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Indian Villages

Gilbert Etienne

Part II – The Green Revolution and After

Chapter 6 – In the South Eastern Deltas

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1Manchala in Andhra Pradesh and Kila Ulur in Tamil Nadu are representative of changes in the coastal southeastern districts. In spite of different patterns of cropping and irrigation, the process of growth offers similarities with the villages visited in UP i.e. the breakthrough of HYVs, diversification of agriculture, growth of non-agricultural jobs either locally or outside the area.


2In November 1978, when we return to Manchala, farmers are harvesting 2,750 to 4,125 kg/ha of paddy, versus 2,800 to 3,500 kg/ha eleven years ago. Growth could have been higher, but parts of the soil are unfit for HYVs because they are alkaline or lack drainage. Farmers complain about the poor maintenance of the canals: breaches of dykes and bunds, and a lack of drainage that is particularly important for dwarf varieties. Wells are rare because the groundwater is often brackish. Then in 1977, the region suffered from a cyclone. Canals remain open from the end of June to the end of January. After paddy, as was done in the past, pulses are grown, yielding 500 kg/ha, and are sold at a high price.

3Tractors are replacing bullocks for ploughing. There are two in the village and others are available on rent from outside. A Kapu has opened a rice mill, consequently liberating women from hulling paddy by hand. Petty trade, and transport on a bicycle (50 kg or more) to and from Guntur create more jobs. Fishing, catching birds, repair of canals and roads are growing as ancillary jobs. Milk plays but a minor role.

4The population was 2,200 in 2001, a very low figure due to out-migrations and the progress of family planning. In the past few years, 100 women have been sterilized. A number of Brahmin families have started selling their land before settling in a town, especially in Guntur, which is a thriving city. The total sale of land amounts to 40 ha in 1978, which helps the Kapussince their holdings are being fragmented by inheritance.

5Kapus owning a few hectares manage quite well while small landowners must struggle hard. Nimma Amankamma owns 0.8 ha and rents 0.2 ha from a neighbour, which gives him 450 kg of paddy, half of the crop he cultivates. He uses his two buffalos for ploughing. With a mixture of farm manure and urea, he obtains 3,750 kg/ha of paddy. His large family – including his parents, wife and five young children consumes 8 kg of rice per day, with 400 kg being leftover for sale. Sun hemp (a fiber), pulses and fodder are cultivated in the rabi. He could have had a better yield of paddy if his land had been properly drained. Complaining about having too many children, he has been sterilized. Other Kapus with 1,2 ha were slightly better off.

6The Yanadis feel happy. They have been given some plots of communal land for their houses. Thus they were freed from compulsory work for the Brahmins who were owners of the land where they had their houses. “Now we stand on our own,” a Yanadi told me when admitting that their living conditions had improved moderately. They keep on recovering paddy stored by rats in paddy bunds and continue catching rats with their bamboo traps. They fish in the canal and sell the fish, or they catch birds during their migration. They raise a few chickens and can work on the repair of canals. Daily wages have increased from Rs 3 to 4 per day in 1967 to Rs 5 to 6, which means a low increase in real terms. The ratio for harvest in kind is better.

The Next Steps

7The growth trends observed in 1978 gathered momentum in the following decades. In 2002, paddy reached 5,000 kg/ha. As in Khandoi, farmers and extension services begin to have cause for worry: paddy yields tend to level off in spite of more inputs. Soils need more organic manure and micronutrients. Some new varieties of black gram (pulses) are introduced, giving yields of 800 to 1,000 kg/ha versus around 500 kg given before. Tractors now cover all the fields. Irrigation seems to have improved. A water tower with pipes and taps supplies drinking water from 6 to 9 a.m. and from 4 to 6 p.m.

