India is a land of villages. It is said that real India lives in villages. About seventy per cent of its population lives in villages. India is undergoing revolutionary changes. Its villages are not untouched by those changes.
The changes are reflected in every walk of life. These changes have been brought by various agents. These include science, technology, and spread of education, advent of media in rural areas, industrialisation, urbanisation and migration. Hence the lifestyle, attitude and thinking have changed greatly in rural India. In fact these factors have combined to change the ritualistic rural society into a dynamic society.
Traditionally, Hindu society has been caste ridden. Caste-based division has been prominently visible in rural India. The people of upper caste treated themselves superior to the people of lower caste. Discrimination against them was a commonplace event. People of upper caste did not eat or drink anything even touched by the lower caste people. Even they were not allowed to take water from the well used by the upper caste people. They are not allowed entrance in temples. Such unjust distinction based on caste, colour and community was widely prevalent in Indian society.
But things are rapidly changing now. People do not care tor any such distinction. There is an interdependence existence in society. There is a close interaction of people of different castes, creeds and religions, among them for various purposes. The outlook of the villagers has undergone sea change. They have begun to see things in broader context. This is a good sign.
The access of media has brought big changes in their life. Now they have realised the importance of education. They no longer hold back their girls from going to schools and colleges. They have begun to come out of the four walls of their homes. They have started sharing responsibility with their male counterpart. Naturally, it has a positive impact on society.
Agriculture, which is the mainstay of rural economy, is also being influenced by the winds of changes sweeping across various walks of life. It is no longer left to the mercy of Nature. The agrarian reforms, increasing application of science and technology are bringing sea changes in the faces of villages. Availability of safe drinking water and electricity has made the life of the villagers easier and comfortable. Mass media has also contributed a lot to change the life of the villages. Now rituals and superstitions have begun fading away. People have begun to see things in the light of reason and logic.
There is a great awakening in the villagers. They are now politically and economically aware and sound. There is no longer casteism in rural society. These changes are likely to have good impact on overall progress of India.
I could call myself a city boy. My father being in a transferable job, I changed eight schools across as many major cities. I hadn’t visited a village in India till last summer, I must admit. School kids today don’t get to spend their summers as my parents’ generation used to. My parents tell me stories of their summers being spent pampered by grandparents with glasses of milk and fresh ripe mangoes from nearby bagichas (orchards). On the contrary, I remember my summers being spent finishing tonnes of school projects between PlayStation breaks and Pokemon episodes. I don’t have any fun Tom-Sawyer-summer-stories to bore my children with. Well, anyway they’ll be busy with their school work and I with my office work, I believe.
Last summer, while my friends were interning in one institute or the other, I decided to spend my vacation as my parents had done long ago. In a small village in Uttar Pradesh called Bharaul. Being a student of Development Economics, I felt compelled to actually experience the life I otherwise study sitting in air-conditioned classrooms.
I can’t paint a rosy picture of village life because a developmental economist sees much scope for development in such a village. But I do have some pleasant memories. The mornings there were beautiful. During a morning stroll, peacocks could be seen strutting on the fields. After the stroll, if you sit down for some tea in a rundown stall, you could overhear disgruntled men discussing Mulayam and Mayawati. On my first day there, I also met the village ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist), who had nothing but praise for the government’s health services. A team of doctors regularly came to the village she told me, with a smile on her face.
Later in the day start the power-cuts at regular intervals. My relatives there seemed accustomed to it. A surprising fact that I found out was that they are charged Rs. 180 a month for electricity regardless of how much they use. What would Ronald Coase say on that, I wondered. For economic efficiency, property rights should be better defined, the Nobel Prize-winning British economist had said.
There were two government schools in the small village, I found out. However, there was no police station or hospital. Both were available in a neighbouring village, though. But the nearest private hospital was some 10 km away. As Professor Amartya Sen would put it, the villagers face a much smaller set of “capabilities” than people like me in our Delhi experience.
Before leaving for Delhi, I had a bath next to a tube well with my cousins in a mango orchard while eating green mangoes laced with salt. These are some of the things I will never forget. I’ve forgotten my school projects and write-ups, the endless theorems and dates, but not those times I’ve spent with my cousins and friends.
Memories are what those lazy vacations at your grandma's leave you with. And that is irreplaceable. I have very few of these to cherish, and my children will probably have even fewer.
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