Social Structure

Human world is composed of individuals. Individuals interact with one another for the fulfillment of their needs. In this process, they occupy certain statues and roles in social life with accompanying rights and obligations. Their social behaviour is patterned and gets associated with certain norms and values which provide them guidance in social interaction. There emerge various social units, such as, groups, community, associations and institutions in society as product of social intercourse in human life.

In this scenario, social structure is conceived as the pattern of inter-related statuses and roles found in a society, constituting a relatively stable set of social relations. It is the organized pattern of the inter-related rights and obligations of persons and groups in a system of interaction.

Rural social structure in India

India is a country of ancient civilization that goes back to the Indus Valley Civilization which flourished during the third millennium B.C. Since then except for a brief interlude during the Rig-Vedic period when the urban centres were overrun, rural and urban centres have co-existed in India.

  1. Rural and urban centres share some common facets of life. They show interdependence especially in the spheres of economy, urban-ward migration, townsmen or city dwellers’ dependence on villages for various products (e.g., food-grains, milk, vegetables and raw materials for industry) and increasing dependence of villagers on towns for manufactured goods and market Despite this interdependence between the two there are certain distinctive features which separate them from each other in terms of their size, demographic composition, cultural moorings and style of life, economy, employment and social relations. We find that the size of village population is small and density of population is low in comparison with towns and cities. India is rightly called a country of villages. Moreover, about 65 per cent of the total population lives in villages. Further, rural life is characterized by direct relationship of people to nature i.e. land, animal and plant life. Agriculture is their main occupation. For example, in India agriculture provides livelihood to about 60 per cent of the labour force.
  2. Long enduring rural social institutions in India are Family, Kinship, Caste and Village. They have millennia old historical roots and structures. They encompass the entire field of life -social, economic, political and cultural – of the rural people. The complexity of social norms and values, statuses and roles, rights and obligations is reflected in them. VILLAGE occupies an important place in the social and cultural landscape of con temporary India. Notwithstanding India’s significant industrialization over the last five or six decades, and a considerable increase in its urban population, a large majority of Indians continue to live in its more than five lakh villages and remain dependent on agriculture, directly or indirectly.
  3. Apart from it being an important demographic and structural reality characterizing contemporary India, village has also been an important ideological category, a category through which India has often been imagined and imaged in modern times. The village has been seen as the ultimate signifier of the “authentic native life”, a place where one could see, observe and “realize” India and develop an understanding of the way local people organize their social relationships and belief systems. As Andre Beteille writes, ‘the village was not merely a place where people lived; it had a design which reflected the basic values of Indian civilization. Institutional patterns of the Indian “village communities” and its cultural values where supposed to be an example of what in the twentieth century came to be known as the “traditional society”.

Main Features of Rural Society may be summed up as :

  1. Village is a community- The village satisfies all their needs in the village. They have a sense of unity and a feeling of amiability towards each other.
  2. Village is a institution- The development of villages is influenced considerably by the life of the village. In this way village is a primary institution.
  3. Religiosity- Faith in religion and universal power is found in the life of the villages.
  4. The major occupation is agriculture which involves dependence on nature. Farmers worship forces of nature. The life of the village is the joint family system.
  5. Family has a strict control and administrative powers over the individual. All the members of the family share the burden of the family occupation. In this way of working together the villagers maintain sense of cooperation among themselves. In the life of the villagers group feeling occupies an important place. They respect the judgment and obey the orders of their elders and the panchayats. Society, caste and panchayat have control over the individual.

Idea of Indian village

The study of the Indian village began in the 18th century with intensive survey work regarding landholdings. Intensive empirical studies of village social life became popular in the 20th century. The studies by Munro, Metcalfe, Maine and Baden-Powell considered the Indian village as a closed and isolated system. Sir Charles Metcalfe considered the Indian village a monolithic, atomistic and unchanging entity. He observed: “The village communities are little republics, having nearly everything that they want within themselves and almost independent of any foreign relations” Further, he stated that ‘wars pass over it, regimes come and go, but the village as a society always emerges ‘unchanged, unshaken, and self- sufficient’.