8Cattle and milk are not progressing much, as villagers complain of lack of fodder. There are hardly any kitchen gardens. As for coconuts, most of them are consumed locally. The number of shops, selling fruit, vegetables, clothes, and even Limca (a soft drink), something quite uncommon in villages, keeps on increasing. There are now two rice mills. In 2002, the village had one car, ten motorcycles, three tractors, cellular phones, and 50 TV sets. All these semi-durable goods did not exist until the early 1990s, except a few tractors and some TV sets. They must have increased by now.

9Most of the Brahmins have left after selling their land in small plots to the Kapus. This has helped reduce the increase in the number of holdings through division amongst the heirs. In 2002, the biggest landowner has 8 ha while the greater majority owns less than 1 ha. I meet a Kapu who, out of 0.8 ha, is able to get a surplus of rice, which he sells. He has 3 female buffaloes and sells part of the milk. He lives with his wife and four children. The eldest son works in a laboratory in Hyderabad and sends some money home.

10Chandu Satyanaraya, another Kapu, 40 years old, lives with his wife who has been sterilized after giving birth to three girls and one boy. In the 1980s, he owned 0.8 ha. In addition to his income from paddy and pulses, he earned money through the transport of paddy on his three-wheeled cycle, carrying a very heavy load of 300 kg at a time. He managed to save enough money to buy 0.4 ha from a Brahmin who was leaving the village. Now he harvests 5,620 kg/ha of paddy and sells one-third of the produce. After this he grows black gram, which is mostly sold. He rents a tractor. He has five cattle heads: two female buffaloes give milk and two are small cows. Chandu is quite happy. He lives in a pleasant house with a tiled roof and white washed walls. From time to time, he goes on his bicycle to a cinema in Chebrol, the nearest town. Otherwise he watches his recently bought TV.

11The Yanadis have benefitted from a government-housing scheme (loan cum subsidy) for building brick houses. This has created a pleasant hamlet, surrounded by flowers, coconut and banana trees. Although the scheme was a fine programme, there were some leakages. After a few years, claims for repayment stopped, making it difficult to finance new schemes. Out of 85 new houses, 15 were sold to the Kapus for a good price. These are the typical shortcomings of government anti-poverty schemes.

12As usual, women are very alert and outspoken, often unlike the women in the Ganges basin. Makani Kalgaiah told me in 1992, “We now get more money as agricultural labourers.” Her husband goes fishing in the canals. They have four children, of which one son is married; she is proud that the younger children go to school. They have a radio set. The husband has two lungis (dhoti worn in southern India) and four shirts. Several other Yanadis come forth with similar accounts.

13These observations are repeated in 2002. Daily agricultural wages have reached Rs 50 for men and Rs 30 for women. Fishing during the monsoon brings Rs 40–50 per day. The Yanadis still make traps and catch field rats, earning Rs 30 per day. They have stopped recovering paddy grain stored by rats in the field bunds, another indication of the improvement in their living conditions. “It is a tedious and dirty job,” they explain.

14Talluri, a Dhobi, is also making progress. He invites us to sit in front of his house on his folding chairs, something unusual among poor people. In addition to his traditional job of washing clothes, he remains busy in the fields and sometimes works in Guntur. He has two daughters and one son, both of whom are well dressed and well fed. His lively wife has undergone sterilisation. He has rebuilt his house with brick walls. After borrowing some money from relatives (at an interest rate of 2% per month), he bought a female buffalo, which supplies 5 litres of milk per day, part of which is being sold.

15The traffic of goods of all kinds keeps on increasing from the villages to Guntur (20 km), and vice versa. Although the number of motor vehicles continues to grow on roads, bicycles remain an important means of transport; a trip to Guntur from Manchala and back with a heavy load is paid Rs 60. The town continues to expand (with over 600,000 people in 2011) along with the proliferation of industries, shops, cinemas, hotels, and with more cars and motorcycles. More people from Manchala commute for daily work to Guntur. In the outskirts of the city, vegetable belts – which were started in the 1960s and 1970s – are gaining more ground, a trend common to many medium-size cities all over the country.

