India has been well known for her textile goods since very ancient times. The traditional textile industry of India was virtually decayed during the colonial regime. However, the modern textile industry took birth in India in the early nineteenth century .The first cotton mill in India was started in 1818.Yet, even the British rulers of India could not neglect Indian cotton. For “practically till the end of the eighteenth century, no source of supply of cotton other than India was known to the world”.
Even as early as in 1764, India exported about 10,000 bales of cotton to Great Britain. But the growing Lancashire industry needed more and better cotton. Small wonder, the British Government in India “took every conceivable measure to aid and encourage – and even to undertake – the cultivation in India of more and better cotton and its clean marketing to Great Britain”. While these efforts reduced India from riches to rags in less than half a century, and transformed the age-old ace producer of finest cotton muslins in the world into a decayed colonial vestige supplying raw-cotton to feed the industrial revolution of both the West and East (Japan), to the dismay of the British Government the spirit of Swadeshi also emerged simultaneously, which later fanned the freedom movement and led eventually to the exit of the British from this country in 1947.
The twentieth century began with a new upsurge in cotton cultivation. Exports to Japan peaked 1.6 million bales in 1916-17 and though declined after the cessation of World War I hostilities in 1918 following the revival of European markets, they were still high and averaged around 40 to 50 per cent of India’s total exports. Meanwhile, as India began to lose its export market in yarn in the face of intensive competition from Japan, the stage was set for the vertical integration of the Indian cotton textile industry. Till then the emphasis in the industry was more on spinning than on weaving.
The situation now began to change and composite mills with both spinning and weaving units emerged. The Swadeshi movement of 1906-10 also gave a good impetus to the development of the industry. By 1914, the number of mills had increased to 214. And on the eve of the establishment of the East India Cotton Association in 1921-22, there were 271 cotton mills in the country with nearly 7 million active spindles and 1,25,000 looms, producing more than 300 million kg. of yarn and 1500 million meters of cloth. It is therefore not surprising that cotton acreage spread to 10 million hectares and production of lint rose to a new all time high of 5.5 million bales towards the end of the 1920s. Exports still absorbed almost two-third of the output.
Such was the Indian cotton scene at the time of the birth of the East India Cotton Association in 1922. During the preceding hundred years, cotton cultivation and production in the country had grown nearly ten-fold. No doubt, during the 19th century India was ravaged by frequent famines and droughts and after failed to feed its own people. But we continued to grow more and more cotton to feed the textile industry of the world. The cotton textile industry is rightly described as a Swadeshi industry because it was developed with indigenous entrepreneurship and capital and in the pre-independence era the Swadeshi movement stimulated demand for Indian textile in the country.