Chapter 8
The Impact of the British (5) Economic Development

THE MAIN impact of the British on India was felt at a time when the Industrial Revolution was in full swing and the forces which had been released by it in England began to operate also, though with less intensity, on the primarily agricultural economy of India. Their first effect was the break-down of the old self-sufficiency of rural India. Before the coming of the British, 'in each village there were cultivators who grew practically all that the cultivators required in the way of food or materials for clothes; artisans who prepared the ploughs, utensils and furniture in return for a share of the village produce; barbers and other village servants who received their traditional share of grain; banias who advanced seed or grain to cultivators in time of need; and priests who attended to the religious and cultural needs of the community and whose maintenance was a common responsibility'. Transactions with the outside world were, in general, limited to payment of revenue in kind, or to barter with adjacent villages.

The advent of the British soon disrupted this closed economy; first, because they were energetic traders, determined to sell their own commodities in exchange for the produce of the villages; and, secondly, because, as great builders of roads and bridges, they made extensive internal trade possible. In the Mughal times a few great imperial highways had linked the great cities together, but in the rest of the country roads suitable for carts were few and far between, and it is reported that in Oudh, as late as 1862, even cart tracks were non-existent.

The effect of the opening up of communications by the East India Company was spectacular, but in the early phases not wholly beneficial. Few Asian countries in the eighteenth century wanted British goods and in spite of the theories of

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