Conceptual and Cultural Contexts
|CONTENTS - Preface|
|Chapter 1 PROJECT VILLAGE INDIA|
|Chapter 2 HERITAGE VILLAGE|
|Chapter 3 VILLAGE AS PERSON|
|Chapter 4 VILLAGE AS COSMOS|
|Chapter 5 DESIGN FOR
DESIGN FOR HUMAN DEVELOPMENT
VILLAGE is a self-governing space, as independent as the modern nation. Within the village, caste is a self-governing social space; within the caste, family is an entity; and within the family the individual is atmos, made up of a (not) and tomos (cut). As a "repository world" containing layers of human tradition, the village reflects time and human destiny. The tradition on which this notion of village is based yields a control system (Table 5.1) that orders life, subsistence, distinctions, and desires. It authenticates all forms of institutionalized lifestyle. Life is ordered in four stages, of which the first two are oriented towards action and the last two towards indifference to worldly pleasures and withdrawal from the active life.
Table 5.1: The Control System
|Ordering of Life||Ordering of Subsistence||Ordering of Distinction||Ordering of Desires|
The ordering of subsistence brings harmony and peace to social and economic life. Here purity is the prime factor. The normal means of subsistence is allowed to be given up only in states of distress, though there are forbidden occupations, never allowed to be undertaken.
The ordering of distinction on the basis of time, space, social group, and personal considerations, such as aesthetic taste, allows the formation of a distinctive lifestyle. For instance, the life of a chief or a king is distinctly marked off from that of a common man. Similarly, the life of a musician is geared differently from that of an ordinary person. Each of the four castes of men is ordained to follow a distinct style in respect of such matters as name, timing of the initiation rite, garments, term of address, term of salutation, inheritance, and punishment. Such considerations of time and space legitimize new lifestyles. The ordering of desires completes the cosmic rhythm of human life. Human desires are classified into four categories: the desire to uphold the moral order, the desire connected with wealth and power, the desire for pleasure and procreation, and the desire for freedom from all desires. Although seemingly opposed in character, these primal desires stand in organic and interactive relationships to one another. In effect they are counterpoised. All traditional societies allow for the satisfaction of desires for power and pleasure, but strictly in accordance with the moral order which ties these up with the ultimate freedom of man. Notably, this arrangement allows every individual to feel content with the freedom and fulness of life.
This grand design for human development, visualized by the ancient sages and socially recognized as the varnashrma order, leads to the formation of a "self-thinking", "self-organizing" and "self-governing" village India. European colonization caused wholesale enslavement, displacement and dispossession and virtual cultural genocide. When one culture is conquered by another, "antisystems" develop in it. Historically, the most extreme cultural contrast between the European colonizers and the village societies of India, effected deep crises at every level of human existence. The Europeans introduced "antisystems" which activated a process of change unconnected with the cultural life of India. Gandhi, the most powerful prophetic voice of the 20th century, waged a "non-violent war" against the colonizing invaders. This encounter was of crucial importance not only for political independence but also for the enhancement of India’s cultural heritage.
The Experiment with Truth
Gandhi wanted to attain moral, social and economic independence for villages as distinct from cities and towns. He said: "If the village perishes India will perish too. It will be no more India. Her own mission in the world will get lost. The revival of the village is possible only when it is no more exploited. Industrialization on a mass scale will necessarily lead to passive or active exploitation of the villagers as the problems of competition and marketing come in. Therefore we have to concentrate on the village being self-contained, manufacturing mainly for use. Provided this character of the village industry is maintained, there would be no objection to villagers using even the modern machines and tools that they can make and can afford to use. Only they should not be used as a means of exploitation of others" (1936). For the revival of the village and the enhancement of cultural heritage, he introduced the rigorous practice of a personal ethic evolved by the sages of India. In his own life, Gandhi demonstrated how the traditional virtues of a personal ethic, viz. satya, truth, ahimsa, non-violence, brahmacharya, conduct which puts man in touch with God, astaya, non-stealing, aparigrah, non-acceptance or non-possession, and abhaya, fearlessness, can be applied to the building of character both of the individual and of society. He turned satyagraha, the force of truth, into a mass movement for the freedom of India. He said that a nation is free only in proportion to its "internal freedom". This is the meaning of swaraj. Gandhi saw that the educational system of the country, such as it was, did not build up the economic life of village India. His philosophy of education was therefore of a craft-oriented education. He believed in the right of the farmer to his own farm, and in the role of the wealthy as trustees, and worked towards a completed philosophy of sarvodaya, welfare of all and rule by all.
