Libmonster ID: IN-1273


Doctor of Historical Sciences

Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Keywords: India, colonial exploitation, poverty, agrarian reforms, green revolution, food security, modern village

Many of the current problems of the Indian village, especially its poverty, are rooted in the colonial era. At that time, the overall socio-economic state of India was determined by the situation in the village, where more than 80% of the country's population lived. On the eve of independence, a huge mass of the population lived in absolute poverty. Despite its achievements in the agricultural sector, India still has not completely shed this burden of the past. Nevertheless, agrarian reforms have solved a number of major social problems.

Over the years of independence, India has made considerable progress in this area. But the start from which we had to start was too low, the problems of poverty of the main masses of the population were too great. For all its achievements, India still faces poverty, and often absolute poverty.

In the 50 years since 1900, real per capita income in India has declined by 30-40%. Speaking on the eve of independence, India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, said: "Our future will not be easy... Serving India means serving millions of people who are suffering. It means eliminating poverty and ignorance, diseases, and inequality of opportunity... " 1

Until the mid-1950s, each state developed and passed an agrarian reform law. This took place in a sharp political struggle between peasants and landlords, as well as representatives of the authorities who were closely connected with the owners of the land. "Land reform was absolutely necessary," Nehru wrote, " and we have been striving for it and working for it for generations. We must conduct them effectively, overcoming obstacles and obstacles. If anyone stands in the way of these transformations, we will be forced to remove them from our path. There is no other way out, because millions of people have been waiting and waiting for this for many decades. " 2


In 1953, at the beginning of the agrarian reforms, the question of the "ceiling" of land ownership was sharply raised. It affected all large landowners and the peasant elite. By the mid-1960s, most states had passed land ownership ceiling laws. The "ceiling" averaged 15-30 acres for irrigated land and 80-100 acres for rainfed land. This exceeded the size of the main (60-70%) part of peasant farms - 5 acres in irrigation areas and 10 acres in rainfed areas. As a result, in 1967 it was established that-

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only 2.3 million acres of land were identified, exceeding the legal maximum of land ownership, while large landowners had more than 100 million acres3. The laws on the "ceiling" of possessions were not intended to achieve "social justice" in the agrosphere.4

One of the main directions of agrarian reforms was the elimination of feudal-hierarchical land ownership, which before the adoption of the first agrarian laws covered 57% of private land in British India and much less in the principalities. This structure of land ownership and the class of intermediaries-rent recipients had no analogues in any country. During the 200 years of colonial rule in India, there were areas (for example, in Bengal) where up to 50 layers of parasitic rent recipients were located between the jotedar-landowner and the peasants working the land. With the beginning of agrarian reforms, landlords and intermediaries began to actively fight for the preservation of their rights to the land they leased. This led to the mass removal of tenant farmers from the land they cultivated.5

In the book of the American scientist Thomasson Jannuzi "The agrarian crisis in India. On the example of Bihar, " a field study of agrarian reforms in one of the poorest states of India in the period from 1956 to 1970 was conducted. The author believed that Bihar (like India as a whole) was experiencing an agrarian crisis that affected the entire society. Its essence is that the rural elite completely controlled the limited land resources. Tensions and conflicts between traditional large-scale landowners and agricultural workers, who had never had land rights before, were bound to lead to changes in the agricultural sector and in the entire economy. A fundamentally important question remained unresolved: how will these changes take place - evolutionarily or revolutionarily? Economic growth in the agricultural sphere, the author noted, is impossible if the masses of the peasantry are denied social justice.6


From 1951 to 1966, State organizations managed to develop 7.5 million acres of virgin and fallow land, build irrigation facilities, and thus double the area of irrigated land. At the same time, networks of livestock and seed farms were created. Credit, sales and consumer cooperation was actively developing 7.

