leather goods, woolen textiles, utensils, pottery, glass and metalware. Among the needs of the State which the cottage worker could help to meet, would be standard brick and other construction material, woodwork and joinery, and other articles for the services both civil and military. In these days when so much is made of total warfare and total defense, when defense in depth is favoured in preference to the localised methods, cottage and village organisations seem to be the ideal means of achieving the purpose. China is an outstanding example of how organized co-operative working has made rural centres the backbone of the State’s armoury and the country’s manufactory.
Our country occupies a front rank position among the nations of the world, for the skill of its craftsmen and the great range of handmade articles used by its people. A rural craftsmen in our country has in consequence an important place in the country’s productive organisation. But today he has to face modern methods of mass production and competition and if he has to combat these successfully he has to seek the help of the scientist and the research worker. It is in this way that science will play have to play a large part in the re-organisation of our village industries. I have already referred to the rural and urban needs which cottage industries could satisfy. The farm craft and so on which are manufactured in the village itself to satisfy the needs of its inhabitants are carried on in primitive lines, almost in the same style and manner in which they were thousands of years ago. There has been hardly a change in the processes or materials. Whatever merits they may have had in the olden days they are definitely uneconomical and unprofitable in these days of cheap mass produced articles.
Government could organise a Central Bureau controlling a number of district units. The network of Rural Industries Bureaux could conduct research into rural crafts and manufacturers, collect methods and materials from various centres, discover new ways and new materials, make comprehensive tests, formulate working and technical data, and make itself useful to the village craftsmen through its various affiliated regional units. In this manner much experience and knowledge may be exchanged and the latest scientific methods and materials placed within reach of even the simplest of village artisans. To cite just one example in which research could be carried on and improvements effected, we may take the cart wheel or the plough head. A good deal of research has gone into the designing of these simple articles in England and elsewhere. Similar work may benefit Indian farmers.
The men who man these research organisations, both central and local, should not be merely academicians having experience of laboratory technique only but should also be practical men having thorough working knowledge of the various crafts for which they design. There should be a close liaison between the men of research and the village craftsmen. The laboratory people should go out periodically to the villages and see for themselves, how the new technique or the improved model which they have offered to the villager, is actually used by him, whether he finds them better than his traditional ways, what difficulties he has and what suggestion he has to offer. The villager may not be very eager or willing to change to the newer methods. Much tact and persuasion is needed. The villager resents superiority and shrinks from it. Therefore, he should be handled in a sympathetic manner and the benefits he will derive should be demonstrated to him. Handled in this manner there may be very little opposition and in fact much willing co-operation to follow the advice offered.
I have adopted a wider concept of cottage industries not only in their scope but also in their range. There is no reason why cottage industries should be confined to the villages. The newer materials and methods like plastics, the new synthetic fibres, the new alloys, newer methods of textile printing and dyeing should all be brought within the village artisan’s scope of work. Also young men and youths who could not for some reason or the other, pursueanacademic career, should be trained in the central or regional laboratories so that when they settle later in the villages they will infuse the newer technique and keep it alive.
By all this one should not understand that revolutionary changes are meant or are advocated. That way would lie disappointment and failure. Factory methods of production should not be aimed at and in fact cannot be achieved. On the other hand, the Research Council should devote its attention to finding out ways by which the latest discoveries in material and technique could be modified to suit the village craftsmen’s skill and equipment. As an example, let us take the case of the village weaver. One of the processes involved in his work is the sizing of yarn. His method of going about this work is highly wasteful of time and material. Simple machines have been devised which would do this work not only in a much shorter time but with a greater saving of sizing material. The weaver could thus turn out more work or enjoy the leisure at his disposal. It will be one of the principal duties of the Research Council to bring home to the villager the merits of such machines. In many cases the villager may not have the necessary funds to take advantage of modern methods or machinery and in all such instances, co-operative credit societies should afford easy and quick help. Steps may, however, be taken to see that the villager uses the newly acquired processes profitably and is enabled to discharge his debts conveniently.
In this short article I have just indicated the possible lines on which science could help the craftsman. With intelligent and careful planning even complex products involving complicated processes could be split up into easy stages of uniform and standardized work which could be entrusted to village craftsmen. The whole work could be streamlined and the units could be collected and assembled in organized factories. This would ease production and find work for the artisan and the factory hand. Though the one may live in the village and the other in the town, their work is co-ordinated. No work will be too large and no product too complicated. Prefabricated houses and other similar standardized products could be handled in this manner much to the benefit of the nation’s wealth and the individual worker.
The accumulated experience of the village artisan when backed by the scientists’ aid should help in the regeneration of our rural districts and help them to take their due place in the country’s progress. Villages will no longer be isolated and forgotten areas. The farmer and the craftsman will find a new stimulus and life would once again be throbbing and pulsating in the villages. India expects that her statesmen and her scientists will do their duty to help this regeneration.
Published in Silpi, July 1947, Vol 1, Number 12, p. 19-22