Saturday, March 22, 2008

India and the Industrial Revolution

Nevertheless, there were powerful forces at work that inhibited the growth of science and technology in India and prevented Indian manufacturing from entering the industrial era on it's own terms.Perhaps the most important of these factors was the relative prosperity that India enjoyed vis-a-vis the rest of the world. A mild climate meant that the peasantry and working class could survive relatively cheaply. And the huge trade surplus the country enjoyed enabled the nobility and the middle classes to live lives of relative luxury and comfort. There was little incentive to bring about revolutionary changes and the forces of parasitism and conservatism prevailed quite easily over more radical forces. Harry Verelst (Senior Officer of the East India Company) described Bengal before Plassey quite succintly: "The farmer was easy, the artisan encouraged, the merchant enriched and the prince satisfied".But in Europe, virtually all classes had an interest in bringing about revolutionary changes that could improve their lives. Long and harsh winters meant that even the peasantry and working class needed more items of personal consumption just to survive, let alone live comfortably. The demand for cheap manufactured goods for mass consumption was initially far greater in Europe than in the warmer parts of the globe. The short days in the long and harsh winters created a much more compelling need for breakthrough inventions like the light bulb or electric heater or piped hot water and indoor toilets.But need alone was an insufficient factor in securing technological breakthroughs. Europe also needed important social changes to create a climate where scientific study and technological innovation could flourish. For centuries, the catholic church in Europe had preached the idealogy of worldly renunciation and taught it's followers to accept their earthly suffering in exchange for a promise of redemption in the next world. Rational and scientific thinking was routinely condemned as sacriligious or heresy. It was then little wonder that Europe had slipped into a period of intense stagnation and became inordinately dependant on imports from the more developed nations of Asia.But it was precisely this backwardness and internal oppression that lead to mass radicalization and calls for revolution or reform. The protestant movements were the first in a series of movements calling for greater democracy and radical improvements in social conditions for the masses. At the same time, the European intelligentsia was no longer willing to wait for redemption after death but wanted to enjoy the good life right here on earth. Secular and rational challenges to Christian orthodoxy grew and science and philosophy were gradually liberated from the strangulating influences of the church. The knowledge of the East was translated into the European languages and found it's way into university curriculums. Scientific research and investigation began to thrive and technological innovations followed. All the social ingredients for the industrial revolution were beginning to fall into place.But at first, Europe still lacked a vital ingredient for the industrial revolution to take off and succeed - and that was capital. For centuries, Europe had to fund it's negative trade balance (vis-a-vis Asia) by exporting gold, silver and other precious metals. To make matters worse, exports from India (which made up an important share of European imports) were heavily marked up by various intermediaries in the Middle East and later by the Venetians. By the 15th century, this burden was becoming almost impossible for the royal houses of Western Europe to bear. It was in response to this crisis that voyages to discover a new route to India were funded, and eventually led to the creation of the East India Companies. {The pillage and plunder of the Americas (and later Africa as well) played a significant role in financing these voyages.}While this made imports from India more affordable, it did not eliminate the negative trade balance. European banks were initially in little position to fund the new inventions that were waiting to find industrial sponsors. Colonization provided the answer. Europe thus embarked on a complex transition where within it's borders it followed a path of progress and radical reform, but externally, it raped and pillaged without mercy.This occurred at a time when the rest of the world was largely ill-equipped at dealing with such a wily and complex enemy. In much of the world, large sections of society were moving in the opposite direction - and particularly so in the Islamic world. Madrasahs resisted numerous attempts at introducing anything resembling science and reason in the curriculum. This was also true in India. In spite of repeated attempts by Akbar to introduce a secular curriculum in the nation's Madrasahs, the conservative clergy successfully resisted all attempts at change. Similiar processes were at work in many of the Buddhist monasteries and the Hindu Gurukuls who had succumbed to the influence of orthodox Vedantism. In extreme versions of the Vedantic world-view the real world was more an illusion, and hence all efforts at changing it or transforming it were deemed unimportant.Even in schools that escaped Vedantic influences, and where science and logic remained a part of the curriculum, religious instruction often took precedence. In addition, Brahminical notions of purity created a needless divide between the mental and physical creating obstacles to experimentation and transfer of theoretical knowledge to practical applications. The fixation on astrology and other such superstitions also served to distract sections of the intelligentsia from more scientific pursuits.So just as Europe was preparing itself to meet the challenges of the industrial revolution, significant sections of society in Africa and Asia were becoming more resistant to studying science. This made the process of colonization much easier as those who resisted colonization were technologically outmatched and outwitted.Once colonization had taken hold of a nations economy, educational options became further limited. Often, the few who were keen to pursue a career in the sciences could only do so under the auspices of their colonial masters. But for the colonial powers, teaching science and technology to the colonized was not necessarily a benevolent act. The western educated individual played an important role in the colonial process - either as a manager or engineer in a company that produced cheap raw materials (or industrial goods) for export from the colony to the master nation, or as a representative of an import agency that imported expensive manufactured goods and machinery into the colony.So great was this contradiction in some nations that science and technology almost came to be associated with treachery and religious obscurantism became synonymous with patriotism. As a result the masses were often denied the opportunity to deal with an industrializing Europe on anything even remotely resembling equality.Like other colonized nations, India was dragged into the industrial era on terms that were not of it's own choosing and many of the technological developments that have since taken place in India have been geared more towards the export market than bringing about all-round improvements in the quality of life for the Indian masses.For that reason, it cannot yet be said that India has fully entered the modern industrial era. Only when India is able to harness the power of technology and modern industry towards improving the quality of life for the vast majority of it's people will that be the case. That will require not only major advances in the Indian education system but radical social changes that have yet to take place in a systematic way. Above all, the forces of religious fundamentalism, religious obscurantism and social backwardness will have to be pushed back and defeated. That is the real lesson of the Industrial Revolution that has yet to sink in completely in India.