  1. Though one may find detailed references to village life in ancient and medieval times, it was during the British colonial rule that an image of the Indian village was constructed by the colonial administrators that was to have far reaching implications – ideological as well as political for the way Indian society was to be imagined in the times to come.
  2. Recent historical anthropological and sociological studies have, however, shown that Indian village was hardly ever a republic. It was never self-sufficient. It has links with the wider society. Migration, village exogamy, movement, inter-village economy and caste links and religious pilgrimage were prevalent in the past, connecting the village with the neighbouring villages and the wider society. Moreover, new forces of modernization in the modern period augmented inter-village and rural-urban interaction.
  3. But, as pointed by Mandelbaum and Orenstein, despite increasing external linkages village is still a fundamental social unit. People living in a village have a feeling of common identity. They have intra-village ties at familial caste and class levels in social economic, political and cultural domains. In fact, village life is characterized by reciprocity, cooperation, dominance and competition. Not all colonial administrators shared Metcalfe’s assessment of the Indian village. It never became the most popular and influential representation of India.
  4. The Indian village, in the colonial discourse, was a self-sufficient community, with communal ownership of land and was marked by a functional integration of various occupational groups. Things as diverse as stagnation, simplicity and social harmony were attributed to the village which was taken to be the basic unit of Indian civilization. ‘Each village was an inner world a traditional community, self-sufficient in its economy, patriarchal in its governance, surrounded by an outer one other hostile villages and despotic governments’.
  5. In many ways, even in the nationalist discourse, the idea of village as a representative of authentic native life was derived from the same kind of imagination. Though Gandhi was careful enough not to glorify the decaying village of British India, he nevertheless celebrated the so-called simplicity and authenticity of village life, an image largely derived from colonial representations of the Indian village. The decadence of the village was seen as a result of colonial rule and therefore village reconstruction was, along with political independence, an important process for recovery of the lost self.
  6. In the post-Independence India also Village’ has continued to be treated as the basic unit of Indian society. Among the academic traditions, the studies of village have perhaps been the most popular among the sociologists and social anthropologists working on India. They carried-out a large number of studies focusing on the social and cultural life of the village in India. Most of these studies were published during the decades 1950s and 1960s. These Village studies” played an important role in giving respectability to the disciplines of sociology and social in India. Generally basing their accounts on first-hand fieldwork, carried out mostly in a single village, social anthropologists focused on the structures of social relationships, institutional patterns, beliefs and value systems of the rural people. The publication of these studies also marked the beginning of a new phase in the history of Indian social sciences. They showed, for the first time, the relevance of a fieldwork based understanding of Indian society, or what came to be known as “field view” of the India, different from the then dominant “book-view” of India, developed by Indologists and orientalists.

What was the context of Village studies in India?