Vinoba, another ardent freedom fighter and Gandhi’s most worthy disciple, addressed himself to the ideals of sarvodaya. The philosophy of sarvodaya recognizes no "natural classes", but admits that there is a distinction between those who are able and those who are less so. As Gandhi said, "My idea of society is that while we are born equal, meaning that we have a right to equal opportunity, all have not the same capacity". Sarvodaya is a regulative principle in human relations, transcending history, politics and the pattern of existing social relations. It emphasizes the right use of wealth and its distribution. Vinoba called the sarvodaya movement a yajna, sacrifice, which inspires the poor to work for their own salvation and the rich for self-purification and relinquishment of ownership. He thought of a non-violent way of resolving the land question without State intervention or legislation. He received bhoomidan, gifts of land, from people of all classes and denominations. Of bhoomidan yajna, he said that dan was equitable division. The land gifts mission was extended to gramdan, villagization of land. In support of his mission Vinoba argued, "The Vedas have also said that land is the mother of all. All religions speak with one voice that land belongs to all. Gramdan is the expression of the spirit of the age. It asks people not only to break the narrow domestic walls and consider the whole village as one family but goes further and asks for the villagers to meet together to consider their problems and solve them with one mind." In his grand design for the gramdan village, "Private ownership in land will end. No debts will be incurred for a marriage in the family. The whole village will contribute toward the expenses. There will be one shop in the village. Every householder will have labour-hours entered into the register to his credit. He will not be exploited by the trader from the town. People will learn to live together in happy cooperation". By the end of December 1956, the position of land gifts was as follows:
Tagore, poet laureate of India and rare example of Creativity, expressed his concern for palli unnayan, development of the village. He wrote, "The villages are waiting for the living touch of creative faith and not for the cold aloofness of science which uses efficient machinery for extracting statistics, the statistics that deal with fragments of dissected life." His power of vision gave two forms of institution: Santiniketan, the house of peace, and Sriniketan, the house of prosperity. The latter was aimed at village reconstruction work and his approach to it is preserved in his book Palli Prakriti, the nature of the village: "A visitor may compare Sriniketan with other institutions of a similar nature in other big countries and ashamed of the paltriness of our own efforts, may advise us to abandon it.... The immense benefit realized by the surrounding villages through the constant inspiration of sympathy and encouragement of Sriniketan must never be belittled in favour of some impersonal abstractions of science, however valuable they may be (1924). I have been cherishing my hope of establishing an ideal centre of education at Sriniketan, an ideal which is not curtailed to the strictest measure of a narrow village environment, which is not specially set apart to be doled out as a famine ration, carefully calculated to be just good enough for an emaciated life and dwarfed mentality. It is well-known that the education, which is prevalent in our country, is extremely meagre in the spread of its area and barren in its quality... Sriniketan should be able to provide for its pupils an atmosphere of rational thinking and behaviour which alone can save them from stupid bigotry and moral cowardliness. I myself attach much more significance to the educational possibilities of siksha-satra than to the school and college at Santiniketan, which are every day becoming more and more like so many schools and colleges elsewhere in the country: borrowed cages that treat the students’ minds as captive birds, whose sole human value is judged according to the mechanical repetition of lessons, prescribed by an educational dispensation foreign to the soil" (1937). Tagore and Gandhi have undoubtedly been the outstanding figures of India. They were different from each other in their make-up or temperament. Tagore, the aristocratic artist, and Gandhi, the embodiment of the Indian peasant. But Tagore’s vision of Sriniketan was very close to Gandhi’s concept of Basic Education and Nai Talim. Both have contributed to human development immensely, each in his own way.