16I cannot state that relations between Kapus and Yanadis are always smooth, but one does not find the bitter atmosphere observed in Bihar. Besides, the overall progress in the area, affecting people from the few rich farmers to the poorest landless labourers, is obvious. Looking towards the future, it is clear that the diversification of agriculture will become increasingly necessary. Given the current fairly high yields of paddy, it would be proper to reduce the area under paddy in favour of richer crops, the demand for which is bound to increase in the future. That is why vegetable and fruit cultivation as well as animal husbandry should be encouraged.

17Further urbanisation in Guntur and Tenali should also lead to the creation of more job opportunities with the expansion of services and industries, especially in the informal sector. Electricity plays only a minor role in agriculture since the bulk of irrigation depends on canals, but it needs to expand nevertheless. Priority should be given to efforts aimed at improving the maintenance and operations of canals and improving drainage. Another priority involves possibly encouraging the installation of more tube wells, where groundwater is not brackish, for cultivating cash-rich crops when the canals are closed; however, this requires more electricity.

Kila Ulur

18In the fall of 1978, a number of changes have appeared. HYV paddy, chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used by most farmers, leading to yield increases of about 50% compared to those of 1964: 3,600 kg/ha for kuruvai, 2,770 kg/ha for thaladi, both short duration varieties on the same soil, and 3,360 kg/ha for samba (long duration). New varieties of pulses (black and red gram, not HYVs) yield up to 1,000 kg/ha, about double compared to traditional varieties. Groundnuts have not increased much.

19Four farmers have installed 5 HP pump sets on their wells in order to supplement canal irrigation. Nobody owns a tractor but one can hire them from other villages. Cattle and milk production are growing, the latter being transported by truck on the newly built road. We, once again, hear complaints about the canal’s maintenance and about the lack of drainage in some plots.

20Kallars owning 3 to 4 ha of land are improving their incomes. Smaller owners are no less active. Kalyamurti maintains his family on 0.6 ha, one-third double cropped with part of the produce being used for sale. After samba he grows some groundnuts. Tholappa Thewar, who we already met in 1964, had 1,6 ha of land at the time. In 1974 he bought 0.4 ha from small farmers. He now has 3 instead of 2 pairs of bullocks, one being used with a cart for transport – another source of income. Out of 6,200 kg of paddy, he sells 2,800 kg, the remainder being consumed or used to pay workers for transplanting and harvesting. After the closing of the canal, Tholappa digs 3 temporary wells to cultivate groundnuts for sale.

21In the Paraiyar hamlet, Chinaya, married but with no children and to be met again on a subsequent visit, owns 0.12 ha which is mortgaged for Rs 1000. He does coolie work when he is not in the paddy fields where wages have tripled since 1964 for ploughing and pulling shoots, representing an increase in real terms. At harvest, he receives 7,2 kg of paddy. Another Paraiyar lives with his wife and his two sons aged 22 and 17. One of them has been to school. With 0.4 ha, the father has enough rice for his family and sells some quintals. He has a pair of bullocks and, with the help of a loan from the Cooperative, he has got a buffalo that supplies 5 l of milk a day, which is sold. He also sells 50 nuts from his coconut trees and eats the others. Both sons work as casual labourers when not helping their father. In another Paraiyar family, one son who was educated up to high school, is a truck driver and is about to leave for Kuwait. The father manages fairly well with 0.8 ha.

22Women are as active as before in transplanting and harvesting paddy. During off-season, many Paraiyars keep on making mats as they were doing before, buying local fibre, then dyeing and weaving it. They also catch fish and cut down some casuarina trees or work on canal maintenance.

23In the few decades until 2002, the economy has grown with more diversification. But paddy yields tend, as in Manchala, to level off at around 4,000 to 5,000 kg/ha. It is becoming urgent to make better use of inputs like organic manure and soil micronutrients. As for irrigation, canal maintenance and availability of water remain inadequate. The number of wells fitted with an electric pump is increasing, enabling farmers to start their paddy nurseries earlier, before the opening of the canal. Rabi crops rely on wells after the canals’ closure: pulses, groundnuts, and some soybeans – a new crop. Unfortunately, as observed elsewhere, one hears complaints about the supply of power.

