Version classiqueVersion mobile

Indian Villages

Gilbert Etienne

Part 1 – Before the Green Revolution

Chapter 2 – In the Villages

Texte intégral

1The first round of village studies gives us an idea of the major challenges faced by decision-makers, civil servants and peasants. It shows how acute the need for a major breakthrough in agriculture had become in the face of constantly increasing population pressure. These studies took place in 1963/1964, except Pilkhi and Manchala, which were surveyed in the summer of 1967.

2Several aspects of social life, the work of housewives, marriages and severe infantile mortality had been presented in the case of Kandoi. A number of such observations can be found in other villages, which is why repetition has been avoided. On other the hand, references have been made to the difference of status of the women in the South.

3The form of petty corruption referred to in Kandoi was no less widespread in the other northern villages. It was, however, comparatively less prominent in the South and in Maharashtra.

Khandoi (population 1227 in 1961), Unchagaon Block, Bulandshahr District

4Bulandshahr district greatly benefitted from the irrigation canals built by the British in the latter part of the nineteenth century: rising crops, progress of cattle, improvement of market places and the laying of some major roads. Khandoi and Unchagaon in the eastern part of the district were moderately affected by these changes because of their location at the tail end of the canals. That is why Khandoi relied mostly on wells. Farmers made use of the Persian wheel, i.e. a vertical chain of water buckets lifted by the horizontal rotation of a pair of bullocks around the well. This had replaced the less efficient Mot system some decades ago where a leather bag of water is lifted from the well by a pair of bullocks.

5Wheat (rabi crop) was the major food grain, while sugarcane was the main cash crop (10-12 months). In the kharif, coarse grain was sown; such crops are often rainfed (maize, sorghum, millet). Various pulses were sown both in the rabi and in the kharif. Most farmers, except very small landowners and landless labourers, owned cows and buffaloes. Bullocks were used for land tillage and transport using a cart.

6The population trebled between 1861 and 1961and had reached 1237 inhabitants. As in many other villages in the Ganges basin, the total area (fields and houses) remained constant. Out of 276 ha, the sown area and orchards accounted for 262 ha. By 1889, all fallow land had been brought under the plough. The irrigated area more than tripled between 1861 and 1961 to reach 190 ha. The remaining land relied on the rather weak monsoon in that region and on scattered rains in the winter. In the inter war period, better varieties of wheat (not to be confused with the high yield seeds of the Green Revolution) and sugar cane had been introduced by the agricultural department.

7More changes have appeared since 1951. The Development Block was opened at Unchagaon, the main central village, in 1954. The road between Jahangirabad, the nearest small city, and Unchagaon, which was often cut off during the monsoon, was made an all-weather road. From Unchagaon to Khandoï (3 km) the track was often cut off by floods during the monsoon. Even in the 1960s, motor vehicles were very rare, and most transport was carried out by bullock carts and some tangas. Unchagaon had only a few small shops. There was a poor market day once a week, but if you wanted a good supply of vegetables and fruit you had to go to Bulandshahr city, 40 km away.

8Khandoï was a typical Hindu Jat village (with Jats being the dominant caste): 386 Jats out of 1227 people, owning 150 ha out of 260 ha. At the bottom of the social hierarchy, the largest group of Dalits consisted of Jativs (called Chamars elsewhere in UP or Bihar), who were very often landless. It was striking to see how the Jat spirit, a caste known for its good agricultural practices, was common among higher castes. Brahmins, themselves, were ploughing like the Vaishyas. As for the Lodhas, they were a typically rising OBC (Other Backward Caste). Out of 182 families in the village, 108 owned land.

9With the opening of the Block, extension services started propagating the use of chemical fertilizers which were adopted only by a few peasants. Cooperative credit was also expanded. In 1955, the installation of the first electric line led to the construction of the first TW (tube well) belonging to the State but it was not working properly. Later on, a few private tube wells using oil were introduced.

10One great weakness common among most Indian villages was – and remains – the poor use of organic manure. It was out of the question to have latrines and collect human excreta, a feature of Chinese civilisation for over 2,000 years. Cow dung was largely dried and used as fuel for cooking. What was left was badly kept in pits and exposed to the sun, and hence, lost much of its value. Compost, a Chinese device, was unknown. As a result, the use of farm manure was limited, while only a few farmers were trying chemical fertilizers.

11In Khandoï, the 3 ex-zamindars could only keep 10 to 15 ha each. The minimum economic holding required by a family to cover its basic needs would range from 1.5–2 ha, mostly irrigated. In 1963, uneconomic holdings covered 56 ha, while 200 ha were cultivated under relatively favourable conditions.

12There was one primary school in Khandoï and some secondary schools within a radius of 4 to 8 km. Only 20% of the people were literate. A few petty traders were selling clothes, sugar, onions and biddies (cigarettes).

13The consolidation of land holdings was spreading from Punjab to Western UP. In Khandoi this was completed in 1965 and brought down the number of plots from 613 to 135. This paved the way for private tube wells, which started expanding, also stimulated by the supply of electricity. As it will be seen, improved irrigation is a major factor in the Green Revolution. While considerably useful, the consolidation of holdings is a tedious operation, and takes a few years to be fulfilled. Under a special officer and his staff, landowners exchange scattered plots among themselves in order to have their holdings in one piece, or more rarely in two. This is done according to the value of each plot which is decided upon between landowners and the staff. For instance, a clever Lodha gave up his irrigated plots to have his holding in the unirrigated part of the area. He thus obtained a larger piece of land than what he had before. Then he set up a TW covering all of his land.

  • 1 This device could already be found in Sumerian culture from 2000 years B.C. This is an example of h (...)

14Most landowners, along with their wives and children, were leading a hard life. A Persian wheel could irrigate 0.5 ha per day with two pairs of bullocks, one working after the other, being pushed by one man. Wheat required ploughing ten times over, with each round being followed by levelling off the ground with a heavy plank pulled by bullocks. Sowing with a seed drill1 attached to the plough took a full day for one third of a hectare, and required the labour of one man and his wife. Careful weeding eventually followed. Harvesting was of course done by hand, threshing by bullocks, and winnowing by hand. Sugar cane was transformed into raw sugar (gur) and sold in Unchagaon or Jahangirabad (14 km away); cane was crushed through iron cylinders moved by a pair of rotating bullocks. The juice obtained was cooked to give a brown liquid, which is decanted, in stone mould, ready for sale.

