The Putting Out System in Ancient India
This note is a modest attempt to trace the origin of the putting out system in ancient India. The idea was provoked by references found in the Manu Samhita and the Arthasastra about the weight of a piece of a cloth to be returned after being woven with a certain quantity of yarn given out to the weavers. These references impel us to recast our earlier views and place the hypothesis that the putting out system, far from being introduced by the Europeans during the colonial period, was well established in India since the middle of the first millenium B.C.
Putting out is a system of manufacturing where the raw materials are delivered out to so called independent craftsmen who while processing the materials at different stages with their own instruments of production return the products to the raw material supplying agents. Its origin is said to have taken place in the 'domestic' industries of wool and silk manufacture in the European countries during the sixteenth or even in the 15th-14th century at a stage when production exceeded local consumption demand and the trader middleman as an essential ally of the artisan had bought the products and sold them in distant markets after some processing before the final sale. The merchant clothier of England and his French counterpart, the Fabricant 'bought the wool and had it carded, spun, woven, fulled and dressed at his own expenses'. These processing were being done for the clothier by the artisans at their homes with their family members or by some additional apprentices as a subsidiary occupation of their traditional farming. The artisans receiving wages from the merchant were no more than, inspite of their apparent independence, workmen in the services of an employer (Mantaux, 1928/1948, pp. 32-33, 62-63).
While elaborating the growth of industry and enterprise Marshall (18907 1956, pp. 246, 618) states that nearly all the textile works in England at the time of the French revolution were done on 'a system of contracts'. The undertaker had 'let out contracts' to a large number of people scattered over the countryside. The agents of the large undertaker came to the remote villages, 'supplied the raw materials and even the simple implements that were used; those who took the contract executed it by the labour of themselves and their families and sometimes, but not always, by that of a few assist-
* Department of Economics, SBMS College, Sualkuchi, Assam.
Social Scientist, Vol. 25, Nos. 7-8, July-August 1997