The Local Realistic View
There are two "ontological regions", the absolute and the relative. We may envisage two other regions, the "local" and the "non-local". The first comprises the "social order" and the second, the "transcendental order". This means that the "local reality" does not coincide with the "non-local reality" but reflects non-local universal reality. Man is both matter and spirit. The "thought experiment" with "non-local reality" can present a "conception" of human development. The "experiential design" for "local reality" can provide direct "measurement" of human development. The inseparability of the local and the non-local cannot be denied; but a clear picture of development can emerge only if we begin with "local reality". State planning, based on "thought experiment" at the nonlocal — national, international — level, begins the process but cannot bring about effect at local level. The measurement of development in "priority areas" (savings, business enterprise, the informal economy, agriculture, basic education, health action, housing, promotion of the role of women, the environment and population) at the national level is unrealistic, because its perceptions and performances are carried out in "non-local reality". The India Development Report and UNDP’s Human Development Report rely on statistical data, and claim theoretical neutrality. But such theoretical neutrality does not get us very far. The "local reality" is far more complex than the simple "statistical reality". The reality of a traditional culture cannot be seen in terms of black or white: it is both. Traditional culture is incomprehensible, for it cannot be comprehended by "modern culture" in terms of black or white; it is imperishable, for it cannot be destroyed completely by "modern culture" in linear time. What can be known of a traditional culture is its "normative preference". The present study, aimed at the identification and enhancement of India’s cultural heritage, has taken the "local realistic view" of human development. The following examples illustrate the point.
Gandhi succeeded in his experiment with Truth. He did not build any theory to account for the nature of the world. What came out of his experiment was the victory of Truth. He said: "The whole world is impressed by the fact that India has achieved independence without bloodshed. We have to be worthy of that independence by our right conduct". What happened within five months of Independence was terrible, shameful. But the killing of the apostle of non-violence was not the victory of violence. Albert Einstein noted, "Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth".
Mangrauth is Vinoba’s First gramdan village. In 1952 a Sarvodaya Mandal Committee, consisting of worthy people, was formed. All the land of the village was placed under the Committee. The produce of the collective farms was equally distributed among the village households. Village industries, such as khadi, leather-work, weaving, and oil pressing, began to flourish. The villagers foresaw in this gramdan yajna many gains. But soon their enthusiasm faded, and in 1960 it died out completely. The reasons for this failure, as ascribed by the villagers, were: (a) People’s aspirations remained unfulfilled. The promise that the village would receive government loans and subsidies, new agricultural tools, and employment, as provided for in the scheme, was not carried out. Now the Committee had land but no funds to manage. (b) Failure in organizational matters. According to the rules framed for the management of the village land, everybody was required to work equally for equal shares in production. But some people violated this rule of work and yet got equal shares. Others turned their backs. This ultimately put an end to the moral principle of sarvodaya. (c) Another cause was rather peculiar. All the village land belonged to the Committee; there was no individual ownership of land. Hence people of other villages were reluctant to give their daughters in marriage to the boys of Mangrauth. This distressed the mind of the villagers. All this contributed to the decline of optimism and a crisis of confidence in gramdan. There was also a positive miracle. Being the first gramdan village, Mangrauth had attained prominence and prestige at the all-India level, even at the world level, and many luminaries, including Vinobaji, had come to greet its people. By their nature, village people are constructive and God-fearing. The gramdan movement failed, but the sarvodaya ideal of humanism, unity and love persists in the life of the village. The villagers have not disowned the glory of being the first gramdan village.
