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Essays on population and space in India

Christophe Z. Guilmoto
Alain Vaguet

Part II. Rural and urban poles

5. Urban Growth and Village Roots in India

Frédéric Landy et Jean-Luc Racine

Texte intégral

1The nation with the third highest population in the world, the United States of America, has more than 260 million inhabitants. Indonesia, the fourth, touches almost 200 million. Between these two, it would be possible to place urban India, where city-dwellers numbered 217 million according to the Census of 1991. However, this figure should not blind us to the still mainly rural character of India, where 74 per cent of the population lives in the countryside. So rather than stressing rural exodus over much by dealing with the Indian modes of urbanization, it would be better to dwell on the other mobility strategies made use of by country-dwellers, as well as on village roots, which still retain their strength. In conclusion we shall attempt to suggest a few factors that explain this relatively low degree of urbanization, which is characteristic of many Asian countries.

An apparent paradox

2The urban population of India is greater than the entire population of Western Africa, greater than the total population of Brazil, Venezuela and Peru combined. In 1991, Mumbai had more than 12.5 million inhabitants, and Calcutta 11 million. Five per cent of these city-dwellers are homeless or live in temporary structures (kutcha houses). Between 38 and 42 per cent of the inhabitants of the four biggest cities live in slums.

  • 1 +36 per cent in 1981-1991, as against + 46 per cent in 1971-1981.

3Nevertheless, in 1991, 74.3 per cent of the population was still rural. The eternal difficulty of dealing with percentages and absolute values ! The raw figures encourage a pessimistic view of “galloping” urbanization, to use the fashionable adjective. However, the comparative values highlight the continuing power of retention of the rural areas. The rate of urban growth remains high (+3.1 per cent per annum in 1981-91), but it is no longer increasing, and has even declined slightly1 (Figure 5.1). The countryside on the other hand has doubled its population over 40 years (still + 1.8 per cent per annum in 1981-91) thanks to its natural growth—even though the share of the rural population fell by 2 per cent in the same period.

Figure 5.1 : Urban population and total population (1901-1991)

Figure 5.1 : Urban population and total population (1901-1991)
  • 2 The “residual” factor in this figure covers “errors and changes in administrative boundaries” (Visa (...)

4Figure 5.2 is revealing in this respect. In the period 1981-91, the portion of urban growth accounted for by rural immigration is no more than 21.7 per cent. It has certainly increased from the periods 1971-81 (19.6 per cent) and 1961-71 (20.9 per cent), but remains very low. Four-fifths of urban growth are still accounted for by other factors, above all by the natural increase of city-dwellers (58 per cent in 1981-91). The impact of reclassification of former rural areas to urban ones is lower (17 per cent), as is the role of the natural increase of intercensal migrants (3.3 per cent).2

  • 3 Some small towns are even trying to return to the rural category, in order to benefit from certain (...)
  • 4 In 1971 25 per cent of Indian villages were connected to a pucca road ; in 1988 the figure was 41 p (...)
  • 5 G. Krishnan notes that since 1951 there has been an inverse relation between the rate of urban grow (...)

5The factors explaining the slowing down of urbanization may be listed (Visaria and Visaria, 1994) : fewer reclassifications of rural areas to urban ones ;3 an increase in commuting, due to improved transport facilities ;4 the high cost of urban living ; a more rapid decline in death rates in rural areas, which makes the rural natural increase (2.1 per cent) higher than the urban one (1.6 per cent) ; and a general development in rural areas.5

Figure 5.2 : Components of urban growth (1971-91)

Figure 5.2 : Components of urban growth (1971-91)

6This leaves the main point still unexplained : why, when a great part of the former “Third World” has experienced massive urbanization since the 1950s, has India, along with some other countries, remained untouched by this process ? It appears as if urbanization has affected only a small portion of the rural population ; the term “rural exodus”, coined in 1892 to describe the situation in England at the end of the 19th century, could not be less appropriate here. In fact, the Indian countryside seems something like a sponge, from which only the excess drips out, but which nevertheless remains full.

