Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The significance of village studies in India during the 1950s

 The significance of village studies in India during the 1950s

The tradition of village studies in India is as old as the tradition of empirical research in social sciences. Scientific understanding of Indian society began with village studies. Though traditionally study of villages was common to many social science disciplines, the idea of the village as the unit of investigation turned out to be central to sociologists and social anthropologists. In fact, the development of sociology and social anthropology in India has its origin in the village studies. Although village studies started during the colonial period, it continued to dominate the anthropological-sociological studies till the 1960s and beyond. However, village studies in India do not have a uniform tradition in terms of style and temper. 

It has undergone significant changes over the decades in response to national and global concerns. The interest in village studies in India was greatly influenced by both colonialism and planning. Social anthropology and sociology in India originated in response to the realisation on the part of the colonial government that knowledge of Indian social life and culture, which was mainly organised and shaped in the villages, is essential for its smooth administration. The British administrators as well the social scientists were encouraged to study village communities to have first-hand comprehensive information, particularly on the caste system and tribal life, and the associated socio-economic and political organisations. 

As noted by Jodhka (1998), village was recognized as a “natural” entry point to the understanding of the traditional Indian society and for documenting the patterns of its social organization and it emerged as the ultimate signifier of the authentic native life, a place where one could observe the “real” India and develop an understanding of the way local people organized their social relationships and belief systems. Hence, the survey reports of Francis Buchanan, the Gazetteers of Walter Hamilton and Edward Thornton came out in the beginning of the nineteenth century and subsequently routine Imperial as well as District Gazetteers were written which depicted mainly the Indian village life. With the introduction of new land revenue policy, studies were undertaken to understand the village communities and the prevalent land tenure systems, as they were necessitated primarily for determining revenue assessments and demarcating boundaries of revenue villages. 

The publication of the report of Royal Commission on Agriculture 1926 which revealed the miserable conditions of the farm population made the colonial government aware of the need to intervene in the village affairs and drew attention of the leaders of the freedom struggle. Hence, the first wave of village studies emerged with a view to collect detailed and comprehensive information on villages. This prompted economists like Harold Mann and Kanitkar (1921) to investigate into land ownership, cropping pattern, and other agricultural practices, occupational structure and the like which laid sound foundation for village studies and stimulated many scholars and government agencies to undertake studies in other parts of India. Subsequently, many village surveys were also made by several institutions1 and individual scholars2 which motivated further studies on village India. There was growing recognition of the fact that in order to understand the facts of village life independent studies are crucial rather than depending on reports and surveys made by the colonial administrators.

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