Gross agricultural output grew by 65%. However, over the same period, the country's population has increased by about 125 million people, or about 30%. By the mid-1960s, the agricultural sector did not fully meet the country's needs for food and certain types of agricultural raw materials. Nevertheless, it was possible to avoid chronic hunger, which was an indispensable part of the colonial economy in the country.

By the late 1960s, India's food security was almost constantly under threat. Landless peasants and agricultural workers were particularly affected. This forced Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to turn to the United States for help in 1966. US President L. Johnson promised to supply India with 3 million tons of grain and $900 million in aid. The price paid for the bailout was a 36.5% devaluation of the rupee (at the insistence of the IMF). It led to mass protests against the government: the ruling Indian National Congress led by Gandhi lost power in 9 out of 17 states.

In the early parliamentary elections of 1971 Indira Gandhi put forward the slogan: "Down with poverty!". She said: "Millions of people who demand food, shelter and work are pressing for action." She managed to defeat the opposition and once again become at the helm of power. The Government has begun implementing new agrarian reforms-lowering the" ceiling " on rural land ownership (to 10-18 acres) and distributing surplus land to landless peasants and agricultural workers. This met with resistance from landlords and other large landowners.

The struggle for land continued. In 1975, the Gandhian government announced a 20-point program. The most important measures were: the reduction of prices for food and other vital goods, the implementation of agrarian reform in practice - the withdrawal of surplus land over the "ceiling" from landlords and its distribution among landless peasants and agricultural workers. As well as the release of the rural poor from bonded debt 8.

However, these measures were only partially implemented.


In the second half of the 1960s and early 1970s, the first phase of the "green revolution" began in India, which mainly covered areas traditionally specialized in wheat production-Punjab, Haryana and the western part of Uttar Pradesh. Thanks to the use of new high-yielding varieties, the increased development of irrigation and the widespread use of fertilizers and pesticides, wheat production increased more than 2.6 times in the first 6 years. All this happened with the active participation of the state.

However, already at the second stage of the " green revolution "(1972-1975), its decline occurred, which was largely due to

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rising prices for machinery, fertilizers, pesticides, as well as fuel and electricity. At the same time, food grain prices remained low. In general, the development of the" green revolution " at its next stage from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s was largely determined by the general instability in the country's economy.

In essence, the" green revolution " in India was a focal point. Nevertheless, over a decade and a half (1965-1980), food grain production increased from 72 million tons to 129.6 million tons. The total result of the" green revolution " was that since 1978, grain imports were completely stopped (with the exception of 1981, when a crop failure forced India to import 1.5 billion tons of grain in 1982).

The Green Revolution helped solve the problem of creating large state grain reserves. In 1979. they reached 21.5 million tons. This was a guarantee of the country's food security, but at the same time reflected the difficulties in grain sales caused by the low solvency of the majority of the population.9


Over the years of independence, India has achieved impressive success. The country's GDP grew 18 times. Per capita income - 5 times. Life expectancy has increased from 32 to 66 years. Literacy has increased from 27% to 82% for men and from 9% to 65% for women.

Yet in India, especially in rural areas, there is a huge disparity between the rich, privileged minority and the majority of poor and disadvantaged people. The latter are essentially separated from the rich, excluded from the social process (except for elections).

Since the early 1990s. India has embarked on a path of economic reform. This made it possible to significantly increase economic growth from 3-5% in the previous period to 6-7% in subsequent years. The information industry has developed particularly rapidly, accounting for about 25% of India's exports by 2015. 12.5 million people were employed in this sector of the economy.

But this achievement does not close India's other problems. The main one is the situation in the agricultural sector. The village is still home to about 70% of the country's population. Of the nearly 500 million total workers in India, more than half are located in rural areas. The vast majority of the rural population is landless and poor with little land. According to the National Bureau of Nutrition Control, 35% of Indians suffer from chronic malnutrition. In the decade since 1990, farm debt has increased from 26% to 48.6%. This has led to an increase in peasant suicides.10

At the same time, the number of dollar billionaires in India increased dramatically from 13 to 111 between 2004 and 2015. In this indicator, India is second only to the United States and China. In turn, the number of Indian dollar millionaires was 250 thousand. Thus, economic growth was accompanied by a deepening of socio-economic inequality 11.