7Figure 5.3 certainly bears witness to a complex situation : along with a certain dichotomy between the north (mainly rural) and the south (more urban) of the country, the presence of big cities accounts for the high level of urbanization in some states (such as 39 per cent in Maharashtra). However, the fact remains : in no large Indian state do city-dwellers constitute the majority.

Figure 5.3 : Population density (inhabitants per sq. km.) in 1991

Figure 5.3 : Population density (inhabitants per sq. km.) in 1991

8Above all, the map showing levels of urbanization is very different from that giving average densities (Figure 5.4) : thus the Ganges valley, although so densely populated remains predominantly rural ; while Figure 5.5 illustrating the difference in growth rates between urban and rural populations, gives no evidence of any “catching up” for this region.

Figure 5.4 : Rates of urban population in 1991

Figure 5.4 : Rates of urban population in 1991

Most country people remain in the countryside

Most migrations are not from rural to urban areas

9To explain how three-quarters of India remain rural, it is necessary to mention all the different types of outflow from villages (cf. Figure 5.6).

10It can be seen that migrations from the countryside to towns represent only 16 per cent of all the intercensal migrations in 1971-81. Movement in the opposite direction, from town to country, is not insignificant (6 per cent) ; but most of the flow (65 per cent) is from rural to rural. Therefore, the reason that the rural population remains rural is not that country people do not migrate ; but that for the most part they migrate to other rural areas.

Figure 5.5 : Urban-rural growth differential 1981-1991

Figure 5.5 : Urban-rural growth differential 1981-1991

11Let us however beware of drawing too many conclusions at the level of the population as a whole : it is important to distinguish between the sexes. In fact, 73 per cent of all female migrations are connected with marriage — which is usually virilocal in India. It can even be said that in India, if both sexes are taken into consideration, a majority of migrants (51 per cent) is young brides. Since most rural women marry rural men, the situation appears in a rather different light if we consider only male migrations : then movements from country to town account for 28 per cent of all migrations, and those between different rural areas for less than half. The trend is clear, however. In the absence of large-scale migration from countryside to towns, urban dwellers, who constituted only a fifth of the population in 1971, still represent only a quarter in 1991.

Figure 5.6 : Migration between 1971 and 1981

Figure 5.6 : Migration between 1971 and 1981

Modes of rural retention, a multifaceted phenomenon

  • 6 For a more complete treatment, reference may be made to Racine (1997).

12Many inhabitants leave their native villages, it is obvious. Still we should take a look at the different strategies which all in some way serve as an alternative to “rural exodus” in the real sense of the term —that is, migration that empties the countryside in favour of cities and towns.6 The most important of these alternatives involves the numerous commuters who, despite deficiencies in communication and public transport networks, travel every day to work in towns, while living in rural areas. At Jetpur, a medium-sized industrial town of 120,000 inhabitants in Gujarat studied by Dupont (1995), some commuters start from as far as 32 km away. In the five villages covered by her household survey, all situated within a radius of 8 km of Jetpur, 35 per cent of all male workers are commuters. This means that a good part of the economic growth of the city, which is based on textiles, does not get expressed in a corresponding demographic growth, but on the contrary by retention of a portion of the workers in the surrounding countryside. These people save the cost of accommodation in town. Their families, by being able to keep control of these individuals and save them from the problems of adapting to life in town, also benefit from this delinking of workplace from place of residence, which may affect almost half the employees of certain firms.

13Similar journeys between town and country may take place not on a daily but a seasonal basis —also avoiding permanent residence in towns. V. Fievre (1996) has shown this in the case of seasonal migrants who go to Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu) to work on construction sites: these workers have no wish to integrate into the urban environment. Although paradoxically they are somewhat privileged compared with their city-dwelling colleagues (as a docile—and debt-bound—labour force they are assured of a certain job-security during the dry season that they spend in the city), it is the site and not the city” that forms their geographic and cultural frame of reference. The cultural codes which they have taken up for a time during their stay (drinking, fewer visits to the temple, less bathing—in short a spiritual and temporal lowering of standards) will be forgotten with the rains when they leave for their villages and return to their original rural customs. It is understandable that J. Breman (1985) prefers to speak of “labour circulation” rather than “migration” in referring to the tribal labourers who, also seasonally, leave eastern Gujarat to work in the irrigated western plains of the same state.