15In November, the crop calendar was extremely tight. Kharif crops had just been harvested, and one had to plough for wheat and start cutting the cane. Farmers were starting ploughing under the moonshine and continuing during the whole day. Women were no less hard working. Early morning they prepared flour in a millstone for one or two hours, after this they cooked, collected cow dung, dried it for fuel, looked after the cattle, and helped their men in the fields. However, unlike in South India, they would not work for wages with other families.

16Traditional techniques involving a large amount of work and skill from mostly illiterate farmers were reaching their upper limit in terms of productivity: traditional irrigated wheat yielded 1,200–1,300 kg/ha, and gur around 5,000 kg/ha (50 t of cane). Only major technical innovations could lead to sharp agricultural increases as illustrated by Schultz’s thesis (see chap 1).

17Even medium-scale farmers (1.5–3 ha) and often upper-scale farmers (4–5 ha) were leading a very frugal life: owning a cycle, a watch and a radio set. Most houses had mud walls. All people were wearing rather poor traditional dresses, for instance women with their greyish saris. Men were making fun of “patloon and tyewala” (men with trousers and a tie). The basic diet consisted of chapattis made of wheat or coarse grain, along with some pulses, chutney, and some mustard leaves (sag) in winter, or some mangoes during the season. Fruit and vegetables were a quasi-luxury. Milk consumption for children and adults was prominent in medium and upper families which owned buffaloes (producing 5–7 l of milk per day) or cows (1–2 l per day). In the houses of small landowners, there were cases where there was just enough milk for the children, while for a number of landless families there would be no milk at all. Part of the milk in fairly well-off families was used to make ghee (clarified butter, used for cooking). Tea and sugar with milk were rarely served. Most people were vegetarians and avoided even eggs (poultry was rare). A number of farmers were often indebted to a money lender charging 36% interest.

  • 2 The governments of UP and of other Hindi speaking states were careless about family planning unlike (...)

18Family planning was unknown except in a few families, like the zamindars’. Yet, when some women learnt from my wife about family planning, they begged her to bring them the “dawa” (medicine).2 Mortality was still very high, especially the infantile one. Out of 94 couples interviewed, 309 children were alive and 317 dead. The rate was particularly high among the Dalits. Some couples had 2 to 3 children living and seven dead. Even one of the ex-zamindars lost two out of seven children. A fairly rich landowner, owning 5 ha, lost four of his eleven children.

19Most of the Dalits were very poor and often indebted. Only a few Jativs owned some land, often less than 1 ha. Some owned tiny shops selling matches, salt, and biscuits. The majority were casual agricultural labourers. Many of them, including children, suffered from malnutrition. In a number of families, there was no consumption of milk. Infant mortality was very high with some couples hardly having more surviving children than dead ones. Daily wages amounted to Rs 1, possibly along with the provision of rotis (flat unleavened bread), and 5–7 kg of grain per day at the time of harvest. Working on a kolu sometimes, but not always, paid Rs 1.50 per day.

20When talking with the Jativs, one gathered the impression that their poverty – physical, mental, and spiritual – was such that they were barely surviving and were lacking the will or the ability to live better. In addition, they were burdened by their low status. Several of the Bhangis (scavengers, sweepers) were equally miserable, but some were more enterprising than the Jativs in spite of their even lower status. Under the Jajmani system (whereby artisans or women worked for farmers and were paid in kind) some Bhangi women worked for Brahmins, Jats, and others. They were paid in grain. They also earned some money by working as midwives. They could be quite alert and aggressive, at times arguing loudly with their employers about their wages. Some Bhangis raised pigs for a military farm in addition to engaging in agricultural labour. Saggan, for instance, was doing quite well with his pigs and was one of the very few villagers who owned some poultry.

21The Dhobis combined the washing of clothes of the higher castes under the Jajmani system with working in the fields or in the kolus. On the whole, they enjoyed a higher social status and were less poor than the Jativs or the Bhangis.

22The Dalits did not complain of abuse or physical bad treatment or dabao (pressure) from the higher castes. Extreme cases of caste-based pollution seemed to have disappeared. An old Jativ told me that when he was a boy, he had touched the shirt of a Jat by mistake, a transgression for which he was beaten and his father was made to replace the supposedly tainted garment. On the other hand, there was no inter-caste eating or drinking. During village meetings, the Jats, Brahmins, Lodhas and others sat together on the same charpais (four-legged wooden bed or cot), while the Jativs and the other Dalits squatted nearby.

23When I asked one of the leaders of the Jativs, a tailor who was not too poor, if the living conditions of his people had improved since independence, he replied, “There is only one change. We no longer have a tala (lock) on our mouths.” When I posed the same question to a number of other Dalits, they replied, “Kuchch nahin” (Nothing). However, Saggan the Bhangi said that he was better off than he had been ten years ago, and this at least was true in his case.

24Even if some Dalits had become less poor, the majority of them remained depressed, both physically and psychologically. When I asked the Brahmins, Jats and Lodhas why the Jativs were so poor, they replied flatly, “Sust hain” (They are lazy). It could happen, as they complained, that when they needed extra labour, the Jativs would not turn up for work, meaning that the former had to work still harder. When I asked a Jativ why this was so, he replied that working for only Rs 1 per day was hardly worth the trouble. He would have to eat more to expend energy on working, so it was sometimes better to sit idle while consuming less food. The explanation was not entirely convincing because I observed instances where the Jativs could have earned Rs 2 per day for doing light work, and yet they did not turn up. Could this lethargy be a consequence of acute poverty and malnutrition?

25Marriages were all arranged within the same caste (including Dalit castes) but the girl had to come from another village, as is the tradition in Northern India. The family of the girl had to bring a dowry, often quite heavy, as was the case everywhere else where the custom is practiced. The groom and the bride would meet for the first time during the marriage ceremony. Some farmers knew about western marriages, but they had no Hindi words for it, so they used the English words “love marriages”. Wives of the higher castes followed the rules of purdah, not meeting men outside the family and hiding their face with the tip of their sari when going out.