  1. During 1950s and 1960s the new interest in the village social life was a direct offshoot of the newly emerged interest in the study of the peasantry in the Western academy. Emergence of the so-called “new states” following decolonization during the post-war period had an important influence on research priorities in the social sciences. The most significant feature of the newly emerged ‘third world’ countries was the dependence of large proportions of their populations on a stagnant agrarian sector. Thus, apart from industrialization, the main agenda for the new political regimes was the transformation of their “backward” and stagnant agrarian economy. Though the strategies and priorities differed, ‘modernization’ and ‘development’ became common programmes in most of the Third World countries. Understanding the prevailing structures of agrarian relations and working out ways and means of transforming them were recognized as the most important priorities within development studies. It was in this context that the concept of ‘peasantry’ found currency in the discipline of sociology. At a time when primitive tribes were either in the process of disappearing or had already disappeared, the “discovery” of the peasantry provided a new lease of life to the discipline of sociology.
  2. The Village Community was identified as the social foundation of the peasant economy in Asia. It is quite easy to see this connection between the Redfieklian notion of ‘peasant studies’ and the Indian ‘village studies’. The single most poplar concept used by the sociologists studying the Indian village was Robert Redfield’s notion of ‘little community’. Among the first works on the subject, Village India: Studies in the Little Community edited by M. Marriot was brought out under the direct supervision of Redfiekt.
  3. In India agriculture and village are integrated and almost the two sides of same coin. M.N. Srinivas who edited a book of Indian village studies found that even in mountain villages, the major occupation was agriculture. This was the case with tribal communities who are supposed to follow non-agricultural activities like hunting. and gathering. Therefore, It is appropriate to say village India as agrarian India.
  4. The idea of Indian village community – villages have been given different names including a term used by many as Rurality. Probably in one of the latest estimations of village in India, Deepankar Gupta said, most of academics are is time warp, still living in old times villages have changed They should be called ‘Rurban’. He says village India is integrated with other structures including urban areas. Rural population is not dependent but are reciprocally attached to urban economics.
  5. Another appraisal of village in India is a revisit by Aurinder Jodhka to two Haryana villages near Panipat is 2011 which he studied in 1988-89 earlier for his Phd He says, village India despite its regional variations and the variation on the development ladder today are more integrated to the urban economies and liberalized economy of India. Everything is not modern. Castes remain important and probably have become more important. In occupational terms, there is a caste relationship. One thing has happened that Dalits are not confined to village. They work as sanitation workers in the city but they do not want to do the same work in villages on other hand there is more interdependent relationship in villages agriculture where attached labourer are working in cordial terms. The conceptions that attached labour is a tragic thing and refers to deprived conditions of agriculture labour is wrong. Jodhka does not share the rosy picture presented by Deepankar Gupta of village India.
  6. Having found a relevant subject matter in the village, social anthropologists initiated field studies in the early 1950s. During October 1951 and May 1954 the Economic and Political Weekly published a number of short essays providing brief accounts of individual villages that were being studied by different anthropologists. These essays were later put together by M.N. Srinivas in the form of a book with the title ‘India’s Villages’. Interestingly, the first volume of ‘Rural Profiles’ by D.N. Majumdar also appeared in 1955. S.C. Dube also published his full length study of a village near Hyderabad, ‘Indian Village’ in the same year.

Importance of village studies in India

  1. To prepare a profile of village India, provide authentic and scientific account of traditional social order and there transformation: In the emerging intellectual and political environment during the postwar period, sociologists saw themselves playing an important role in providing authentic and scientific account of the “traditional social order”, the transformation of which had become important concern. Many of the village monographs emerged directly from the projects carried-out by sociologists for development agencies.
  2. Evaluation of rural reconstruction programme : Lewis was appointed by the Ford Foundation in India to work with the Programme Evaluation Organization of the Planning Commission to help in developing a scheme for the objective evaluation of the rural reconstruction porogramme. According to Lewis, who studied a village near Delhi, the main concern of there study were what the villagers felt about need of housing, education, health, land consolidation programme and newly created Panchayats.
  3. To assist economists in planning process: Majumdar has stated the importance of village studies in the following words, “sociologists, unlike his economist counterpart, saw the village ‘in the context of the cultural life lived by the people’ and the way ‘rural life was inter-locked and interdependent’ which ‘baffled social engineers as it could not be geared to landed economy. It was here that the economists needed the assistance of sociologists and anthropologists”
  4. According to M.N. Srinivas, the sociologists viewed their perspective as being “superior” because they alone studied village community as a whole. Their knowledge and approach provided an indispensable background for the proper interpretation of data on any single aspect of rural life. Their approach provided a much-needed corrective to the partial approach of the economist, political scientist and social worker.
  5. For qualitative analysis of economic growth : According to Epstein while economists used quantitative techniques and their method was “more scientific”; the sociological approach had its own advantages. Sociological studies provided qualitative analysis. The method of sociology required that its practitioners selected a small universe which could be studied intensively for a long period of time to analyze its intricate system of social reactions’.
  6. Study of historical continuity and stability of village : Hoebel has stated that the village and its hamlets represented “India in microcosm”. For Srinivas, they ‘were invaluable observation-centres where sociologist could study in detail social processes and problems to be found occurring in great parts of India’. Dasgupta has stated that ‘Villages were supposedly close to people, their life, livelihood and culture’ and they were ‘a focal point of reference for individual prestige and identification’. As ‘an important administrative and social unit, the village profoundly influenced the behaviour pattern of its inhabitants’. Villages were supposed to have been around for ‘hundreds of years’, having ‘survived years of wars, making and breaking up of empires, famines, floods and other natural disasters’. This perceived ‘historical continuity and stability of villages’ strengthened the case for village studies.