14In fact, migrations between different rural areas are of considerable significance, as we have seen, even if we disregard migrations due to marriage. These may be seasonal, the most numerous being those in which low-caste villagers, Dalits or tribals leave their homes in Bihar or eastern Uttar Pradesh, where they own no land, to work as day-labourers in the prosperous irrigated villages of the western Gangetic plain. Although they are exploited by unscrupulous middlemen, ill-treated and bound by debt, and do not always receive their wages, nevertheless a whole population sets off each year, attracted by the wages, or maybe an advance paid by an agent. In the Punjab and Haryana the Green Revolution has led to the permanent farm-hand being replaced by seasonal labourers, and local labour by workers from outside the area (Joshi, 1987, p. 16). Although the harvesting schedules are rarely complementary in the areas of origin and arrival, probably 10 million people, counting women and children, set off each year to harvest wheat and transplant paddy in the Punjab, to pick coffee in the Ghats, or to cut and crush sugar-cane in irrigated pockets of the Deccan (Racine, 1997).

  • 7 Jan Breman for his part adds that migrations are encouraged “not in order to satisfy a shortage in (...)

15If a plot of land is available for cultivation, or at least enough to build a house on, these migrants may settle permanently. But this requires that the target areas can provide year-round work (effective irrigation) and are short of labour (recent irrigation),7 and that the migrants are able to build a house for themselves : either by their own economic resources (like the Kamma immigrants to Andhra Pradesh who have bought land newly irrigated by the Tungabhadra from local people), or because of governmental action, supplying “colonies” on requisitioned land for landless immigrant labourers (Landy, 1997). Only then will a few take the risk of selling whatever small property they may own in their unirrigated native village, choosing to live in future as wage-earners with a relative guarantee of employment, rather than remaining there, independent but without employment for two thirds of the year.

16To close let us mention the unfortunately too rare situation of repatriation, in which capital and often people return from the town back to the countryside. Around Coimbatore, for cotton-spinning and the manufacture of irrigation pumps or textile machinery, many villages have benefited from urban investment by entrepreneurs, who in many cases belong to a family of large landowners in the same village, and who want to take advantage of the tax incentives introduced to encourage rural industrialization, low land prices and labour costs, while escaping from the overloading of urban infrastructures—and at the same time demonstrating their loyalty to their native village (Schar, 1992). A similar kind of relocation, which permits a diversification of rural activities and as a consequence helps to retain rural population, is also found in the rural diamond-cutting workshops set up by the Kanbis of Gujarat : “in this case the function of the town is strictly limited to the training of one generation, which acquires a qualification and establishes networks. Once the apprenticeship is over and contacts made, the migratory flow is reversed : away from the town, back to the village” (Dupont and Lelièvre, 1993, P- 477).

Migrations to towns reveal complex considerations

17Departures from the countryside for the town do take place, however. But what a diversity ! First of all, in the lengths of stay : there are daily or seasonal movements, as we have seen, but also migrations that last a number of years, or a whole lifetime. Then there are many different motives for migration : the main ones are economic, connected either with a very critical situation in the village (the push phenomenon), or with some attraction in the town (pull), or often with both : while poverty in the village may be a necessary precondition for a migration, it is never sufficient in itself. Similarly, the attractions of the city form the sole factor only in the case of graduates who go away to town in order to continue their studies or take advantage of their educational qualifications.

18An analysis of migrations according to the push/pull paradigm alone would soon reveal its limitations (Dupont and Guilmoto, 1993). In fact, when we start to examine different kinds of migration, we discover the inadequacy of a classic cost-benefit analysis at the individual level. It is only by investigating higher levels that the aim, the actor, the destination and the duration of the migration can be understood.