26In spite of its weaknesses, the Development Block did help farmers as well as the cooperatives, but there were many complaints against corruption, of getting a loan, of buying water from the state’s TW, and in reference to the consolidation of holdings.

27How did the future of Khandoi look in 1964? Even in a fairly advanced village representative of others in the region, acute poverty was still widespread, especially among Dalit landless families. About one-third of the population was living under frugal but satisfactory conditions, one-third was very poor, and one-third, often landowners with less than one hectare, figured somewhere between the two. Population was increasing faster, while agricultural production was lagging behind. Besides, local non-agricultural activities were limited. One could, however, expect more growth with the advent of TWs, a consequence of the consolidation of land holdings. With these, the whole area could be irrigated and in a more efficient manner than with the Persian wheel. One could expect some yield increases due to greater use of chemical fertilizers and cooperative credit, but a big question remained open: would such potential progress be enough to substantially reduce poverty? In those days, nobody knew about the Green Revolution which was about to appear.

Nahiyan (population 2500 in 1961) Mangari Block, Benares (Varanasi District) UP

28Whenever discussing development policies in Lucknow, the capital of UP, in the 1950s and early 1960s, officials kept on complaining about the poor performance of eastern UP compared to the western side. Irrigation was progressing much more slowly, agriculture was more sluggish while the population was rising quite fast with heavier densities that in the West. As we have seen (in chapter 1) the former relative prosperity of the eastern plains had disappeared by the end of the nineteenth century and had been replaced with a growing concentration of poverty and rising population pressure.

29Although rainfall was higher than in western UP, irrigation was needed to compensate for a possible weak monsoon and to support good crops in the rabi when only scattered rains occurred. The British did not build irrigation canals because the rivers here are flowing below the fields. Therefore gravity canals were not possible as in western UP and Punjab, so farmers relied mostly on wells. The latter used the mot system, wherein buckets of water were pulled out of the well by bullocks, irrigating 0.10 ha in 12 hours versus 0.25 ha in Khandoi with the Persian wheel.

30By 1880, land records show that all cultivable land had been put under the plough. As for the yields, they hardly increased. In the inter-war period, eastern UP did not benefit like western UP from improved varieties of wheat and sugarcane. Here, the yield from irrigated wheat weighed in at 900 kg/ha, and gur (raw sugar) at about 3,000 kg/ha. Paddy, which was only rainfed, gave 1,000–1,500 kg/ha for many decades. Animal husbandry and milk were less developed here than in western UP.

31Population, which was already heavier here than in the west in the eighteenth century, kept on rising without being compensated by urbanisation, industries and trade. Even Benares had not had much impact on the villages. Nahyian had 2,500 inhabitants in 1961 with a density of 600 persons per sq km (Kandoi had 440).

32Caste behaviours played an important role. My friends in Kandoi had warned me “Purbi log dhile hein” (Easterners are lazy or easy-going). The dominant castes, Thakurs, Bhumihars and Brahmins were observing the taboo preventing them from ploughing or from doing other manual work.

33Nahiyan is located 30 km from Benares, the last 4 kilometres lying on a poor track. The flat landscape is broken by mango trees, pipals, bamboos and small tanks. While villages are compact in the west, partly due to old fears of invasion, here villages are split into different hamlets based on caste. One could see some fine old mansions, their walls made of puddled clay covered with round tiles and with an inner courtyard that belonged to the landlords, reminding one of lost prosperity. Arable land amounted to 362 ha out of which 50 ha were owned by the four main Thakur landowners. Many land holdings were below 1 ha. 169 ha were cultivated in the rabi mostly with wheat, peas and some potatoes. These crops were mostly irrigated by wells. In the kharif there were 240 ha out of which 180 ha were covered by mostly rainfed paddy. Irrigated sugarcane, a full year crop, covered 53 ha. Farm manure, as in Kandoi, was badly kept and a large part of the collected cow dung was used for cooking. Locally made gur used less efficient techniques than those used in Kandoi. A few big farmers had started using improved seeds with chemical fertilisers. Some low lands were periodically flooded even under normal monsoon rains due to lack of drainage.

34The good alluvial soils, the amount of available groundwater, the surrounding rivers and ponds could have irrigated the whole land with double cropping due to TWs and low-lift pumps. Yet there were only two state-owned TWs since 1963 with the advent of the electric line. They covered around 100 ha quite poorly. The consolidation of holdings had not yet started. Sowing, weeding and harvesting were much further behind Kandoi, a clear consequence of the spirit of dominant castes: Thakur, Bhumihars and Brahmins. Even small cultivators among them followed the taboo on ploughing, with most of the work being done by tenants or agricultural workers. In Kandoi a young, alert Brahmin had conveyed to me his surprise when, at a course for cooperative secretaries, eastern UP Brahmins refused to do any ploughing exercises. When I asked a Brahmin in Nahiyan why only 5.6 out of his 10 ha were irrigated, he replied: "That is our weakness". Another Brahmin joint-family had 8 ha. The joint-family of 24 adults and children had enough manpower to till their land. Yet the major part of the work was done, in addition to the casual workers, by two permanent labourers, each paid Rs 5 per month and allowed to use 0.4 ha each. The family was thus losing Rs 120 per annum and one-tenth of their land. A Kayasth joint-family of 25 members with 4 ha irrigated faced a similar situation.

35A few big landowners did better, such as Kamla Prasad Singh, a Thakur. He looked more carefully at his land, supervised his 5 permanent labourers, and followed the advice of the extension services. Two-thirds of his land was irrigated with double-cropping. He had 6 bullocks, 1 buffalo and 2 cows supplying milk. The family was well fed on cereals, pulses and occasionally mutton.