Ballavpur is one of Tagore’s model villages. Tagore had advocated and encouraged the setting up of rural development societies without government help of any kind for achieving self-reliance and self-dependence of the rural people through united action. He was also in favour of co-operatives in agriculture. He wanted all the farmers to consolidate their holdings so that agricultural production could rise. He realized that agricultural productivity is low in small holdings and no scientific cultivation is possible. It leads to wastage of time, labour and cattle power, difficulty in the proper utilization of irrigation facilities, quarrels and consequent litigation among farmers, wastage of crops in the absence of fencing, etc. But the people were not ready to consolidate their land. As a result, Tagore’s thought on co-operative farming totally failed. Yet the co-operative spirit in the village continues. The health co-operative, which was formed in 1925, is functioning. Traditional dharma golas (community granaries), where farmers used to deposit paddy for crisis management, have ceased to function. But the Amar Kutir Society for Rural Development, established in 1978 to promote Tagore’s ideas about the revival of village arts and crafts through self-reliance, is active. Land is a universal problem. Vinoba’s land-gift movement and Tagore’s idea of co-operative farming did not work, because these were "thought experiments" unrelated to the "local realistic view" of land.
Village Chingari in Bihar is the place of origin of the Tana Bhagat religious movement led by Jatra Bhagat, an Oraon "tribal" of this village. The movement, which dates back to April 1914, emphasized the purity of life. Jatra Bhagat proclaimed that he and his followers would not work as labourers under a landlord or an Englishman or the British Government. Tana Bhagat brought social and religious reform in tribal communities, the Oraon in particular. Tribals actively participated in the freedom movement. They consider Mahatma Gandhi an ideal man and worship him as a diety. In the house of every Tana Bhagat the tricolour flag is permanently planted in memory of the freedom movement and of Gandhi. Their movement admirably fits into the Gandhian socio-economic, political, non-violent movement. In the tribal context, theirs is a unique reformist movement aimed at enhancing tribal cultural heritage.
The impact of the current technological revolution on village life has been for both good and evil. From the study of 10 villages, it came out that there has been little good and more evil (Table 5.2).
Table 5.2 : Use of Modern Technology
|Domestic Equipment||Villages||Occupational Equipment||Villages|
|Electrification of house||9||Diesel engine||2|
|Flush latrine||2||Pumpint set||4|
|Motorcycles||9||Flour milling machine||4|
|Scooter, Car, Jeep||4||Fodder cutting machine||2|
|LP Gas||5||Threshing machine||5|
The largest number of villages have adopted communication technology: Of ten villages, nine have acquired television, motorcycles and scooters and have electrified their houses, which helps them with fan, fridge, radio, television, VCR and tape recorder; five villages have telephones and four have cars and jeeps. But only two villages have flush latrines. This achievement shows that the villages are developing as an "information society". In sharp contrast, their adoption of modern agricultural technology is low, which leaves no possibility of the development of rural industries. Gandhi had said that the "extinction of village industries would complete the ruin of the villages of India". It must be realized that the acquisition of media facilities does not necessarily and automatically mean higher standards of economic or cultural development.
Gandhi’s Basic Education was meant to transform village children into model villagers. It was principally designed for them. He said: "Mass illiteracy is India’s sin and shame and must be liquidated. Of course, the literacy campaign must not begin and end with knowledge of the alphabet. It must go hand in hand with the spread of useful knowledge. The modern education system gives a new capacity which is of dubious social value, unless it can be employed to raise the levels of material and moral life". The present study has shown that higher education in village India (Table 5.3) is still in its infancy: the growth of literacy is not positively correlated with the development of higher education. The message of higher education gives no
Table 5.3 : The Status of Modern Education
|Type of Village||Literacy Education||Higher Graduate||Unemployed||Teaching|
ground for optimism. The cultural types of villages reveal "tradition as a factor". The "scholastician village" Saurath, which has a great tradition of Sanskrit learning, surpasses all other types in achieving higher education in modern subjects. The "epical village" Jakhol stands at the bottom in both literacy and higher education. Villages with a high percentage of literacy, such as the "ecological village" Mandre and the "artistic village" Ballavpur, are low in higher education. The "sarvodaya village", Mangrauth, has few unemployed graduates. Educational facilities in these villages are inadequate. They do not have their own complexes of higher education. Their young receive higher education in cities, which creates a fundamental tension between two competing sets of values and aspirations. Only a few villagers (less than 2 per cent) attach importance to teaching. Attitudes towards women’s education have changed. The figures for women, obtained from the "scholastician village" Saurath, are promising: literates 40.42 per cent; graduates 19.07 per cent; and post-graduates 15.67 per cent.
