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THE ECONOMIC WEEKLY September 10, 1 9 6 0

The Myth of Self-Sufficiency

Of the I n d i an Village
M N Srinivas and A M Shah
THE idea of the isolation and self- turbance and convulsion, and acquire sociologists have made intensive
sufficiency of the I n d i a n village strength sufficient to resist pillage studies of village communities in
was first propounde d by Sir Charles and oppression w i t h success". different: parts of I n d i a and in some
Metcalfe in 1830, and 'since then it areas they have been lucky enough
has had distinguished supporters, MAINE, TO MARX
to come across historical data. The
scholars as well as politicians. Sir About forty years later. Sir Henry picture that emerges f r o m these data
Henry M a i n e and K a r l M a r x sup- Maine revived the idea of the self is that while roads, especially inter-
ported the idea, and in recent times, sufficiency of the I n d i a n village: village roads, were very poorly de-
M a h a t m a Gandhi and his followers "For the most part, the I n d i a n veloped, while monelization of the
not only stated that I n d i a n village village communities have always rural economy was m i n i m a l , and
was t r a d i t i o n a l l y self-sufficient but submitted without resistance to op- w h i l e the locally dominant caste
also wanted a p o l i t i c a l p r o g r a m m e pression by monarchs surrounded could lay down the law on many
w h i c h would restore to these villages by mercenary armies . . . . I. have matters, the village was always a
their pristine self-sufficiency. We several times spoken of them as or- part of a wider economic, p o l i t i c a l
make no apology for g i v i n g below a ganised and self-acting. They, in and religious system. The appear-
lengthy quotation from Sir Charles fact. include a nearly complete ance of isolation, autonomy and self-
Metcalfe's w r i t i n g in which he pro- establishment of occupations and sufficiency was only an illusion.
pounds his famous theory of the self- trades for enabling them to continue In some parts of the country like
sufficiency and v i t a l i t y of the I n d i a n their collective life without assist- coastal Kerala. Coorg. highland
village: ance f r o m any person or body ex- Gujarat and elsewhere nucleated
"The village communities are little terna) to them"2 villages do not exist. The "village'
republics, having nearly everything K a r l M a r x , from whom one could in these areas consists of a number
that they want w i t h i n themselves, and have expected a departure f r o m the of distinct farms w i t h every owner
almost independent of any f o r e i g n conventional view, also popularised of a farm or his representative l i v i n g
relations. They seem to last where the concept of village self-sufficiency: on his f a r m . The dispersed village is
nothing else lasts. Dynasty after not a clear, architectural entity like
dynasty tumbles d o w n ; revolution " U n d e r this form of m u n i c i p a l the nucleated village. There, is no
succeeds to r e v o l u t i o n ; Hindoo. government, the inhabitants of the clear boundary between one village
Pathan. M o g h u l . Mahratta. S i k h , country have lived f r o m time imme- and another. The members l i v i n g
English. are all masters in t u r n , but m o r i a l . The boundaries of the vil- in it are served by artisan and ser-
the village communities remain the lage have been but seldom altered, v i c i n g castes f r o m several dispersed
same. In times of trouble they a r m and though the villages themselves villages. That is. each artisan caste
and fortify themselves: a hostile have been sometimes i n j u r e d and serves a distinct group of villages,
a r m y passes through the c o u n t r y : even desolated by war. famine and and the village may be represented
the village communities collect their disease, the same name, the same by a series of partially overlapping
cattle w i t h i n their walls and let the limits, the same interests, and even circles"
enemy pass unprovoked. If plunder the same families have contributed
for ages. The inhabitants gave The administrative and 'social'
and devastation he directed against
themselves no trouble about the villages are not always identical
themselves, and the force employed
breaking up and the d i v i s i o n of even in areas w i t h nucleated settle-
be irresistible, they flee to friendly
k i n g d o m s ; while the village remains ments. An administrative village
villages at a distance; but when the
entire, they care not to what power occasionally includes more than one
storm has passed over, they return
it is transferred or to what sovereign social village while a social v i l l a g e
and resume their occupations. If a
it devolves: its internal economy is more rarely d i v i d ed into more
country remain for a series of years
remains unchanged." than one administrative village.
the scene of continued pillage and
massacre, so that the villages cannot AGNATES DISPERSED
be inhabited, the scattered villagers PART OF WIDER SYSTEM
A village is a vertical unit coin
nevertheless return whenever the When an idea is over a hundred posed of sections of various caste-
power of peaceable possession re- years old and is advocated by think- w h i l e a caste is a horizontal unit
vives. A generation may pass away, ers as diverse as Maine and M a r x it made up of different sections l i v i n g
but the succeeding generation w i l l nearly acquires the status of a in several neighbouring villages.
return. The sons w i l l take the dogma. Unti recently, most writers The members of a caste l i v i n g in a
places of their fathers; the same site on rural India look for granted the village are bound by ties of kinship ,
for the village, the same positions idea of village autonomy and autar- marriage, economic obligations, and
for the houses, the same lands, w i l l k y . This has resulted in f a l s i f y i n g membership of caste panchavat
be reoccupied by the descendants of the true nature of the I n d i a n village w i t h their caste-fellows in other
those who were d r i v e n out when the ' c o m m u n i t y , and has provided a villages. Even in south India
village was depopulated; and it is basis for revivalists' and Utopians" where cross-cousin and crossmnele-
not a t r i f l i n g matter that w i l l drive programme of political action. It niece marriages are preferred, the
them out, for they w i l l often main- is o n l y in the last twenty years or marriage field for a rural caste in-
tain their post through times of dis- so that trained anthropologists and eludes at least twenty to thirt y v i l -
September 10, 1960 THE ECONOMIC WEEKLY

