Relevant for Sociology Optional Paper 2

The Indian village was initially studied in the 18th century through intensive survey work on landholdings, followed by empirical studies on village social life in the 20th century by Munro, Metcalfe, Maine, and Baden-Powell. These studies viewed the Indian village as a closed and isolated system, with Sir Charles Metcalfe even describing it as a monolithic, atomistic, and unchanging entity. Metcalfe observed that village communities were like little republics, having nearly everything they needed within themselves and being almost independent of foreign relations.

  1. During British colonial rule, an image of the Indian village was constructed by colonial administrators that would have far-reaching implications for the way Indian society was imagined in the future. However, recent historical anthropological and sociological studies have shown that the Indian village was hardly ever a republic and was never self-sufficient. The village has links with the wider society through migration, village exogamy, movement, inter-village economy, caste links, and religious pilgrimage, which were prevalent in the past, connecting villages with neighboring villages and the wider society. Furthermore, new forces of modernization in the modern period augmented inter-village and rural-urban interaction.
  2. Despite the increasing external linkages, the village remains a fundamental social unit, as pointed out by Mandelbaum and Orenstein. People living in a village have a feeling of common identity, and they have intra-village ties at familial caste and class levels in social, economic, political, and cultural domains. Village life is characterized by reciprocity, cooperation, dominance, and competition. Not all colonial administrators shared Metcalfe’s assessment of the Indian village, and it never became the most popular and influential representation of India.
  3. In the colonial discourse, the Indian village was portrayed as a self-sufficient community with communal ownership of land, marked by a functional integration of various occupational groups. The village was taken to be the basic unit of Indian civilization, with attributes such as stagnation, simplicity, and social harmony. Each village was considered an inner world, a traditional community, self-sufficient in its economy, patriarchal in its governance, surrounded by other hostile villages and despotic governments.
  4. Even in the nationalist discourse, the idea of the village as a representative of authentic native life was derived from the same imagination. Though Gandhi did not glorify the decaying village of British India, he 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 an important process for the recovery of the lost self, along with political independence.
  5. Even in post-Independence India, the village continued to be treated as the basic unit of Indian society. Among academic traditions, studies of the village have been popular among 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, mostly published during the 1950s and 1960s. These “Village studies” played an important role in giving respectability to the disciplines of sociology and social anthropology in India. Social anthropologists based their accounts on first-hand fieldwork, mostly carried out in a single village. They focused on the structures of social relationships, institutional patterns, beliefs, and value systems of the rural people. The publication of these studies marked the beginning of a new phase in the history of Indian social sciences, showing, for the first time, the relevance of a fieldwork-based understanding of Indian society, known as the “field view” of India, different from the then dominant “book-view” of India developed by Indologists and orientalists.


The study of village life in India during the 1950s and 1960s was a result of the growing interest in the peasantry in the Western academic community. After the decolonization period, the newly emerged Third World countries were characterized by a large proportion of their population being dependent on a stagnant agrarian sector. The political agenda of the new regimes, apart from industrialization, was to transform the backward and stagnant agrarian economy. The understanding of the prevailing structures of agrarian relations and ways to transform them became the priority within development studies. In this context, the concept of ‘peasantry’ gained popularity in the discipline of sociology. The village community was identified as the social foundation of the peasant economy in Asia. The concept of ‘little community’ introduced by Robert Redfield was widely used in the study of the Indian village. The integration of agriculture and the village in India made it appropriate to refer to the country as agrarian India. Although the term ‘rurality’ has been used to refer to Indian villages, Deepankar Gupta suggested that they should be called ‘rurban’ since they are integrated with other structures, including urban areas. A revisit of two Haryana villages near Panipat in 2011 by Aurinder Jodhka showed that villages in India, despite regional variations and different levels of development, are more integrated with the urban and liberalized economy of India. However, castes remain important and probably have become even more so. In occupational terms, there is a caste relationship. Although some Dalits work as sanitation workers in the city, they do not want to do the same work in villages. There is more interdependent relationship in villages agriculture where attached laborers are working in cordial terms. Social anthropologists initiated field studies on Indian villages in the early 1950s, and the Economic and Political Weekly published essays providing brief accounts of individual villages being studied by different anthropologists. These essays were later compiled by M.N. Srinivas in the form of a book titled ‘India’s Villages.’ The first volume of ‘Rural Profiles’ by D.N. Majumdar and S.C. Dube’s full-length study of a village near Hyderabad, ‘Indian Village,’ were also published in the same year.


  1. The study of villages in India has been important for various reasons. Firstly, during the post-war period, sociologists played a crucial role in providing a scientific and authentic account of the traditional social order and its transformation, which had become a major concern. Many of the village studies were carried out by sociologists for development agencies, and they aimed to prepare a profile of village India.
  2. Secondly, the evaluation of rural reconstruction programs was another important aspect of village studies. Sociologists like Lewis were appointed to work with the Programme Evaluation Organization of the Planning Commission to develop a scheme for the objective evaluation of the rural reconstruction program. They studied villages to understand the needs of the people for housing, education, health, land consolidation, and newly created Panchayats.
  3. Thirdly, sociologists assisted economists in the planning process by providing a perspective that was different from the quantitative techniques used by economists. Sociologists viewed the village community as a whole and studied the cultural life lived by the people, which was interlocked and interdependent. This provided an indispensable background for the proper interpretation of data on any single aspect of rural life.
  4. Fourthly, sociological studies provided qualitative analysis that was different from the quantitative approach used by economists, political scientists, and social workers. Sociologists selected a small universe, such as a village, and studied it intensively for a long period to analyze its intricate system of social reactions.
  5. Fifthly, the historical continuity and stability of villages made them invaluable observation centers for studying social processes and problems occurring in great parts of India. They were important administrative and social units that profoundly influenced the behavior pattern of their inhabitants.
  6. Finally, it is worth noting that not all sociologists were involved with development programs. Many saw their work in professional terms and maintained a “safe” distance from political agencies. While anthropologists could provide intimate and first-hand knowledge of societies and anticipate the reception of particular administrative measures, they did not have a theoretical grounding that could help them become applied sciences like economics.