Famous Indian expert on socio-economic issues, member of the World Bank's Global Poverty Commission S. Subramanian in the article "Humanitarian Development. Rising Inequality " raises a number of fundamental questions related to poverty and inequality in India over the past 30 years. He concludes that the main focus of the Indian authorities over the years has been on the development of the middle and upper classes and castes of India. It was representatives of these strata who claimed that at the beginning of the XXI century the country was approaching the status of a superpower. At the same time, the deeper moral problems of poverty and inequality were overshadowed.12

This raises the crucial question of how to define the "poverty line". According to S. Subramanian, the methodology developed by the Planning Commission of India on this topic is mainly based on the number of calories consumed in food and cannot be considered satisfactory. It should not only be about food consumption. As society develops, spending on housing, education, healthcare, electricity, water consumption, etc. increases. So far, the officially declared poverty line does not take into account all these basic requirements of a normal life for Indian citizens. Poverty continues to be a major problem in this country13.

At the beginning of the XXI century. To determine poverty, calculations based on the World Bank's proposed poverty rate of $1.25 (at purchasing power parity) per day per person are more often used. In this case, more than half of the population in India is below the poverty line. In the discussion on this issue, most Indian experts agree that such estimates are applicable to determining absolute poverty or destitution. So, according to the World Bank, which in 2008 introduced a new international poverty rate of $1.25 per day or lower instead of the previously existing $1 (in 1985 prices), 455.8 million people in India were below the poverty line. (Based on the $1-a-day figure, the number of poor people was 266.5 million.) At the same time, the Government of India estimated the number of poor people at 310 million.

There were other indicators of poverty in India. The Asian Development Bank estimated that this figure was 621.9 million people-those who earned less than $1.35 per day14. In any case, the number of Indians living below the poverty line was a huge number, which could not help but have a positive impact on the population.-

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influence on the socio-economic and political processes in the country.

The issue of the poverty line is a subject of national discussion. It has a purely practical significance. The previous government headed by Manmohan Singh (2004-2014), in fact, moved away from a specific definition of the boundaries of poverty. The current Government with Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not yet determined its position on this issue.


The problems of agriculture and, consequently, food security, hunger and malnutrition of the masses of the population are constantly on the agenda of the Indian public. To solve these problems, the government has proposed different projects and schemes in different years. But many of them did not work, because they did not solve the fundamental issues of agriculture: the acute shortage of land (on average, only 0.4 hectares per farmer), water supply and irrigation, electrification and mechanization of agriculture.

According to Indian agricultural experts, the income level of farmers in the decade from 1994 to 2004 was the lowest in comparison with all previous years. In the following years, the situation in agriculture improved. This was not only due to the growth of agricultural products, but also due to the reduction in the number of farmers. A significant part of them and their family members began to engage in crafts and non-agricultural work, including construction.15

The country's agricultural sector is still largely dependent on the monsoon. The lack of rain creates tension in the provision of food to the population. It is no coincidence that the drought in 2015 and 2016 led to a shortage of grain by more than 3%. Although over the same years, livestock production has grown by 7%.

The current situation in the agricultural sector has led to a sharp discussion of the problems of agriculture and providing the population with food. Abhijit Sen, a former member of the Indian Planning Commission, noted in his article "Some Thoughts on the prospects for agriculture" that in December 2015, wholesale food prices increased by 8% compared to the previous year. Prices for peas and lentil legumes (the main food of the poor) increased by 56%, and for vegetables - by 21%16.