Farmers of Hanspur in Madhya Pradesh grow asagandh (ashwagandha), a medicinal plant, on sub-marginal sandy soil. They shared their knowledge of asagandh cultivation with the Projector Co-ordinator of the present study (who himself is an agricultural scientist working on asagandh). They told him: "Three things are very important — soil fertility, time of planting and harvesting, and plant population; and if asagandh is grown in rich fertile soil the canopy of the plant will be dense and big resulting in thick woody roots, i.e. less starchy". This type of observation was rarely seen true of any crop. As a scientist, the co-ordinator was baffled; he was unable to produce an accurate percentage of production of good quality roots, as it is a challenge for researchers even today. The farmer also suggested that nitrogenous fertilizers and urea should not be used because they blacken the asagandh powder and makes the roots woody. Their experience proved quite true, as it gave better results.
In Kundarkhi-Bhur, the joint family system was almost nonexistent among the lower and middle castes. Among higher castes, disintegration started only a few years back. There are still three examples of "ideal joint families". Previously, common property and common hearth were the significant factors by which a joint family was identified. Common profession and a common roof were also equally important. Now, compelling situations have led to various combinations. For instance, all property may not be joint, but a sizeable part of it remains common. Similarly, a common hearth may not exist because some members live away from the village. But when the members of the family assemble they share a common hearth. However, the influence of Western culture, the craze for modern amenities, the growing tendency to shun joint responsibility, decreasing tolerance, and the lack of proper guidance are some of the factors that have contributed to the disintegration of the joint family. There is a saying in the village: "where there is no consultation, where there is no spinning, and where there is no care of bullocks, all these three types of families are destined to be doomed".
In Ballavpur the distribution of households according to family size is as follows: 12.1 per cent households have one to two members; 54.1 per cent have three to four; 25.2 per cent, five to six; 5.5 per cent have seven to eight members; 7 per cent have nine to ten; and 0.3 per cent have more than ten members. This shows that the joint family system is weakening but is not completely lost. Figures available from 8 villages show that a considerable number of villagers do not take away their families to cities and other places of work. Family relationships are maintained, and obligations, rights and duties are carried out in an ever-extending family. Every village generates such people, and their number is as high as 85.71 per cent and as low as 20 per cent. This is a clear indicator of individual awareness of responsibilities and life relationships found in family and kinship.
Bagurihati in Assam has a number of organizations for undertaking community and village development activities. These are the Gaon Unnayan Samiti (Village Development Society), Panchayat Samiti, Mahila Samiti (Women’s Organization), Gaon Arakshi Bahini (Village Defence Party), and several youth organizations. These organizations have been created by the villagers themselves to take up developmental activities as well as to act as agencies of social control. The Gaon Unnayan Samiti generates its own funds to be used in different development works like road construction, irrigation canal maintenance and in providing drinking water facilities (ring well and tubewell) in public places. A major source of income for the Gaon Unnayan Samiti is pisciculture in the large public tank of the village. Other institutions also generate funds for their developmental activities. There are several instances of community work which speak for the self-organizing ability of the village people. The people are not overly dependent on the government or on other fund-giving agencies. It is to be pointed out that caste and religion are not important in community level development activities.
