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Indian Villages

Gilbert Etienne


Jagdish Bhagwati

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1Gilbert Etienne was indisputably the most perceptive writer on India’s villages and rural problems for over half a century. His technique, reflecting his interest in sociology and anthropology, was to have the villagers and also the bureaucrats and politicians in charge of rural programs talk to him about on-going policies and their soundness. In a way, Etienne was doing what Jan Myrdal did when he talked to the peasants in China after the Long March. But Etienne went further: he also visited the same villages over and over again. So, he had what amounted to longitudinal “data” and he could draw conclusions about how the rural situation was unfolding.

2I found in particular his technique most helpful in showing that the Green Revolution (with the new seeds) had not polarised the countryside, causing distress that might precipitate the red revolution. By increasing multiple cropping, the Green Revolution had in fact helped bring prosperity to the countryside, including rise in wages because the demand for landless labour had gone up. And Etienne confirmed the benign outcome.

3Economists used to econometric evaluations – and now also to randomised trials (which are badly overdone since many important issues like macroeconomic and trade policies cannot be analysed in this way) – will consider Etienne’s technique less than “scientific” in the sense that National Sample Surveys in India are. But in policy evaluations, one needs to be catholic: no one technique will yield adequate insights by itself. Etienne’s technique was brilliant and insightful.

4This book was his last; and he died before a prestigious Indian press could offer him a contract. So it is wonderful that this last testament, in which Etienne looks back at Indian villages, their achievements and their on-going problems over the period 1952–2012, is now being published by the Graduate Institute, where he was long a jewel in the crown. He would have been delighted, as is his widow and lifelong companion, Anne, that the Institute has taken this initiative to honour a truly great intellectual, and a warm and generous man, whose loss we all mourn.


University Professor (Economics, Law and International Affairs), Columbia University


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