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Roll of Honour
The Empire Strikes Back
British Authority Collapses
Sepoys on the Move
Tribal Uprisings
The Empire Builders
For God and Country

Return to Swadeshi

The East India Company used the political power it wielded to further its commercial interests. Emboldened by the Company's victory in the Battle of Plassey in 1757, some of its employees who were engaged in illegitimate private trade, began to claim exemption from customs duties, a privilege till then enjoyed only by the Company. In less than ten years, until the Company abolished private trade by its employees, the avaricious company officials had elbowed out the local Bengali traders.
What was even more deplorable was the arm-twisting resorted to by the Company to compel Indian artisans to work exclusively for them, at low wages and against their will. Those who refused to work were flogged and confined within the company premises until they complied.
At the beginning of the 19th century, cotton and silk goods from India sold well in England because they were 50-60 per cent cheaper than British made goods. Britain's cloth mills would have come to a stop had not the government come to their rescue. The British government slapped an import duty of 70 to 80 per cent on cotton goods imported from India.
While heavy duties were slapped on cotton goods imported from India, there were no duties on British goods imported into India.
"Had India been independent," wrote Wilson, "she would have retaliated. She would have imposed prohibitive duties upon British goods and would have preserved her own productive industry from annihilation." And Indian industry was annihilated.
At the beginning of the 19th century, in just three districts of Bihar – Shahabad, Bhagalpur and Gorakhpur, there were 8,25,526 women who spun cotton yarn and 76,104 weavers working 23,368 looms. The money involved in this major economic activity ran into several crores. It was this thriving industry that was throttled by the English. Wilson ruefully records, "...and the foreign manufacturer employed the arm of political injustice to keep down and ultimately strangle a competitor with whom he would not have contended on equal terms."
Wrote the historian Romesh Dutt, "...in India, the manufacturing power of the people was stamped out ...and then free trade was forced upon her so as to prevent a revival."

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