Shawl Industry evolution by Prof Abdul Hamid Malik – Part Two

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kashmirshawlDuring the first quarter of the 19th Century, the imports of shawl-wool varied between 1.5  lakh lbs to 3 lakh lbs annually. Shawl  wool was imported from Lass (Tibet) Ladakh and Yarland. The average daily earning of shawl wavers ranged between Rs 5 to Rs 15, Shawl-exports to Turkey, Persia, Hindustan and Punjab had been badly affected by political events. But with France and other European countries it was on the increase. The British Policy towards the Indian rulers had proved detrimental to the shawl industry.

It is true that Great Britain had become jealous of the prosperous Shawl industry of Kashmir during the early nineteenth century. Therefore, they wanted to follow an aggressive mercantilist policy towards this industry. This is borne out by the observation of Willian Moorcroft who was deputed by British Government in Kashmir to make an on the sport study of shawl industry as well as by Baron Hugel who visited the Valley during the same period, i.e., early 19th Century.

Moorcraft said: “ Conceiving that it would be possible for Great Britain to partake more largely in the trade in Shawl goods a very valuable portion of which is carried on through Bokhara and Yarkland with Russia, or even it would be practicable to introduce the manufacture itself into my native country. I devoted much of my time and thoughts, whilst in Kashmir, to the acquisition of information on every detail connected with the subject.”

shawls2The oppressive policy followed by the alien and the autocratic rulers with respect to the shawl industry and the fall in the export demand for shawls especially by France after her defeat in the France-German war in 1867-70, finally sounded a death knell for the supreme industry of Kashmir. There were 27,000 weavers and 11,000 looms. The weavers and the merchants were groaning under the heavy burden of exorbitant taxes on shawls. The demand having declined the average earnings of a weaver amounted to Rs 8 per month out of which he had to pay Rs 5 as tax to the autocratic rulers. With Rs 2 – Rs 3 per month as his income the weavers were reduced to penury. This intolerable condition compelled the shawl weavers to rise in revolt against the autocratic rule in the State. At the instigation of Pt. Raja Kak Dhar, the Head of the Shawl Department, the Maharaja ordered his troops to open fire on the poor shawl weavers who simply wanted to get their grievances redressed.  Twenty-eight shawls weavers were either killed or got drowned in the river. Thought subsequently, the taxes were reduced but the worst famine that followed in 1878-79 completely ruined the industry.

The late 19th Century was eventful in the history of the textile industry in Kashmir. the decline of the shawl industry which had been thriving for centuries with huge profits, income and employment luckily coincided with the simultaneous revival of the silk and the carpet industries, whereas the carpet industry had been established during the  15th Century by Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin, the silk industry was indeed of an ancient origin. Both the industries were indeed of an ancient origin. Both the industries however, had a chequered career a long cycle of revival and decay and then revival again. In Kashmir cotton was also grown but it was of an inferior quality. Cotton cloth was manufactured in Kashmir during the 19th Century. But this cloth was of a course variety. However, a special type of cotton textile known as “Kodak’ which was more or less fine was also produced by the Kashmiri weavers. It was based on local raw material. However, it was durable. Cotton cloth was not produced on a large scale. In the past, brown cotton seed was imported from Yarkland and sown in Kashmir but its repeated sowing did not produce the desired results.

Information Courtesy: Gulshan Books. From the pages of “Heritage of Kashmir”