36While a number of medium and upper-ranking families faced living conditions substantially below similar cultivators in Kandoi, the hamlet of the Kurmis (OBC) offered a very different picture. While building the railways, the British had already noticed their hard work and ability. All the inhabitants were ploughing and doing most other agricultural work as well. Two brothers from a joint-family were improving their living out of 6,25 ha, were using recommended doses of fertilisers, and were having two pairs of bullocks, three cows and one buffalo supplying plenty of milk which accompanied their supply of chapattis, pulses and sometimes meat. Another Kurmi with his wife and four children had a hard life out of their holding of 0.75 ha that was double-cropped: they had no cow, no milk, some cereals and some pulses and, rarely, goat meat. He would also work as a labourer for Re 1 per day. The Kurmis were also asserting themselves which led to clashes and other rivalries with the high castes.

37Daily wages were the same (Re 1) as in Khandoi, but the misery of the Dalits was more acute. The Chamars (still called as such) represent the largest group of Dalits. A few manage to survive not too badly. One of them, who owns 0.75 ha, part of which is double cropped, grows paddy, wheat, and sugarcane. He has two bullocks, but no cow, and hence produces no milk. He can just about manage to survive by consuming cereals, some spices, and, very rarely, some goat meat. Others are much worse off. “Misery does not leave the poor,” a landless Chamar told me. Many of them were underfed and there was very high mortality among small children. They were living in huts where some even lacked charpaïs (beds).

38Many Dalits had debts from procuring the means of their survival or, not infrequently, from the marriages of their daughters. They had to borrow from moneylenders charging 24 to 36% per year, while medium and upper-ranking farmers could rely at least partly on cooperative credit.

39The Musahars (rat eaters) are situated at the bottom of the Dalits’ social ladder, and were the worst off, living in a miserable hamlet. They were looked down upon by most castes, and were greatly subdued under the weight of their misery. At times, they could be paid even less than the Chamars.

40Such poor agricultural practices could offer only limited job opportunities in the non-agricultural sector. Ancillary activities, which are very important in reducing poverty, were not common. In addition to their poor economic conditions, the word dabao (pressure) and other abuses from the high castes were often encountered when talking with the Chamars or with other people. I was just settling down in Nahiyan when some Bhars (OBC) came to me, bleeding from the head, after being beaten by Brahmins in a fight about litigation over a few square metres of land. As for corruption complaints, they were as common as in Khandoi.

41I left Nahiyan in near despair. What could one do in such an area that appeared cursed by so many evils? I could now understand the feeling of helplessness over the eastern UP districts expressed by senior officials I met in Lucknow.

Pilkhi, Muraul Block, Muzaffarpur District, Bihar

42When I reached Bihar in the summer of 1967, everybody from Patna Secretariat down to the villages kept on talking about the promotion of sinchai (irrigation), a consequence of the terrible drought in 1965 and 1966. New Delhi had sent some of the best ICS or IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officers to organise the distribution of wheat. As a result only a few old people or children died of hunger.

43Acute poverty, poor crops and feudal lords, and a general impression of lethargy were striking. In the middle of the nineteenth century one reads in the Gazetteers of the districts: “The number of rivers, the alluvial soils and the usual monsoon make the tract one of the major production centres of Bihar … as the granary of India” (reprint 1964). In those days the population was only beginning to grow, landholdings were not so fragmented and the number of landless persons was still small. Another Gazetteer reverts to the region: “The climate is responsible for the characteristic ease-loving, complacent attitude of the people. The philosophical discussions and erotic poems found a fertile soil where people are allergic to hard work.” (Chowdhury 1964, 24).

44All twice-born landholders at the time of my visit were strictly following the taboo on ploughing, and were using tenants and/or landless labourers, even when they had holdings no larger than 1 ha. The level of agricultural development looked worse than in Benares district, with even less irrigation versus the fast population growth after all arable land had been reclaimed around 1880.

45Pilkhi, though less isolated than Nahiyan, does not appear to reflect any clear impact of Muzaffapur city though it is 20 km away on the main road. The urban district population only accounted for 5%. The landscape is completely flat with rainfed paddy fields, and with woods and bamboos surrounding hamlets of each caste. The cropping pattern had hardly changed since the Gazetteer quoted above: rainfed paddy with a low yield of 1,000 kg/ha. 50 ha of low-lying land suffered from excess water even under a normal monsoon due to the lack of drainage, meaning that either the crops could not grow or would give yields less than 1,000 kg/ha of paddy.

46In 1961, out of 470 ha, 370 ha were cropped and 26 were devoted to mango orchards. The population was 2,471 with an already high density of 525 persons per sq km. Some fields were covered by state TWs installed several years ago but these were working poorly due to lack of maintenance. Though rainfall is a little higher than in Benares, irrigation would have been badly needed from groundwater or out of the Burhi Gandak flowing near the village. Land tillage was not carefully done, and the levelling of paddy fields was uneven. Nurseries were not well kept. When we were there paddy transplantation had been delayed so it needed to be carried out very quickly. Yet, only a few men were slowly at work. Consumption of chemical fertilisers was negligible. As for rabi crops, there was some maize, tobacco, chillies and potatoes and some kitchen gardens here and there. Animal husbandry and milk held only a limited role in the local economy.

47It was striking to come across really big landlords owning 50–100 ha or more in this region. Their land was looked after by a manager, tenants and/or landless labourers. Even poor yields out of such holdings would allow the landlords to live a comfortable life. Smaller high-caste landowners were, as in Nahiyan, faced with difficult living conditions. There were some hamlets of Kurmis and Yadavs (both OBCs) who, through their hard work, managed reasonably well like the Kurmis of Nahiyan. Economically and socially they had begun to improve their status, which led to clashes with the upper castes, which feared losing their power; this could also be observed in several other parts of Bihar. There were also tensions between OBCs and Dalits.

48Although it is not so far away, Muzaffarpur city did not appear to have much impact in terms of employment. The town and the bazaar are undoubtedly growing, but not in a significant manner, and only have a few industries. Chamars, Dusads, and other Dalits lead a very poor life, with cases of extreme misery. They live in small huts, often nearly empty, without even a charpai. Some men have only one set of clothes, the ones they are wearing, consisting of a shabby kurta (shirt) and an old dhoti (piece of cloth tied at the waist). Many women could not afford even a choli (blouse). Several people complained that they were worse off than they had been twenty years ago. Their diet was deficient, with practically no milk. They did not have money to buy meat or fruit. Many of them had debts. As in the villages I had visited earlier, here too, the infant mortality rate was very high compared to that found among high-caste medium and upper-scale farmers. Daily salaries for agricultural work amounted to only Rs 1.50 and ancillary opportunities to earn some extra money were quite limited due to the overall underdevelopment of the area.

