Skip to main content

Rural relegated to the background, urban 'sought to be seen' as future of India

By Arjun Kumar*
The Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies, Impact and Policy Research Institute, (IMPRI), New Delhi, recently organised the book release of ‘Remembering India’s Villages’ edited by Prof Santosh K Singh followed by a panel discussion on ‘Why India’s Villages Matter: Challenges and Possibilities’ in order to highlight why villages need to be approached differently.
Insisting on the necessity to discuss the villages along with the cities, the #WebPolicyTalk on #RuralRealities saw the participation of Surinder Jodhka, professor of Sociology, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; Prof Santosh Singh, Chandigarh-based academic and commentator; Dr Mekhala Krishnamurthy, associate professor of sociology and social anthropology, Ashoka University, Sonepat; and Manish Thakur, professor, public policy and management, Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Kolkata.
Prof Surinder Jodhka said the title of the book ‘Remembering India’s Villages’ itself suggests that Indian villages have been forgotten. However, they continue to be a significant component of the Indian society, and to some extent they are still talked about. Two-thirds of the Indian population still resides in the rural areas and another 10% is still in close touch with the villages.
Post-1990s, a new India began to take shape in the form of shopping malls, political corridors, and global imaginations. The idea of India in this sense was very different from what the sociologists and social anthropologists such as MN Srinivas had been studying in the 1940s and 1950s. At that time, the village was a microcosm of India, it was like a case study.
In the 1990s, the cultural imagination of India began to take different shape. The middle class had represented India in some sense even before the 1990s, but from that decade onwards, the middle class essentially appeared to become India.
Today, it is possible to find books on the Indian economy without a chapter on agriculture even though it was and continues to be a major sector of the Indian economy. While the service sector has been booming, followed by the manufacturing sector, the agriculture sector has been going down. Agriculture, however, is just one component of the village life.
Prof Santosh Singh, editor of the book, talking about the trajectory of change in the idea of rural over decades, highlighted how in the 1980s there was a special interest in the villages of India. Even though the 1990s the emphasis was more on new and changing India, about globalization, the idea of rural did come up, but more as a crisis. However, things changed. A large number of suicides began being reported from the areas that were supposed to lie in the Green Revolution belt of India.
In the 1970s the village studies took the centre stage and all sociologists and anthropologists would study at least one village each. But there was gradual disappearance of rural issues in the subsequent decades. Urban is seen as the future of India and the rural has got relegated to the background. Now, not many are interested in studying about rural India. He believed, his book would create a bridge and remind people about villages, giving them the attention that they deserve.
Wondering why do the Indian villages matter, he said, a commonsensical answer would point towards the fact that two-thirds of Indians still live in rural areas; but the theoretical reason is very different. Today, rural and urban are always viewed as bipolar islands, two completely different ideas, even though they do have a unidirectional connection.
Everyone wants to migrate to the urban areas as it is believed that people can only fulfill their dreams in there, and the rural areas do not provide that possibility. Referring to the urban to rural migration during the pandemic, he said, while doing a comparative analysis there is a need to find out what factors drive people back home at the time of crisis.
Prof Manish Thakur talked about how most people have not really engaged with the idea of village as such and have just looked at it as an empirical container. They have focused on caste, class, agrarian relations, modernity but have not looked at it as a blueprint of collective life. Today, the state has influenced and entered the village in a big way through its policies and programmes.
Today the villages have become, metaphorically, a railway platform where everyone is just waiting to catch the next train and leave
The idea of the village has been subjected to multiple sorts of ruptures by the state on one hand and the market on the other, he said. Today the villages have become, metaphorically, a railway platform where everyone is just waiting to catch the next train and leave. People come back, but not because of the sense of belonging. We have conspired to make villages into places of despondency and despair, places that do not inspire people.
Dr Mekhala Krishnamurthy recounted incidents from the time when she engaged with people from rural areas during her field research. The notion that the village has a particular sense of intimacy, moral economy and interdependence is often used by protagonists of globalization and urban sites to produce a sense of interconnectedness. The village has always been more than agriculture and agriculture has always been more than the rural.
She recalled David Ludden’s remark that, for the longest time in Indian and South Asian history, urbanization happened inside agriculture. The cities emerged from within agriculture itself. We have a lot to learn from the people living in rural India. In a sense, they are scholars, too. Rather than rethinking the village, more time needs to be spent on listening to the way people are moving and talking about it.
Prof Thakur agreed with Dr Mekhala’s point that we need to speak to the villagers themselves. We also need to look at the ideological work on the idea of village. Millions of Indians are compelled to give up villages. They work in cities, and only go back to villages during festivals. To this, Dr Mekhala added, belongingness has a material basis as well, it could the basis in the family, maybe someone prefers the openness that the rural areas offer in comparison to the cluttered cities.
Prof Jhodka added that even the migrants who live in the urban areas never really leave their villages, they come back, they do not get ‘urbanised’. Referring to the need to re-vision villages, he said, villages have always been changing. They had been changing even before the British arrived. The idea of market and state was there even in the 5th century. People have lived in villages for centuries and will continue to live there. Villages are not going anywhere, we just need to approach them differently, which is what Prof Santosh Singh’s book reminds us.
---
*Inputs: Simi Mehta, Anshula Mehta, Ritika Gupta, Sakshi Sharda, Swati Solanki, Mahima Kapoor. Acknowledgment: Sneha Bisht,  research intern at IMPRI