Mandre in Goa is a picturesque village, set amidst green hillocks and with the Arabian Sea on one side (Map 2). It is marked by a beautiful beach line of white sand and by coconut plantations all over. Agriculture and horticulture are the main occupations: 90 per cent of village land is under cultivation, with paddy and fruit trees; 10 per cent is occupied by houses, grazing grounds, playgrounds, etc. There is no waste land in the village. Trees are valued by the villagers as "Gods’ compassion personified". For centuries they have cultivated coconut, cashew, mango, areca-nut, banana and papaya. These are now also commercially important. On the hills the main plantation crop is cashew. Along with this jumbhool, jack-fruit, mango, and trees yielding timber are also grown. Cashew trees conserve soil and water. Trees fulfil the needs of the villagers. Besides fruit trees, spices, medicinal plants, flowers, pineapple and vegetables are cultivated following age-old methods. Agricultural equipment is locally made, and nearly all agricultural activities are done by hand. The only mechanization to have made inroads is the use of the power tiller and the water pump. The farmers use their indigenous knowledge of bio-diversity to preserve and conserve nature. Natural manure like cowdung, ash, and dried leaves are used. Fish manure is used, specially for coconut plantations. Organic farms are the pride of the village. The swadeshi krishi, indigenous agriculture, introduced by some innovative farmers, discards chemical farming, which is harmful to both land and water. Organic farming is the only method of sustainable agriculture. One of the organic farms combines old agricultural methods with new techniques like drip irrigation and sprinklers. No chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used. Farm waste, twigs, leaves, kitchen waste, and other organic substances are put back into the soil. A bio-gas plant supplies cooking gas and manure (slurry of the gobar gas) to the farm. A plantation growing banana, cashew, chickoo, coconut and arcea-nut in a semi-arid area of about 100 acres has provided jobs to villagers, besides bringing semi-arid land under cultivation. The crops are vulnerable to pests and to the vagaries of weather. But no corrective measures, expert knowledge of crops or of methods of scientific cultivation, are provided by government agencies. The farmers themselves cope with the decreasing fertility of the soil and the low cash crop yield.
There is a need for thinking clearly on the planning and management of development. This study has recorded several cases of development mismanagement. The experience of most of the villagers is that promises turn into perils: There are schools, but no teachers; dispensaries, but no doctors; electricity, but no supply; telephone exchanges, but no operators; metal roads, but never repaired; houses for the poor, but dilapidated; hand pumps, but no water; fertilizers, but no capacity to fertilize; tractors and diesel engines, but a scarcity of diesel; old age pensions, but irregular payments; franchise election to village councils, but no elections; loans, but not to the needy; beneficiaries, but undeserving; political leaders, but corrupt; youth, but unemployed; and so on. At the national level the management problem is glaring. Despite more food, one-third of India is hungry. The United Nations Population Fund report reveals that food production in India has been growing. Yet one-third of its population — an estimated 320 million in 1997 — was considered "food insecure". They consume less than 80 per cent of the minimum energy requirement. The reason: non-consumption, losses at different stages of production, and uneven distribution, which leave several sections of the population undernourished. This is the darker side of the development management. On the brighter side are national planning and statistics of economic growth, technological development, social concern, and political awareness. On the experiential level, are the creation of new structures and hierarchies, a consumer culture and its boundless channels of self-gratification, atomization of society and all that turns to one-way development. There is a proliferation of development organizations. There are non-governmental organizations which pursue a non-organizational "organization", a non-political "politics", and a non-scholarly "scholarship". Obviously, there is a gap between "planning perspective" and the "people’s perspective".
Development planners view Technology (with a capital ‘T’) as central and economic development (with a capital ‘E’) as the ultimate goal. Unaware of the limits of material development, planners and reformers create chaos at the operational level. Their limitations and helplessness can be understood in terms of the democratic impulses and world systems that work. They have to be on the optimistic side. The rules for operations with dimensions of development apply to technology (T) and economy (E). The dimensional equation T + E = X means "matter" is power. What is involved here is the power of "developmentalism". The dimensional equation shows that the systemic relationship holds between the power of technology and the degree of economic growth. Since both are related to matter, the ideology of developmentalism is empty. To illustrate the dimensional equation, the expression of human models of development may be taken. The self-organized cultural model and the centralized communitarian model are polarized around two diametrically opposite views of development (Table 5.4 ).