24The village is, since 1978, connected to the main road by an asphalted smaller road. Tractors, bought or rented, have replaced most bullocks; these are also used for transport. Construction of brick houses is expanding fast and some relatively rich farmers with relations working outside the village live in new houses almost resembling villas. Drinking water comes from 6 water towers, pipes and taps. 6 shops sell a growing assortment of consumer goods; there are 4 teashops, 10 barbershops, one cycle mechanic and 3 motorcycle mechanics.

25The progress of education is no less striking. In 2002, there were fifty university students. In addition to the old primary school, some relatively rich Kallars have founded a private secondary English school, which opened in 1985. They very kindly called it the “Gilbert Etienne High School”. No one had been to university until the 1960s. In 1996, there were a number of medical doctors, engineers, one chartered accountant, and several people holding BA and MA degrees. Most of them have settled in Thanjavur and other cities, but they maintain close links with their village and often co-own land with some brothers who cultivate it.

26Considering all these activities and taking into account the slow rate of population growth, daily wages in 2002 were quite high: Rs 70–75 for men and Rs 45–50 for women. Job opportunities in the ancillary sector supplemented the income, especially of landless people and small landowners: fishing in the local pond; engaging in petty trade; transporting products (salt, milk) on a bicycle (which fetched Rs 50 per day); cutting and selling wood; and doing construction work (masons earned Rs 100 per day). In 2002, there were six cars, twenty motorcycles, thirty telephones (fixed line), and a growing number of TV sets.

27There is, however, a major source of trouble: the endless dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka over the sharing of river water. An agreement on the sharing of the Cauvery River waters was signed in 1924 and lapsed in 1974. Since then, discussions between the two state governments have been dragging on, resulting in frequent disruption in the water supply to Thanjavur. In addition, the canals have been poorly maintained for at least three decades. Loss of water entering the canals is at 50%. Unreliable and insufficient irrigation means increased importance of and dependence on the rains. When the monsoon is normal or above normal, it makes up for the deficient irrigation, but the reverse situation occurs in drought years. Yields can fall by 10–20% with poor rains, versus 4,000–4,500 kg/ha produced during good rains.

28Since the 1980s, the Kallar landowners having 0.5–0.8 ha have produced some surplus rice for sale. They also rely on the contribution of cows (milk) and chickens (eggs); on selling coconuts from their trees; on some odd jobs here and there; and often on remittances from a family member working outside the village. So far, their standard of living has improved. Sambandam can just get by with only 0.4 ha. Out of two crops of paddy he can spare more than half of his output. Out-migration is increasing, with people moving within the district or elsewhere. Some Kallars have even gone to Saudi Arabia, and two Paraiyars have ventured to the Gulf.

29Like the Yanadis of Manchala, the Paraiyars, too, have continued to move forward. Already in 1978, Chinaya had told me, “Now we live in a civilised manner.” This was true for him and the other 28 families around, a trend confirmed during my subsequent visits. Housing is improving, with brick walls and concrete roofs. Children and adults are better dressed and better fed. More children attend school. Several people now own a bicycle and sometimes even a TV set. A number of men have found jobs outside the village. On his return from the Gulf, one of the men bought 1,6 ha of paddy land. In 2002, I met Chinaya again. He was aging but still strong. With the help of his two sons (the first works as a clerk in Kombakonam and the second works in Kila Ulur), Chinaya first bought 0.4 ha. In 2002, he doubled the size of his landholding. As for Rajgopal, he worked for five years in Dubai, saving Rs 1,30,000 in the 1990s. After his return he bought 1,6 ha of land, which has transformed his family’s life. He gets plenty of rice for sale, in addition to some crops in the kharif.

