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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 41, New Delhi, Sept 25, 2021

Capitalism From Below: Blending of Rice and Rum | Radhakanta Barik

Saturday 25 September 2021, by Radhakanta Barik


by Prof Radhakanta Barik*

Rural Odisha is experiencing a new type of development which is missing from the research works by many. Here we are presenting a study of dynamics of rural economy in Odisha.

Many people raise a question that Naveen Patnaik has not done anything for industrialisation of Odisha. But they are not right as the state of Odisha was in first stage of economic growth after colonial rule of Maratha and Britishers who destroyed the economy including the ship building industry in Cuttack and Balesore. After the abolition of zamindari by Naba Krishna choudhuri and land reforms implementation by Nandini Satpathy someone was required to invest in human capital such food security or primary education and basic health services for creating healthy human capital. Implementation of PDS despite the powerful pressures from Marwaris and Gujaratis he succeeded to implement it. Today each family belonging to below poverty line gets ration quota with one rupee price. Around 90 percentages of people of Odisha comes under the food security act. After that he or she invests that money in better education and health. Odisha is having better access to education which is nearer to Tamilnadu and health services are getting organised by making one medical college in every district and there are seven medical colleges with linkage with PHCs in district. These are basic needs of human being which pushed Odisha out of the club of Bihar and UP and it cannot come back to stand with these poorest states. Yes we are in a better position today in terms of provision of basic facilities and those educated from the colleges and universities are able to get into jobs recruited by OPSC without paying bribe which is endemic in many parts of North India.

In 1980 I conducted a survey in a multi caste village of two hundred households and the survey tells us that sixty percentages of families could not answer about the food they eat for six months. Today all families below poverty line around 90 percentages of families do get food and they spend money for getting vegetables or fish. In those days the villages in Odisha did not have a concept of curry as they say that ‘lagei khaibaku’ or touch and eat. The survey conducted by Ritika Khera on working of ICDS project for children below five in Mayurbhanja district and found it is a reasonable success. The Integrated Child Development Services scheme and maternity entitlements can play a crucial role in improving children’s food and nutrition security. Both interventions are part of the National Food Security Act, though maternity entitlements have yet to be activated. Odisha has experimented with several creative policies, (Khera: 2015)My study shows the same in Jagatsinghpur and Cuttack district. I did a survey in 1992 and found in the same districts the mid day meal was not available and anganwari workers were lovers or concubines of the village elite. Today they are from the backward classes and working women and they come to the school for preparing food with better dress and cook a good nutritious meal with egg in those villages. Children from all classes come and eat. In our student days the college playground in Ravenshaw College was full of grasses and no student was playing as most of our friends were half hungry who had no energy. Today thousands of students and non students play in the play ground. This reflects in the number of women athletes playing there. This is happening as children and students after satisfying their hunger and they dream to do other things. Odisha is doing well in sports and produced international sports persons in athletes and other games.

The question raised by some regarding the falling level of consumption in rural Odisha. As wage of rural labour is stagnant for some years which reflect their buying capacity is falling. But not in terms of food consumption but in terms of other goods and services such cloth, cycles or other industrial goods. We live in capitalist society where crisis in capitalism is affecting Odisha which is not independent of Indian market economy. But in terms of human capability Odisha has improved in terms availability of food, primary education and basic health services. “Development consists of the removal of various types of unfreedoms that leave people with little choice and little opportunity of exercising their reasoned agency. The removal of substantial unfreedoms is constitutive of development.” Amartya Sen, (Sen and Dreze:2002 pxII) This is where Odisha has changed which matters today as we do not see such level of poverty in urban areas and rural areas.

Studies show that in the case of a farmer with eight acres land from Kalahandi district remains below poverty line. (Panda:1987) As inputs in agricultural production were not easily available such water, credit and procurement price which make the farmers lead a pitiable life indebted to money lender cum trader. He ran away to district of Sambalpur to work as the agricultural labour for his survival. The same situation was prevailing in coastal India which made farmers without any surplus income after their expenditure on food, education and health. They consume two gamachhas which cost forty rupees. One gamachha while working on the field and another wearing after taking bath. Life in peasant society was full of painful stories getting humiliated by the land lords and money lenders cum traders on every day basis. It is the introduction of procurement price was given to farmers which changed the landscape of poverty. As farmers are having some cash in their pockets which they spend on clothes and children’s education and health. This is where a new situation has come up as farmers are getting proper price which has created middle class in rural Odisha. Procurement prices need to be systematized as the mandi system does not exist till today. That is the requirement today for rural Odisha.

