India of the 18th century failed to make progress economically, socially, or culturally at a pace, which would have saved the country from collapse.
The increasing revenue demands of the state, the oppression of the officials, the greed and rapacity of the nobles, revenue-farmers, and zamindars, the marches and countermarches of the rival armies, and the depredations of the numerous adventurers roaming the land during the first half of the 18th century made the life of the people quite despicable.
India of those days, was also a land of contrasts. Extreme poverty existed side by side with extreme rich and luxury. On the one hand, there were the rich and powerful nobles steeped in luxury and comfort; on the other, backward, oppressed, and impoverished peasants living at the bare subsistence level and having to bear all sorts of injustices and inequities.
Even so, the life of the Indian masses was by and large better at this time than it was after over 100 years of British rule at the end of the 19thcentury.
Indian agriculture during the 18th century was technically backward and stagnant. The techniques of production had remained stationary for centuries.
The peasants tried to make up for technical backwardness by working very hard. They, In fact, performed miracles of production; moreover, they did not usually suffer from shortage of land. But, unfortunately, they seldom reaped the fruits of their labor.
Even though it was peasants’ produce that supported the rest of the society, their own reward was miserably inadequate.
Even though the Indian villages were largely self-sufficient and imported little from outside and the means of communication were backward, extensive trade within the country and between India and other countries of Asia and Europe was earned on under the Mughals.
India imported −
pearls, raw silk, wool, dates, dried fruits, and rose water from the Persian Gulf region;
coffee, gold, drugs, and honey from Arabia;
tea, sugar, porcelain, and silk from China;
gold, musk and woolen cloth from Tibet;
tin from Singapore;
spices, perfumes, attack, and sugar from the Indonesian islands;
ivory and drugs from Africa; and
woolen cloth, metals such as copper, iron, and lead, and paper from Europe.
India’s most important article of export was cotton textiles, which were famous all over the world for their excellence and were in demand everywhere.
India also exported raw silk and silk fabrics, hardware, indigo, saltpeter, opium, rice, wheat, sugar, pepper and other spices, precious stones, and drugs.
Constant warfare and disruption of law and order, in many areas during the 18th century, banned the country’s internal trade and disrupted its foreign trade to some extent and in some directions.
Many trading centers were looted by the Indians as well as by foreign invaders. Many of the trade routes were infested with organized bands of robbers, and traders and their caravans were regularly looted.
The road between the two imperial cities, Delhi and Agra, was made unsafe by the marauders. With the rise of autonomous provincial regimes and innumerable local chiefs, the number of custom houses or chowkies grew by leaps and bounds.
Every petty or large ruler tried to increase his income by imposing heavy customs duties on goods entering or passing though his territories.
The impoverishment of the nobles, who were the largest consumers of luxury products in which trade was conducted, also injured internal trade.
Many prosperous cities, centers of flourishing industry, were sacked and devastated.
Delhi was plundered by Nadir Shah;
Lahore, Delhi, and Mathura by Ahmad Shah Abdali;
Agra by the Jats;
Surat and other cities of Gujarat and the Deccan by Maratha chiefs;
Sarhind by the Sikhs, and so on.
The decline of internal and foreign trade also hit the industries hard in some parts of the country. Nevertheless, some industries in other parts of the country gained as a result of expansion in trade with Europe due to the activities of the European trading companies.
The important centers of textile industry were −
Dacca and Murshidabad in Bengal;
Patna in Bihar;
Surat, Ahmedabad, and Broach in Gujarat;
Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh
Burhanpur in Maharashtra;
Jaunpur, Varanasi, Lucknow, and Agra in U.P.;
Multan and Lahore in Punjab;
Masulipatam, Aurangabad, Chicacole, and Vishakhapatnam in Andhra;
Bangalore in Mysore; and
Coimbatore and Madurai in Madras.
Kashmir was a center of woolen manufactures.
Ship-building industry flourished in Maharashtra, Andhra, and Bengal.