lages. The field is much bigger in of b u y i n g and selling at the festival canopies, carpets and cotton tape,
n o r t h I n d i a where relatives are not is as strong an attraction as the re- w h i c h were manufactured mostly by
preferred for marriage. I n addi- ligious one. There are fairs w h i c h u r b a n artisans but the raw materials;
t i o n , there is village exogamy and are famous for the sale of cattle, for w h i c h were supplied by v i l l a g -
occasionally, village hypergamy. and nowadays, cattle are moved by ers; secondly; goods such as preci-
That is. a man may not m a r r y a l o r r y a distance of two or three ous stones w h i c h were manufactured
g i r l of his own village, and he is hundred miles to reach a fair. Such by urban artisans f r o m indigenous
not permitted to give his sister or fairs occur all over the country and minerals; and t h i r d l y , goods such
daughter in marriage to the village they reveal the fact that the peas- as silk cloth and objects of metal
f r o m w h i c h he has obtained a wife. ant s social and economic universe and i v o r y w h i c h were manufactured
The marriage circle in the north i n - is very much wider than his village. by urban artisans f r o m i m p o r t e d
cludes two or three hundred vil- raw materials."
The members of an agnatic clan The pattern of land-ownership,
are often found dispersed in several tenancy and labour frequently cuts The inter-regional trade of the
villages. T h i s is specially true of across the village. The land w h i c h country also included the exchange
some" parts of north I n d i a where is included w i t h i n the boundary of of a g r i c u l t u r a l and forest produce.
members of the locally dominant an official or administrative village Gujarat, for instance, received a
caste residing in several neighbour- is not always owned by those resid- considerable quantity of wheat and
i n g villages are agnatieally related ent in it. Some of the land is usu- o p i u m f r o m M a l w a , rice and coco-
to each other. Close ties exist be- a l l y owned by people in neighbour- nuts from the K o n k a n , sugar f r o m
i n g villages or towns. D u r i n g the Bengal, and groceries and drugs
tween such groups. S i m i l a r l y , dose
ties also exist between those memb-
last hundred years or more, there f r o m the H i m a l a y a n regions. 6 W i t h i n
has come into existence a class of Gujarat itself there was local spe-
ers of a caste who live in towns and
absentee landowners, of people who cialisation in the matter of crops,
others who live in villages. This
reside in towns but own land in and there was m u c h exchange of
is specially true of the 'twice born
villages. a g r i c u l t u r a l produce between differ-
Again, members of a village are ent areas. W h i l e indigo and tobac-
The fact that villages are usually co were grown in central Gujarat,
multicaste in composition is point c o m m o n l y found to own some land
in n e i g h b o u r i n g villages. Even ten- sugarcane was g r o w n in south Guja-
ed out as evidence of self-suflieienev rat. The local produce was trans-
of villages. But even big villages, ants and labourers are occasionally
found c u l t i v a t i n g land l y i n g in ano- ported over land as well as water.
villages w i t h over a thousand peo- There was a great deal of trade
ple, do not contain all the necessary ther village. fn some i r r i g a t e d
areas where the density of popula- along the coast of Gujarat. Saurash-
castes whereas nearly two thirds of tra and K u l c h . 7 Finally, even in the
India's villages have a strength of tion is high, it is not unknown for a
tenant to cultivate land l y i n g six same locality villages supplied seve-
less than five hundred each. raI consumption goods to towns.
or seven miles from where he is
WEEKLY MARKETS staying. In brief, most villages in Plains
There are also single-caste M i - Gujarat sent out some c o m m o d i t y or
lages. Where these villages are of EXTERNAL TRADE
other to the wider market. They
artisans, they sell their goods in It is often assumed that trade and received in return various goods
nearby towns, or more frequently, commerce d i d not touch villages in such as salt, spices, groceries, cer-
in the weekly markets. The latter I n d i a . This assumption was per- tain kinds of cloth, metals, metab
are an eloquent testimony to the haps true only of villages in the objects, household goods, and orna-
Indian village's lack of self-suffici- t r i b a l areas. In the non-tribal areas, ments. The dependence of the v i l -
ency. They also i m p ly a certain however, village economy has for a lager on the outside w o r l d was visi-
amount of monetizalion of the eco- long time been integrated in vary- ble p a r t i c u l a r l y d u r i n g the rites des
nomy which in t u r n means that the i n g degree w i t h regional, national passage, the periodical festivals and
village was part of a wider politico- and even international trade and other ritual occasions. The villager
economic system. commerce, in certain regions, such purchased the goods he wanted f r o m
as Gujarat, and the Kerala and the village shopkeeper, f r o m the
Weekly markets again vary in Coromandel coasts, there was a h i g h
their range. Some are patronised peripatetic trader or artisan, and at
degree of integration of village eco- fairs and weekly markets. Accord-
by people l i v i n g in a few neighbour- nomy w i t h the economy of the wider
ing villages while others are patro- ing to available records there was
world. These coastal areas had at least one shopkeeper in every
nised by people spread over a wide m a r i t i m e commerce w i th overseas
area. Occasionally, there is also a village w i t h a population of 500 or
countries since at least the begin- more in central Gujarat at the be-
certain amount of specialisation in n i n g of the Christian' era.
weekly markets: one market is g i n n i n g of the nineteenth century.'
famous for trade in cattle, another The exports of Gujarat included,
in sheep and p o u l t r y , a t h i r d in for instance, a g r i c u l t u r a l and forest
woollen blankets, and so on. P i l g r i - produce as well as finished goods. The villagers also depended upon
mages also take the villager beyond In the former category may be men- towns for certain specialized servi-
the village, and occasionally into a tioned indigo, cotton, wheat, rice, ces. Whenever they wanted to b u i l d
different language area. The perio- tobacco, edible o i l , ghee, honev, lac. a brick-and-mortar structure, whe-
dical festival of a deity attracts de- hides, dried ginger and myrobalan. ther it was a d w e l l i n g house, a well
votee.- and others from nearby v il In the latter category there were a hospice (dharmasala). a village
lages, and a bazaar springs up goods of three k i n d s : firstly, goods meeting house ( chavadi). or a
around the temples. The prospect such as cotton cloth, yarn, cushions. pigeon-tower ( c h a b u t u r i ) . they had

