Book Discussion | The Indian Village: Rural Lives in the 21st Century- authored by Prof. Surinder S. Jodhka

Centre for Studies of Plural Societies (CSPS) organised a book discussion on “The Indian Village Rural Lives in the 21st Century” by Prof. Surinder S. Jodhka. The session was moderated by Dr. Irfanullah Farooqi (Assistant Professor, South Asian University) and attended by Dr Zakariya Siddiqui (Associate Professor, Jamia Millia Islamia) and Dr. Javed Iqbal Wani (Senior Assistant Professor at Ambedkar University Delhi; Head of Research and Publication at CSPS) with doctoral scholars and students from various universities.

The session commenced with a formal introduction by Dr. Javed Iqbal Wani who emphasised the persisting relevance of the caste question in the imagination of rural India today and how Prof. Jodhaka’s book comprehensively engages with the issue. Correspondingly, Dr. Farooqi commended Prof. Jodhaka’s efforts to challenge the dominant paradigm and reintroduce the question of caste and rural concerns into both academic and public discourses. Dr Farooqi emphasised how the concepts of religiosity and casteism continue to shape our understanding of rural communities and delineate the distinction between urban and rural spaces in India. Prof. Jodhka’s book conducts a comprehensive exploration of this matter, providing a comprehensive understanding of the subject.

Prof. Jodhka’s presentation began with an exploration of the common urban misconception about Indian villages. He highlighted that many urbanites often carry a nostalgic and idyllic view of rural life, based on their childhood memories or popular culture. To challenge this perception, he conducted extensive fieldwork and drew from the research of Indian and foreign sociologists and anthropologists to offer a nuanced and contemporary perspective on rural India. One key aspect of Jodhka’s talk focused on the historical roots of these misconceptions. He traced them back to colonial times when India was often depicted as a land of unchanging village republics, isolated from politics and external influence. Jodhka debunked this notion, emphasising that traditional villages were not self-contained and that they were part of extensive regional networks, shaped by power dynamics and control over agricultural land.

He also shed light on the impact of democracy on village structures, emphasising that caste, which often overlapped with power hierarchies, was not solely about ritual hierarchy but also about control over land. He illustrated how changes in the 21st century, including migration and urbanisation, had transformed village societies and economies, challenging traditional caste-based occupations. Throughout the talk, Jodhka delved into the intricate realities of contemporary Indian villages. He described how rural life is far from the serene and close-knit communities depicted in popular media, highlighting the disappearance of traditional hierarchical structures and the decline of caste-based economic systems. The upheavals brought about by the Green Revolution in the late 1960s and the evolution of rural arrangements such as the jajmani system and varna-based occupational segregation were discussed in detail.

One of the significant themes of Jodhka’s talk centred on the status of Dalits in the rural-urban continuum. He scrutinised how government interventions, particularly land reforms and the Panchayati Raj System, played a pivotal role in the political rise of the Dalit community. Jodhka also provided a critical assessment of the effectiveness of government schemes like MGNREGA, emphasising the need for improved monitoring and fine-tuning to benefit the impoverished. In discussing the influence of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Bhimrao Ambedkar on Indian politics, Jodhka highlighted the clashes and compromises between their respective visions for rural India. Gandhi’s idaea of a village republic conflicted with Ambedkar’s concerns about caste disparities, while Nehru attempted to balance industrialisation with rural development.

Prof Jodhka’s talk wasn’t just a critique of the past and present; it also focused on the future of Indian villages. He emphasised the potential of smartphones and high-speed internet connectivity in offering remote education and skill-based training. He noted that despite urbanisation, rural India’s expanse remains, and there is an opportunity to create a skilled workforce in agriculture, data logging, online marketing, nursing, and other service-based industries. Prof Surinder S. Jodhka’s talk provided a profound insight into the realities of contemporary Indian villages, challenging romanticised notions and highlighting the need for a more accurate and data-driven perspective. His meticulous research and fieldwork have contributed significantly to our understanding of the rural landscape and the complexities of caste, power, and development. Jodhka’s book is not only a valuable reference for scholars but also a necessary read for urban and rural populations alike, fostering a more informed and realistic view of the Indian village.

The talk was succeeded by a Q&A session in which topics including the status of women and the hopes and concerns of young people in modern rural life were discussed. Prof. Jodhaka emphasised the importance of avoiding the oversimplification of rural life as a homogeneous entity, as the changes that have occurred exhibit diversity and heterogeneity. It is essential that conceptual development aligns with empirical reality rather than the reverse. Dr. Zakariya Siddiqui raised the issue of the influence of the neoliberal system on rural-to-urban migration in search of employment and opportunities. In response, Prof. Jodhaka underscored the significance of social networks in securing jobs, in which caste and community identities play a prominent role. Therefore, the significance of caste in comprehending contemporary social and political dynamics cannot be easily disregarded.

About the Speaker:

Prof Surinder S. Jodhka is Professor at  Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He has been a Visiting Professor (ICCR Chair), University of Lund, Sweden; Visiting Associate Professor, University of Bergen, Norway; Charles Wallace India Trust Fellow at Queens University in Belfast; South Asian Visiting Scholar at University of Oxford; Honorary Visiting Fellow at University of Wisconsin, Madison. He has been awarded ICSSR-Amartya Sen Award for Distinguished Social Scientist (Sociology). Prof. Jodhka has been member of several editorial boards for journals such as Sociology (official journal of the British Sociological Association); Sikh Formations; and Sociological Bulletin, Journal of the Indian Sociological Society. His areas of specialization are Political Sociology; Social and Cultural Identities in contemporary India; Development Studies; Social Stratification; Rural Society and Agrarian Change.

His published books are “The Indian Village: Rural Lives in the 21st Century”, ”Religions, Communities, Development: Changing Contours of Policy and Politics in Contemporary India” (edited with Gurpreet Mahajan): Routledge, New Delhi, 2010; ”Village Society: Culture, Politics and Social Life in Rural India”. Orient Blackswan. Edited, 2012; and ”Changing Caste: Mobility, Ideology, Identity”. Sage Publications, New Delhi. Edited, 2012.

The report is prepared by Dikshant Gehlot and Kanti Verma, research interns at CSPS