49Another factor is responsible for the small income of the Dalits. Unlike the situation in South India, here it is not acceptable for women, even the poorest of them, to work as wage labourers. They might do so only in the company of their husbands. I saw a few odd males transplanting paddy, whereas in South India one would come across lines of women and men at work. The living conditions of the poor were made worse by the abuses of landlords. The word dabao (pressure) came up more often in interviews than it did in Nahiyan. Social barriers were particularly rigid. The use of lathis (bamboo sticks) by landlords’ retinues was not uncommon.

50It was obvious that a very large potential for growth could be tapped through widespread irrigation, drainage and flood control. Collectively, such developments would have paved the way for a future Green Revolution, which was already beginning on a very modest scale in Pilkhi and in some other plain areas. At the same time, it proved quite difficult to assess or predict human behaviour, especially that of landlords and medium-scale farmers. Also, what would be the commitment of the government of Bihar, which looked so keen to push irrigation, but was torn by factions? Finally, the problem of corruption remained widespread.

Manchala, Tenalli Block, Guntur District, Andhra Pradesh

51In 1845, a British Commissioner was sent from Madras to Guntur to investigate the poor situation prevailing after what had been a long period under British rule. He reported: “the canals of the Cholas (Tamil rulers in the tenth-twelfth centuries) had long been choked in the delta of the Krishna.” Good alluvial soils were poorly cultivated. Paddy was confined to a small area and was dependent on a few wells. Rainfed millet and pulses with a low yield were dominant. The situation was further worsened by drought or cyclones. In 1833, famine wiped out more than half of the population, under the fairly miserable condition of the administration (Frykenberg 1965, 2-8).

52By the middle of the nineteenth century, the government introduced drastic administrative reforms, curbing corruption and inefficiency. Sir Arthur Cotton, Chief Engineer of the Madras Presidency, had had the Krishna and Godavari deltas criss-crossed with irrigation canals. Irrigated paddy replaced poor rainfed millet. Tobacco was introduced in the fringes of the delta, which led to the setting up of factories in Guntur. The main roads were improved. Consequently, job opportunities increased in agriculture and in other activities. Sir Arthur Cotton was so popular, that a statue of him was erected after his death. It is still garlanded by local people today. The process of growth was helped by good agricultural castes: the Kammas, Reddis, and Kapus.

53Upon leaving Guntur City in the summer of 1967, after a few kilometres we crossed the Buckingham Canal, a wide waterway from which canals begin. Not far from the main road is the village of Manchala, 18 km from Guntur. The total area of the village was 313 ha, out of which 260 ha were cultivated, and it had a population of 1,462 in 1961. The Kapus were the dominant caste, ahead of 20 Brahmin families - a number of which had sold their land to move into cities. While they would not touch the plough, they were closely supervising their labourers. The two biggest farmers (Kapus) owned 12 ha each; 32 land holdings were in the range of 1.6 – 8 ha; and 140 were below 1,6 ha. The bulk of the landless were Yanadis, a scheduled tribe which had settled in the village one or two centuries ago after leaving their forests. Some Kapus were working outside in the district like some Yanadis who were attracted by the vegetable belts growing in the outskirts of Guntur.

54Unlike the Ganges and the other northern rivers, which depend on both melting snow in the Himalayas and the rains, peninsular rivers are only fed by the monsoon and, hence, have less flow. Canals were opened between the end of June and January so that only one crop of paddy was possible. In the rabi, farmers would grow pulses yielding 500 kg/ha. In 1967, high yield varieties of paddy had not yet reached the region, but in the last ten years, improved varieties with small doses of chemical fertilisers had been introduced.

55The contrasts between Pilkhi and Manchala, both visited at the same time, was amazing. My friend Daniel Thorner, a leading foreign expert on India who had visited coastal Andhra and Bihar in 1966, had drawn my attention to the following differences (Thorner 1967). Unlike in Pilkhi, paddy fields were properly levelled, well tended and irrigated. Seedbeds were carefully prepared through several rounds of ploughing and levelling using a plank. Strong male Yanadis would pull the paddy shoots from fine nurseries to be transplanted by lines of Yanadi women, who were swift and clever. Weeding would follow the harvest. As a result, paddy yields had doubled from their traditional level to 1,800–2,200 kg/ha.

56The upper-rank Kapu landowners were fairly well off and no less active than smaller farmers. As for the latter, Wenkataswarulu, 35 years old, was managing adequately for his wife and five children out of only 0.6 ha. He produced enough paddy for the family and even had some quintals for sale. In the dry season the sales of pulses would bring Rs 300. He also had a pair of bullocks, which he used for ploughing other landowners’ fields unless he rented them out. His two buffaloes gave 2 l of milk each, consumed per day at home. Their neighbours, five brothers, owned 0.4 ha each, which were equally well cultivated. Thanks to the addition of some ancillary work they could manage to buy some chemical fertilisers. Finally some Kapus were working in Guntur, a busy, growing town, and were commuting every morning from Manchala. Others could work during the dry season repairing canals. There were only a few tiny shops. Most houses had mud walls and thatched roofs as are widespread in the South. Bicycles, watches, and radio sets were fairly common among medium and upper-scale landowners.

  • 3 This is a typical case where advanced knowledge is crucial, because if you do not question farmers, (...)

57The Yanadis lived in a separate hamlet. Both men and women were busy during the paddy cultivation period – ploughing and puddling, transplanting and weeding, harvesting and threshing. They had other sources of income, such as making bamboo traps to catch rats in the fields. They could catch 15 rats per day, thus earning Rs 3 from the landowners. They also recovered paddy stored by the rats in the field bunds, a practice quite common in many areas, including Bihar, which can recover close to 75 kg of paddy in one year.3 Apparently, they also ate rats. Some of the men collected hair, making chignons that were sold in the bazaar. In the off-season, they did some repair work on the canals.