  1. The Indian village was characterized by a significant degree of diversity, both internally and externally. Internally, it comprised various groupings with complex social relationships and institutional arrangements, while different parts of the country had different types of villages. Even within a region, not all villages were identical.
  2. Anthropological studies disputed the stereotypical image of the Indian village as a self-sufficient community. Scholars such as Beteille and Srinivas argued that the village had always been a part of a wider entity, and was not completely self-sufficient.
  3. Despite the village’s interaction with the outside world, it was still a representative unit of Indian social life with its own design. While the village had horizontal ties, vertical ties within the village governed the life of the average person.
  4. The village provided an important source of identity for its residents, with varying degrees of significance when compared to other sources of identification such as caste, class, or locality.
  5. According to Srinivas, 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. Village communities all over the Indian subcontinent had a number of common features, including a distinct entity with individual mores and usages, corporate unity, and mutual and reciprocal obligations between different castes and communities.
  7. Recent studies by Parry and Jodhka indicate that villages now have greater interaction and closer relationships with nearby urban areas, but many villagers have an unfavorable view of the village.
  8. Social structural features still exist in the village, such as greater freedom for daughters than daughters-in-law, and the continued use of fictitious kin terms. Villages have become more competitive within themselves, with caste and class divisions playing important roles in cooperation and competition.
  9. Despite the emergence of long descriptions of social inequalities and differences in rural society, the framework of reciprocity has continued to be used to conceptualize the unity of the village, although some anthropologists have contested this thesis and recognized conflicts within the village and ties to the outside world.
  10. The development discourse has changed the view of the village, as welfare schemes and attempts at social construction have produced new perspectives among villagers, according to Thakur and Jodhka.

Note : The Indian Context of Rural Sociology

  1. After India gained independence, rural sociology became increasingly important, particularly within the context of agrarian societies. While studies on caste, kinship, and village community were well-established in Indian sociology, agrarian relations were not given the same level of attention. Early studies were conducted by D.N. Majumdar, N.K. Bose, S.C. Dubey, and M.N. Srinivas, but it was Andre Beteille’s book, Studies in Agrarian Social Structure, published in 1974, that brought professional respectability to agrarian sociology.
  2. Village studies brought peasant studies to India, with the book Village India, edited by Marriot and supervised by Robert Redfield, emphasizing the importance of little communities and great communities. This shifted the focus away from agriculture and land and towards social institutions such as kinship, religion, and caste hierarchy.
  3. Rural society has been the foundation of human life since ancient times, making it the keystone of the developmental process and the basic unit of social structure. Unlike cities, which are of more recent origin, villages have existed for centuries, making rural sociology particularly important in the Indian context.
  4. According to S.C. Dubey, the village has always been an important unit in the organization of Indian social life, and the unique nature of India’s transformation, juxtaposing elements of traditional and modern cultures, has made the systematic study of rural organization, structure, function, and evolution necessary and urgent. The growing influence of industrialization and urbanization also makes the study of the village as a basic unit essential for rural development and democratic decentralization.
  5. In modern India, rural sociology is a progressive social science that has gained significant importance and urgency.

Changes in social organization of villages due to market economy

  1. Indian villages are experiencing significant changes, with transformation occurring in all aspects of village life. The village economy is primarily based on agriculture and allied activities, and all caste groups are actively involved in these activities.
  2. Traditional structures in Indian villages, including those related to caste, economy, and political organization, are being dismantled due to factors such as urbanization, industrialization, and democratization.
  3. The expansion and spread of the market economy have brought about economic changes in village life, with important consequences for village organization. Studies have shown that the money economy has allowed certain castes to move up the status ladder quickly, while traditional high castes have been forced down.
  4. The spread of money and new opportunities has reduced the importance of large kinship structures and emphasized smaller familial units.
  5. The production of cash crops has led to a reduction in the nutritive value of food and a disconnection between the farmer and their land. Overexploitation of natural resources, disagreements over resources, and pressure politics to secure the use of resources have all affected the social organization of villages.
  6. The market economy has brought about other changes, such as the opening up of consumer product markets in rural areas and the provision of services, which do not necessarily require land and are thus open to more people. These changes alter the social dynamics within villages. Consequently, the village organization is undergoing a metamorphosis in response to exposure to a highly competitive market economy.

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

  1. The village community of Shamirpet displayed several factors contributing to status differentiation, as identified by S.C. Dube. These included religion and caste, landownership, wealth, position in government service and village organization, age, and distinctive personality traits. The process of claiming a higher ritual status was not straightforward and involved negotiation with the local power structure. Dube also noted the role of the caste panchayat of lower castes in working as unions to secure employment and strengthen their bargaining power with dominant land-owning castes.
  2. According to Srinivas, the social world of women was limited to the household and kinship group, while men occupied a more diverse social space. Dube observed that women in the Telangana village were secluded from public activities and were expected to walk with their eyes downcast as a sign of respectability. Patriarchal rules were clearly established, and gender was the most important factor governing the division of labor in the village. Masculine and feminine pursuits were sharply distinguished.
  3. Srinivas noted that the two sets of occupations were not only separate but also viewed as unequal. Men exercised control over the domestic economy, including making annual grain payments at harvest to members of artisan and service castes who had worked for them. The dominant male view saw women as incapable of understanding what went on outside the domestic realm.

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