Indian experts repeatedly raise the problems of water supply and irrigation, as well as electrification of villages, without which it is impossible to radically improve the situation in agriculture.17 They discuss extensively the problem of rural poverty and food supply to the poor. And this is despite the fact that the state has accumulated large grain reserves. They note that the technologies of the "green revolution" no longer give the same effect that was achieved earlier. Fundamentally new approaches are needed that would ensure not only an increase in the production of grain crops, which occupy more than half of all sown areas, but also a more dynamic development of animal husbandry, horticulture and horticulture.

We need to actively develop research in the field of agricultural transformation, which in recent years has lagged behind the real capabilities of the state. The issue of increasing farmers ' knowledge in the field of agriculture is particularly acute. Without this, reforms in the agricultural sector are impossible. Almost all experts emphasize the need to increase state support in the development of agricultural production.

Without fundamental reforms in agriculture, it is impossible to get rid of the chronic food shortage, hunger, malnutrition and poverty of the vast masses of the population.18


During my many years of working in India, I traveled a lot around the country, traveled by car almost all the states. The problems of the village are very different depending on the region. But the general problem is the poverty of most of the rural population.

Here, for example, are villages in the western part of the vast state of Uttar Pradesh, which has a population of about 200 million people. This area, due to its favorable natural conditions, along with Punjab and Khariana, became one of the centers of the" green revolution " in the 1980s and is distinguished by its relative wealth and prosperity.

A few years ago, I visited the village of Mukbarakpur in this area, 50 km from Delhi. This village is close to the big cities of Ghaziabad and Meerut, which have developed into major industrial centers in recent years.

At the entrance to the village, a small group of residents were waiting for me and my Indian friend, who was the organizer of this trip. They were having a leisurely conversation in the courtyard of a large brick house. We were invited to join in and were first treated to buffalo milk. From the conversation, it turned out that these people - 5 people - were, in fact, the owners of the village, which has a population of 3,600 people. They own most of the land and everything that is produced on it.

Then we went to the village. A narrow and broken asphalt road ran through fields of mustard,which bloomed a dazzling yellow. The fields were not split into separate ones

page 35

land plots. There were tractors on the road and some strange vehicles - jugars: something like ATVs, with motors and thick tires. They explained to us that these means of transportation and transportation of goods are a local invention. Their advantage is that they are not registered with the police and are not taxed.

The main purpose of our trip was to talk with its leaders, members of the panchayat-the village self-government body. The conversation took place in the newly built house of Pradhan Panchayat head Narendra Deva. The conversation was attended by 10 members of the panchayat, which in this village consisted of 15 elected representatives. Five women who were elected to the Panchayat under the mandatory 30% female quota act were absent. To my question: "Where are these women?" the vague answer was, " They're minding their own business."

As explained by Narendra Deva, all panchayat members were directly elected. Personally, 74% of the votes were cast for him. For other members of the panchayat - about the same amount. The elections were held with the support of political parties with influence in the region - Lok Dal (People's Party), Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People's Party), Bahujan Samaj Party (Majority People's Party).

According to religious and caste affiliation, the population of the village consists of Brahmins, then so-called backward castes in socio-economic terms, as well as Zalits-Balmiki* and Muslims. The village has Hindu and Jain temples, as well as a mosque.

Before answering any of my questions, Narendra Deva consulted with other members of the Panchayat. During the conversation, the topic of dividing residents into rich and poor was touched upon. After some discussion among themselves, the panchayat members reported that there were 10 families living in the village. It is difficult to say what criteria they were guided by, but the external prerequisites for the assessment were as follows: a few large brick houses and plots are fenced with high metal fences - in all likelihood, these are the homes of rich residents.

In the village, 17 people receive pensions - 125 rupees per month (about $3), among them 5 disabled people and 1 widow.

The village is considered electrified. However, not all households have the opportunity to use electricity: it is mainly available to rich and affluent families. In addition, electricity is provided only for 14 hours a day - from 4 am to 6 pm. And when dusk fell, and we were about to return to Delhi, the electricity was cut off-exactly at 18 hours.

