Indian villages have always been considered the foundation and soul of Indian society. India, which is considered the land of culture and ancient knowledge and revered all around the world for its values, gets its essence and character from its villages where, unlike the urban cities, the cultural scenario is still more or less intact and representative of Indian value. They have had celebrated presence in our language, literature, art and culture. The urbanizing Indian society is not only transforming its cities but also affecting the essence of Indian villages. In this era of globalization, Indian villages are constantly under the pressure to save them from the cultural hegemonization that inevitable follows growth and development. In an effort to maintain their distinctiveness while at the same time not remaining deprived of development, Indian villages seem to be caught in a conflict between its past and future.
However, the conflict between past and future, being faced by the Indian villages is in part, of its own making and in part, the result of the onslaught of modern civilization. This essay will deal with issues arising of its past and the forces of its future which challenge to tear apart the existence of the Indian villages. Apart from that, the importance of the resolution of this conflict for India as a nation and civilization shall also be discussed, before thinking of the ways for resolution of this conflict and the way forward.
The genesis of the conflict which Indian villages face lie in the issues which holds such sway that it presents the danger of swaying away even those parts of the value and belief system which are held dear by the population and which are an important part of the traditional heritage of a society. The traditional village society, with only possibilities of few exceptions, is plagued with several ills which threaten to make it a den of darkness and backwardness. They are a legacy of distortions of certain values or example of myopic vision of our public system which failed to deliver, resulting in a reality which in present shape and approach, does not pass any test of civilization. Casteism, feudal order, patriarchy, lack of basic amenities of health, education, etc can be said to be one of the few examples of such issues.
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Traditional Indian villages society is casteist to the core. The relations of daily life are micro-managed by the dynamics of caste. It not only results in unequal opportunities and a sense of deprivation but has also resulted in hindering the formation of strong community feeling in Indian villages. Same can be said of the feudal order which still rules in the village life. The importance of land and landlessness as curse within the village life revolving largely around the relationship of ownership of land and labor has hindered any flows as well as investment of capital to make Indian villages self-sufficient. Patriarchy can also be seen as the curse which has hindered the realization of potential of half of the population which was trapped within the confines of our walls of the household. The lack of basic amenities, avenues of employment, etc can be said to be resulting from the lack of investment and prioritization of villages in the national life pre and post-independence.
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On the other hand, the present trends supporting the growth of urbanization guided by the economics of liberalization and globalization seems not to hold much promise for the future of Indian villages. This model for future has sought to convert Indian villages into merely a provider of raw materials for its factories, manpower for its cities and industries, and consumer of its finished goods. Also, the push for urbanization, threatens the structure of villages and forces emigration to cities and towns, further deterioration of village economy and turning villages into a client of cities-near and far, rather than it being the other way round. Apart from it, the ills of patriarchy and a divided society also remain equally entrenched in this future vision as caste divisions are replaced, or worse further legitimized by class divisions between the haves and-nots. Similarly, patriarchy manifests itself in new forms in the urban world-view of life with its own tactics of marginalization and objectification.
Hence, in the light of the wave of urbanization and globalization, the future presented to the Indian villages is not very promising and presents an existential danger to it thus landing the Indian villages in conflict between its past and future. The village is ‘caught’ in between since neither of the two possibilities holds much promise for remedying the ills of the village society. Under such scenario it becomes pertinent to resolve the question that why the engagement with the question of village society’s conflict between its past and future is important and second, What cab be the way forward to resolve this conflict.
The engagement with the question of village being caught in the conflict between nits past future becomes important due to several reasons. Firstly, Indian villages still account for more than 70% of the Indian population. It becomes the primary responsibility of all the institutions of state as well as of civil-society to deal with the challenges faced by such a major chunk of the nation. It is an undisputed truth that without the progress of Indian villages, the dream of development of India may remain a mere wish. But the importance of Indian villages is not merely in its number and weight in democracy. It is much more than that.
Indian villages are the reservoir of several thousand years of Indian civilization. They hold within themselves the accumulated and refined wisdom of centuries of lived experience. Their ideas about community-living, shared existence among different communities, stress management, optimal utilization of resources without ‘exploiting’ them, least wastage, etc are a few among so many of the ideas which our modern times will need to learn from. When the consumerist culture is threatening to over-exploit every possible resources, when pure water and air are also becoming scare ‘commodities’, when community life in the city cracks open on slightest of stress, then we must understand the clear indication that we need to critically engage with our past for so many lessons. Indian villages are the reservoir of these lessons and therefore the questions concerning it need to be engaged with urgency.
The possible resolution of this conflict lies in the Gandhian approach of Gram Swaraj. Gandhi saw the future of Indian villages as self-sustainable entities with independent autonomous politico-economic structure. It did not mean the disintegration of villages from cities or vice-versa but an integration on equal terms. Gandhian vision also advocated mass-scale social reforms on the issues of caste and patriarchy. Apart from it, the government’s designs and steps like PURA (Providing Urban Amenities to Rural Areas) and the recent RURBAN mission seems to be steps made in right direction. Still a lot needs to be done. Strengthening of panchayati raj institutions in Indian villages, their smooth and autonomous functioning and true empowerment of womenfolk will go a long way in resolving the conflict villages are facing and help them chart a new distinct path of inclusive and novel development away from the choices which its past and future seem to enforce upon it.