58Daily wages for the same work amounted to Rs 3–4 in Manchala compared to Rs 1.50 in Pilkhi. Most women in Manchala were also busy in the fields, unlike in Pilkhi. By pursuing ancillary activities, in addition to working in paddy fields, the community managed to escape acute poverty. Their homesteads were well kept. Men and women were smart and lively, not at all subdued, as were so many landless Dalits in the Ganges basin.

59Finally, inter-caste relations appeared to be rather smooth. Brahmins were beginning to sell their land to Kapus and moving to cities, a trend quite common in South India. The Kapus did not abuse the Yanadis.

60When leaving Manchala, one had the impression that, on the basis of the progress already achieved, the next steps would strengthen the present trends.

Kila Ulur, Orathanad Block, Thanjavur (Tanjore) District, Tamil Nadu

61Thanjavur has been the rice bowl of Madras for nearly 2,000 years thanks to the irrigation canals built from the Cauvery River in the old delta. The new delta where Kila Ulur is located was brought under irrigation after 1935 thanks to the Cauvery Mettur Dam which increased the irrigation capacity of the river. Until then it had been a poor area unable to support a large population. Many people had to migrate. As a result, in 1961 the total population amounted to 1,574 inhabitants with a density of only 262 persons per sq km.

62The village could be reached on a poor track a few kilometres away from the main road, 15 km from Thanjavur. Kila Ulur is composed of several hamlets settled according to caste. The Kallars (OBC) are the dominant caste. They are followed by Ambalakkarars and a large group of Dalits, the Paraiyars (Pariahs).

63Before the advent of the canals only 58 ha out of the 370 ha that were cultivated were irrigated by wells. Various types of millet with low yields (cholam, kumbu, ragi) were the main crops. There were also groundnuts. Only 105 ha bore paddy, partly rainfed. Unlike other parts of the country South India receives two monsoons in July-October and November-December. With the advent of the canals, thanks to the Mettur Dam, irrigated paddy rose to 305 ha.

64In the 1960s, 70 holdings were below 0.4 ha, 100 between 0.4–2 ha, and 50 with 2–6 ha. According to the 1951 census, landless labourers amounted to 410, versus 672 landowners and 125 tenants. In addition there were a dozen families, artisans, barbers, dhobis and teashops.

65The agricultural year starts with the opening of the canal at the end of June. There are two short duration crops on the same soil: kuruvai and thaladi (end of June-February) and samba requiring 180 days. By February the canals are closed. In the rabi, temporary wells irrigate ragi crops (millet) and groundnuts. There is also some green manure. Crops are particularly well tended: paddy fields are prepared by seven rounds of ploughing, each followed by pulling a plank to level the soil. From fine nurseries, men swiftly pull the shoots, which are transplanted by lines of women. Transplanting also has to be done quickly so that all paddies mature at the same time, hence the need for having extra labour even for small plots of land. This involves either paid labour or mutual assistance. Weeding, a painstaking job involving ten to twenty-five persons for 0.4 ha per day, follows.

66The area contains coconut trees near the houses, casuarinas, and other trees so peasants do not burn cow-dung for fuel. All farm manure (badly stored) is used in the fields. Chemical fertilisers had become widespread. Farmers rented a pesticide sprayer from the panchayat. Hard work and new inputs resulted in average yields of 2,000 kg/ha of paddy. Some peasants reached 2,800 with chemical fertilisers. Ragi yields were quite high with 1,400 kg/ha and shelled groundnuts were 575 kg/ha.

67Credit, chemical fertilisers and extension services were typical features of the level of administration provided in Tamil Nadu, much higher than in UP and Bihar. Besides, unlike in those states, in Tamil Nadu the Collector or District Magistrate is directly in charge of development. In Thanjavur it was a most remarkable IAS officer, touring his district in the simplest manner, meeting small farmers, and closely supervising his staff. However, one weakness was already apparent: the supply of water from the canals was not always assured. The Department of Public Works responsible for them did not ensure proper maintenance of the canals: silting, lack of control by officials, and lack of finance were the main problems.

68Acute poverty was much less obvious here than in our northern villages including Kandoi. Let us look at a large landowner according to local standards. Pichiya Thevar, a Kallar, 40 years old with his wife and three children had 4 ha of irrigated paddy, and 0.12 ha of coconut, banana and mango trees. His cattle consisted of 7 bullocks and 3 cows supplying milk to the family. A hen and 9 chickens were running around the grounds. Our man employed labourers only in busy periods. He and other cultivators would help one another. Out of 11,000 kg of paddy, Pichiya sold 6,700, consumed around 2,080 kg of clean rice and paid labourers with the rest. The family enjoyed a rather good diet: 3 meals of rice a day with coprah oil and chillies, mutton or goat once a week, some vegetables and milk, and fruit in the season. Tholappa Thevar, another Kallar, 35 years old, his wife and daughter applied chemical fertilisers from the Development Block on their 1,6 ha of paddy, sold three fifths of his crop, as well as most of the ragi crops. He would also sell nuts from his coconut trees. Near the house were two pairs of bullocks and 3 hens. Tholappa was happy with his lot, and was eager to get advice from the Block. His neighbour with 1,2 ha and a larger family enjoyed rather comparable living conditions. Other Kallars with 0.8 ha irrigated holdings could save some paddy for sale and sell eggs from their few hens. They might have, in addition, some coconut trees. Their wives were busy transplanting paddy for larger landowners.

69The Paraiyars were the main Dalit caste. There were also some Dhobis, operating under the Jajmani system. The wives of small landowners, and those of landless labourers, were very active in the fields during paddy cultivation. The Paraiyars were clearly better off than the Chamars of Nahiyan and Khandoi. Daily wages were Rs1–2 (it was only Re 1 in the two other villages in 1963/1964). They had more working days in agriculture thanks to the intensity of cropping and the relatively high yields produced. During the off-season, they made mats, buying the fibre locally and then dyeing and weaving it. Each family managed to earn Rs 50–100 per year. They caught fish, cut down some casuarinas, or worked on canal maintenance during the winter.

