by Ashutosh Malik (@malikashutosh)
I have my relatives still living in villages in western UP – districts of Meerut and Muzaffarnagar. Based on my first hand knowledge I can classify village living folks in these parts into two broad categories. The first category is of those who have a substantial number of relatives living in cities and doing relatively well for themselves. This group typically has one or two brothers doing the farming for the entire lot of brothers, or the land has already been divided and the ones who do not live in the village any more are getting farming done by renting the farm out to a landless family or to somebody else looking to cultivate some more land. The second category is of those who have their entire family dependent on farming or on a mix of farming and some other profession (could be a business in the town nearby or teaching in a school), but the entire family stays in the village.
I have noticed some interesting changes over time, particularly in the last 20 years:
- While having land is considered a very important goal, farming is not a gainful enterprise at all unless land holdings are substantial – which is getting more and more difficult as the land holdings are getting divided from one generation to another. Therefore, every family is looking at ensuring that some family members move into cities to take up jobs.
- More than what they earn from land, farmers are interested in the value that land has. So those who can, increase their landholdings – typically these are likely to be those who are still staying in the villages or in the small towns nearby. Then there are those who look at any development that increases the value of their land as an opportunity to sell parts of the land, and invest the money in a city and/ or a venture for the children. For example, there are those, like in Noida, Greater Noida, and earlier in Vasant Kunj or Dwarka (all these examples are from National Capital Region but the story should be similar to what is happening wherever there is a big city close by) who look for infrastructural development by Government to take place, to earn money and utilize it in other activities. In fact infrastructural development like roads and new town development is considered very beneficial by the famers because it increases the value of their land exponentially. The issues that we recently saw in Noida and Greater Noida were more about how much more, and legitimately so, value the farmers could get. The issue was certainly not about some esoteric idea of how the farmers love to farm, and that they are missing farming, in an increasingly urbanized area, that some sections in media and also the recent judgement in the Supreme Court, were trying to imply.
- Among those who do not as of yet have the option of moving out or feel more connected to the land, what is also worth observing is that some women folk along with their children are moving out, to stay in their own houses in the towns close by, or to stay in rented accommodations, to educate children in better schools available in the towns compared to those in the villages. In any case, after schooling is over, the children are going for college to towns close by.
So I will agree that there would be substantial similarities among those who live in villages, and those who live in cities of India, in terms of ambitions and desires. But I would have a different opinion if it is implied that the life in the village is similar to that in a city. The pristine environment of a village hides a very difficult life that people lead. And in my ancestral village, there is almost no family among the landed, which doesn’t have most of the current generation working out across India, whether in the private sector or in the government. Those who are still there are combining farming with other professions like teaching, which allow them substantial time to farm as well, or are running businesses related to agriculture while doing farming. The landless or those with very small land holdings have a very difficult life indeed.