September 10, 1960

t o call i n brick-layers and lime- T h e lower-level a u t h o r i t y acknow- g i o n embraced the whole of I n d i a ,

workers f r o m nearby towns. T h e y ledged the supremacy of the higher and at least the more knowledge-
also get their g o l d and silver orna- a u t h o r i t y when he paid t r i b u t e , and able villager had heard of Benaras,
ments made by a town s m i t h . declared his independence f r o m the the Ganges and the Himalayas. The
T h o u g h m u d pots and pans were latter when he stopped payment. B r a h m i n priest was the visible re-
p o p u l a r in the house, the few metal There was a c o n t i n u u m of power presentative of a l l - I n d i a or Sanskri-
vessels w h i c h were in use, and the relations f r o m the lowest to the tic H i n d u i s m . The i n s t i t u t i o n o f
immense metal utensils for cooking highest levels, and changes at each Harikatha in w h i c h the priest read
c o m m u n i t y dinners, were bought level were followed by changes at and explained a religious story
and repaired in the town. The flo- the other levels. In 'orthodox' his- f r o m the Ramayana or Mahabharata
rist, the t a i l o r , the washerman, the tories changes at the h i g h e r levels or Bhagavata to the villagers en-
vahivancha (genealogist) and the are said to be the cause of change abled the latter to absorb a l l - I n d i a
grain parcher were all to be at lower levels, but not the other H i n d u i s m . T h i s helped in the gra-
f o u n d o n l y in the towns and very way about, dual Sanskritisation of the lower
large villages. RAJPUTS AND M U S L I M S
castes and in m a k i n g villagers every-
where an effective p a r t of a l l - I n d i a
In this connection, it is necessary Before the conquest of Gujarat by Hinduism.
to stress the importance of regional the M u s l i m s i n thirteenth century,
economic history, a field w h i c h is as the Rajputs were a d o m i n a n t caste T h e I n d i a n v i l l a g e was thus al-
i m p o r t a n t as it is neglected. The over the entire region and R a j p u t ways a part of a w i d e r entity, sub-
study of economic history on a re- chieftains were to be found every- ject to the winds w h i c h blew f r o m
gional basis w i l l tell us how the v i l - where. 1 0 W h e n the M u s l i m conqu- w i t h o u t . The i n c r e d i b l y bad roads,
lage was related to the w i d e r eco- erors removed the sovereign k i n g of the heavy monsoon, the g r o w i n g of
n o m y n a t i o n a l as well as interna- Gujarat a l l the lower chieftains food crops and vegetables, the exist-
t i o n a l i n different parts o f I n d i a . fought the M u s l i m s . The Persian ence of barter and the p o w e r f u l
F o r instance, the A m e r i c a n C i v i l chronicles, Mirat - i - Sikandari,11 sense of membership of the village
W a r resulted in the stoppage of the Mirat'i-Ahmadi12 and Ferista1 bear c o m m u n i t y have all given students
supply of raw cotton to the factories eloquent testimony to the relentless an i l l u s i on of self-sufficiency and of
in Lancashire, and this resulted in fight put up by the local R a j p u t isolation. Rut it is only an i l l u s i on
India's becomin g an exporter of raw chieftains (called Girasiyas) and and the reality is quite different.
cotton to B r i t a i n . Cotton b r o u g h t their allies, the K o l i chieftains, for It is, of course, true that villages in
prosperity to peasants in Gujarat over 400 years. It was o n l y in different parts of I n d i a were inte-
and in the f o r m e r Central P r o v i n - central Gujarat, in the region around grated in different degree w i t h the
