Practice Question: Write short note: Village Studies in Indian Sociology ( Socio Paper 2008)

Approach: Contextual Introduction; Features of Indian village, Significance, Quote studies and writers; Conclusion


Village studies, during the 1950s and 1960s constituted a major area of concern and several monographs and papers were published during this period of growth and professionalisation of the discipline.

Village occupies an important place in the social and cultural landscape of contemporary India. Notwithstanding India’s significant industrialisation 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. According to the 2001 Census, rural India accounted for nearly 72 per cent of India’s total population.

As Andre Beteille writes, ‘The village was not merely a place where people lived; it had a design in which were reflected the basic values of Indian civilisation’. Institutional patterns of the Indian “village communities”and its cultural values were supposed to be an example of what in thetwentieth century came to be known as the “traditional society”.

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.
Along with the earlier writings of James Mill, Charles Metcalfe’s notion of theIndian village community set the tone for much of the later writings on rural India. Metcalfe, in his celebrated remark stated that ‘the Indian villagecommunities were little republics, having nearly everything they wanted within themselves, and almost independent of foreign relations. They seemed to last where nothing else lasted. Dynasty after dynasty tumbled down; revolution succeeded revolution but the village community remained the

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.

Many of the village monographs emerged directly from the projects carried-out by sociologists and social anthropologists for development agencies. These included studies by Dube (1955), Majumdar (1958), and Lewis (1958).
While economists used quantitative techniques and their method was “more scientific”, the anthropological approach had its own advantages. Anthropological studies provided qualitative analysis. The method of anthropology required that its practitioners selected ‘a small universe which could be studied intensively for a long period of time to analyse its intricate system of social relations’.
The relevance of studying the village was viewed more in methodological terms. The village and its hamlets represented “India in microcosm”.
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.


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 Vaishyas (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.

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.

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. ‘The social world of the woman was synonymous with the household and kinship group while the men inhabited a more heterogeneous world’.

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.


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