The Impetus for Metallurgy 1:14 AM with 0 comments »
Monumental architecture required considerable advances in the technology of lifting, loading and transportation of construction materials, building construction ramps, scaffolding, and related tools and implements. As in ancient Egypt or Babylon, appropriate techniques also had to be developed and implemented in India. But more importantly, stone-based construction presupposes the existence of hard metal based tools and implements for cutting and shaping stone. The discovery of iron thus played an essential role in the development of monumental architecture in India which may have in turn given a further impetus to the development of metallurgical skills. As early as the 4th C. BC, Kautilya's Arthashastra had a section outlining the processes for metal extraction and alloying. Later Sanskrit texts talk about assessing metal purity and describe techniques for achieving metal purity. Various alloying techniques were in use and some may have had their origin in the Harappan or Vedic periods. (For instance, there are references in the Vedic literature that suggest that copper vessels were coated with tin so as to prevent milk from going sour.)A combination of scholarly investigation and broad dissemination of practical techniques propelled the development of metallurgical skills. The fifth century Iron Pillar of Delhi is a remarkable example of those skills. Standing over 23 feet high it consists of a single piece of iron and has weathered over 1500 monsoons without showing any signs of rust. The pillar is made of wrought iron with an iron content of 99.72 % and appears to have been protected from rust by the application of a thin coating of manganese dioxide.By the 12th century, construction engineers were using iron girders and beams on a scale unknown in any other part of the world. The most significant use of iron beams was in the temples of Puri and Konarak. The Puri temple contains 239 iron beams and one of the beams in Konarak is 35 feet long. All are 99.64 percent iron and were produced in a similiar manner to the Delhi iron pillar.During the middle ages, India acquired a reputation for producing very high quality steel and was also able to extract zinc from it's ore by the 14th century. Bidari (an alloy of copper, lead and tin developed in the Deccan) was also extensively used.Unsurprisingly, developments in metallurgy also had their impact on artillery production. According to A. Rahman (Science in Medieval India), by the 16th century, the heaviest guns in the world were being cast in India and a variety of weapons were being manufactured in the subcontinent. The Jaigarh cannon factory was one of India's best and before the crucial battle of 1857, the Jaipur Rajputs laid claim to owning Asia's largest cannon. Yet, none of the Rajput cannons were ever used to confront the British who succeeded in conquering the sub-continent without ever having to fight against the country's best equipped armies, thus demonstrating that technological progress is not an end in itself.