However not all sociologists were involved with development programmes. Most of them saw there work in professional terms. Srinivas argued that ‘the anthropologist has intimate and first hand knowledge of one or two societies and he can place his understanding at the disposal of the planner. He may in some cases even be able to anticipate the kind of reception a particular administrative measure may have. But he cannot lay down policy because it is a result of certain decisions about right and wrong’. Thus maintaining a “safe” distance from the political agencies was seen to be necessary because, unlike economics, social anthropology did not have a theoretical grounding that could help them become applied sciences.

Defining features of Indian village

  1. The Indian village had a considerable degree of diversity. This diversity was both internal as well as external. The village was internally differentiated in diverse groupings and had a complex structure of social relationships and institutional arrangements. There were also different kinds of villages in different parts of the country. Even within a particular region of the country, not all villages were alike.
  2. The stereotypical image of the Indian village as a self-sufficient community was contested by anthropological studies. Beteille, for example, argued ‘at least as far back in time as living memory went, there was no reason to believe that the village was fully self-sufficient in the economic sphere. Similarly Srinivas too contested the colonial notion of the Indian village being a completely self-sufficient republic. The village, he argued, ‘was always a part of a wider entity.
  3. The fact that the village interacted with the outside world did not mean it did not have a design of its own or could not be studied as a representative unit of Indian social life. While villages had horizontal ties, it was the vertical ties within the village that governed much of the life of an average person in the village.
  4. Village provided an important source of identity to its residents. Different scholars placed different emphasis on how significant the village identity was when compared to other sources of identification, such as those of caste, class or locality.
  5. Srinivas argued that individuals in his village had a sense of identification with their village and an insult to oneself, one’s wife, or one’s family.
  6. Dube argued that though Indian villages varied greatly in their internal structure organization, in their ethos and world-view, and in their life-ways and thought-ways, on account of variety of factors, village communities all over the Indian sub-continent had a number of common features. The village settlement, as a unit of social organization, represented a kind of solidarity which was different from that of the kin, the caste and the class. Each village was a distinct entity, had some individual mores and usages, and possessed a corporate unity. Different castes and communities inhabiting the village were integrated in its economic, social, and ritual pattern by ties of mutual and reciprocal obligations sanctioned and sustained by generally accepted conventions. Notwithstanding the existence of groups and factions inside the settlement, people of the village could and did face the outside world as an organized compact whole.
  7. Jonathan parry who studied Bhillai industrial complex said today villages have greater interaction and closer relationship with cities and nearby urban areas. Jodhka tells the same thing about his village of Haryana where a power plant was established One important thing in both the studies was that village people now have an unfavourable idea of the village.
  8. Village communities still has a social structural feature, in that the daughter of one village feel freer than daughter in laws. There is still a tendency to call each other by fictitious kin terms. Villages within themselves have become very competitive. The earlier dominance of one or two castes is not existing now. Caste is important and most competitions and co-operations are on the basis of caste. Classes have also emerged as important divisions, they co-operate and co-exist in caste and class terms.
  9. Though the later studies were much more elaborate and contained long descriptions of different forms of social inequalities and differences in the rural society, many of them continued to use the framework of reciprocity particularly while conceptualizing ‘unity’ of the village the way Srinivas and Dube or earlier Wiser did Some of the anthropologists explicitly contested the unity thesis while others qualified their arguments by recognizing the conflicts within the village and the ties that villagers had with the outside world For instance, Paul Hilbert in his study of a south Indian village, although arguing that the caste system provided a source of stability to the village, also underlined the fact that ‘deep seated cleavages underlie the apparent unity of the village and fragmented it into numerous social groups’. Similarly, Beteille had argued that his study of village ‘Sripuram as a whole constituted a unit in a physical sense and to a much lesser extent, in the social sense’.
  10. Manish Thakur in his debate said that the development discourse has changed the view of village because they wanted attract funds for their village. Surinder Jodha says that the different welfare schemes like benefits for the below poverty families have produced a kind of new social construction attempts among the village.