The villagers, we were told, have about 300 televisions. 15 houses have landline telephone service. There are no mobile phones, because there are no transmission facilities. There is a small co-educational school for girls and boys from the first to the eighth grade.

The village doesn't even have a medical center, but it does have a midwife. The so-called primary health center is 4 km away, in the city of Khekri. There is also a hospital with several beds, but it does not have such, for example, medical equipment as X-rays or ultrasound. The patient must bring with him everything necessary for his stay and treatment. However, some medications are given out for free.

Private doctors also practice in the city - they have the necessary medical equipment for this. A well - equipped hospital is 50 km away in Meerut. Treatment in it is paid.

In addition to agricultural work, the villagers are also employed in a local factory for the manual production of coarse cotton fabrics. They are used to make tablecloths, bedspreads, rugs and other similar products.

Village residents are dissatisfied with the payment of taxes-they are levied on houses depending on the size, as well as water consumption. Panchayat members believe that taxes are often unfair and set arbitrarily.

The villagers cultivate mainly sugar cane and wheat crops (the yield is about 30 centners per hectare). In the same fields in winter, at a temperature of plus 20-25 degrees, mustard seed is grown: from it, mustard oil, which is in great demand on the market, is obtained in creameries. In May, the fruits of numerous mango trees ripen...

When asked about the purchase prices for agricultural products, panchayat members said that they were not satisfied with them. Contractors who make purchases of grain, sugar cane and other products manipulate prices: they buy when it is profitable for them, underestimate the grade of grain, etc.

The village is well mechanized - it has 40 tractors of various types, mostly made in India. A tractor costs about 400 thousand rupees (about $10 thousand), a small Honda motorcycle of Indian production costs 40 thousand rupees (about $1 thousand).

There is no Russian agricultural machinery in the village. But before that, Soviet tractors were very popular in India, not only for

* Balmiki Dalits - one of the names of the lower caste of former untouchables, now known as Dalits. They are engaged in garbage collection.

* * Jainism is one of the oldest religions in India. The founder is Mahavira (600 BC). In modern India, there are about 10 million followers of this religion. They are mostly engaged in trade. This is an influential community.

page 36

work on the ground, but also for lifting water through pipes from wells, for transporting goods and people on trailers. The Belarus tractor was considered particularly reliable in operation and easy to operate.

Since the land in this area is very fertile, the use of chemical fertilizers is very limited (about 100 kg per hectare). The problem of extracting water for irrigation and household needs is largely solved by financial revenues from the central and state governments. Mostly shallow wells are being built. On the plots of well-to-do peasants, wells were built during the "green Revolution".

In the part of the village where the poorer Dalits, Muslims and members of socially backward castes live, wells were built at the expense of the state, but there was still not enough water. When I asked how this problem is solved, the answer was that if Dalits or Muslims go to a place where there is a well for the higher castes on some business, they can use it.

Summing up our conversation, Pradhan Panchayata stressed that the village has changed for the better in recent years. It used to be "- he pointed to the road - " knee-deep mud, but now it's a dirt road. The highway, although broken, connects the village with the city. But, unfortunately, there is no public transport. It is especially difficult for poor people to get to the city...

The trip to Mukbarakpur village ended with a meeting with Saksena, a lawyer from Khekri, the nearest town to the village. The lawyer is very familiar with the situation in the village, as its residents, especially the rich, use his professional services. In his opinion, the village is developing well, but there are practically no social services that could help poor people.

* * *

...Familiarity with the daily life of a particular Indian village supports the conclusion: rural poverty, inequality between the rich privileged minority and the majority of poor and disadvantaged people continues to be a brake on the country's development. Fundamentally new approaches are needed to bring about a radical improvement in the Indian countryside. Among them are the active development of research in the field of agricultural transformation, increasing farmers ' knowledge in the field of agriculture, and increasing state support for rural development.

India is moving along this path.