Comments

TRENDING

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Critics of your government should not be in jail: PUCL shoots open letter to Modi

Counterview Desk In an open letter, Ravikiran Jain, national president, and Dr V Suresh, general secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) have taken strong exception to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s view that raising human rights issues can ‘tarnish’ the country’s reputation, stating, those who raise human rights concerns do it “through established United Nations mechanisms such as the UN Human Rights Council, the Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights.”

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

When judges behave more like priests, delivering sermons from high podium...

By Ajit Singh*  The theory of separation of power found its origins in ancient Greece but with the passage of time it became widespread in other parts of Europe. Early proponent of the theory Greek philosopher Aristotle in “Politics” argued that implementation of constitution in letter and spirit can only be possible if the three elements among whom the power has been distributed are well arranged.

Covid appropriate behaviour? Why masks can't be suitable in hot, humid climate

By Dr Amitav Banerjee* Appearances can be deceptive. So can be Covid Appropriate Behaviour (CAB). An anecdote illustrates this well known cliché. A man who is very particular about hygiene decides to eat out. After a rather long search, he spots a restaurant which has a spotlessly clean exterior and he walks in.

Muck being thrown in Uttarakhand rivers: Villagers face 'existential' crisis

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*  The Uttarakhand government must act fast to clear the path of Dhauli Ganga river about two kilometres ahead of village Neeti and about one kilometre from Ghamsali village, which is about 90 kilometer from Joshi Math town in district Chamoli. The creation of an artificial lake due to throwing of muck and mud can create a catastrophic situation like what happened on February 7, 2021-- the Rishi Ganga-Dhauli Ganga tragedy at Tapovan and Raini village in which over 200 people lost their life.

How Indore turned into water minus city after authorities 'managed' Water Plus title

Water harvester cleaning up hyacinth from an Indore river By Rahul Banerjee*  Recently, the city of Indore was declared the first Water Plus city in India under the Swachh Sarvekshan programme of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development for its ostensibly exemplary waste water management. However, the reality is quite different as a detailed study of the prevailing wastewater management situation in the city shows.

UP govt 'ignoring' demand to fill up teachers' posts despite unemployment: Rights groups

Sandeep Pandey with Shikha Pal Counterview Desk  Commenting on the unique protest undertaken by Shikha Pal atop an overhead water tank for nearly four months, the Socialist Party (India), in association with several civil rights group, Yuva Shakti Sangathan, Socialist Yuvjan Sabha and Rihai Manch, have wondered why has the Yogi Adityanath government is so “insensitive” towards her demands and is looking the “other way.”

Restricting use of public places for religious purpose: Will Gehlot govt respect HC order?

By Kavita Srivastava*  The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Rajasthan, has welcomed the judgment of the Rajasthan High Court dismissing the petition by Pooja Gurnani which challenged a circular of the Rajasthan government which restrained the construction of a ‘Pooja Sthal’ in the premises of a police station.

Rehabilitation site 'offered' to 6000 displaced Khori villagers not livable: Team Saathi

By Our Representative  Second round of the Chitthi Andolan (letter movement) of the Khori village residents, whose more than 6,000 houses were demolished as they were allegedly built on forest land, has begun, with hundreds of them telling the authorities of the Municipal Corporation, Faridabad, that no one has received the promised financial assistance of meagre Rs 2,000.