Table 5.4 : The Models of Development
|Self-organized Cultural Model||Centralized Communitarian Model|
|2.||Spirit as power||2.||Matter as power|
|3.||Emphasis on inward process||3.||Emphasis on outward process|
|4.||Stress on quality||4.||Stress on quantity|
|5.||Focus on religion||5.||Focus on politics|
|6.||Emphasis on experience||6.||Emphasis on expression|
|7.||Ideologization of hierarchy||7.||Ideologization of equality|
|8.||Transformation of individual||8.||Transformation of community|
|9.||Development of culture||9.||Development of nation|
Modern nations today are wedded to a totemic belief in the power and magic of "developmentalism", a modern ideology of political economy and technocentric achievement. Does that magic work in village India? Clearly, it does not. The villagers are ordered to progress. Their failures in matching technocentric development become not tragedy but disqualification (rustic, uncivilized).
Amidst Violence, Nonviolence
Kakhaura in Bihar is a multi-caste village surrounded by violence on each side within a radius of 15 kms. The villages and the persons butchered in them in recent years are as follows: U (12 Harijans), N (6 Yadavas), G (10 Yadavas and Bhumihars), B (8 Harijans), R (4 brothers of the same family), S (many), E (30 Bhumihars), P (4 Bhumihars), K (4 Brahmans), A (4 persons), W (7 persons), and O (many). All these villages are located in Jehanabad district, near Gaya, the place where the Buddha achieved enlightenment, now the seat of terrorist organizations. Kakhaura, with eight castes and a total population of 893, stands alone amidst violence all over. Here there is no murder, no caste struggle, no rival group crime, no rape, no serious type of atrocity, no ban on any productive activity. The apparent positive factors are the following: the gentle village chief, honest people, good green fertile land, multi-caste society, villagers conscious of honour, prestige and reputation of the village.
Bagurihati is located in the district of Nalbari (Assam), which has emerged in the recent years as a seat of socio-political turbulence and considerable violent activities unleashed by some militant outfits. Yet village life goes on as usual. There is an unmistakable atmosphere of peace and tranquillity. A sense of unity and cohesion binds the people of Bagurihati into a village community, despite differences of hamlet, caste, sect, educational attainment, occupational and economic status and religion.
Amidst Darkness, Light
Ironically, the very technocentric achievement of village society is its peril. The scenario of its transformation emerges out of urbanization and industrialization, its collapse. Many villages are becoming slummy, part of an urban complex. But amidst darkness there is light.
In many respects, Bagurihati is a typical lower Assam plains peasant village: paddy fields lie around the village settlement area. Settlements are usually in the form of clear clusters of houses or hamlets — each one usually occupied by a single caste or community. The houses are arranged on either side of pathways which are today nearly all motorable in fair weather. Hamlets are named and have distinct identities. Each domicile area is demarcated by bamboo fencing from adjacent ones. Within each, a number of huts are arranged around a central courtyard. The rear part of each domicile area has lush vegetation made up of carefully tended fruit trees and bamboo groves. It is these trees that give the village a very green and shady appearance. Among the fruit trees, coconut, areca nut, mango, jackfruit, banana, wood-apple and Indian plum are the main species. Coconut and areca nut are a common sight in the village. Almost every household has coconut and areca nut trees. For many, the annual cash earning from coconut and areca nut sale is over Rs.10,000. The villagers also train betel leaf creepers on the areca nut palms.
In Bagurihati, traditional houses with mud plastered walls and thatched roofs are still widely prevalent. There are also many C.G.I. sheet-roofed houses with brick walls and cement floors which have been constructed the recent years. The huts are constructed around an open courtyard called a sotal. Among the Assamese Hindus, usually one hut is kept reserved as gosain-ghar, prayer house. If the presiding deity is Shiva, the gosain-ghar faces south. In other cases the house faces west so that devotees pray facing the east. There are separate huts for cattle (gohali), rice husking lever (dhekal) and granary (bharal-ghar). Some villagers also construct a separate hut to lodge the handloom (tal-sal). Incidentally, nearly all village women are adept at weaving. This is very much a household craft. The living house is the largest hut, with several chambers for sleeping, sitting and cooking purposes. The name "Bagurihati" is derived from the terms baguri (a local variety of plum) and hati (settlement). It is said that at one time the village site abounded in this variety of plum tree. Even today many such trees are to be seen along the stream "Na-nadi", which flows by the western border of the village.
