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Indian Villages

Gilbert Etienne


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The Caste System

1The castes (jatis) are divided into four categories known as varnas (colours), which, although abstract, serve as a general reference. After these come the outcastes or untouchables, now called Dalit (depressed). Traditionally, the Brahmins, who constitute the first varna category, are responsible for the maintenance of spiritual and religious values. The Kshatriyas (often called Rajput in the north) are soldiers and rulers, and are responsible for the maintenance of temporal and military power. The Vaishyas are traders or cultivators. The Shudras are agricultural labourers or artisans. The Dalit castes are engaged in various services or in agricultural labour. There are 2,500 to 3,000 different endogamous groups or castes that are classified either into one of the varnas or into the untouchables’ category. This system of classification, although seemingly rigid, has allowed, over the centuries, a certain degree of upward social mobility for several castes. Theory will dispute this claim, but the facts support it. For instance, the Jats call themselves Kshatriyas, whereas the Brahmins call the Jats Shudras. Indeed, because of its socio-economic rank, this agricultural caste can be included among the Kshatriyas.

2This system of social classification is equivalent to a division of labour, but this has not been strictly observed, especially now with the modernisation of the country. In villages, many people belonging to the first three varnas have devoted themselves to agriculture for a long time, and the great majority of Brahmins are engaged in all kinds of jobs.

3The Constitution of India has abolished untouchability and prohibits caste discrimination. There is a reservation system for Scheduled Castes (Dalits) and Scheduled Tribes (Adivasis), and quotas for admission to government jobs and in educational institutions. Reservations and quotas have been extended to the OBCs (Other Backward Classes), that is, castes belonging to the Shudra category

4It is quite common to find in villages a dominant caste, which has the largest number of people and owns the largest part of the land. It, therefore, has much influence locally in the socio-economic life.

The Green Revolution

51. New seeds (cereals or others) react better genetically than traditional varieties to higher doses of chemical fertilisers. Shorter or dwarf varieties are used in order to avoid lodging. They often mature earlier, which facilitates double cropping in a year.
2. Chemical fertilisers very often require a better water supply than traditional varieties cultivated without fertilisers - hence the key role of water, irrigation, and/or rain.
3. Areas with poor and erratic rainfall and low irrigation potential are not suitable for the Green Revolution.
4. Since new seed varieties are genetically more homogeneous, they are more vulnerable to pests, especially during the rains – hence the need for pest control.
5. New seeds must be replaced after four or five years, otherwise the yields decline. Hence a continuous process of research is required. Hybrid seeds are renewed every year.
6. Any one seed variety is not suitable for all physical milieus or climatic conditions.


6Good traditional yields (kg/ha) of irrigated crops:

7Wheat: 1,000–1,300 kg/ha

8Rice: 1,200–1,400 kg/ha [clean rice, two-thirds of paddy]

9During the first phase of the Green Revolution, yield for each crop: 2,000–2,500 kg/ha.

10At present, yield for each crop: 3,500–4,000 kg/ha, or even more.

11Traditional rainfed crops:

12Wheat: 400–900 kg/ha.

13Rice: 700–1,000 kg/ha depending on amount of rainfall.

14Jowar (sorghum): 700–1,000 kg/ha.

15Millet (bajra): 400-1,300 kg/ha.

16Chemical fertilizers: Nitrogen N, Phosphate P2O5, Potash K2O.

17Nutrients refer to the content of N, P2O5, K2O in merchandise chemical fertilizers.

18For the main fertilizers: urea, 46% of N; and for di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) 16.5% N, 48% P2O5.

19Muriat of potash, 50 to 60% of K2O.

Population and agricultural data

20Population 1951: 361 million; 2011: 1210 million.

21Population increase per year 1951–2001: between +2 to +2.4 %. 2011 +1.6 %

22Urban 17%; Rural 83% 1951

23Urban 31.2%; Rural 68.8% 2011

24Workers in agriculture constituted 70% of active population in 1951, 50% in 2011

Agricultural holdings 2010–2011

Category of holdings (millions)

Number of holdings

Area in %

Marginal, less than 1 ha



Small, 1 to 2 ha



Semi medium, 2 to 4 ha



Medium, 4 to 10 ha



Large, 10 ha and above



25Total number of holdings 138 millions; total area 159 millions ha.