Note : The Indian Context of Rural Sociology

  1. In India the importance of rural sociology gained recognition after independence. The agrarian context occupies special status both in the social scientific literature on India and in the literature on agrarian societies in general . However unlike studies on caste, kinship, village community, gender, study of agrarian relations did not occupy a central position in Indian sociology. The first systematic study of rural India was done by D.N Majumdar followed by N.K Bose, S.C Dubey, M.N Shrinivas. However it was with the publication of Andre ‘Be’teille’s Studies in Agrarian Social Structure in 1974 that agrarian sociology gained professional respectability within the two disciplines.
  2. Peasant studies in a way arrived in India with village studies. The collection of essays, Village India, edited by Marriot with its emphasis on little communities and great communities was brought out under the direct supervision of Robert Redfield. By defining little communities not in relation to land but through other social institutions such as kinship, religion and the social organization of caste there was a shift away from looking at the rural population in relation to agriculture and land Caste hierarchy came to be defined in terms of ritual or social interaction over institutions of commensality and marriage.
  3. According to Nelson up to the comparatively recent times the story of man is largely the story of rural man. So rural society is the basic foundation of human life, the keystone of the developmental process and the basic unit of social structure. Villages have been in existence since time immemorial unlike cities which are of more recent origin. In the Indian context rural sociology is of greater significance of the following reasons.
  4. According to S.C Dubey from time immemorial village has been a basic and important unit in the organization of Indian social life. Unique nature of transformation of Indian society where elements of traditional and modern cultures have been juxtaposed For rural development and solution of rural problems according to A.R Desai this systematic study of rural organization of its structure; function and evolution has not only become necessary but also urgent after the advent of independence. Growing influence of industrialization and urbanization. Village as the basic unit of study. Scientific study of village community is a prerequisite for democratic decentralization.
  5. In modern India, the need of rural sociology is very urgent and it is progressive social science gaining importance.

Changes in social organization of villages due to market economy

  1. Indian villages are in a state of flux. Change is coming into all the areas in villagers’ lives. Agriculture and allied activities are the basis of village economy and they require the active participation of all caste groups.
  2. Urbanization, industrialization and democratization are breaking up the traditional structure of Indian villages in caste, economy and political organization etc.
  3. There has been an economic change in village life from the expansion and spread of the market economy. The economic frontier has some important consequences on village organization. It is seen in several studies that money economy has permitted some castes to move quickly up the status ladder and forced traditional high caste to move downwards.
  4. The spread of money and new opportunities tend to reduce the role of large kinship and place more emphasis on smaller familial units.
  5. Production of cash crops have reduces the nutritive value of food and reduces the connection between the farmer and his land. There is over exploitation of natural resources, resource disagreement and pressure politics to secure use of resources all that have affected social organization of a village.
  6. The market economy has brought changes in other ways like opening up consumer product markets in rural areas, service provision and other symbols of modernity that may not require land and hence are open to more people. This changes the social equation within the villages. The village organization is thus undergoing metamorphosis in the wake of its exposure to a highly competitive market economy.

