The Hollowed Village and the Hopeful Slum (2012)

by Vikram

Demography tells us not just about migration and population growth, but also reveals the direction a country’s economy is taking. In India, for example, the cumulative effect of migration from the countryside from the 1960s onwards has added hugely to urban numbers. One reason for this migration is that agriculture is declining: some 80% of landholdings today are under five acres. As families grow, the lands are further divided among family members. There are few jobs left for agricultural labourers on these small family plots. As the hollowed village holds little promise for the future, people migrate to slums in the hope that tomorrow may be different from today.

As Dipankar Gupta explains, the countryside itself is changing. In fact, while some 70% of the country’s population is still rural, agriculture is no longer the mainstay of India’s economy. With the multiplication of small workshops and household industries, the non-farm sector and migration to the city account for a rising proportion of village incomes. Unfortunately, he argues, this has not led to skills development but to an intensification of the informal economy in both cities and countryside.

One of India’s foremost thinkers on social and economic issues, Prof. Dipankar Gupta taught sociology and social anthropology at Jawaharlal Nehru University for about 30 years, from January 1980 to his retirement in July 2009. He worked on a number of themes from ethnicity to caste and rural mobilizations. The overall theme of his research has been the relationship between tradition and modernity.

Gupta has taught at several universities in India and abroad, including at the University of Toronto. He is currently serving on a number of government bodies, including as Director of The Reserve Bank of India and of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development. He is also a member of the National Broadcasting Standards Authority.

Gupta has been an editor, contributed to scholarly journals, and has written and edited 18 books, including Caged Phoenix: Can India Fly? (Stanford University Press, 2010). His latest publication is Justice Before Reconciliation: Towards a New Normal in Post-Riot Mumbai and Ahmedabad (Routledge India, 2011).

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