26Unfortunately these data do not give a breakup between rainfed and irrigated areas. The owner of 1 ha irrigated and double cropped is much better off than a farmer with 2 or 3 rainfed ha. In 1951, the percentage of holdings below 1 ha amounted to 39%.

Agricultural production, million t

Food grains



Cotton lint

















27One notices a very low increase in pulses which have today, including large imports, become a quasi luxury for the poor.

Horticulture, million t

28Fruit, 1990/1991: 11.3; 1998/1999: 20; 20010/11: 76.

29Vegetables, 2010/2011: 138.

30Onions included in vegetables, 1990/1991: 3.2; 1998/1999: 5.3; 2010/2011: 15.

31Potatoes, 1950/1951: 1.66; 1990/1991: 15.2; 1998/1999: 23.6; 2010/2011: 39.6

32Milk, million t 1950/1951: 17; 1990/1991: 54; 2010/2011: 122.

Stock of food grains

33Available, 2011, Jan. 1: wheat, 21.5 million t, rice 25.6 million t

34Buffer norms for wheat and rice, Jan 1, 2011: 25 million t,

35Stocks in June 2012, after wheat harvest, were around 60 million t.

Sources for all these data: Agricultural Statistics at a Glance, 2012 and Economic Survey 2012/2013.

Exchange rate Rupees per dollars

361963/1965: 4.75

371966/1969: 7.50

381991/1992: 24.5

392001/2002: 47.7

402008/2009: 46.0

412010/2011: 45.6

42Early 2012: 50

Glosary and acronyms

43Adivasi: aboriginal tribe, Schedule tribe (ST)

44Anicut: weir on a river for irrigation

45Bajra: millet

46Baksheesh: gift, tip or corrupt practice

47Baniya: caste belonging to the Vaishya varna

48BDO: Block development officer

49Bhangi: sweeper and scavenger, Dalit

50BPL: Below poverty line

51Casurina: kinf of tree

52Chakki: stone mill

53Chamar: Dalit

54Charpai: bed or cot

55Chaukidar: gardian, gard

56Choli: blouse

57Dabao: pressure, abuse, coercion

58Dalit: former untouchables, social category divided into many castes, schedule caste

59Desi: local, indigenous

60Dhobi: washerman

61Dhoti: one-piece garment of unstitched cloth tied at the waist, worn by men

62Dom: scavenger or weaver

63Dusad: Dalit from Bihar

64FYP: Five Year Plan

65GR: Green Revolution

66Gur: cooked sugar from cane juice, kind of molasse

67HYV: High yield variety of seeds

68IAS: Indian Administrative Service (after independence)

69ICS: Indian Civil Service (in British days)

70Jajmani: system whereby artisans or labourers work for farmers and are paid in kind

71Jati: caste

72Jhum: shifting and burning cultivation without ploughing

73Jowar: sorghum

74Kachcha: not permanent, for instance unpaved road, mud house

75Kharif: monsoon season, June-July to September-October

76Kolu: traditional system of pressing sugarcane and making raw sugar (gur)

77Kurta: shirt, tunic

78Laparvahi: neglect, carelessness

79Lungi: little dhoti worn by men in Southern India

80Mahar: Dalit, field labourer and village servant in Maharashtra

81Mot: lift irrigation from an open well with a bucket pulled by bullocks

82Musahar: Dalit, literally eater of rats

83Neem: type of tree

84Neta: local important politician

85OBC: Other Backward Classes, Kurmi and Yadav in the North, Kallar in Tamil Nadu

86Pahariyas: adivasi tribe

87Panchayat: village council, self-governing body

88Paraiyar: Dalit, field labourer or village servant

89Pukka: permanent (for example a house with brick walls)

90Qanun: law

91Rabi: crop season, from November to April

92Rahat: Persian wheel, chain of buckets lifted from the open well by a pair of bullocks

93Roti: kind of flat bred

94Sadhu: holy man

95Sal: kind of tree

96Sarson: mustard

97Tala: lock

98Taluk or tehsil: subdistrict

99Twice-born: refers to the first three varnas

100TW: tubewell

101UNDP: United Nations Development Programme

102UP Uttar Pradesh

103Varna: litt. colour, one of the four categories of castes above dalit

104Zamindar: landlord


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