As far as could be ascertained, the village was settled in the early 1820s. The first settlers came from different places in search of a safe location to escape the marauding Burmese invaders (called maan in Assamese) who plundered different parts of Assam from 1817 till 1826, i.e. towards the end of Ahom Rule and before the advent of British colonial administration. It appears that about 170 years ago, the land, though rather low-lying, was very suitable for rice cultivation; and it was this that attracted the early settlers to occupy the area and establish the village. The great earthquake of 1897 effected a rise of land, making the fields less prone to floods. The ancestors of many of the villagers came to settle in the area almost at the same time in the 1820s. It is their descendants who today live in the different hamlets. Bagurihati has as many as eleven hamlets, locally called suba or para.
Among the Hindu castes represented in the village are Koch, Keot, Brahman, Baishya, Napit and Saloi. Besides being multi-caste, Bagurihati is also a multi-religious village. The village has a sizeable Muslim population. Bagurihati is an agricultural village. There are, however, many people who pursue other occupations. It is important to note that many of the service-holders have land, and that agriculture is pursued as a household occupation. A job only ensures a regular cash income. This way agriculture is the mainstay of the village economy. In the village, the Brahman and the Keot are the main land-holding caste groups. On the other hand, landlessness is common among the Muslims and the Napits. The landless people, however, have their own exclusive domains of economic activities. Though they possess land, the Brahmans do not cultivate it themselves. Thus a demand for higher agricultural labour and share-cropping has been created. This gives economic opportunity to those who are landless. Again, Hindus do not catch fish for sale or take up fish-vending. The Muslims at Bagurihati, therefore, get an exclusive and uncontested economic opportunity in the form of fish business in the village. Out of 86 Muslim households, almost 50 subsist on fish-related enterprises. Though caste and religious identitiers are important, there is a strong sense of unity and understanding in matters relating to village administration and development.
In the context of inter-caste relations, despite a broad hierarchic division (with Brahman being regarded higher than others), there is no feeling of dominance or subservience between various castes. There is no untouchability or avoidance in the day-to-day social life of any caste. The Hindus constitute the dominant segment of Bagurihati’s population. They are economically better off than the Muslims. But the post of village headman (gaon burah) is held by a Muslim. The village has no history of Hindu-Muslim conflict. Though the majority of the villagers are followers of various Vaishnava sects, they actively participate in religious festivals organized by the Sakta Hindus. The worship of goddess Basanti has come to be one of the most important annual village-level festivals. This puja is held in the month of Chait (March-April). All the villagers become involved in it irrespective of caste, sect and religion. Basanti puja thus serves as a focus of community integration. The core ritual activities in the puja are performed by the Brahmans as priests. However, other people, including the Muslims, participate in the festive celebrations with enthusiasm. This is one of the events that make Bagurihati unique in the region.
There is a popular perception in Assam that villages are mostly launch-pads for migration to urban centres, and that they are suffering from a certain amount of decay and degeneration. It is true that a substantial number of men and women have moved out of Bagurihati in search of employment and better prospects to towns and cities, particularly to Guwahati. Such migrants, however, do not opt out of village loyalties and ties. Most of them maintain close links with village life, contribute in cash for various festivals and also frequently visit the village. There are a number of instances of educated government employees returning to the village to settle down following retirement. Many people are to be found these days who live in the village and commute every day to work as office employees, school teachers, etc. As a rule, Bagurihati youth display a conscious commitment to their village society. They also show a distinct pride in belonging to the village.
THE INDIAN VILLAGER
The moment you talk to them (the Indian peasants) and they begin to speak, you will find wisdom drops from their lips. Behind the crude exterior you will find a deep reservoir of spirituality. I call this culture — you will not find such a thing in the West.
In the case of the Indian villager, an age-old culture is hidden under an incrustment of crudeness. Take away the encrustation, remove his chronic poverty and his illiteracy and you have the finest specimen of what a cultured, cultivated, free citizen should be.