M.N Srinivas and S.C. Dube’s Perspective on Indian village

  1. S.C Dube identified six factors that contributed towards the status differentiation in the village community of Shamirpet -religion and caste, landownership, wealth, position in the government service and village organization, age and distinctive personality traits. Attempts to claim a higher ritual status was not a simple process. The group had to negotiate it at the local power structure. Dube pointed out the manner in which the caste panchayat of the lower or the menial castes worked as unions to secure their employment and strengthen their bargaining power with the land owning dominant castes.
  2. To Srininvas the social world of the woman was synonymous with the household and kinship group while the men inhabited a more heterogeneous world. In the Telangana village Dube observed that women were secluded from the activities of the public space. It was considered a mark of respectability in women if they walked with their eyes downcast. The rules of patriarchy were clearly laid out. After caste gender was the most important factor that governed the division of labor in the village. Masculine and feminine pursuits were clearly distinguished.
  3. Srinivas pointed out that the two sets of occupations were not only separated but also seen as unequal. It was the man who exercised control over the domestic economy. He made the annual grain payments at harvest to the members of the artisan and servicing castes who had worked for him during the year. The dominant male view thought of women as being incapable of understanding what went on outside the domestic wall.

Caste, class and gender in Indian village


  1. Caste and hierarchy have long been seen as the distinctive and defining features of the Indian society. It was during the colonial period that caste was, for the first time, theorized in modern sociological language. The colonial administrators also gathered extensive ethnographic details and wrote detailed accounts of the way systems of caste distinctions and hierarchies worked in different parts of the sub-continent Social anthropology in the post-independence India continued with a similar approach that saw caste as the most important and distinctive feature of Indian society. While caste was a concrete structure that guided social relationships in the Indian village, hierarchy was its ideology.
  2. An individual in caste society lived in a hierarchical world. Not only were the people divided into higher or lower groups, their food, their dresses, ornaments, customs and manners were all ranked in an order of hierarchy. Anthropologist invariably invoked the Varna system of hierarchy which divided the Hindu society into five major categories. The first three, viz., Brahmins (the priests or men of learning), Kshatriyas (rulers and warriors) and Vaishya (traders) were regarded as dvijas or the twice born. The fourth category was that of Shudras, composed of numerous occupational castes that were regarded as relatively ‘clean’ and were not classed as “untouchables”. In the fifth major category were placed all the untouchable castes. According to Dube the Hindus all over India, accepted this classification.
  3. The legitimate occupations to be followed by people in these major categories were defined by tradition. Within each category there were several sub-groups (jati or castes), which could be arranged in a hierarchical order within them. According to Dube, despite a general framework, there were considerable variations in different regions where several socially autonomous castes, each fitting into one of the five major divisions, were otherwise practically independent in there socio-religious sphere of life.
  4. According to Majumdar, Caste divisions determined and decided all social relations. Most scholars saw caste as a closed system where entry into a social status was a function of heredity and individual achievement, personal quality or wealth had, according to the strict traditional prescription, no say in determining the social status’. However, Srinivas is of the view that, there were some who admitted that the way caste operated at the local level was ‘radically different from that expressed in the Varna scheme. Mutual rank was uncertain and this stemmed from the fact that mobility was possible in caste’.
  5. Dube identified six factors that contributed towards the status differentiation in the village community of Shamirpet religion and caste; landownership; wealth; position in government service and village organization; age; and distinctive personality traits. Attempts to claim a higher ritual status through, what Srinivas called sanskritisation, was not a simple process. It could not be achieved only through rituals and lifestyle imitation. The group had to also negotiate it at the local power structure. Similarly, stressing secular factors, Dube pointed to the manner in which the caste panchayats of the lower or the menial castes worked as unions to secure their employment and strengthen their bargaining power vis-a-vis the land owning dominant castes.

However, a large majority of them viewed caste system as working within the framework of jajmani system and bound together different castes living in the village or a cluster of villages in enduring and pervasive relationships.