19First, there is the level of the family, or rather the farm : whether the family is a nuclear or a joint one, it represents the primary decision-making level. The individual who disregards its choice will be considered a rebel and risks finding himself quickly cut off from his immediate social environment, which provides essential protection and support. As a rule, it seems as if a family decides to send one or more of its members away as migrants, in order to enable the rest to remain in the village. Having one mouth less to feed, and perhaps an additional income from the town, is sometimes enough to make sustainable a small holding which otherwise would not have been. In this kind of case the migration is usually long-term ; it may be much shorter if the objective is more limited, connected with a particular event in the history of the farm, such as the purchase of a motor cultivator, or payment of a dowry for the migrant’s sister. However, the length of a stay in town is always uncertain, dependent on the work found, or the migrant’s success in adapting. Hence the need for post facto analyses of migrations to establish lengths of stay, after the original motive for leaving may have been forgotten or altered.

  • 8 Contrary to Africa, in India the farm, the family (in the statistical sense of “household”), the un (...)

20The importance of the familial level is accentuated by the possibility of hybrid forms, something between a nuclear family and a joint one, what T.S. Epstein (1973) has called a share family : the migrant lives in town, but his income and expenses form part of the shared budget of the family property.8 As a way for the migrant to “guard his rear” in the village and for the family to keep control of all its members, the share family is an adaptation to a type of rural economy that is increasingly oriented towards the town. From this it is clear that on properties of similar size, a single son will be less inclined to emigrate than a man who has one or two brothers living in the village —even if these brothers are living on separate farms. The presence of such close relatives will be a guarantee that the migrant’s land will be farmed in his absence, and that his wife and children will be cared for if he leaves without them. On the other hand, for an only son, migrating will mean leaving his land in the hands of outsiders, or even —a more unusual case— selling it, which is to say, taking an enormous risk. The security of having a big family in the village, far from encouraging someone to stay at home, is very often a factor in making him decide to leave.

21This helps us to understand the somewhat misleading situation of migrants living on the pavements of Old Delhi (Dupont and Tingal, 1996 ; and the chapter by Dupont in this book). Far from all being uprooted drifters, most of these people are engaged in strategies aimed at maximizing remittances to their native village, by reducing expenditure on accommodation and transport while remaining close to market places for day to day employment.

22Moreover, the family level in which the individual is embedded is only a terminal segment of a wider structure of caste or class. These higher levels also influence the type of migration : when young graduates leave for town this may be partly determined by class (they are often children of prosperous landowners), but perhaps also by caste : Dalits, who benefit from scholarships and reserved places in educational institutions, often follow the same routes as wealthy high-caste young graduates, especially as they are becoming increasingly aware of the advantages of investing in education. In certain areas, it is already a long time since the Brahmins, for whom education has always played a big role, decided for the town and sold their land. More recently, Muslims, a rural minority which is often landless and engaged in trade, have begun to migrate, also with no intention of returning.

23In this way, it is at the level of the caste —rather than of class— that the segmentation of migratory streams, which is one of the characteristics of population movements throughout the world, gets determined. A particular caste in a Karnataka village might have a “tradition” of migrating to Bangalore to get catering work : one starts as a cleaner in a modest establishment but may end up as a waiter in a high-class restaurant, or even as a cook. Another caste from the same village will work in Mumbai, a thousand kilometres away, in the transport sector : you start out as a porter in a terminus, but with luck, money and enterprise some manage to become bus or lorry drivers. Segmentation of localities and segmentation of activities : it is obvious that within this determinism, the individual’s freedom of choice is strictly limited.

  • 9 It would be important to retain the dynamic sense of process in the word “diversification”, and not (...)

