Rural India: An Exploited Blessing

Image Captions: A still of a farmer harvesting his crops. The produce was affected badly by water logging in fields.

Image Credits: Aryan Pandey

A Glimpse of What it is

Rural India can, undoubtedly, be called one of the most complex things that exist on this planet. Comprising about 833 million people, rural India is a diversity beyond imagination. It is a brilliant mixture of hundreds of languages, thousands of cultures, and hundreds of thousands of arts, techniques and occupations that have ceased to exist anywhere else in the world. The myriad of colorful cultures that rural India owns is a rare collection and is a result of several thousand years old traditions. Including the data of the People's Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI), 2010, we find that rural India comprises 833 million people, speaking about 780 living languages. Also, 225 languages have died in the past 50 years. Out of the 780 living languages, six are spoken by more than 50 million people, three are spoken by more than 80 million and one is spoken by over 500 million. Unfortunately, these languages are dying. As G.N. Devy, who headed the PLSI 2010 mentions,

“On 26 January 2010, a lady, who belonged to the community called Bo, died in the Andaman Islands and she was the last speaker of her language that was also called Bo. Sadly, along with her, the continuous life of wisdom of 65,000 years was also gone."

Rural India is full of occupations and skills that are amazing and seem just unbelievable. The most commonly cited example is of “toddy-tappers” in the villages of Tamil Nadu. These men climb palm trees, the average height of trees being 25 to 30 ft., to a total of nearly 50 times a day. They do so, without any elevator or machinery, just by their hands and feet. Considering, the average height of a palm tree to be about 28 feet and multiplying it by the number of times per day, i.e., 50, we come to know that a toddy-tapper climbs a height of 1400 ft. at a daily average which is 176 ft. more than the height of New York’s Empire State building, and is approx. six times the height of Qutub Minar in Delhi.

Not only this, how can one forget the year 2001 Kadalundi Train Derailment. The train was blown off the bridge due to typhoon conditions of the monsoon and fell in the middle of a river. The army was called with their cranes, but they could do nothing as the cranes couldn’t reach the train in the middle of the river. The government of Kerala then signed an official contract with the Khalasis of Malabar. The Khalasis are traditional hydraulics experts. They somehow managed to use the current of the river and brought the train to the shores within hundred hours of work following which the army took over. These are just small pearls in a very lengthy necklace called rural India.

In rural India, there are more schools of weaving than any other country knows, more schools of pottery than anyone has ever documented. These skills have been developing themselves for thousands of years and it’s painful to see them die such a brutal death. The Kanjivaram and Banarsi saree weavers are abandoning their skills due to severe economic crisis. These skilled craftsmen are now working as drivers, electricians and waiters, etc. in our “skilled India” .It’s crazy to kill a skill that is over thousands of years old and give them the skill to serve the capitalists.

The Present State of Rural India

Rural India’s issues remain untouched and unknown. They receive almost no media coverage. If we talk about the national daily newspapers of India, then, on an eight-year average, rural India accounts for about 0.76% coverage of news in national dailies. Now breaking this 0.76% subject-wise and content-wise, we come to know that village-level stories get about 0.16% coverage in a country where above 70% of the population is classified as rural. Agriculture gets about 0.61% coverage. Also, this 0.61% is particularly not the coverage of agriculture, it’s the coverage of the Agricultural Ministry and a particular Agricultural Minister.

It seems that issues, problems, and challenges of these 833million individuals are not worth solving, even not worth discussing. The rapid exploitation of rural India has led to one of the largest migrations in the history of independent India.

The Menace of Migration

The migration of people from villages and small towns to big cities is a curse for India’s development. The innocent villagers, deprived of their rights, migrate to cities to find a ray of hope. It is bizarre to see that a fair percentage of migrant labourers are landowners in their villages. But still, they choose to work in poor working conditions in the cities. The reason being the destruction of the agriculture sector. Our agrarian economy is heading rapidly towards destruction. A close analysis of the 2011 Census reveals several shocking facts. It shows that 45.36 crore Indians are migrants, this means nearly 37% of our total population are migrants, and the number is rising rapidly. In 2001, the migrants count stood at 31.45 crores which means that between 2001 and 2011, nearly 15 crore people have become migrants. According to the Census, the primary cause of migration for men is work and employment whereas, for women the primary cause of migration is marriage.

The 2011 census suggests that for the first time in the history of independent India, urban India added more people as compared to rural India. In 2001, urban India added 68 million people between 1991 and 2001, while rural India added 130 million. Whereas in the 2011 Census, we find that rural India added 90 million people. On the other hand, urban India added 91 million. The primary cause for this is migration among the village folks.

Undoubtedly, migrants are among the most vulnerable to exploitation. The recent COVID lockdown demonstrated how these millions of innocent people were left to die, and it was only the villages that gave them shelter.

