ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

The Handloom Workers’ Protests of 1952-53 in Madras and its impact on India’s Planned Economy


Dhanapal Adhitya - Princeton University, History, Princeton, United States


09 – Making Artisans: Artisanal Lives and Production in South Asia


During the 1940s, as Indian independence loomed in the horizon, political activists, business leaders and economists alike drew up new plans for the development of India’s economy. The choice of technique to increase productivity whilst ensuring adequate employment for India’s large agrarian population was a much-heated topic of debate. The conventional narrative on economic planning pits the Gandhians, with their advocacy of village-based, non-commercial cottage industries against Nehru’s vision of an urban and heavy-industry based economy.In this paper, I shift the focus away from intellectuals and technocrats and shed light on the handloom weavers of Madras and their vision of economic justice in the wake of Decolonization. I look at the nature and impact of large-scale political mobilization amongst the handloom workers in Madras Presidency in 1952-53. Under the leadership of C. N. Annadurai, the leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, handloom weavers across Madras came out on the streets and protested in solidarity with the anti-Hindi agitation. The political protests urged the national government to institute economic policies that protected the interests of small-scale textile producers over (the north Indian) capitalist cotton mills. The sustained agitations of the handloom workers resulted in the New Textile Policy of 1954 that guaranteed the exclusive rights of handloom (and powerloom) producers to manufacture certain items of clothing