24Such segmentation is at least equally visible at the village level. Let us take the example of a revenue village, Kuderu, in southern Karnataka, which consists of three hamlets. The first of these, Kuderu proper, is inhabited by middle-level castes, many of them big landowners whose income is based on dairy farming, or more frequently on dry sericulture (mulberry growing, raising silkworms, and spinning). Handicrafts and small industry, trade...: a diversity of rural activities, from which even the few Dalit families in the village benefit, far from all being extremely poor. A few hundred metres away lie the other two hamlets. Badaga Kuderu Mole, inhabited by smallholders or landless labourers, survives precariously by manufacturing ropes from agave fibres during the off-season. As for Tanku Kuderu Mole, where there are far less rope-makers, the life-belt is provided by seasonal migration, exclusively to one single irrigated village 70 km away, where hands are needed for cutting and crushing sugar cane. Why do 30 to 40 people from Tanku Kuderu Mole all go to this same village every year ? Why does Badaga Kuderu Mole totally ignore this possibility of migration, when rope making does not bring in more than sugar-cane work ? One might mention the role of advance wages, which sometimes connect labourers and employers from year to year and limit the migrant’s freedom by obliging him to repay his debts. But more generally speaking, this specialization is produced rather by contacts and familiar channels. Thirty-odd years ago, a few pioneers from Tanku went off to that irrigated village and opened a migratory chain. From that time on, people have known where they are going, what they will do and what they will earn. Badaga tried a different source of additional income, viz. rope-making : it has its own network of traders, its own technical and commercial expertise. This village’s specialization is just as “arbitrary” as seasonal migration in the neighbouring hamlet, but it is a reality which no one would think of contesting. This means that at the regional level there is something like a vast patchwork, a spatial juxtaposition of village patches specializing in agricultural activities (mulberry cultivation), non-agricultural ones (rope-making) or seasonal migration. This juxtaposition is defined by the rules of prudence : for one needs to have contacts to launch out into a non-agricultural activity that is synonymous with diversification.9 In this light, determinism by caste or class seems much less clear-cut, an indication that here the most relevant unit of study is situated at the higher level of the village.

  • 10 Let us quote Henri Pourrat on the Auvergne, a hilly area in France (Gaspard des montagnes, 1922) : (...)

25All this is in no way unique to India10 - and aven less so this 10 level. If Calcutta phenomenon of migratory segmentation at the regional has its Oriya plumbers” (Racine, 1997, p. 340), aren’t at least 80 per cent of the café-tobacconists in Paris today still run by people from the Aveyron area ? What is more unusual is undoubtedly that at the top of the spatial ladder we find the migratory situation being strongly influenced at the level of the states of the Indian Union. The Constitution endows the states with some latitude in economic matters, especially with regard to agrarian issues. Whether agrarian reforms have been effective and allowed some land to be redistributed, benefiting those who had none (as in Kerala, West Bengal, Karnataka...) or on the contrary remained almost without effect (as in Bihar) ; whether the state has or has not assisted the landless to acquire highly subsidized or free housing (Janata houses) ; whether the state government has more or less effectively implemented national programmes for rural development, such as those that provide days of work during off-seasons, or above all those like the Integrated Rural Development Programme that create productive assets ; whether there are fair-price shops supplying grains and oil at subsidized prices to the poor, as in many parts of rural India ; or whether in a more general way the state is well-governed and in a fairly satisfactory socio-economic situation, or on the contrary, underdeveloped in all domains : these are all factors, which although difficult to analyse, beyond any doubt affect the migratory situation of individual states.


26If, in order to explain the relatively low level of rural outmigration, we confine ourselves to considering factors at the family level that reinforce village roots, three types can be distinguished : economic, social and cultural. First the economic factors : where towns are concerned, the biggest difficulty is the prospect for economic integration in urban environments where under-employment is prevalent and where the (very inappropriately named) “informal” sector often corresponds to relatively closed recruitment networks. It is known that in developing countries, unlike the situation in 19th century Europe, the speed at which populations become urbanized is quite out of proportion to the economic growth of the cities. While this fact has not discouraged the massive urbanization of Latin America, nevertheless in India it may be a factor that reinforces rural roots.

27Especially since, even if the migrant succeeds in finding a job, he will normally have to return to his village when he reaches retirement age. Apart from the public sector and big firms, there is practically no pension system : the migrant is aware of this. Not only does this oblige him to return after reaching a certain age ; also, since he is impelled to maintain close links with his village even while still young, these ties may just as well lead him to return even earlier.

28The high cost of urban living also acts as a brake on migration (living in Mumbai is particularly expensive). This high cost too may, without preventing departure, introduce a statistical bias which reduces “urban” growth to some extent, if the migrant settles in a rural area on the outskirts of the city, in order to keep his expenses down. The problem then is shifted into this transitional zone, resulting from the degradation of “green belts” proposed by planners, raising the issue of the services and transport the migrants should benefit from.

