ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Leap across Time

This paper seeks to map the impact and changes in the traditional Indian economy by the forces of marketisation and monetisation. The authors conducted their studies in two villages of Bihar's Purnia district in the years 1971, 1981 and 1999. As the comparative study revealed, despite the decline in mechanisms of semi-feudalism and a rise in labour income corresponding to a decline in agricultural income; traditional forms of wage repayment as sharecropping continued. Ills of a previous decade such as high mortality, female illiteracy and poor health systems persisted, revealing not merely the inadequacy of existing social institutions but also an absence of much needed state support.

In April 1999 we made a brief return visit to two neighbouring villages in Kasba block of Purnia district, north-east Bihar, where we had undertaken surveys of poverty and employment in 1971 and 1981. The 1971 study looked at the impact of public works on rural poverty in several villages close to substantial public works projects. [G Rodgers 1973]. In 1981, we revisited most of these villages to explore longer term change in the living conditions of the poor [G Rodgers and R Rodgers 1984]. On both occasions we collected general village information, and interviewed a number of – mainly agricultural labour – households, reinterviewing many of the same households in 1981 as in 1971. In the 1999 visit, we revisited two of these villages, Pokharia and Dubaili Biswaspur, recontacted a number of the same families, in most cases a member of the second generation, and reviewed with them and with other villagers events and changes, trends in income and employment, infrastructure and the economic environment, social institutions and the labour market. This return visit was too brief for a formal, scientific survey. Nevertheless, because of the earlier visits it was easy to establish a good rapport with villagers, and to rapidly ascertain key features of change.

These two villages, like thousands of others, lie in the middle of the north Gangetic Plain, with abundant groundwater and often too much surface water. They were originally chosen (in 1971) because of their proximity to canal-building work, now long finished, which – as it turned out – had little incidence on the villages concerned. They are today linked with the outside world – the block headquarters – by seven kilometres of deteriorated but mostly surfaced road, cut at times during the monsoon. One village is quite small, as Purnia villages go – about 650 inhabitants in 1991 – the other large, over 3,500 inhabitants. Both are essentially agricultural. One is made up mainly of small cultivators, the other includes both larger landowners and agricultural labourers. One is exclusively Hindu, mainly ‘backward’ castes, the other has a Moslem majority along with a group of scheduled castes. There is no claim that these villages are representative – there are many other types of village in the area, with better or worse communications, with better or worse agricultural conditions, with other social compositions. But what is happening in them is likely, in a greater or lesser degree, to be also reproduced elsewhere in the region.

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