Human capability of vast rural masses has increased. In class terms the absence of money lender, trader or landlord. Nobody goes to the lender to borrow grains and pay him back after three months by adding a half to it. Nobody’s son comes to landowning family to work as a servant and sleeps in the verandaha of the landlord and eats the leftover of food. Nobody goes to the money lender to collect money for his son’s education or daughter’s marriage. No hungry person sits in the front of a grocery shop waits till the closing hour when the trader may show his kindness to give one kg rice and he takes back that rice to home where his little children were waiting for food. No woman goes to some landlord’s house and work in her house as maid and at the end of day gets some rice. No worker works in the rice field for one gauni rice which amounts just fifty rupees in the present price. In the village nobody shows his red eyes to another. Nobody abuses the other just because he or she is poor and hungry. Yes it is different in village and he or she goes to the field to work and comes at eight in the morning till four in afternoon and takes Rs350 and a meal in lunch time. Do not turn into Kothia or regular attached worker to the landowning family and waits for a free meal. Humiliation of worst form is gone. This is the change happened after the super cyclone of 1999. One moves around rural or urban areas and one does not find worst form of humiliation of human being. In the town of Cuttack one finds the old shop owner sold his shop in Ranihat in the centre of city for peanuts just for satisfying his hunger of his children. This was happening to trading community in the city. Nobody in college goes for doing tuition for Rs20 per month in 1970swhereas today they go for one hour per day gets two thousand five hundred. He or she does not go hungry without food in the hostel. He has enough food to study and play. I see students thronged into the library and play ground in the morning and evening.

The agricultural development with the introduction of Procurement Price has improved the rural economy. It has been extended to livestock economy. Women are active in milk production and selling it to the cooperatives. Vegetable production has been added by the small farmers. All these are complementary activities which provide some cash into their pockets. All these activities are complementary before Covid 19. One cannot say it has acquired prosperity but it has helped people to be capable to think adventurously. This was absent some years back. Consciousness centres around rice have been replaced with a new consciousness to reach the stage of economy from subsistence to commercial economy.

We have made a slow transition from rice to rice plus which is a significant development in rural Odisha. It is capitalism from below where small enterprises have emerged in the market area such as activities like scooter repairing shop, tv reparing, tractor repairing shop and car repairing all these economic activities are organized in the local town. These towns were specifically block head quarter towns where before 2000 the some officials holding durbars. The local market used to be held on Sunday or Thursday at least twice in a week. The small bazaar has turned into a regular town with economic activities associated with the rural economy. Census of 2011 shows the rise of urban population after 2001 census. These new towns have added to the urbanization of Odisha. The small town turns into busy town in the evening with the liquor consumption. All these bazaars have slowly grown into towns where regular activities are going on. At least some families do not depend on agriculture but depend on urban activities for their livelihoods. There was no such hotel business here but today tadaka plus egg is available in the evening. People consume liquor specifically Rum plus tadaka and egg. The local economy has blended the rice and rum. Today social enterprises have emerged with their family shifting to the small town. Twenty years back the school teachers and clerks used to live here and some landlords used to appropriate surplus from their rural hinterland. Today these small towns are having their economic activities and grown into business town.

The way capitalism is growing from below it reflects on the productivity of rice. On public perception people think that the farmers are being recognized as those who have a higher productivity rather than the amount of land. This brings the question of productivity of land is associated with output per acre. This has brought small peasant capitalism in rural Odisha. People with two acres of land are contributing substantially. They put family labour and use technology like tractor and thresher if necessary and organize the production system. This has been possible because of implementation of land reforms in Odisha.This is new type of capitalism which is the result of small peasantry getting engaged in the production system to achieve higher level of productivity. Land consolidation has shaped the capitalism from below as their plot size is not affecting the use of technology. It has transformed from plough economy to tractor economy.

Bullocks have disappeared from the rural Odisha and people have reorganized their vernacular architecture of the house where the front room was meant for the bullocks and cows now shifted to the backside of the house. This architectural design explains the technological advancement has entered in a big way into rural economy. Storage of rice for the whole year has disappeared as the small farmers sell their rice to the government. Small farmers are dominating local politics and they are the backbone of the BJD. They are dominating the local politics and they are the in the panchayat and panchayat samiti. They entered into politics in 2000 with the post super cyclone reconstruction activities. Their children are working as masons and skilled labour. They work on agriculture and move out for working in other parts of India. This migration of skilled labour is the sign of new economy. They go and work in textile industry of Gujarat or fishing industry of Kerala. It is an interesting to note here that some of them have started enterprising activities in the rural society. One in Kendrapara has started the small scale textile industry which is the beginning of new era of capitalism. Fish processing industries have started by some in Puri.

Capitalism has grown from below. Small peasant capitalism has been grown. This is an alternative to junker capitalism which has been dominated by landlords or rich peasants in different parts of India. Small peasantry has started asserting their rights in the state. They will strengthen democracy at the grass roots level. They are opposing the fascist agenda of the BJP which get support from the old land lords. Small peasantry cuts across the castes and communities which is the peculiarity of Odisha. No single caste dominates the new scenario in rural odisha. All castes and communities have created a front for strengthening capitalism from below.

* (Prof Radhakanta Barik - Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi. retd)


  • Khera, R, Children’s Development Baby Steps in Odisha in Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 50, Issue No. 40, 03 Oct, 2015
  • Panda, M, "Poverty in Rural Orissa 1960-83", Margin, Vol.20, 1987
  • Sen, A and Dreze, 2002 Development as Freedom, Palgrave: London
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