29The general economic situation in the village is of course another important factor. If the village is irrigated, and the farms are big enough (in a well-irrigated area, half a hectare is enough to make both ends meet for a family of five) the incentive to migrate will be limited to the attractions of the city. But even if on the contrary there is a significant number of landless people, this does not necessarily imply a tendency to migrate, if agricultural jobs are available on big farms — which is the case where the village is irrigated. In other words, the agrarian situation (availability of land) is often less decisive than the agricultural situation (availability of irrigation).

30In any case, we should avoid assuming that the very poor are more likely to migrate than the rest. The cost of travel, the need for having contacts in the town, the advantages of some minimum education —these factors explain why as a general rule it is the less poor amongst the poor who migrate. Especially because the economic situation of the destitute is often reinforced by their social situation : they may be deeply in debt to some moneylenders, which makes it impossible for them to leave. They may not even want to, when this indebtedness takes the form of a client-situation which provides them a certain security whether the harvest is good or bad.

  • 11 Particularly since in many states where agrarian reforms have been implemented that give property r (...)

31We need not mention yet again the role of family structures, which sometimes enable a migrant to keep control of his inherited land, and thus possibly provide an incentive to leave. Let us simply stress that this reveals the intensity of the villager’s attachment to the land —an essential cultural factor that acts to reinforce the strength of village roots. This attachment explains strategies that might at first sight seem surprising, such as that of migrants who after several years in town have succeeded in finding a job that is fairly stable and well-paid, but who nevertheless leave it to return to take care of the family land when their father becomes too old to manage it. Is this choice dictated by the family, and the fear of what people may say, rather than a reflection of the migrant’s individual inclinations ? Possibly. Nevertheless, whether the choice is made spontaneously or under compulsion, attachment to the land is such as to normally prevent it being left uncultivated, or sold, and in many cases even being leased out.11

32Love for the village, but also dislike of the town it seems that this is still the rural attitude. It is only among the young that one may come acros an attraction to “the city lights.” For a great part of the population, the urban environment stands for a world where life is expensive and immorality prevails, where one is exposed to the temptations of gambling and women far from the protective deities of the village. Certainly the words of Gandhi, who encouraged people to prefer the India of the villages as old as herself to the India of the cities, a world which he saw as lacking in ethics and created by the foreign power, still find an echo in the heart of many country people. Let us remember too the dread of ritual pollution through food, which causes many rural Hindus to refuse to eat in another village or even at a neighbour’s house— and to take a thousand precautions if they have to eat in town.

33As for those who leave anyway, does that make them city-dwellers ? It is possible to live a long time in a town without getting totally assimilated. Indian cultural codes are linked to each other in a way that is flexible enough to enable the migrant, when he returns to his village, to readopt the customary rules as if he had never been away. Each space has its own codes : even as far as daily rituals and taboos (meat eating, inter-caste contacts...) are concerned, behaviour that is appropriate in town proves no obstacle to resuming the other cultural codes that are operative in the village, thanks to a certain “cultural flexibility” that most migrants possess (Heinrich and Landy, 1995). This may go part way to explaining the fact that migration hardly ever results in a definitive break or rupture — and this makes a return to the village easier.

34In communities that are known for their tradition of migration, such as the dynamic Marwari traders from Rajasthan, integration into the new surroundings takes specific forms : throughout India, Marwaris integrate into the local economic fabric, learn the local language, remain there generation after generation, but still maintain close links with their region of origin (where they go to look for a bride if they do not find one amongst their local Marwari community). They remain culturally Marwari. In fact, they make the strength of their communal ties into an essential basis of their economic strength, through business networks that are also identity networks.

Is this unique to India ?

  • 12 In any case an urban tradition, which can energize outlying rural area, even sometimes quite distan (...)

35Not at all, if we consider each of these factors in isolation. However, the combination of them is probably more specific to this country, which explains the relative strength of village roots. Moreover apart from the determinism operative at the levels of the individual, the family, the village or even the state, there still remains to be mentioned a wider cultural factor, that of civilization. Although India has a very ancient urban tradition (the Indus civilization from 2500 BC)12 its history has been characterized by a succession of strong governments ; while many of these have of course been short-lived and spatially limited, all have drawn their main wealth from agriculture, and have therefore been eager to intensify it — with irrigation works being built in the Indo-Gangetic plain or the deltas of the south long before the colonial period. From the earliest times, power and wealth have been based at least as much on control of land as on control over people.