70The population pressure, lighter here than in the Ganges basin, the availability of various small odd jobs, and also the availability of agricultural work meant that the Paraiyars were rarely as poor as the poorest in some other areas. Yet, they admitted that their material conditions had hardly improved in the last fifteen years. On the other hand, caste relations had improved. The Paraiyars could now bathe in the Kallars’ pond and walk with their shoes on in the Kallars’ street. The temple of the Kallars was open to them. When riding in a bus, the Paraiyars would not be ejected if they were sitting next to a twice-born (something that could still occur in Bihar in 2000). The hamlet of the Paraiyars was well kept. More of their children were attending the local school. Their food was a little more diversified than it was in the North; they ate some fish, occasionally meat, coconuts, and rice. Sumptuary expenditures seemed less common than in the North. Landless Chamars in Nahiyan would spend up to Rs 800 on a wedding compared to Rs 100 in the case of the Paraiyars. Upper-medium Kallars would spend only Rs 1000.

71Finally, although modern family planning was still absent, just as it was in the Hindi-speaking belt, the fertility of women, both poor and less poor, was substantially lower than it was in the North, a trend that was widespread in Tamil Nadu. Between 1951 and 1961, the population of the state increased by 1.4% annually compared to the national average of 2.15% annually. The gap with the Hindi-speaking belt has increased further since then, thanks to the more rapid progress of family planning in the South.

72All these factors – fairly advanced agriculture, relatively low population pressure, economic diversity, more opportunities for pursuing odd jobs, and the cleverness and hard work of both Kallars and Paraiyars – combined to explain the lower level of poverty in this region.

Eksal, Koregaon Block, Satara District, Maharashtra

73With Eksal we enter a physical milieu typical of peninsular India with its natural constraints concerning soils and climates. Drought can be devastating; the average rainfall in Eksal amounts to only 650 mm per year, with rains being held up by the Western Ghats. Soils on undulating plateaus are often poor and eroded. The irrigation potential from both ground and surface water is low.

74From Satara City we proceeded to Eksal, 30 km away, located on a second-class metal road a few kilometres away from the small town of Koregaon which was linked to Satara by a bus service. Eksal’s population increase was very high at 28% between 1951 and 1961, probably due to the lower infantile mortality rate than in the previous villages. 1,973 inhabitants were living on an area of 672 ha – 606 ha were cultivated out of which 92 were irrigated mostly by wells. 232 ha had mediocre soils and 97 ha covered slopes furrowed by erosion with only sparse crops. Under a weak monsoon 40–70 ha cannot be cultivated at all. There were about 200 landholdings. To live reasonably well a family needed 0.8 ha irrigated and 3 ha of rainfed land. About one-fifth of the families were above that level, occupying 160 ha. At the other extreme 70–80 families were at a poor subsistence level with less than 100 ha altogether. 80–90 landowners relied on a little more than 300 ha. Share-cropping was very limited. Landless peasants, as in many other villages, were few: 29 families according to the 1951 census. Then there were artisans, petty traders and domestic servants.

75Marathas, the dominant caste, comprised about 80% of the population. They can be likened to the high-castes. Their ascendancy became striking in the second half of the seventeenth century in their wars against the Great Mughal, Aurangzeb. They recall the Jats being both martial people and hard-working peasants.

76The main crops (kharif) depend on the monsoon, which arrives in early June when not delayed. Following the first rains, farmers plough their land once or twice and level it. The harvest occurs from the end of September to November, followed by sugarcane cutting from December-January (following 12-13 months of growth). Jowar (sorghum) and bajra (small millet) are the main crops, and are relatively resistant to low rainfall, with an output of 330–460 kg/ha for the former and rarely more than 270 kg/ha for the latter. Drought may cut such numbers by half. Even in a normal year the village is not self-sufficient in food grains. Irrigated by wells, sugarcane has grown from 3 ha to 11 ha between 1952 and 1963. Villages make gur (raw sugar) on the spot as in Kandoi. The average yield is 6,500 kg/ha of gur, higher than in Kandoi (5,000 kg/ha), which is partly due to a milder climate which is more favourable to sugarcane than that of Northern India. Groundnuts are progressing with improved seeds. Kitchen gardens are growing, unlike in the North; they are irrigated by open wells with the mot system of a bucket pulled by bullocks. One comes across potatoes, chillies, and vegetables being cultivated. A new crop has recently appeared: grapes are grown on 2,5 ha, fetching a very high price in the bazaar.

77Since the region is fairly wooded, people do not need cow-dung for cooking. Farm manure is carelessly piled up in crude pits without protection, as in so many Indian villages. Farmers use chemical fertilisers and groundnut cakes for sugarcane as well as for vegetables and grapes. These are provided by the Development Block of Koregaon since its opening in 1957. Cooperative credit is widespread but favours medium and upper-rank farmers. Often, growers of cane and vegetables own a total of 5–10 ha, some of which are irrigated by wells.

78Irrigation is a big constraint. There are 44 open wells, but sub-soil water is at a depth of 80-100 m under laid rocks, which raises the cost of boring much more than it is in the alluvial plains. A well 3M wide requires 25 men for between six weeks to three months. Since a few years ago, diesel pumps have replaced the mot system on ten wells, each irrigating 1,2 ha per day. In the hot season water becomes scarce so the pumps work for no more than two hours a day. Wells relying on the mot are often dry from February–March until the arrival of the monsoon in June. The soils even on slight slopes can suffer from violent, though rare, rainstorms washing away the topsoil. Some farmers erect bunds 1 m high but they must be renewed every 10 years.

79For many decades, out-migrations have acted as a safety valve for all families, whether poor or less poor. Out of 200 families, 125 men have found a job outside in Bombay, Pune or in other cities. Several of them are in the army in the well-known Maratha Regiment.