Land and Class

  1. As is evident from the above discussion, the social sociologists studying India during the fifties and sixties generally worked in the framework of caste. The manner in which social science disciplines developed in India, class and land came to be seen as the concerns of economists. However, since sociologists advocated a prospective that studied “small communities”in holistic terms, agriculture and the social relations of production on land also found a place in the village monographs.
  2. While some of them directly focused on economic life as one of the central research questions, most saw it as an aspect of the caste and occupational structure of the village. Land relations to them reflected the same patterns of hierarchy as those present in the caste system. Srinivas has argued that ‘There was a certain amount of overlap between the twin hierarchies of caste and land. The richer landowners generally came from such high castes as Brahmins and Lingayats while the Harijans contributed a substantial number of landless labourers. In contrast to the wealthier household, the poor one was almost invisible’.
  3. Some others underlined the primacy of land over all other factors in determining social hierarchy in the village. Comparing a Brahmin dominated village with a Jat dominated village, Oscar Lewis argued that ‘While the landowners are generally of higher caste in Indian villages, it is their position as landowners, rather than caste membership per se, which gives them status and power. However, despite such references to the crucial significance of land ownership in village social life, village studies did not explore the details of agrarian social structures in different regions of the country. Caste, family, kinship and religion remained their primary focus.

Gender Differences

  1. Most village studies looked at gender relations within the framework of the household, and participation of women in work. These studies highlighted the division of labour within the family and the overall dominance that men enjoyed in the public sphere. Women, particularly among the upper castes, were confined within the four walls of the house.
  2. According to Srinivas ‘the social world of the woman was synonymous with the household and kinship group while the men inhabited a more heterogeneous world’. Compared to men in the Central Indian village studied by Mayer ‘women had less chance to meet people from other parts of the village. The village well provided a meeting place for all women of non-Harijan castes, and the opportunity for gossip. But there was a limit to the time that busy women could stand and talk while they drew their water and afterwards they must return home, where the occasions for talking to people outside their own household were limited to meeting with other women of the street’.
  3. Dube in his study of the Telangana village observed that women were secluded from the activities of the public space. ‘It was considered a mark of respectability in women if they walked with their eyes downcast’.

Village community in today’s India

The present day villages all over India are not similar they are different in physical structure, ecological setting, their functional importance, internal composition, economy and power structure.

Even then some common features can be derived;

  1. Economic Dimensions : In present day discourse Deepankar Gupta said, majority of the villagers are now engaged is non- agricultural activities. Jodhka said about his Haryana villages that peasant landowning castes and families have now started multiple occupations, one of them manages rural land, another manages business in city and are is employed as a doctor or engineer or professor. All sociologists do not agree to this situation. But at least this can be easily said that today the economic situation is very diverse which has been contributed by (1) Developmental Programme (2) Green Revolution (3) The role of market in the age of liberalization.
  2. Political Dimension : Louis Dumont said village is political community. It has power. It want to decide its affairs on its own. This nature of political dimension has changed in the last sixty years. Yogendra Singh said, In the fifties and sixties of the last century the power structure in village mostly confired to land ownership and caste hierarchy. This has changed because of democratic institutions, lower caste assertion and the increasing competitiveness among caste group.
  3. Social and Cultural Dimensions / Village still have that identity and a sense of attachment Jan Bremen said, although competition and conflict have enormously increased even then the sense of fictive kinship exists among villagers. In cultural dimensions the religions festival of the village have come under dispute. On the one hand on John Byres said, either there are more than one functions in the village or as Balai Gopal said, the backward caste have taken the initiative in organizing them. So the cultural metrics of village communities have changed.

Dube further mentions that the rules of patriarchy were clearly laid out. After caste, gender was the most important factor that governed the division of labour in the village. Masculine and feminine pursuits were clearly distinguished. Writing on similar lines about his village in the same region Srinivas pointed out that the two sets of occupations were not only separated but also seen as unequal. ‘It was the man who exercised control over the domestic economy. He made the annual grain-payments at harvest to the members of the artisan and servicing castes who had worked for him during the year. The dominant ‘male view’ thought of women as being incapable of understanding what went on outside the domestic wall’ (Srinivas).