The Causes of Migration

The causes of migration are various. The first is, that rural India wasn't developed in a way so that it could generate employment opportunities for the village dwellers. The second is that the existing employment opportunities were destroyed. These things have led to a rapid rise in economic inequality in the past 25 to 30 years. The primary occupation in villages is farming or agriculture, the sector which is worst affected by the government policies. The poverty of farmers is rising at an alarming rate and has led to hundreds of thousands of farmer suicides across India. The NCRB data suggest that 42,480 farmers committed suicide in 2019. Such a big number, but there is no discussion on this issue nor any action being taken. The entire population linked to the agrarian sector is delving deep into poverty. The people who could earn a good living and could lead a respectful life in their village by farming or cottage industries like weaving, pottery among others are now forced to migrate to cities and work like bonded labourers.

The exploitation of such a large population is making the rich richer and the poor poorer. According to the World Inequality Lab report 2020, in India, the income share of the top 10% grew from 30% in the 1980s to 56% in 2019. It is unbelievable to see that in 2020, India ranked at third position in the world dollar billionaires list and at the same time it ranks 131st position in Human Development Index. These dates are exemplifying that our policies are made for the rich. In 1973, one could buy 15g gold by selling one quintal of cotton, but now 4 quintals cotton prices equal the price of 10g gold!

Apart from the employment opportunities, the search for a better standard of living also causes migration in India. The villages are deprived of even the very basic amenities. It is sad to see that above 70% of India’s population is rural and rural India gets only about 20 to 23 percent of hospital beds in our country. According to a report by the IMS Institute of Healthcare Informatics, in rural areas to seek OPD treatment, over 32% of people had to travel above 5 kilometres of distance. The condition of PHCs is pathetic. According to the Economic Survey Report 2018-19, at least 60% of India’s PHCs have only one doctor while about 5% have none. More than 10% PHCs in Jharkhand and 20% in Chhattisgarh have no access to a medical professional at all. 70% PHCs in UP, Bihar and Rajasthan either have one or no doctor.

The situation is not very different for the education sector also. Rural India lacks proper education facilities. A major proportion of children, especially girls in rural India, receive very poor or no education at all. As per a survey report called the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), more than 50% of the students in fifth standard attending rural schools are not capable of reading a second standard textbook and do not solve basic mathematical questions. The enrollment of students in rural India’s government schools has increased greatly, but the quality of education remains a very big issue. The condition of government schools is not good in any sense of the word. The District Information System for Education (DISE) data shows that only 53% of total government schools, which form the majority of schools in rural India, have electricity. ASER 2017 report shows that only 68% of toilets in government schools are anyhow usable. Apart from this, the absenteeism and carelessness of teachers in government schools is also an issue. Reports suggest that one in four teachers are absent at typical government-run primary schools. Rates of absenteeism are higher in low-income states of Jharkhand and Bihar, where Jharkhand reported a rate of 42%. Everyone knows that poor employability is a clear-cut outcome of our poor education system, yet we don’t act.

What to do?

The agricultural sector of our country requires immediate attention. Dr P Sainath defines the cause of rural India’s destruction in just 5 words, “Corporate hi-jack of the agrarian sector.” A census town is defined as an area with a population over 5000, where density per square kilometres is 400 or more and most importantly where 75% of the male workforce is no longer involved in agriculture. Over the last 20 years, thousands of such towns have been formed. This indicates that agriculture is collapsing in thousands of villages over the past two or three decades. One thing is certain that the soul of India lives in its villages. To develop India, we need to develop rural India.

Dozens of policies have knocked on the doors of rural India since independence. One or two schemes among them were successful to a certain extent, whereas, most of them failed and couldn’t fulfil the goal for which they were made. They just benefitted the brokers, politicians, officers, they never actually reached their target individual. Some policies like, MGNREGA, were successful to some extent. There’s a common problem with our rural India policies. The problem is that they aim at a ‘city-like’ development in villages. The development of villages is different from cities. Our rural India policies need to take this fact into account that they are supposed to deal with an overall illiterate population and a population that is not well versed with the legal technicalities of our policies. Several experts have spent their entire life studying rural India, their works and experience can be referred to. Policies should aim at ‘village-like development and should primarily aim at making villages self-sustainable in every aspect. Only self-sustainable villages can lead to self-sustainable India.

What is rural India? Even the census has no definition for it. The census says, "what is not urban, is rural." Rural India, as for now, seems more or less, like a misery.

By Aryan Pandey

Aryan Pandey is a first-year BA(Hons)English student at Hindu College. He is originally from a small district called Ballia in Eastern UP. Rural India and its problems are the subjects that interest him, as he is a part of it. Although he is a student of English, he is an admirer of हिन्दी too.

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