80Ramachandra Ganapati Bhosle, a Maratha, started with 0.4 ha from which he expanded to reach 15 ha, becoming the main landowner of Eksal. At age 60, he keeps a close watch on his crops with two of his married sons. Four sons are at school in Pune and 4 daughters are married. Two-thirds of the land bears rather poor rainfed jowar while three wells with diesel pumps irrigate one-third: sugarcane, vegetables, chillies, potatoes and more recently the first vineyard of 2 ha. He employs 30 workers and small landowners, each of whom is paid Rs 2 per day. He is also the owner of the only diesel-driven grain-mill (electricity had not yet reached the village). He even owns an old car, a unique case among the villages surveyed so far. He is the chairman of the village panchayat which is more active than panchayats in UP or Bihar. It promotes, with success, primary education, helps improve local roads, supplies sprayers for using pesticides and is involved with some other village activities.

81Maratha landowners of 3,6 ha live fairly well if one-third of the land produces irrigated cash-crops. Smaller landowners are helped by one or two sons working outside the village. Agricultural labourers, often Mahars, are far less numerous here than in the plain areas. They earned Rs 2 per day, double the amount earned in Khandoi and Nahiyan. A number of Mahars were also found in towns. Some had joined the Mahar Regiment, one of the few Dalit regiments in the Indian Army. The Mahars have long been known for their enterprising spirit. They also enjoy a high social status among the Dalit castes. They also benefited from Dr. Ambedkar, a Mahar, and an eminent leader of the Dalits (see Chapter 1).

82Govin Pandurang Sawan is a fine example of the enterprising spirit of the Mahars. He owns 0.8 ha, on which he grows jowar and groundnut in the kharif (monsoon season, June–July to September–November), and some wheat in the rabi. He worked for eight months for the main Maratha landowner, from whom he learned how to cultivate grapes. Then he did the same on 0.1 ha of his own land, which is irrigated by a well that he managed to dig after taking a loan from the cooperative. He owns a bullock, a cow, a goat, and two hens. He, his wife, and their four small children are properly fed and dressed. Although not all Mahars have succeeded as well as Govin, they are not subdued or passive, but assert themselves. I did not witness serious tensions between them and the Marathas, but nevertheless caste distinctions in matters of marriage and food were as strict here as they are in other villages.

83As in Thanjavur, District Administration was better here than in the northern states. Maharashtra, unlike the other states, has created a dual district leadership: the Collector or District Magitrate is in charge of general work and the CEO (Chief Executive Officer), an IAS of equal rank, is responsible for rural development with the Zila Parishad. During our visit, the CEO, S. Rajgopal, a Tamil Brahamin, was of outstanding calibre. It was a pleasure to accompany him on his visits to villages or to observe the way he supervised his staff. He also initiated the first camp for the sterilisation of men (in those days it was more common than operations on women); already having had two children, he was the first in the queue to be operated upon. Later on he followed a bright career, retiring as Cabinet Secretary in Delhi, the top post in administration.

84Other villages in Satara district face more physical constraints than Eksal. In Lasurne village, out of a population of 1,975, 200 men work in Bombay, Pune or are in the army. Out of 800 ha, 166 ha are more or less irrigated. The village panchayat is trying to build a small dam on the stream (for water harvesting), but the rocky terrain hinders the digging of small canals. Furthermore, the Phaltan Block, even under normal conditions, is classified as “Scarcity Area”. The soil is exceptionally poor. Only a few plots of land can be irrigated by wells. In one village, for the time being, the panchayat is trying to improve the drinking water system through metal pipes and taps, because the water is so bad that people fall sick and are demoralised.

Summing Up

85The picture emerging from this first round of surveys emphasises the variety of agricultural situations. It fits rather well with the broad trends mentioned at the national level in the first chapter: progress in certain areas, semi-stagnation in others all combined with growing population pressure. At that time, most landowners were illiterate but anxious to send their children to school, the death-rate was falling while the birth-rate hardly changed, and most village women were totally ignorant of family-planning methods. Maharashtra was a rare exception among these cases.

86There was hardly any new land to reclaim after what had been achieved until the early 1960s. At the same time, traditional yields and techniques were reaching their plateau making a major breakthrough using technical innovations crucial to progress. It was no less striking to observe that in an advanced village like Khandoi a number of people remained very poor. With reference to institutions and administrations, one must underline the differences of leadership at the district level: the limited role in development of the District Magistrate in UP and Bihar versus the more direct responsibilities of IAS Officers in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Frequent transfers of district heads under the pressure of dubious local politicians were already obvious particularly in UP and Bihar, already torn by political factions, but also in a better-run state like Maharashtra.

87Petty corruption from small officials and policemen was quite alive under the British, but the channels of corruption increased considerably with the new institutions: community projects, cooperatives, Panchayati Raj, and the provision of electric supply. One could already record many complaints from farmers, but these have increased considerably in the following decades till the present day. On the other hand I never heard of any corruption case involving ICS /IAS officers. Local administration and extension services were of a higher standard in the South and in Maharashtra. Panchayati Raj achievements, though limited, were more conspicuous in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra than in the North.

88All over the country, landless people were very often Dalits. Their relations with other castes did partly improve in Khandoi, in the South, and in Maharashtra, while abuses and extreme rigidity were evident in Nahiyan and Pilkhi. The differences between agriculture-orientated castes and castes following the taboo on ploughing, already noticed by the British, remained quite alive.

89With reference to marriages in the North, the bride had to belong, of course, to the same caste as the groom, but she also had to come from another village. In the South, the couple could both come from the same village; with the bride remaining in her own village, she could seek the protection of her family in case of difficulties. Besides these observances, purdha was quite strict among upper-castes in the North where even low-caste and Dalit women would not work as paid labourers.


1 This device could already be found in Sumerian culture from 2000 years B.C. This is an example of how ancient techniques could spread over great distances.

2 The governments of UP and of other Hindi speaking states were careless about family planning unlike in the southern states or in Maharashtra (see below: Eksal village)

3 This is a typical case where advanced knowledge is crucial, because if you do not question farmers, they will most likely not mention such points. It was only in 1967 that I read an article by M. N. Srinivas mentioning this fact. Since then, I questioned farmers wherever I went, and found out that it was a widespread custom. Probably less common was the eating of rats.


Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search