ces, w h i c h in t u r n led to several the capital city of A h m e d a b a d , the w i d e r p o l i t i c a l , economic, k i n s h i p ,
changes in the social and economic centre of M u s l i m power, that the religious and ethical structure, and
life of the people. Some peasants Muslims were able to control the this is an i m p o r t a n t field for com-
in the Central Provinces used silver Rajputs. Three-fourths of the land- parative research. Further, it is a
in their ploughs and bullock-carts ed estate of each Rajput was con- field in w h i c h sociologists and his-
to tell their friends they had fiscated and turned i n t o khalsa or torians have to cooperate.
"arrived'. c r o w n land. T h i s marked the begin- N o t e s a n d References
n i n g of change in the position of
Appendix to the Report from
P O L I T I C A L STRUCTURE Patidars. the. great peasant caste of the Select Committee of the
The assumption that the I n d i a n central Gujarat, vis-a-vis the Raj- House of Commons on the Af-
village c o m m u n i t y was not i n f l u - puts. fairs of the East-India Company,
enced by, and d i d not in t u r n i n f l u - The decline in the power and III Revenue, ( L o n d o n , 1833),
ence, the w i d e r p o l i t i c a l structure, is wealth of the Rajputs was marke d p 470.
also facile. T h i s assumption is a by the rise to wealth of the Pati- 2
Village Communities in the
result of l o o k i n g only at the top and dars. They exported i n d i g o , cotton East and West, (London.
not at the base of the p o l i t i c a l struc- and other a g r i c u l t u r a l commodities, 1 8 9 0 ) , pp 124-25.
ture, a result of concentrating on and p r o v i d e d raw materials to urban 3
Letters on India, ed B P L Bedi
the history of k i n g s and generals and artisans for the manufacture of such and Freda Bedi. (Lahore .
not of the people. At the village articles as cotton textiles. In course 1 0 3 7 ) , pp 6-7,
or slightly higher level, there was of t i m e the Patidars acquired poli- 4
See E r i e M i l l e r . "Caste and
usually the dominan t caste, the tical power also. It is interesting T e r r i t o r y in M a l a b a r " , Ameri-
members of w h i c h owned a good to note that the Patidars were the can Anthropologist, 56, ( 1 9 5 4 ) .
deal of the available arable l a n d , p r i n c i p a l supporters of the Marathas pp 410-20.
and also wielded p o l i t i c a l power in d u r i n g the latters' campaign in 6
W H Schoff. translated and and
a d d i t i o n . Each such caste had a Gujarat. 1 4 A n d g r a d u a l l y the Pati- notated by. The Periplus of the
leader whose position was further dars asserted their r i t u a l superiority Erythraean Sea, (New York.
strengthened by ties of k i n s h i p and to Rajputs. At the present moment, 1912), pp 39-42; Gazetteer of
affinity, and by his capacity to con- Patidars do not accept water or the Bombay Presidency, Vol
fer favours on his clients. Such cooked food f r o m Rajputs. VI (Bombay . 1880K pp 187-
chieftains stood at the base of the 9 8 ; Ral K r i s h n a , Commercial
p o l i t i c a l p y r a m i d everywhere i n W I N D S FROM W I T H O U T
Relations between India and
India. A b o v e them was the Raja We have already mentioned how England, (London, 1924), pp
or k i n g , the viceroy of an Emperor, pilgrimages and festivals took the 12-17; W H M o r e l a n d India
and the E m p e r o r himself, in ascend- villager to places beyond his o w n at the Death of Akhar, ( L o n -
i n g order o f importance. village. A p a r t f r o m this, his reli- don. 1 9 2 0 ) , pp 196-245; id.
September 10, 1 9 6 0 THE ECONOMIC WEEKLY

