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20 Nov


Rural and urban landscape in India offer typical features which are unique to Indian society. Village occupies an important place in the social and cultural landscape of contemporary India. Despite India’s significant industrialisation over the last five or six decades and a considerable increase in its urban population, a large majority of Indians continue to live in its more than five lakh villages and remain dependent on agriculture, directly or indirectly. According to the 2001 Census, rural India accounted for nearly 72 per cent of India’s total population. Similarly, though the share of agriculture has come down to around one-fourth of the total national income, nearly half of India’s working population is directly employed in the agricultural sector. Apart from it being an important demographic and structural reality characterising contemporary India, village has also been an important ideological category, a category through which India has often been imagined and imaged in modern times.
The village has been seen as the ultimate signifier of the “authentic native life”, a place where one could see or observe the “real” India and develop an understanding of the way local people organise their social relationships and belief systems. The Indian villages had a considerable degree of diversity. This diversity was both internal as well as external. The village was internally differentiated in diverse groupings and had a complex structure of social relationships and institutional arrangements. There were also different kinds of villages in different parts of the country. Even within a particular region of the country, not all villages were alike.
Socio Economic feature of Indian village
Villages in India also possessed economic relations on basis of occupational distribution based on caste. William Wiser in his classic study of The Hindu Jajmani System (lower caste employed by higher caste) had analysed the socio economic relationships among caste groups in the Indian village in the framework of ‘reciprocity’. The framework of reciprocity implied that though village social organisation was hierarchical, it was the interdependence’ among different caste groups that characterised the underlying spirit of the Indian village. Reciprocity implied, explicitly or implicitly, an exchange of equal services and non exploitative relations. Mutual gratification was supposed to be the outcome of reciprocal exchange.
Concept of Village Republic
The idea of the isolation and self sufficiency of the Indian village was first propounded by Sir Charles Metcalfe in 1830 and since then it has had distinguished supporters, scholars as well as politicians. Sir Henry Maine and Karl Marx supported the idea and in recent times, Mahatma Gandhi and his followers not only stated that Indian village was traditionally self-sufficient but also wanted a political programme which would restore to these villages their pristine self-sufficiency. Sir Charles Metcalfe propounded his famous theory of the self sufficiency and vitality of the Indian village:
“The village communities are little republics, having nearly everything that they want within themselves and almost independent of any foreign relations. They seem to last where nothing else lasts. Dynasty after dynasty tumbles down; revolution succeeds to revolution; Hindoo, Pathan, Moghul, Sikh, English are all masters in turn, but the village communities remain the same. In times of trouble they arm and fortify themselves: a hostile army passes through the country: the village communities collect their cattle within their walls and let the enemy pass unprovoked. If plunder and devastation be directed against themselves and the force employed be irresistible, they lee to friendly villages at a distance; but when the storm has passed over, they return and resume their occupations. If a country remains for a series of years the scene of continued pillage and massacre, so that the villages cannot be
inhabited, the scattered villagers nevertheless return whenever the power of peaceable possession revives. A generation may pass away, but the succeeding generation will return. The sons will take the places of their fathers; the same site for the village, the same positions for the houses, the same lands, will be re-occupied by the descendants of those who were driven out when the village was depopulated; and it is not a trifling matter that will drive them out, for they will often maintain their post through times of disturbance and convulsion and acquire strength sufficient to resist pillage and oppression with success”.
Maine to Marx
Sir Henry Maine revived the idea of the self sufficiency of the Indian village: “For the most part, the Indian village communities have always submitted without resistance to oppression by monarchs surrounded by mercenary armies. I have several times spoken of them as organised and self-acting. They, in fact include a nearly complete establishment of occupations and trades for enabling them to continue their collective life without assistance from any person or body external to them.”
Karl Marx, from whom one could have expected a departure from the conventional view, also popularised the concept of village self-sufficiency: “Under this form of municipal government, the inhabitants of the country have lived from time immemorial. The boundaries of the village have been but seldom altered and though the villages themselves have been sometimes injured and even desolated by war, famine and disease, the same name, the same limits, the same interests and even the same families have contributed for ages. The inhabitants gave themselves no trouble about the breaking up and the division of kingdoms; while the village remains entire, they care not to what power it is transferred or to what sovereign it devolves: its internal economy remains unchanged.”
Part of Wider System
When an idea is over a hundred years old and is advocated by thinkers as diverse as Maine and Marx it nearly acquires the status of a dogma. Until recently, most writers on rural India took for granted the idea of village autonomy and autarky. This has resulted in falsifying the true nature of the Indian village community and has provided a basis for revivalist and Utopian programme of political action. It is only in the last twenty years or so that trained anthropologists and 1375 sociologists have made intensive studies of village communities in different: parts of India and in some areas they have been lucky enough to come across historical data. The picture that emerges from these data is that while roads, especially inter village roads, were very poorly developed, while monetization of the rural economy was minimal and while the locally dominant caste could lay down the law on many matters, the village was always a part of a wider economic, political and religious system. The appearance of isolation, autonomy and self sufficiency was only an illusion. In some parts of the country like coastal Kerala, Coorg, highland Gujarat and elsewhere, nucleated villages do not exist. The ‘village’ in these areas consists of a number of distinct farms with every owner of a farm or his representative living on his farm. The dispersed village is not a clear, architectural entity like the nucleated village. There, is no clear boundary between one village and another. The members living in it are served by artisans and servicing castes from several dispersed villages. That is each artisan caste serves a distinct group of villages and the village may be represented by a series of partially overlapping circles. The administrative and ‘social’ villages are not always identical even in areas with nucleated settlements. An administrative village occasionally includes more than one social village while a social village is more rarely divided into more than one administrative village.
Social Organization in villages
There are three main types of settlement patterns in villages –

  1. The nucleated village: is one of the most prevalent forms in India. In this pattern, a tight cluster of houses is surrounded by the fields of the villagers.

    2.Linear village pattern: Found in areas of India for instance in Kerala and Konkan. In linear pattern houses are arranged along a line, each house is surrounded by its own compound. Although there is very insignificant demarcation between one village and another.
    3.Dispersed village pattern: This pattern exhibits small clusters of usually two or three houses scattered. These are located in hilly areas, in the foothills of Himalayas, in the highlands of Gujarat and in the Satpura range of Maharashtra.
    Urban Life:
    There are significant differences in the social, economic and other structures of urban life as compared to rural landscape, which showcases the diversity of India. These are as under:
    Formality and Impersonality of Relationship dynamics: Large size of urban areas prevents personal and close relationships among the members of urban society. Interactions are characterised by its limited and specialised nature; for example shopkeeper and customer; nurse and patient; principal and student etc. Urban members are not concerned with the entirety of the aspects of social lives of men. Thus the relationship dynamics is characterised by specialisation, impersonality, transitory and formal nature.
    Secularisation: Urban life is infused with heterogeneity in terms of race, society and culture; thus urban community members develop generally liberal and tolerant attitude towards the already prevailing diversity.
    Specialization of tasks and Division of Labour: Urban communities are characterised by growing population and increasing interaction between people as a consequence. This results into increase in trade and commerce activities which lead to developing of business processes characterised by innovations to achieve efficiency and optimization of output. The division of labour was crystallised by Ford when use of assembly line as production technique was developed.
    Decline in Functions of Family: In rural areas families used to be unit of production as well as consumption but in urban areas production functions are taken up by industrial units and families are reduced to units of consumption. Similarly functions of education are taken by schools, recreation by clubs and amusement parks. Family’s main role has been of emotional support to children.

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