Social Conditions and Technological Progress 1:10 AM with 0 comments »
It is quite possible that the decline in civil society extended to other areas such as agricultural planning and maintenance of irrigations systems making the civilization more vulnerable to natural disasters such droughts, floods, fires or earthquakes - thus contributing to the eventual extinction of that vibrant civilization. This suggests that technological progress cannot be divorced from social conditions that may either encourage the progress of technology or conversely cause civilizations that may be (in relative terms) quite advanced to stagnate and even decline. For instance, 3000 years after Harappa, we find anecdotal evidence of impressive urban settlements constructed during the Mauryan period. Greek travellers have left behind admiring descriptions of Patliputra - the Mauryan capital. But social strife brought a precipitous end to the grand civilization. The growth of a parasitic, exploitative and socially oppressive elite led to massive social upheavals. In the course of the civil wars, fires and looting destroyed virtually all of the wood-based dwellings including grand palaces and public buildings.Thus, an entire tradition of wood-based urban construction - (which may have taken several centuries to develop) was destroyed. But it also led to a greater emphasis on the use of more lasting construction materials. The very social conditions that destroyed technological progress in one direction gave birth to technological progress in another. Sculptural finds from the Mauryan period indicate that Mauryan sculptors of that time had achieved a high degree of proficiency in working with stone. They must have had tools and implements that enabled them to create smoothly modelled and highly polished representations of human and animal figures. Later civilizations in India employed these skills not only for the purposes of sculpting but for creating entire monuments constructed from a variety of hard building materials. For instance, various methods for preparing cements were developed, and by the 7th century, cement of highly durable quality came into use in the construction of important monuments that survive to this day.

Technological discoveries and applications in India 1:06 AM with 0 comments »
The earliest evidence of technological progress in the Indian subcontinent is to be found in the remains of the Harappan civilization (4000-3000 BC). Archaeological remains point to the existence of well-planned urban centres that boasted of private and public dwellings laid out in orderly fashion along with roads and drainage systems complementing them. The drainage systems were particularly remarkable for the times since they were built underground and were constructed in a manner to allow for regular cleaning. Smaller drains from private homes connected to the larger public drains. Larger private dwellings were invariably multi-storied and all homes were constructed from standardized fired bricks and provided for separate cooking areas and toilets. Storage facilities for grain and goods for trade were built as were public baths and other buildings intended for various public functions.Urban centres were often planned near riverine or sea-ports. Accurate weights and measures were in use and ports such as Lothal were developed as export centres of early manufactured products from smelted copper and bronze. Kilns for smelting copper ingots and casting tools were in existence as were metal tools such as curved or circular saws, pierced needles and most significantly, bronze drills with twisted grooves. The drill enabled the production of items with unparalleled precision for the times and could be regarded as an ancient precursor of the modern machine tool.There is also evidence of planned irrigation systems and it appears that fire and flood control measures to protect farms and villages were also in place. Artisans made use of the wheel and clay pottery was decorated in a variety of colors and designs. Cotton was grown and used to produce textiles.Urban centres in the Harappan region traded with each other as well as with counterparts in Babylon, the Persian Gulf, Egypt and possibly the Mediteranean. The span of the Harappan civilization was quite extensive, and included much of modern Sindh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and Western UP.But prior to it's disappearance, there is also evidence of considerable social decay and disintegration. Excavations from the later phases of the Harappan civilization suggest that population pressures led to greater anarchy in building construction. Urban dwellings became smaller and settlements became more haphazard indicating a breakdown of social mores and structures that promoted urban regulations and enforced construction codes.

3 comments:

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preeti said...
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preeti said...

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