From Akbar to Auraflgzeb, Sleepers f o r I n d i a n R a i l w a y s a n d m e t r e gauge r a i l w a y s .

( L o n d o n , 1 9 2 3 ) , p p 52-136.
THE i n i t i a l t r i a l s at the Sleeper Sleeper bars are p r o d u c e d in
W H Moreland India at the
Plant o f D u r g a p u r Steelworks the Continuou s B i l l e t and Sleeper
Death of Akbar , p 2 4 4 ; Gazet-
were successfully c a r r i e d out last B a r M i l l a n d cut t o length i n the
teer of the Bombay Presidency,
week w h e n the sleepers were p r o - Sleeper P l a n t . A f t e r r e h e a t i n g , the
V o l V I , p p 187-98.
duced f o r the first t i m e at the p l a n t bars are shaped a n d p u n c h e d in a
See chapters on " T r a d e and
site. T h i s p l a n t is designed to p r o - 250-ton press. The sleepers are
M a n u f a c t u r e " and "Places of
duce sleepers f o r both b r o a d gauge then descaled and cooled .
Interest" in Gazetteer of the
Bombay Presidency, Vol II
(Bombay, 1877); Vol III,
(Bombay, 1879); Vol IV,
(Bombay. 1879); Vol VI,
(Bombay, 1880); Vol VII,
(Bombay, 1883); Vol VIII,
(Bombay. 1884). An import
ant source f o r the s t u d y of his-
tory o f local trade i n G u j a r a t
are account books and commer-
cial correspondence preserved
b y merchant f a m i l i e s .
For a d e s c r i p t i o n of the records,
see A M Shah, " S o c i a l A n t h r o -
pology a n d the S t u d y of H i s t o -
rical Societies", The Economic
Weekly, Special N u m b e r , Jul y
1959, pp 953-62.
Seth Leacock and David C
Mandelbaum. "A Nineteenth
Century Development Project in
I n d i a : the Cotton I m p r o v e m e n t
Program". Economic Develop-
merit and Cultural Change, Vol
I I I , No 4, (July 1955), p 349;
Hiralal Tribhuvandas Parekh,
Arvachin Gujaratnun Rekhadar-
shan. Vol II, (Ahmedabad,
1 9 3 6 ) , p p 68-74.
A M Shah, " T h e V a h i v a n c h a
Barots of G u j a r a t ; a Caste of
Genealogists and Mythograph-
ers" in Traditional India: Struc-
ture and Change, ed Milton
Singer, (Philadelphia, 1959),
pp 52-58.
Sikandar ibn Muhammad,, tran-
slated by Fazlullah Lutfullah
F a r i d i , (Bombay, n.d.), p 239.
A l i Muhammad K h a n , MiraU-
Ahmadi: Supplement, translat-
ed by Syed N a w a b A l i and
Charles N o r m a n Sedon, ( B a r o -
da, 1 9 2 8 ) . p p 193-94.
M a h o m e d Kasirn F e r i s h ta His-
tory of the Rise of the MaHO-
medan Power in India, translat-
e d b y John B r i g g s , V o l I V ,
(Calcutta and L o n d o n . 1 9 1 0 ) ,
p 18.
Gazetteer of the Bombay Presi-
dency, V o l V I I , p p 1 6 9 - 7 1 , 174,
1 8 7 ; C V Joshi, " T h e A m i n s of
Vaso", Indian Historical Re-
cords Commission, Proceedings
of the Meeting of tlie Silver
Jubilee Session, Vol XXV,
Part I I . ( D e l h i , 1 9 4 9 ) , p p 177-


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