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Mainstream, Vol. XLVIII, No 34, August 14, 2010

Changes in the Profile of the Marginalised in Rural India

Sunday 22 August 2010, by Namrata Pathak


Dalits in Villages and Poverty Alleviation Policies: 1963-2008 by Gilbert Etienne; Publisher: Institute of Rural Management, Anand, India; 2010.

At the outset, the name of the publication is a little misleading. While the author begins with the study of Dalits during his early visits, he later diversifies to tribal groups in tribal dominated areas such as Jharkhand and Orissa. Besides, his study is more about the impact of economic growth, the Green Revolution and advancement in irrigation facilities in rural areas on the economic mobility of Dalits and their subsequent assertion in the Indian political scene.

Etienne explores the socio-economic changes in about 15 villages that he has visited, economic and social mobility among Dalits (as compared to the upper castes as well as within the Dalit community) and in some cases the Adivasis. What makes the paper interesting is the range of villages and time period that he has covered —beginning from 1963, that is, before the Green Revolution and when economic development was in its initial phase, to 2008. His visits during 1978-79, 1985-86, 1992-93, 2002, 2008 to the same places and addition of a few more later on, enables one to see clearly how the Green Revolution (or the lack of it) and developmental policies in the form of electricity and roads have contributed to empowerment (or the lack of it) of these communities almost everywhere.

There are other details that are worth noting. His individual experiences and interviews with members of both communities make for an interesting read. Etienne’s paper shows how even within the Dalit community, empowerment is not uniform. While some groups like Mahars have progressed, the more backward ones like Musahars have not.

Contrary to the assertion by Indian scholars and policy-makers that the Green Revolution has made certain groups of people richer than others, Etienne argues that the Green Revolution areas have provided prosperity to people across caste groups. This is because of higher yields, multi- cropping and enhanced agrarian facilities.

HE points to the attitude towards work and caste relations among certain regional groups. The sorry plight of the Jativs in Khandoi village in Bulandshahr is attributed to their being lazy or the stagnancy of Nahiyan village in Varanasi is due to the lack of enterprise among the dominant castes. This could be subject to debate, though he concludes that the behaviour of a group, community or caste is not static.

There are some areas that the paper should have provided more focus on. Since the topic is about poverty alleviation policies, a more detailed analysis was expected.

Etienne repeats his visits to his areas of study and this gives the reader a better idea of the changes in the villages. His visits to places such as Bulandshahr, Varanasi, Muzaffarnagar, Guntur and Thanjavur have been constant. But his addition of new places such as Puri in subsequent visits does not permit a comparative analysis with his earlier survey of areas like Buland-shahar. And at times this is confusing.

But these flaws notwithstanding, Etienne’s paper is an interesting study of the changes that India’s deprived and marginalised communities and the rural landscape in general have been witnessing as a result of economic growth. As in all stories of development, some have benefited more than others.

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