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II.5.1.2 Indian village as a social system

The study of villages in India had began in the 18th century with exhaustive survey work regarding landholdings in the countryside. Intensive empirical studies of village social life became popular in the 20th century. The village studies by Sir Charles Metcalfe, Henry Maine and Baden-Powell measured the Indian village as a closed and secluded system. Sir Charles Metcalfe had measured the Indian village as a monolithic, atomistic and monotonous entity. According to Sir Charles Metcalfe, “The village communities are little republics having nearly everything that they want within themselves and almost independent of any foreign relations.”

Thus colonial study of village system found Indian village as-

      • a closed and secluded system.
      • monolithic, atomistic and monotonous entity.
      • little republics
      • almost independent

A large number of studies have proved that the –

      • Indian village was not stagnant, isolated and standardized
      • had connection with wider society and had social differentiation.
      • Village exogamy, migration, inter-village economic ties, dependence upon nearby towns for markets to sell their production and also for fulfillment of their day to day requirements, division of labour etc. have also been basic features of the Indian village, breaching its segregation and disconnection from its locality and the wider world.

In the year 1955, S.C Dube’s creation “Indian village”, M.N Srinivas edited book “Indian villages”, D.N Majumdar’s edited book “Rural Profiles” and Mckim Marriott’s edited book “Village India” were published. All of the aforesaid studies had been analyzing the structural process of change in village India. The main aspects covered in these studies were caste system, types of families, jajmani system, religious practices and rituals, caste and gram panchayats, social mobility among diverse caste groups and the impact of introduction of universal adult franchise, educational and development programmes etc. on the rural community in India.

David Mandelbaum has written, “A village is not a neatly separable social and conceptual package but it is nonetheless fundamental social unit”. According to French sociologist Louis Dumont there are three meanings of the term “village community” i.e.

  1. as a political society.
  2. as a organization of co-owners of the land and also as an insignia of traditional polity and economy.
  3. a catchphrase of Indian patriotism.

The village community of India had been a part of India’s polity and economy from the beginning. Village identity, solidarity and loyalty cut across caste and community. There are factions and feuding groups within villages and between villages. With the introduction of the processes such as sanskritization, land reforms, panchayati raj institution, and other structural and edifying changes have brought about significant changes within its social structure and in its relations with the wider world.

Mandelbaum further observes,: A village is clearly an important and viable social entity to its people who also take part in the larger society and share in the pattern of the civilization.

In a nutshell, in a Indian village society-

Faith in religion and universal power is found in the life of the villages. The major occupation is agriculture which involves dependence on nature. Farmers worship forces of nature. The lives of the villagers revolve around joint family system. Family has a strict control and administrative powers over the individual. All the members of the family have to share the burden of the family occupation. In this way of working jointly the villagers uphold a sense of cooperation among themselves. In the life of the villagers group feeling occupies an important place. They respect the judgment and obey the orders of their elders and the panchayats. Society, Caste and gram panchayat exercise control over the day to day functioning of an individual.

I. Social Stratification

The colonial rulers themselves had shaped a innovative pattern of social differentiation by bringing in zamindari and raiyatwari systems of land occupancy. The so called zamindars were by and large upper caste men who were assigned with the task of collecting revenue from village people on behalf of the British government. The people known as raiyats were peasant owners to whom occupancy rights were granted by the government after they had compensated a certain amount of money for receiving this right. With the abolition of these systems of land tenure, the traditional pattern of inequalities came under severe strain in the 1950s and 1960s.The village had a new pattern of administration and relations with the revenue officials. A large number of studies were undertaken on the Indian village community in 1950s.

Caste based stratification- Indian villages are divided into Upper caste and lower caste.

Post- independence, Caste system was no more confined itself only to jajmani based social and economic relations. The jajmani system itself had declined to a large 27 extent as a result of amplified contact with nearby towns and also with the introduction of new and improved technological devices in agriculture.

II. Economy

Agri based self sufficient economy with client -patron relationship betweet service provider and receiver. Market economy had shattered the traditional arrangements in rural community.

III. Social organization

Caste is still a noticeable source of socio-cultural factor at different social occasions. Caste endogamy along with clan exogamy and other allied rules were still cling to in deciding matrimonial matters. A given caste or sub – caste had a number of clans or gotras where marriage is strictly avoided between individuals of the same gotra. Regardless of these patterns, inter caste relations had become segmented in nature.

IV. Political organization

Traditional political space is taken over by democratic set-up. Inter-caste dependence is lessened to quite an extent, but the competition between different castes for slicing a majority of share in the village resources had intensified. PRIs have introduced new political class and new developmental paradigm. Castes had now become the interest and pressure groups of rural India.

V. Social Change

The overall changed scenario which we find today in different villages of the country is due to the immense transformation in the fields of education, transportation, change in the cropping pattern, impetus on rural electrification, improved irrigational facilities and contact with the adjoining towns and cities. The traditional pattern of lending money had also changed to a great extent due to the availability of alternate channels of borrowing money. Agricultural labors wage rate had amplified, thereby giving them increased bargaining power. Untouchability is no more a rigid an institution as it was earlier times. The lower castes had now moved nearer to other sections of people in the village community due to social mobility. A large number of people have migrated to bigger towns and cities in search of jobs and livelihood obliterating the caste and class boundaries. Despite  these changes in the village’s social structure and economy the village remains different from towns and cities in its ethos, way of life and interpersonal relations.

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