Men also had a near complete control over women’s sexuality. In the monogamous family, popular among most groups in India, ‘a man could play ground but not so a woman. A man’s sense of private property in his wife’s genital organs was as profound as in his ancestral land. And just as, traditionally, a wife lacked any right to land she lacked an exclusive right to her husband’s sexual prowess. Polygyny and concubinage were both evidence of her lack of such rights. Men and women were separate and unequal.

Patriarchy and male dominance were legitimate norms. Dube has stated that ‘according to the traditional norms of the society a husband is expected to be an authoritative figure whose will should always dominate the domestic scene. As the head of the household he should demand respect and obedience from his wife and children. The wife should regard him as her ‘master’ and should ‘serve him faithfully’.

Conclusive analysis

  1. The studies of Indian villages carried out by social anthropologists during the 1950s and 1960s were undoubtedly an important landmark in the history of Indian social sciences. Even though the primary focus of these studies was on the social and ritual life of the village people; there are enough references that can be useful pointers towards an understanding of the political and economic life in the rural society of India during the first two decades of independent India.
  2. More importantly these studies helped in contesting the dominant stereotype of the Indian village made popular by the colonial administrators. The detailed descriptive accounts of village life constructed after prolonged field-works carried out, in most cases, entirely by the anthropologists themselves convincingly proved how Indian villages were not ‘isolated communities’. Village studies showed that India’s villages had been well integrated into the broader economy and society of the region even before the colonial rule introduced new agrarian legislation. They also pointed to the regional differences in the way social village life was organized in different parts of the country.
  3. Social anthropological studies also offered an alternative to the dominant “book-view” of India constructed by Indologists and orientalists from the Hindu scriptures. The “field-view” presented in the village monographs not only contested the assumptions of lndology but also convincingly showed with the help of empirical data as to how the idealized model of the Varna system as theorized in Hindu scriptures did not match with the concrete realities of village life.While caste was an important institution in the Indian village and most studies foregrounded caste differences; over other differences, empirical studies showed that it was not a completely closed and rigidly defined system. Caste statuses were also not exclusively determined by one’s position in the ritual hierarchy and that there were many grey and contestable areas within the system. It was from the village studies that the concepts like sanskritisation, dominant caste; segmental structures; harmonic and disharmonic systems emerged.
  4. However, village studies were also constrained by a number of factors. The method of participant observation that was the main strength of these studies also imposed certain limitations on the fieldworkers, which eventually proved critical in shaping the image they produced of the Indian village. Doing participant observation required a measure of acceptability of the field worker in the village that he/she chose to study. In a differentiated social context, it was obviously easy to approach the village through the dominant sections. However, this choice proved to be of more than just a strategic value. The anxiety of the anthropologist to get accepted in the village as a member of the “community” made their accounts of the village life conservative in orientation.
  5. It also limited their access to the dominant groups in the local society. They chose to avoid asking all those questions or approaching those subordinate groups, which they thought, could offend the dominant interests in the village. The choices made by individual anthropologists as regard to how they were going to negotiate their own relationship with the village significantly influenced the kind of data they could gather about village life. Unlike the “tribal communities”, the conventional subject matter of social anthropology, Indian villages were not only internally differentiated much more than the tribes they also had well articulated world views. Different sections of the village society had different perspectives on what the village was. Though most of the sociologists were aware of this, they did not do much to resolve this problem. On the contrary, most of them consciously chose to identity themselves with the dominant caste groups in the village, which apart from making their stay in the village relatively easy, limited their access to the world-view of the upper castes and made them suspect among the lower castes.
  6. Apart form the method of participant observation and the anxiety about being accepted in rural society that made the sociologists produce a conservative account of the rural social relations, the received theoretical perspectives and the professional traditions dominant within the disciplines of sociology and social anthropology during the time of village studies also had their influences on these scholars. Sociologists during the decades of fifties and sixties generally focused on the structures rather than changes. This preoccupation made them look for the sources that reproduced social order in the village and to ignore conflict and the possible sources of social transformation.

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Abhay Chauhan

You are amazing. The content you provide is very helpful. Thank You.