According to Karl Marx and Sir Henry Maine, the Indian village was a subject of discussion by British administrators, scholars, nationalist, social anthropologists in the 19th century. A field worker also takes a village as a convention center for his investigation. According to him, the conception of village solidarity is the solidarity of local section of the dominant caste and the members of other castes. Caste has social reality. The village is only the dwelling place of diverse and unequal castes. The British administrators did not stress the inequality because in a joint village there was two class of men-one with proprietary rights and the other without them.
The influential account of the Indian village appeared in the fifth report from the select committee on the affairs of the East Indian Company. A village had a simple form of municipal government and inhabitants lived from time immemorial. The boundaries, interests and internal economy remain unchanged. After 150 years, Sir Charles Metcalfe’s minute included the next influential account of the Indian village. In the report of the Select Committee. He revived villages as ‘Little Republics’ which were independent of foreign relation. The Indian villages had everything they wanted within themselves. The village inhabitants had a profound attachment and wanted freedom and happiness.
Both Marx and Maine had their own contributions of oversimplifications and misconceptions about the nature of Indian villages. Both saw in the 19th century India has a part of European society and absence of ownership of land. While dynasties rose and fell, the people in the tiny villages had a happy life. Pristine communal ownership was interpreted to mean the absence of economic inequalities. India was known for village handlooms worldwide in the19th century. But it could not compete with the British factories and mills. The people were brought in misery.
Marx was totally preoccupied with economic and social changes found in the Indian villages. He made no attempt to conceal his dislikes. The communities were contaminated by distinctions of caste and slavery. The static nature of Indian society and its passivity is explained. The British rule was exploitive. The traditional Indian society was destroyed and Britain made a social revolution. The old Asiatic society was annihilated and a foundation for western society was laid.
According to Marx, the self-sufficiency of the village was in ‘Domestic Union of Agricultural and Manufactural Pursuits’. He also noticed the existence of caste and slavery in villages. He had no words against the British rule but denounced the commercial exploitation of India by the East Indian Company. He strengthened the armory of the Indian nationalists. The idea of primitive communism of property was a basic idea of the 19th-century evolutionists. The village community was known to be of immense antiquity, great stability, more than a brotherhood of relatives and an association of partners. It was regarded as forming part of wider kingdoms, but Dumont senses a contradiction. The kings did not interfere with the principles of the villages. All over the country, the villages agreed to deliver a part of the produce to the king. They did not recognize their dependence on him. The relation between the king and the villages lead to misconceptions among the writers. They viewed the political and economic changes brought by British rule from a nationalist angle. There was a continues drain of wealth from India to Britain.
Gandhi urged the Indians to use hand-spun and hand-woven cloth and converted its weaving into a national cult. It was a part of the Swadeshi movement and included the boycott of British goods. It was a powerful weapon for people who yearned for freedom. Gandhi was in the tradition of genuine spirituality, practicing and preaching plain living and high thinking. Gandhi’s program of rural reconstruction involved the revival of handicrafts and panchayats and the removal of untouchability. He wanted the panchayats to arrive at decisions on the basis of consciousness as he was convinced that ordinary democratic process resulted in the suppression of minority views and interests.
The concept of self-sufficiency of The Indian village is considered in two ways- political sense and economic sense. It is regarded that villages are self-governing. The villagers were indifferent to the fate of the kingdom. The ability of the village communities to survive temporary disaster was highlighted. Villages survive forces and Innovations of Central authority. Except for the collection of land revenue, there was little state control of the villages. The activity of the state did not go further than the primary functional defense. The only contact with the villagers was by the means of local officials having their headquarters in the towns. The road system throughout the country was unsatisfactory. Any king who wanted to win had to get the support of the villagers. The villagers protected themselves against any external attack. Violence was an integral element in the tradition of dominant caste. The establishment of ‘Pax Britannica’ effectively clipped away the wings of the leaders of the dominant caste. The collective flight was another sanction available to the villagers against oppression. They had considerable resources of their own in dealing with higher political powers. Tax forming was an expression of the indirect rule. A good king also paid attention to the development of irrigation. In Mysore, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, both canals and tanks had played a significant part.
In South India dams were built to store rainwater. Indian agriculture is always tuned on rainfall and local wells and ponds of the villages. Sometimes the king’s power was effective enough to ensure the rights of individuals who were recognized by him. There was also copper plate grants listing the privileges, duties, and rank of a particular caste.
The Myth of economic self-sufficiency of the pre-British village is one that is widely subscribed and is persisted until recent years. A sizable share of produce was drained away. War often destroyed the economy of the village. The appearance of self-sufficiency was enhanced by the caste-wise division of labor. There were weekly markets everywhere. Periodical faith was held during festivals or sacred days. Self- sufficiency also assumed that every village had a living within it with all the essential artisans and servicing caste.
The proportion of smaller villages was greater in pre-British India. During the time large irrigation projects were undertaken in different parts of our country. But the lower caste did not possess a sense of loyalty to the village. They were clients of the powerful pattern from the dominant caste.
According to Dumont, Indian villages were not communities because of inequality of caste. At first, caste was generally accepted. The idea of hierarchy was regarded natural. The demographic situation in pre-British India affected intercaste relation in significant ways. Extensive areas were available for cultivation. The landowners competed for the services of laborers. The existence of a master-servant relationship assured the landowner of a steady source of labor. It also helped to minimize the competition between landowners for labor. Strong employer employee bonds provided a countervailing force to caste. Generally, the employers came from dominant caste while landless laborers came from lowest strata. Both political and economic forces in pre-British India converged to put a premium on localism. Both technological and political factors posted limitations on caste.
The members of the dominant caste were in a privileged position. But they had to show respect for certain values to all castes. The leaders of the dominant caste were expected to protect the interests of the village as a whole and were criticized if they did not. It was possible for villages to function as units in spite of various cleavages within them because everyone irrespective of its caste had a sense of belonging to a local community.
The exclusion of Harijan castes from access to wells and temples was traditional. Individuals from a particular caste was included in one content and excluded in the other. Inclusion and exclusion were also matters of degree ie. Social distance. The Harijans performed many essential services at the festival. They were the last to eat. The dominant caste forced the Harijans to perform duties by economically boycotting or by using physical force.
From the villager’s point of view, two factors seemed to be crucial in determining who belonged and who did not
I] length of stay in the village and
II] ownership of real property.
If the family had spent two generations in a village and owned little land and house, then their membership had been established. This membership had no connection with caste or religion. Ownership of lands enabled owners to have enduring relationships with others in the village.
The power wielded by the dominant caste was real but it also respected certain common values of the dependent class. The dependent class gm had a loyalty to the village and were considered by the villagers themselves to have membership in it. Inclusion and exclusion operated at all levels of castes in the society. Thus the pre-British India had in general acceptance of caste.
Srinivas, M.N. 1987, The Dominant Caste and other essays, Delhi: Oxford University Press, Pp.20-59