The other day I stopped to watch a field of rice being harvested (the first of three crops which these fertile fields will yield this year). As I watched I couldn’t help but be reminded of the time I used to teach history in English schools, in particular the Industrial Revolution in the UK.
In the second half of the 18th century in Britain there were sudden economic and technological developments which meant that a new economy based on machinery and manufacturing took the place of the traditional economy based on agriculture. The process of political and social change happened over a period of 150 years (give or take a few!) with new innovations in industry, an expanding economy and trade, and an accumulation of capital wealth.
What really set these changes in motion were new energy sources and materials, new machinery and technologies as well as better roads and transport systems. Many people migrated from the countryside to look for new jobs in the cities as the new factories replaced the old cottage industries. As the changes brought new wealth and a new way of life they also brought problems with the growth of urban areas, a rising population and sudden internal migration.
Growth was rapid from the introduction of coke smelting in Coalbrookdale by Abraham Darby in 1709 which really ‘kick-started the Industrial Revolution’. In 1813 there were more people employed in industry than in agriculture for the first time in England. Between 1831 and 1852 industrial production in Britain doubled, then doubled again between 1852 and 1880.
Why am I telling you this? Well, apart from the time scale I could re-write the above to describe India today.
I have only lived in Tamil Nadu for 3 years yet I can see the parallels between life here today and the British Industrial Revolution. When we first arrived at Lakeside most of the local rice was harvested by hand, now it is rare to see a woman doing this back-breaking work and the fields are quickly stripped bare by large combine harvesters. They can do in less than an hour what a woman could do in a day. Whilst this is obviously good progress in one sense, what happens to the daily labourer who is no longer required? With no social security times can be hard. Their children though are migrating to the towns and cities with their new technologies and job opportunities and so hope to send money home to support their families.
The young see the expanding economy and are eager for political reform and a fair share of wealth. These are all factors which played a part in the British Industrial Revolution, but which are happening here at an accelerated pace; what took a decade to happen in the UK seems to be happening in a year here!
It really is an exciting time to be in India!