1 Congress Varnika. Vol. II, N 12. Centenary Commemorative Volume. December 1985, p. 105.

2 Nehru Speaks. New Delhi: Congress Forum for Socialist Action, 1972, p. 34.

3 History of India. Authors: Bongard-Levin G. M. India in ancient times; Antonova K. A. India in the Middle Ages; Kotovsky G. G. India in modern times. Moscow, 1979, pp. 522-524.

Rastyannikov V. G. 4Deryugina I. V. Models of agricultural growth in the XX century. Moscow, 2004, pp. 605-606. On agrarian reforms in India, see: Kotovsky G. G. Agrarian reforms in India, Moscow, 1959; Ulyanovsk R. A. Reform of the agrarian system // Ekonomika sovremennoi Indii [Economics of modern India], Moscow, 1960; Rastiannikov V. G.Maksimov M. A. Razvitie kapitalizma v sel'skom khozyaistve sovremennoi Indii [Development of capitalism in agriculture in modern India], Moscow, 1965; Kotovsky G. G. Zemelnaya reforma v Indii 50-60-kh godov i problemy ogranicheniya chastnogo zemlevladeniya [Land reform in India in the 50-60s and problems of limiting private land ownership]. lit., 2003, pp. 239-265; Rastyannikov V. G. Agrarian revolution in a multi-layered society. The experience of independent India. Moscow, 1973; Torner Daniel. Agrarian system of India, M., 1959; Nilov (pseudonym Yurlova F. N.). Transformations of the left-democratic government of West Bengal in the village / / India 1984. Yearbook, Moscow, 1986, pp. 82-103; aka: Left-democratic Governments in the States of India, Moscow, 1987, pp. 228-273.

Rastyannikov V. G. 5 Land reform in India. India today. Spravochno-analiticheskoe izdanie [Reference and Analytical edition], Moscow, IV RAS, 2005, pp. 315-317.

Jannuzi Tomasson F. 6 Agrarian Crisis in India. The Case of Bihar. Bombay, Calcutta: Sungam Books, 1974, p. 169-194.

Rastyannikov V. G. 7 Agrarian Revolution in a multi-layered society...; Kotovsky G. G. Agrarian reforms in India. Moscow, 1955.

Indira Gandhi. 8 Broadcast to the Nation, over the Air. June 26, 1975 // Selected Speeches and Writings of Indira Gandhi. Vol. Ill (September 1972 - March 1977). New Delhi: Publication Division. Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 1984, p. 177.

Mironova E. I. 9 Stages of the "green Revolution": India, 1981-1982. Yearbook, Moscow, Main Editorial Office of Eastern Literature, 1983, pp. 67-82; Rastyannikov V. G.Deryugina I. V. Bread yield in Russia. 1975-2007. Moscow, IV RAS, 2009, pp. 16-20.

Dilip Hiro. 10 The Other Side of India's Reforms // Outlookindia, 18.07.2016.

11 Ibidem.

Subramanian S. 12 Human Development. Growth of Inequality // Frontline. 06.08.2016.

13 Ibidem.

Aiyar Shankar. 14 The Other India Story // India Today. 08.09.2008, p. 34, 35; Datt GauravRavallion Martin. Shining for the Poor Too? // Economic and Political Weekly (hereinafter referred to as EPW), 13.02.2010, p. 59. There is also a different estimate of poverty - taking into account the international standard of income of $2 per day per person. In this case, the number of poor people in India is 68.7% of the population, of which most are rural / / Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen. An Uncertain Glory. India and Its Contradictions. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2013, p. 292.

Abhijit Sen. 15 Some Reflections on Agrarian Prospects // EPW. 20.02.2016, p. 12-20.

16 Ibidem.

Manendra Dev S. 17 Water Management and Resilience in Agriculture Director, Indira Gandhi Institute for Development Research, Mumbai) // EPW. 20.02.2016, p. 21-23.

Madhur Gautam. 18 Making Indian Agriculture More Resilient. Some Policy Priorities // EPW. 20.02.2016, p. 24-27.


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