36Moreover, the fact that almost the whole of India was mapped and surveyed by the 1920s is a reflection of the interest taken by the British tax authorities in agriculture. It also corresponds to an early development of landed property, which, despite the fact that there were a large number of intermediaries between the landowner and the tiller, engendered a strong attachment to land. The plot was improved from generation to generation, terraced, irrigated if possible, and fertilized thanks to the complementarity, on the farm itself, between agriculture and animal husbandry.

37In India, around one quarter of the population engaged in agriculture owns no land. Yet, migration is no greater than in rural sub-Saharan Africa, which however has almost no landless. In fact, in tropical zones where agriculture is particularly intensive (several crops each year, high yields per hectare) but not highly mechanized, the demand for labour normally enables a large part of the population to remain in the village—and consequently sustains high rural population densities.


1 +36 per cent in 1981-1991, as against + 46 per cent in 1971-1981.

2 The “residual” factor in this figure covers “errors and changes in administrative boundaries” (Visaria and Visaria, 1994).

3 Some small towns are even trying to return to the rural category, in order to benefit from certain fiscal advantages. Let us recall that in India a urban area is defined as a settlement of more than 5,000 inhabitants in which at least 75 per cent of the male working population is engaged in occupations other than agriculture, and which has a density of at least 400 inhabitants per square kilometre. To this must be added, the Census states without irony, “all places which, though not satisfying the above criteria, had pronounced urban characteristics.”

4 In 1971 25 per cent of Indian villages were connected to a pucca road ; in 1988 the figure was 41 per cent (Krishnan, 1993) and 48 per cent in 1994. It can also be imagined that the provision of electricity in villages and improved water supply have made the countryside more attractive, not only to live in, but also for new non-agricultural activities, (see Guetat-Bcrnard, in this volume).

5 G. Krishnan notes that since 1951 there has been an inverse relation between the rate of urban growth and that of agricultural growth, because the latter creates rural employment. Government intervention may also have had some positive results, as in Andhra Pradesh where the new administrative powers granted to large villages made into mandal headquarters have frequently had a multiplier effect (Leclerc, 1993).

6 For a more complete treatment, reference may be made to Racine (1997).

7 Jan Breman for his part adds that migrations are encouraged “not in order to satisfy a shortage in the area of destination but in order to create a surplus” for preventing any rise in labour-costs (p. 334).

8 Contrary to Africa, in India the farm, the family (in the statistical sense of “household”), the unit of production and the unit of consumption, are normally identical. “Share families” are in a minority.

9 It would be important to retain the dynamic sense of process in the word “diversification”, and not equate it with mere “diversity.” Making rope at Badaga or migrating from Tanku are no longer today an act of “diversification”, but on the contrary maintains a certain tradition of “diversity”, that is a kind of conservatism.

10 Let us quote Henri Pourrat on the Auvergne, a hilly area in France (Gaspard des montagnes, 1922) : “At Bertignat, they were all ragmen ; they scattered all over and as far away as Switzerland. Today a quarter of all the ragmen in France are called Fonlupt. There were villages of pit-sawyers, others of water-carriers. In one part of Cantal or the other, they all went as trumpeters to the King at Versailles.”

11 Particularly since in many states where agrarian reforms have been implemented that give property rights to tenants, leasing-out has been officially prohibited. A very indirect effect of this legislation has definitely been to put a brake on rural outmigration, by making departures more difficult ... but it may also encourage them, by making it impossible for landless peasants to rent some small plot.

12 In any case an urban tradition, which can energize outlying rural area, even sometimes quite distant ones, has the capacity to foster retention of population in the villages.

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 5.1 : Urban population and total population (1901-1991)
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Titre Figure 5.2 : Components of urban growth (1971-91)
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Titre Figure 5.3 : Population density (inhabitants per sq. km.) in 1991
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Titre Figure 5.4 : Rates of urban population in 1991
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Titre Figure 5.5 : Urban-rural growth differential 1981-1991
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Titre Figure 5.6 : Migration between 1971 and 1981
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© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 2000

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