Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Rural degradation in India

My recent travels in the rural heartland of Vidarbha region of Maharashtra state has confirmed one lingering suspicion in my mind, that this country is slowly losing the romance of the rural lifestyle; its economy, culture, value systems and emotional richness. It is disappearing slowly. Decades of neglect right from the British occupancy days has made the life in the villages very miserable. Today what we see is a pathetic sight and wish that it can be erased instantly. One can very well imagine what the people who live there must feel.

 The geophysical distribution of population and physical structures or amenities that one sees these days; there is a town with population of a few lacs linked around which, within a 25 km radius there are numerous small villages where the average population is a few thousand, occasionally less. This scenario repeats every 40 to 50 kms until another town appears.  The towns definitely have high schools; some would have a collage, there are hospitals with doctors, market, shops and businesses, government offices, motorable roads, street lights, RCC buildings with electricity, railway station, bus station, goods and cargo transport vehicles, police station, a drainage system albeit open constructed along the road leading to a desolate location outside the town and other infrastructure of such likes.  The people are generally either traders or shop keepers that is the business community or the employees and workers that is the service provider community. They are busy throughout the day with a basic objective of trying to earn money and make a lot of noise either, arguing, shouting, honking, simultaneously while they play aloud film songs. These people are hardly ever at peace.  However some categories of people do not live in such towns. The industrialists live in major cities near their factory, of course some would locate their factory near to the source of raw material but they themselves never stay there. The political rulers also never stay in such towns; they prefer to stay close to the industrialists in major cities. In fact the major cities were erstwhile towns which slowly have evolved into cities. The farmers also never stay in such towns since they also stay close to their source of pride; their land and their village. The village could (I don’t say would) have a primary school without doors and toilets, could have a primary health center without a doctor or medicines, there are no shops and businesses, no roads and transport facility except for the bullock carts, no government offices, no railway bus or police station. The unfortunate villages have houses made of dry bamboo, twigs and logs with dry grass on the roof; every house has an open drain, and of course many without electricity. Some slightly better villages would have houses made of brick and cement however unplastered on the outside. A common factor in all these villages is that majority of the houses do not have a toilet inside. People prefer to defecate in the outdoor, men in the morning and women in the night. The houses generally also accommodate cows, bulls, goats and sheep; animal to work in the farm, means of travel, and to provide milk for food or simply to sell for cash. Attending and caring for these animals makes the whole place disoriented and smelly. The inhabitants in villages nowadays are all farmers, some with land and some without. The noise levels are less as people are either; working in the fields, going to town, returning, or sitting at the local tea vendor cum general store for gossip. The clothes that these villager menfolk wear are mostly white kurta with either pyjama or dhoti and the women mostly wear a dark colored sari. Clothing is nowhere near the colorful and modern designs of the towns and cities. 

Not too long ago, till the 18th century the village was a lively unit where people of every walk of life lived and practiced their trade. People belonging to all the four groups of occupation as defined in the caste system, whether it is the priest, teacher, or soldier, law and order provider or the business man, farmer, or the worker, artisan considered the village worthy of living inspite of the political clout of the towns and cities. The village economy thrived and became the bedrock of culture, religion, art, science, commerce and warfare. Every event or every individual that became popular in the kingdom germinated from a humble village. Every tiny village became the primary block for collection of land revenue and implementation of policies from the court of the king. Food for the population proceeded from the village and still does but then the voice of the village which once upon a time found resonance in the highest court of the kingdom is no longer given an ear. The Panchayat system of local governance had its base in the village and this age old concept still find itself in vogue today.

It is disheartening to observe the total disintegration of the village. Today everything in the village is crumbling down. There is hardly any sight of hygiene and modernity seen in villages now because nobody is interested in staying in the village for long. Most of the members in a village are seniors who have no option to go anywhere else or are far too attached to their land. The expression on their face is pitiable because one can see the signs of despair and defeat. The people of the middle age and the youth have mostly migrated to the towns and cities in pursuit of better education and believing there upon a better future. The people toiling in the farms are probably migrant labours or people who have obtained a leave of absence from their factories to work in the farm and who would move back after the harvest. Over the past decades people have learnt and after comparison between the rural and urban life have opted for the latter. They prefer the hard life of the slums in some town or city rather than the open air of the village because it holds promise of a better future. Life in the village is primarily based on agriculture which without irrigation is only a seasonal activity, involving a lot of hard manual work and unlimited perspiration, and the final remuneration in monetary terms is just not enough to cover the input cost and provide a decent living. One of the reasons why irrigation development does not happen is because funds are diverted to provide for infrastructure in towns and cities. The village community which lives on agriculture to feed itself and the crowds in the towns and cities cannot secure a comfortable life for itself and neither can it visualize a comfortable life in the future. There is no government support in terms of fair policies and neither is there any compassion from the people living in towns and cities who ironically though are entirely dependent for food. As though the town and city population look down upon the villagers, they invariably tease the villagers to join them. This has been happening for long now and one day there would be no one living and willing to live in the village.

Who will protect them against the vagaries of nature, who will support them with a comfortable life after a hard days’ work, who will remunerate them enough to make the whole effort worthwhile, who will make them feel that it is not a thankless occupation? Who cares for the humble villagers anyway?

One day in the future we would see that major corporate houses purchase all the agricultural land available in the country, shift their employees from towns and cities to villages, provide them with decent housing, lifestyle and salaries, mechanize the entire process of farming, bargain with the government for better irrigation systems and then hoard the produce to sell them at optimum profits. That would then be called urbanizing the village.