30Many Paraiyars continue to combine agricultural work with other activities, including the making of mats. It is significant that they have stopped catching and (possibly) eating rats. When questioned about the progress made so far, the Paraiyars mentioned schools, electricity, drinking water, some increase in wages, and more employment opportunities.

31The other major Dalit community, the Pallars, had been left behind. Their lower status was not the sole factor contributing to their condition. They had settled in Kila Ulur, under circumstances of which I am unaware, only fifty years ago, rather far away from the other hamlets. Seven out of ten of their houses had been built and paid for by the government, on land granted to them. They had a hand pump, but no electricity.

32If caste relations between Kallars and Paraiyars seem quite smooth, extreme caste rigidity is still found in the district. Downstream in the Thanjavur delta, I knew a Brahmin, a former engineer who, after living and working in the modern city of Bangalore had returned to his village. He would refuse (in 1999) to enter a Paraiyar house or to sit outside on the same mat with them. In 1985, in a Kallar village along the national highway near Madurai, Paraiyars had to walk barefoot through the Kallar quarters and they could not open their umbrellas since this was an exclusive privilege of the high castes. Many other contradictory trends may be mentioned. Already in 1953, Brahmin railway employees in Madurai were telling me that they had to mix with other castes in the canteen “out of compulsion”. In 2003, on the other hand, pupils of high caste families attending some schools in Karnataka were prevented from eating the free mid day meal by their parents because the cooks were Dalits.

33In 2002, a number of special schemes for the poor had been introduced and implemented by the village panchayat, which would expand further in the next decade. As for the district administration, I was impressed, as in the past, by the calibre of the IAS District Magistrate and of his staff.

34In June 2012, I got the following information from some villagers. As elsewhere, there is – as had already been expressed in 2002 – a growing concern regarding paddy yields levelling off in spite of substantial amounts of input of urea, DAP, and potash. The latest yields are around 4,500 kg/ha. More farm manure and nutrients are needed to prevent soil deterioration. The water table is affected by too many wells cum pump sets in the dry season. Canal irrigation requires improvements. As in many other villages, people complain about wasted plastic items spread everywhere. There are around 100 cross bred cows giving 10 l a day, part of which is being sold. The number of private TWs now covers 30% of the land, improving paddy yields and promoting various crops in the dry season. They have been crucial in 2012, because the Mettur Dam, due to shortage of water, released water in the canals in September instead of end of June. As a result, the early crop of kuruvai could not be cultivated except on plots dependent on TWs. As for samba, it was less affected.

35The number of shops is increasing. Every family has a TV set, at least one mobile phone, and 100% of houses have electricity, though the supply is not adequate. Almost all children go to school. The number of graduates keeps on growing. There are now 3 medical doctors, 11 engineers and more people holding a BA or MA. They usually live with their families in Thanjavur or in other cities. Most families have one or more members working outside Kila Ulur as either unskilled labour in the neighbourhood or as small clerks in cities. Upper class graduates are in the administration, in business, in hospitals or are lawyers. Around 30 of them work abroad, mostly in the Gulf, having occupations ranging from labourers to engineers. Health is improving with more hospitals.

36One gets the feeling that these growing outlets away from agriculture are a consequence of the faster growth of industry and services at the all India level, particularly in the unorganized sector in both towns and advanced villages. In a way they compensate, at least partly, for the slowdown in agriculture. In addition, there comes family planning and the growing number of couples with only two children. Combined with out-migrations, this explains how, according to the 2011 census, the population has slightly decreased to 1940 inhabitants compared to the 2001 census. This may also be an explanation of the very high daily wages of agricultural workers, amounting to Rs 250, a rather exceptional rate.

37The numerous social schemes promoted by the state or by the central government are taking root: free TV for most families, assistance to pregnant women, subsidy for new houses of the poor, free mid-day meals in schools, subsidised rice for the poor, scholarships for advanced studies, all of which come from the state and the MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) from the centre, which provides 100 days of employment per year. In spite of leakage and corruption, these schemes still benefit the poor.


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